Thursday, April 30, 2020

Six Arrested after DEA Task Force Investigation into Fentanyl Trafficking Ring

John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Brian D. Boyle, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration for New England, today announced that the following six men were arrested yesterday on federal narcotics distribution and money laundering charges related to the large-scale distribution of fentanyl in Connecticut:

DOMINGO GUZMAN, 43, of Waterbury
ARMANDO GONZALEZ, 38, of New Britain
DAVID CINTRON, 24, of Manchester
DANIEL ESTREMERA, 40, of East Hartford
GILDARDO PEREZ-BENITEZ, also known as “Jesus Ayon,” 51, of North Canaan
XIANG QING ZHANG, also known as “Jay,” 41, of Brooklyn, New York

Pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the defendants were presented in court via videoconference.  All are detained.

As alleged in court documents and statements made in court, in July 2019, the DEA’s Hartford Task Force began investigating a drug trafficking organization that was distributing fentanyl and heroin in Connecticut.  The investigation revealed that Domingo Guzman, Jesus Ayon and others received kilogram-quantities of narcotics, primarily fentanyl, from a source of supply, and then distributed the drug to various narcotics traffickers, including Armando Gonzalez, David Cintron and Daniel Estremera.  Gonzalez, Cintron, Estremera and others then sold the drug to street-level distributors.  Members of the organization delivered cash generated from the sale of narcotics to Zhang, a money broker in Brooklyn, New York, who assisted in laundering the narcotics proceeds before they were transferred to leaders of the drug trafficking organization.

During the investigation, it is alleged that Gonzalez and Cintron used several locations to store, process and package fentanyl for street stale, including office space on Pratt Street in Hartford, an apartment in the Asylum Hill neighborhood in Hartford, and an apartment in New Britain.  On December 19, 2019, Cintron was arrested on state charges shortly after he drove from the Pratt Street location and was found in possession of approximately 4,860 wax paper sleeves of fentanyl, 90 grams of unpackaged fentanyl, and other items used to process and package narcotics.

It is further alleged that Estremera used an apartment on South Street in West Hartford to process, package and store narcotics.  On March 13, 2020, investigators searched the apartment and seized approximately 1.5 kilograms of fentanyl and approximately 500 wax folds of the drug.

It is also alleged that, between August and October 2019, investigators seized more than $200,000 in cash from members of the drug trafficking organization.

In association with yesterday’s arrests, investigators seized approximately $100,000 in cash, a firearm, several thousand wax folds of suspected fentanyl, and numerous items used in the processing and packaging of narcotics.

“We are living in a time of heightened awareness of public health and safety,” said U.S. Attorney Durham.  “This operation targeted a group of individuals who are alleged to be responsible for the widespread distribution of a drug that ruins lives, continues to kill people every day, and puts unneeded stress on law enforcement and healthcare resources.  I thank the DEA agents and task force officers who, at great risk to their own safety, are working during this time to protect our communities, disrupt the flow of this awful drug, and remove wrongdoers from the streets.”

“Fentanyl is causing great damage to our communities,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Boyle.  “The men and women of DEA along with our law enforcement partners are hard at work protecting the public by taking this poison off the streets of Connecticut, especially during this very uncertain time of COVID-19.”

The defendants were arrested on criminal complaints charging each with possession with intent to distribute, and distribution of, controlled substances; conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and distribution of, controlled substances; money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

U.S. Attorney Durham stressed that a complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.  Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is alleged that Guzman, Gonzalez and Estremera all have criminal histories that include federal convictions.  Guzman and Estremera are currently on federal supervised release.

The DEA’s Hartford Task Force includes personnel from the DEA Hartford Resident Office and the Bristol, Hartford, East Hartford, Manchester, New Britain, Rocky Hill, Wethersfield, Windsor Locks and Willimantic Police Departments.  Agencies assisting the investigation include the DEA New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) Strike Force and the New York Police Department.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey M. Stone.

Los Angeles-area lawyer agrees to plead guilty to a string of crimes, including paying bribes to ICE HSI and FBI special agents

LOS ANGELES – A Calabasas man has agreed to plead guilty to five federal offenses – one related to a credit card bust-out scheme, and the others related to more than $250,000 in bribes he paid to two federal agents for assistance that included sensitive law enforcement information.

Edgar Sargsyan, 39, an attorney with law offices in Beverly Hills, was charged today with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, two counts of bribing a public official, and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. In a plea agreement also filed today in U.S. District Court, Sargsyan agreed to plead guilty to the five felony counts, which cumulatively carry a statutory maximum penalty of 50 years in federal prison.

