Admitted that the Conspirators Distributed between 12 and 36 Kilograms of Fentanyl—Enough to Kill the Population of Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland – On March 7, 2018, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced James Johnson, age 50, of Baltimore, Maryland to 24 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute between 12 and 36 kilograms of fentanyl. Since as little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl is a fatal dose, 12 kilograms is enough to kill 6 million people, or roughly the population of Maryland. Johnson also possessed six firearms in furtherance of his drug trafficking. During the time of this drug conspiracy, Johnson was on supervised release for a previous federal drug conviction. At yesterday’s sentencing Judge Bennett found that Johnson violated the conditions of his supervised release and sentenced him to 15 months in prison, concurrent to his 24-year sentence.
The sentences were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Acting Special Agent in Jennifer L. Moore of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Assistant Special Agent in Charge Don A. Hibbert of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Baltimore District Office; and Acting Commissioner Michael Harrison of the Baltimore Police Department.
“Law enforcement partners are working together to arrest and prosecute those who peddle deadly fentanyl on our streets and in our neighborhoods,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. “Drug traffickers are on notice that dealing in fentanyl increases their odds of federal prosecution. More and more people are dying from fentanyl overdoses in Baltimore City and throughout Maryland. We must do everything we can to reduce overdose deaths from this drug and from all opioids.”
According to his plea agreement, from July 2016 through March 2017, law enforcement investigated drug traffickers operating in the Gilmor Homes area of west Baltimore, including Johnson, co-conspirator Sharafa Buhari, and others. Over the course of the investigation law enforcement obtained court-ordered interceptions of communications on Johnson’s cellular telephone, which indicated that Johnson was distributing fentanyl and heroin in Baltimore and elsewhere. Johnson used his cellular telephone to facilitate and discuss his drug trafficking with Buhari and others. Intercepted conversations also established a connection between Johnson and addresses in Baltimore, including addresses in the 1500 block of North Gilmor Street, and the 800 block of West Lombard Street, where Johnson told co-conspirators to meet him.
For example, on January 12, 2017, Johnson and Buhari discussed Buhari coming to a residence in the 1500 block of North Gilmor Street. On January 12, video surveillance captured Buhari carrying a black backpack, arriving at the residence at 6:42 p.m. and eventually departing at 7:16 p.m. carrying the same backpack. On January 20, 2017, Buhari called Johnson to say that he was coming the next day. On January 21, 2017, Buhari and two co-conspirators were stopped by law enforcement as they walked away from a bus that had recently arrived in Baltimore from New York. Law enforcement recovered 2.45 kilograms of suspected heroin from the black backpack and a suitcase being carried by the two co-conspirators.
One of the co-conspirators told investigators that Buhari had asked him to carry the backpack to Baltimore. Following the heroin seizure, FBI agents obtained court-ordered authorization to track Buhari’s cellular phone. The FBI also determined that Buhari purchased a one-way ticket to fly from John F. Kennedy Airport (“JFK”) in New York to his home country of Nigeria. Investigators obtained a federal arrest warrant for Buhari on February 1, 2017, and he was arrested the next day inside JFK by members of FBI New York and Customs and Border Patrol as he attempted to board the Nigeria-bound flight. Agents recovered over $11,000 and two cell phones from his five bags of luggage, as well as numerous adult diapers that Buhari intended to transport to Nigeria.
On March 22, 2017, search warrants were executed at the residences on North Gilmor and West Lombard Streets that were associated with Johnson. Law enforcement recovered a total of 8,500 grams of fentanyl and 17,250 grams of heroin, six firearms, and approximately $700,000 in cash. As a result, it was foreseeable to Johnson that the conspirators would distribute between 12 and 36 kilograms of fentanyl.
Sharafa Buhari, age 52, who resided in Brooklyn, New York, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin and was sentenced for four years in federal prison.
United States Attorney Robert K. Hur praised the FBI, the DEA Baltimore Field Office, and the Baltimore Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Hur also thanked the DEA in Norfolk, Virginia and the New York FBI and Customs and Border Patrol agents who assisted in the investigation. Mr. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zachary Stendig and Michael C. Hanlon, who prosecuted this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case.