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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, September 24, 2020

DS-44 Drug Gang Leader Pleads Guilty: Christopher Highsmith Faces 15 Years to Life at Sentencing

PITTSBURGH, PA –A former resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to drug trafficking in connection with a large-scale investigation conducted by the Greater Pittsburgh Safe Streets Task Force, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today.

Christopher Highsmith, 28, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 400 grams of a mixture containing heroin and fentanyl, before United States District Judge William S. Stickman IV. Mr. Highsmith is one of 40 defendants charged in the Indictment and Superseding Indictment returned in the case.

In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that in 2017, the Greater Pittsburgh Safe Streets Task Force initiated an investigation primarily targeting the Darccide/Smash 44, or DS44, neighborhood gang, and its drug-trafficking activity, in and around the South Side area of Pittsburgh. As part of this large-scale narcotics and firearms investigation, in February of 2019, the United States received authorization to conduct a federal wire investigation, which continued through June of 2019. In addition to communications about drug trafficking between Highsmith, the leader of the organization, and many of his coconspirators, agents made numerous seizures of fentanyl, heroin, and other drugs from members of the organization, as well as maintained critical physical surveillance of Highsmith’s drug-trafficking activities.

The court was further advised that Mr. Highsmith was involved in the acquisition and distribution of heroin and fentanyl, to both other distributors and end users. Highsmith personally engaged in the distribution activity, as well as directed lower-level members of DS44 to make drug deliveries, to collect payment, and to maintain records of drug proceeds.

Judge Stickman scheduled sentencing for February 8, 2021, at 10:30 a.m. The law provides for a total sentence of not less than 15 years or more than life in prison, a fine of up to $20,000,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of each defendant. Highsmith

remains in custody pending sentencing.

Assistant United States Attorneys Carolyn J. Bloch and Brendan McKenna are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation led the multi-agency investigation of this case, which also included the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Allegheny County Adult Probation, Allegheny County Police Department, Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office, Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Narcotics, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and the Wilkinsburg Police Department. Other assisting agencies include the Green Tree Police Department, New York City Police Department, Mount Oliver Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police, Yonkers Police Department, United States Marshals Fugitive Task Force, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

The investigation was funded by the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Program (OCDETF). The OCDETF program supplies critical federal funding and coordination that allows federal and state agencies to work together to successfully identify, investigate, and prosecute major interstate and international drug trafficking organizations and other criminal enterprises.

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Updated September 25, 2020