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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Two “SCO” Gang Members Plead Guilty in Drug Trafficking Conspiracy

PITTSBURGH, PA – Two Pittsburgh-area residents pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of narcotics trafficking, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today.

Richard Coto-Wheat, age 26, formerly of Wilmerding, PA, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin before United States District Judge Arthur J. Schwab. 

James Wells, age 32, formerly of Braddock, PA, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and one count of conspiracy to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine base, commonly known as crack, also before Judge Schwab.

In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that the Greater Pittsburgh Safe Streets Task Force conducted a long-term investigation of drug trafficking occurring in and around the Braddock section of Pittsburgh.  Coto-Wheat, Wells, and other individuals, were identified as members or associates of a neighborhood based street gang, self-titled “SCO”, which illegally distributed controlled substances in the Greater Pittsburgh region.  In January of 2019, investigators obtained authorization to conduct a federal wire investigation, which continued through May of 2019. 

As to Coto-Wheat, the Court was informed that intercepted communications confirmed that Coto-Wheat was conspiring with others to possess with intent to distribute and distribute controlled substances.  Coto-Wheat admitted, in conjunction with his guilty plea, that he is a member of “SCO.” On June 12, 2019, law enforcement executed both a search and arrest warrant at the defendant’s residence on Airbrake Avenue in Braddock and seized numerous items indicative of drug trafficking, including: scales, stamps, stamp pads, masks, strainers, suspected controlled substances as well as $456.00 in U.S. Currency.  Coto-Wheat accepted responsibility for the distribution of at least 100 but less than 400 grams of heroin.

As to Wells, the Court was informed that intercepted communications confirmed that Wells was conspiring with others to possess with intent to distribute and distribute controlled substances.  Wells admitted, in conjunction with his guilty plea, that he is a member of “SCO.”  The court was further advised that the defendant was actively involved in the trafficking of heroin and cocaine base in the Western District of Pennsylvania, supplying a number of regular customers, and was a higher-level member of the conspiracy.  On June 12, 2019, during a search of the residence Wells was living at during the investigation, law enforcement executed a search warrant and seized 15 bricks and several bundles of suspected heroin and smaller quantities of crack and marijuana, as well as a Glock 9mm pistol, ammunition, and two digital scales.  Wells accepted responsibility for the distribution of 173.17 grams of heroin and 28 grams of cocaine base.

Judge Schwab scheduled sentencing for Coto-Wheat on May 6, 2020, at 9:00 AM, and on May 7, 2020, at 11:00 AM for Wells.  As to Coto-Wheat, the law provides for a sentence of not less than five years and not more than 40 years in prison, a fine of not more than $5,000,000, or both.  As to Wells, the law provides for a sentence of not less than 10 years and not more than life years in prison, a fine of not more than $8,000,000, or both.  Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

Assistant United States Attorney Rebecca L. Silinski is 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 Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, United States Marshals Fugitive Task Force, Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office, Allegheny County Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Narcotics, and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. Other assisting agencies include the Monroeville Police Department, Penn Hills Police Department, Wilkinsburg Police Department, and Allegheny County Adult Probation.

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 November 26, 2019