In the plea agreement, Sargsyan admitted paying tens of thousands of dollars from the beginning of 2015 through early 2017 to a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This matter was investigated by the Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force, which includes agents from HSI, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Secret Service, the Glendale Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the California Department of Health Care Services. The Los Angeles Police Department provided substantial assistance.

Sargsyan paid the HSI agent at least $32,000 in checks and at least $45,000 to $50,000 in cash in return for assistance that included the HSI agent searching law enforcement databases to corruptly obtain information that he passed to Sargsyan, according to the plea agreement. The HSI agent also altered a Department of Homeland Security database to make it more likely that a foreign national who was a client of Sargsyan’s law firm would be allowed to enter the United States. In another corrupt act detailed in the plea agreement, the HSI agent prepared a document on HSI letterhead in an unsuccessful attempt to have one of Sargsyan’s relatives from Armenia admitted into the United States.

Sargsyan also admitted he paid the FBI agent monthly cash bribes of up to $10,000 beginning in 2015 in exchange for the agent providing protection, which included running queries on law enforcement databases and warning Sargsyan to stay away from certain individuals who were the targets of criminal investigations. The agent, who worked out of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office, accepted the cash payments on trips to Southern California, where he stayed at luxury hotels that were paid for by Sargsyan. The FBI agent also accepted from Sargsyan a $36,000 racing motorcycle as a bonus for running database checks on a particular person. Sargsyan also gave the FBI agent a $30,000 cashier’s check that was made to appear to be a payment to the agent’s business, according to court documents.

Sargsyan also agreed to plead guilty to two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. These charges stem from interviews in September 2017 by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, when Sargsyan falsely stated that the $30,000 check to the FBI agent was a loan, and in December 2018, when he falsely told special agents with the FBI and HSI that he did not pay bribes to the FBI agent.

In his plea agreement, Sargsyan also admitted he participated in a conspiracy that defrauded financial institutions by fraudulently obtaining credit cards in the names of aliens who had previously been in the United States on J1 visitor visas. Once the credit cards were issued by the financial institutions, Sargsyan and his co-conspirator charged purchases, including more than $941,000 that Sargsyan personally charged at two businesses he controlled, Pillar Law Group and Regdalin Group.

Sargsyan has been directed to make his initial court appearance in this case June 9.

This case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California’s Major Frauds Section and Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.

Rochester Woman Sentenced to 60 Months for Drug Trafficking and Firearms Offenses

            CONCORD - Haley Hansler, 33, of Rochester, was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison for participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy and possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, United States Attorney Scott W. Murray announced today.

             According to court documents and statements made in court, Hansler conspired with two other individuals to traffic in methamphetamine and fentanyl in the Rochester area. On November 7, 2018, the New Hampshire State Police (“NHSP”) conducted a motor vehicle stop on a vehicle operated by Hansler and seized approximately 58 grams of heroin and smaller quantities of crystal “ice” methamphetamine and other narcotics.  Later the same evening, members of the NHSP and the DEA searched Hansler’s hotel room in Ossipee, New Hampshire and seized approximately 171 grams of crystal “ice” methamphetamine and smaller quantities of fentanyl and other narcotics. Law enforcement also seized a semi-automatic handgun from Hansler’s purse.  On December 20, 2018, DEA agents arrested Hansler and co-conspirator James Nesbitt at their Rochester residence and seized approximately 60 grams of fentanyl, four firearms, and ammunition.           

            Hansler previously pleaded guilty on January 21, 2020.  Nesbitt pleaded guilty to the charges on March 6, 2020, and is awaiting sentencing.

            “Drugs and guns are a potentially deadly combination,” said U.S. Attorney Murray.  “In order to protect public safety, we will work closely with our law enforcement partners to identify, prosecute, and incarcerate the armed drug dealers who endanger our communities. When drug traffickers use or possess firearms, they should understand that they will be prosecuted in federal court and receive substantial prison sentences.”

             “DEA is committed to bring to justice poly-drug traffickers like Ms. Hansler,” said Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle.  “This investigation demonstrates the strength of collaborative law enforcement efforts in New Hampshire.”

              This investigation was the product of an investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).  The OCDETF program is a federal multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations.

             This case was investigated by the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad; the New Hampshire State Police; the United States Postal Inspection Service; and the Strafford County Drug Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Cole Davis.