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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, November 18, 2021

South Side Man Pleads Guilty to Selling Drugs for Darccide/Smash 44 Street Gang

PITTSBURGH, PA - A resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of violating federal narcotics laws, Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman announced today.

Henry Johnson, age 30, formerly of the South Side, pleaded guilty to one count before United States District Judge William S. Stickman.

In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that in 2017, the Greater Pittsburgh Safe Streets Task Force, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, initiated an investigation primarily targeting the Darccide/Smash 44, or DS44, neighborhood gang, and drug-trafficking activity in and around the South Side area of Pittsburgh. As part of this large-scale narcotics and firearms investigation, from approximately February 2019 through June 2019, the United States received authorization to intercept communications on 9 telephones as part of the investigation, including the phone belonging to lead defendant Christopher Highsmith. During the investigation, the United States intercepted Henry Johnson over the tapped phone line of Christopher Highsmith.

The investigation revealed that in this conspiracy, Highsmith and other co-defendants worked together to distribute controlled substances, including but not limited to heroin and fentanyl, in and around the South Side of Pittsburgh. Customers who wanted to purchase heroin and fentanyl would make contact with Highsmith or a co-defendant, either by phone call or text message. Highsmith and co-defendants would sometimes physically distribute the quantity of heroin and fentanyl to the customer, and other times, would direct a runner to physically distribute the fentanyl and heroin and/or to collect the money for the drugs from customers.

Between March and April 2019, physical surveillance and intercepted communications revealed that Highsmith supplied the defendant with controlled substances for distribution. For example, on March 11, 2019, physical surveillance observed the defendant briefly enter Highsmith’s vehicle before exiting to conduct a hand-to-hand transaction in the South Side of Pittsburgh. Additionally, in an April 3, 2019 interception, the defendant asked Highsmith if he could get “30 at one forty.” Highsmith agreed to do so after making another “transaction.” Later that day, Highsmith texted the defendant an address in Verona, Pennsylvania, and the defendant responded that he would see him in 20. Subsequently, physical surveillance observed Highsmith exit that Verona residence and enter the driver’s seat of a parked BMW. Physical surveillance then observed the defendant exit a different vehicle, enter the parked BMW where Highsmith was waiting, and exit approximately two minutes later holding a bag. Finally, in a series of interceptions on April 8, 2019, Highsmith agreed to sell the defendant 15 bricks and later complained that the defendant “shorted” him on the payment of “1900.” The defendant agreed to pay the defendant an additional “buck an a quarter.”

In addition to the interceptions and physical surveillance, on December 6, 2018, the West Homestead Police Department responded to reports of drug trafficking at a hotel in West Homestead. Upon arrival, law enforcement observed the defendant throw two bags from his hotel balcony onto the parking lot. The bags contained 17 bricks of a fentanyl and heroin mixture, approximately 12 grams of cocaine base, and approximately 6 grams of cocaine. Some of the bricks bore the same stamp as other bricks seized in the investigation into the defendant’s coconspirators. A search of the defendant incident to his arrest resulted in the seizure of $693.00 and a cellular phone. The phone contained texts indicative of drug
trafficking.

Judge Stickman scheduled sentencing for March 24, 2022 at 10:00 a.m. The law provides for a maximum total sentence of 30 years in prison, a fine of $2,000,000, 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.

Pending sentencing, the court remanded Johnson back into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Assistant United States Attorney’s Brendan J. McKenna and Carolyn Bloch 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.

This prosecution is a result of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles high-level drug traffickers, 
money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten communities throughout the United States. OCDETF uses a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Updated November 18, 2021