Pittsburgh Resident Indicted for Fraud and Conspiracy to Maliciously Destroy East Carson Street Property by Fire
PITTSBURGH - A resident of Antioch, Calif., pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of violating federal money laundering laws, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.
Coquese Alcorn, 65, pleaded guilty to one count before United States District Judge David S. Cercone.
IRS-Criminal Investigation joined the DEA 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. Defendant Robert Russell Spence, Jr. was a local fulcrum of the conspiracy, which was supplied by various cocaine sources over time. 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 also 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 such as Spence 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 intended for another co-defendant.
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 200 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 co-defendant 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 Aug. 8, 2009, more than $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 drug activities of supplier Damon Collins generated millions of dollars in cash. A conspiracy existed to launder those funds and resulted in several of the co-defendants structuring drug funds supplied by Collins by involving individual amounts under $10,000 to avoid the transaction reporting requirements under federal and state law, as well as concealing and disguising Collins’ drug money by actions that make it appear that they belong to others. These disguised amounts were used to pay for vehicles, home improvements, mortgage payments, apartment rentals, hotel payments, airline tickets, credit card payment, child support payments and tax payments for Collins.
Ms. Alcorn is the mother of Damon Collins, one of the cocaine sources for this large-scale cocaine distribution network. Collins was a fugitive for a period of 20 months after he was indicted in this district. During his association with the cocaine conspiracy, Collins was able to launder in excess of two million dollars in drug proceeds. The defendant assisted Mr. Collins with this laundering activity by structuring currency deposits, permitting herself to be used as a nominee in financial transactions, paying for his mortgage personally in cash and making payments for him on matters such as: his pool, credit card, and vehicles (Land Rover, Jaguar, Lexus, Mercedes Benz and others). The other alleged launderers of Collins’ money include Jared Weinberg, Howard Weinberg, Bridgette Morgan, Cindy Haughton, Alexandria Brown and Tosha Asker. Each of the co-defendants has pleaded guilty, except Howard Weinberg who is scheduled to plead guilty on May 20, 2014 at 1:15pm. The parties agree that Ms. Alcorn personally laundered $400,000 in drug funds for her son.
Judge Cercone scheduled sentencing for Sept. 11, 2014 at 10:30 a.m. The law provides for a total sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $500,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Assistant United States Attorneys Ross E. Lenhardt, Michael L. Ivory and Gregory J. Nescott are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.