PITTSBURGH – Two defendants accused of running a large-scale cross-country drug trafficking organization have pleaded guilty to federal narcotics and firearm charges, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today.
Don Juan Mendoza, 42, formerly of Atlanta, GA, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, possession with the intent to distribute 5 kilogram or more of cocaine, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Pedro Blanco, 38, a former resident of Jacksonville, FL, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, possession with the intent to distribute 5 kilogram or more of cocaine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
Both defendants pleaded guilty before Chief United States District Judge Mark R. Hornak. In all, both defendants accepted responsibility for between 50 kilograms and 150 kilograms of cocaine. Judge Hornak scheduled Blanco’s sentencing for June 16, 2020. Mendoza’s sentencing is scheduled for June 17, 2020. Both defendants have been detained since their initial appearances and will remain detained pending sentencing.
According to information presented to the court, from April 2017 to November 5, 2017, both defendants conspired with others to import large quantities of cocaine and marijuana into Western Pennsylvania. Today, both defendants admitted that they personally sourced the cocaine and marijuana from out of state sources, including Los Angeles on at least one occasion. Mendoza and Blanco would arrange for the narcotics to be driven to 146 Harvest Drive, the home of co-defendant Jamie Lightfoot, Jr., from out of state in a Mercedes Sprinter ‘Sno Cold’ Van, with a picture of Don Juan Mendoza’s wife covering the outside, and eventually a large RV. On different occasions, Blanco would actually travel in the van or the RV. Once the drugs came into Western Pennsylvania, other co-conspirators would use the Harvest Drive residence and other locations to break down, repackage, and distribute the drugs. The drugs would then be distributed to co-conspirators in almost every region of Western Pennsylvania.
Later on November 5, 2017, an FBI and Pennsylvania State Police Task Force executed a search warrant at 146 Harvest Drive after the RV arrived at the location with Blanco inside the RV. The search netted 52 kilograms of cocaine and heroin, 85 pounds of marijuana, illegal steroids, three firearms, and nearly one million dollars in cash. Mendoza arrived at the scene in another vehicle and was also taken into custody at the time.
Later on November 19, 2017, FBI executed a search warrant at Don Juan Mendoza’s home in Atlanta, GA and recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, a hydraulic kilogram press, and other drug paraphernalia and drug packaging material. As part of his plea, Mendoza agreed to forfeit all of these items.
The law provides for a maximum sentence of not less more than 20 years in prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000,000. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendants.
Assistant United States Attorneys Timothy M. Lanni and Shaun Sweeney are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pennsylvania State Police, with assistance from the South Strabane Police Department, the Elizabeth Borough Police Department, the Penn Hills Police Department and the Perryopolis Police Department, conducted the investigation that led to the Indictment in this case.
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.