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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Pennsylvania

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cocaine Courier Sentenced To 20 Years In Prison For Role In Massive Drug Conspiracy

PITTSBURGH - A California resident has been sentenced in federal court to 240 months imprisonment followed by 10 years supervised release on his conviction of violating federal narcotics and money laundering laws, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.

United States District Judge David S. Cercone imposed the sentence on Ruben Mitchell, 45, of Antioch, Calif.

The IRS Criminal Investigations section joined the Drug Enforcement Administration as major partners in the investigation of the current case with the valuable assistance of multiple other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. In part, the investigation relied upon search warrants, court orders, consensually-recorded conversations, surveillance and information supplied by confidential sources, as well as records and documents obtained by Grand Jury and Administrative subpoenas. The investigation revealed a major cocaine distribution conspiracy which resulted in cocaine being transported to Pittsburgh and other areas from 2000 through 2010.

The investigation revealed that the conspiracy involved over 2000 kilograms of cocaine and millions in laundered drug money. Over time, the conspiracy involved enough cocaine for every current man, woman and child resident of Pennsylvania to have their own $20 rock of crack cocaine. Conspiracies commonly change both members and mechanisms to adapt to changes, and this conspiracy is no different. Aside from changing cocaine sources over time, the conspiracy changed its common manner of doing business over time, as well. For example, prior to the summer of 2007, the conspiracy utilized packages of cocaine being shipped by the US mail or various common carriers from California to recipients in Pittsburgh. Documents and evidence reveal the large number of packages of cocaine shipped to the conspirators, as well as the packages of drug money being shipped back. Multiple seizures of both money and cocaine packages occurred. For example, on June 7, 2007 Postal Inspectors intercepted six kilograms of cocaine from the mail that was earmarked for the conspiracy. On Aug. 5, 2007, Postal Inspectors also seized a package containing $99,850.00 intended for one of Mitchell’s co-defendants.

The conspiracy began using couriers to transport cocaine to Pittsburgh and money back to California. The investigation has revealed that between 2007 and 2010 at least 11 different couriers took approximately 100 flights for the conspiracy. These involved the transportation of cocaine to the Pittsburgh end of the conspiracy and the transportation of drug money back to California. Again, multiple packages of both money and cocaine were intercepted. For example, in February of 2008 Ruben Mitchell boarded a plane in Oakland bound for Pittsburgh with cocaine in his luggage. Since the flight attendant had trouble getting the carry-on bag into the overhead bin, an airline employee called a “ramper” put a tag on the bag mistakenly causing it to be removed from the plane during a layover in Las Vegas. There, airline employees opened the bag and discovered it to contain 19 kilograms of cocaine. Mitchell was observed, along with others, looking for the bag in Pittsburgh and he also filed a claim for the bag. On August 8, 2009, over $335,000 in cash, just one part of approximately $700,000 that was sent on this occasion, was seized from the luggage of a conspirator.

During other times, the conspiracy arranged transportation of cocaine or money by means such as chartered private flights and vehicles including tractor trailers. Individuals indicted thus far involve many different roles within the conspiracy. Some conspirators are suppliers, couriers or recipient drug dealer/distributors. Other conspirators played a variety of roles such as: shipping or receiving packages; arranging for couriers, flights and flight payments; money launderers; and those who circumvented security procedures at airports.

The evidence revealed that Mitchell flew cocaine from California to Pennsylvania five times during 2007-2008 for this massive drug conspiracy. District Judge Cercone noted the connections between Mitchell and other defendants and held that Mitchell’s actions make him responsible for 69 kilograms of cocaine. Testimony from a narcotics expert has revealed that this much cocaine would be worth over $7 million on the street and results in over 350,000 doses of cocaine or crack. Judge Cercone held that Mitchell’s 20-year jail sentence and 10-year period of supervision was sufficient, but not greater than necessary given Mitchell’s prior felony cocaine conviction.

Assistant United States Attorney Ross E. Lenhardt prosecuted this case on behalf of the government.

U.S. Attorney Hickton commended the IRS-CI, DEA, Pennsylvania Attorney General and many other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies for the investigation leading to the successful prosecution of Mitchell.

Updated July 14, 2015