Thirty-Four Clevelanders Indicted in Latin Kings Gang Drug Conspiracy
|U.S. Attorney’s Office August 13, 2009|
William J. Edwards, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, C. Frank Figliuzzi, Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland Division of the FBI, Michael McGrath, Chief, Cleveland Division of Police, and Robert Reid, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff, announced that a federal grand jury sitting in Cleveland, Ohio, returned a 106-count, 34-defendant indictment charging:
Vincente Benitez, aka Luis Angel Robles, age 46; Adriana Ventura, aka Candy, age 33; Jesse Butler, aka Jayson Butler, age 36; Melvin Torres, aka Ervin Torres, age 34; Jerry English, age 26; Jose Sierra, aka Chaca, age 46; Juan Barrientos, aka Maestro, age 29; Malcolm Ross, aka Tony Montana, age 46; Manuel Ortega, aka Manny, age 30; Efren Vega, aka El Diablo, age 41; Jorge Canales, aka Maggie, age 44; Juan Rivera, aka Vitin, age 32; Antoine Studgions, age 27; Luis Gomez, age 29; Richard Rodriguez, aka Chicha, age 36, Cleveland, Ohio; Antonio Powell, age 33; Jose Rivera, Jr., aka Chu, age 26; Steven Nagy, age 43; David Essenberg, aka David Essenburg, age 44; Misty Payne, age 32; Lisa Chambers, age 35; Rodolfo DeJesus, aka Rudy, age 45; Richard Buxo, aka Richie, age 22; Pedro Rodriguez, aka Pete, age 37; Jose Roberto, aka Putin, age 36; Lisandra Rivera, age 39; Austin Cooper, aka Billy, age 48; Miguel Torres, aka Mikey, age 43; Samantha Dameron, age 28; Johana Sanchez, aga 31; and Eliezer Morales, age 24, all from Cleveland, Ohio; and Jermaine Jones, aka Jay, age 35, South Euclid, Ohio; Daniel Gallagher, age 27, North Olmsted, Ohio; and Randy Lee Cooper, age 39, Brook Park, Ohio; with violations of the federal narcotics and wire fraud laws.
Count 1 of the indictment charges 32 of the 34 defendants (excluding Sanchez and Morales) with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and conspiracy to distribute at least one or more kilograms of heroin, at least five or more kilograms of cocaine and at least 50 or more grams of cocaine base (crack).
Counts 2-4 and 6 of the indictment charge Torres with the distribution of various amounts of heroin and cocaine.
Count 5 of the indictment charges Torres and Butler with the distribution of cocaine.
Count 7 of the indictment charges Torres and Gomez with the distribution of heroin and cocaine.
Count 8 of the indictment charges Benitez with possession with the intent to distribute cocaine.
Counts 9-103 of the indictment charge each defendant individually with the use of a communication facility (a telephone) to facilitate a drug trafficking offense.
Counts 104 and 105 of the indictment charge Ventura and Benitez with traveling in interstate commerce (to New York City) to facilitate the conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine.
Count 106 of the indictment charges Torres, Sanchez and Morales with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
If convicted, the defendants’ sentences will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendants’ prior criminal records, if any, the defendants’ roles in the offenses and the unique characteristics of the violations. In all cases, the sentences will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases they will be less than the maximum.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Pinjuh following a one-year investigation code named “Operation Royal Flush.” The investigation included several Title III wire taps on the cellular telephones of Melvin Torres, Jesse Butler and Vincente Benitez. During the Title III portion of the investigation, 16,428 illegal drug calls were intercepted on the various phone lines.
The investigation initially targeted local members of the Latin Kings Gang responsible for drug trafficking on Cleveland’s near west-side, but ultimately uncovered a large scale, multi-person conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine which extended from Cleveland to New York to the Dominican Republic and crossed all racial and ethnic boundaries. The investigation revealed that Benitez, an illegal Dominican national residing in Cleveland, and his common-law wife, Adriana Ventura, would arrange for large quantities of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine to be brought to Cleveland, Ohio, from the New York City area on a weekly basis. Thereafter, Benitez and Ventura would sell the drugs to Butler, English, Sierra, Barrientos, Ross, Ortega and others in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area.
Additionally, Butler would purchase heroin and cocaine from Vega, another local distributor, when Benitez was unavailable. Butler would also sell amounts of cocaine and heroin to Torres and Canales. Torres, a suspected Latin King Gang member, would also purchase quantities of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine from local dealers including Vega, Juan Rivera, Studgions, Gomez, Gallagher, Jones, Chambers and Austin Cooper when his main suppliers were unavailable. Thereafter, Torres would sell amounts of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine on nearly an hourly basis everyday to other members of the conspiracy, including various members of the Latin Kings Gang, and others known and unknown all over the greater Cleveland, Ohio area. During the investigation, thousands of dollars worth of heroin and cocaine were purchased or seized from Torres, Butler, Gomez and Benitez.
The investigation also revealed that Torres, along with his girlfriend, Johana Sanchez, an employee of CheckSmart, and Eliezer Morales, also an employee of CheckSmart, and others engaged in a conspiracy to defraud CheckSmart by processing fraudulent loans. The investigation revealed that Torres would recruit individuals with poor credit to open bank accounts with minimal balances at Cleveland area banks and then bring these individuals to the CheckSmart Store located on 4263 Fulton Road, Cleveland, Ohio, for the purpose of obtaining loans. Torres would instruct these individuals to deal only with Sanchez or Morales once inside the store. Torres would call Sanchez or Morales to advise them of the identity of the individual entering the store to obtain the loan. Sanchez or Morales would process the fraudulent loans, normally in the amount of $600.00, for these individuals knowing that the amount of the loan would never be re-paid to CheckSmart. After obtaining the loan proceeds, the individual that applied for the loan would split the loan proceeds with Torres, Sanchez and Morales.
The investigation was conducted by agents and task force officers of the Northern Ohio Law Enforcement Task Force (NOLETF). The NOLETF is a long standing multi-agency task force comprised of investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Cleveland Division of Police, Cleveland Heights Police Department (CHPD), Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), Euclid Police Department (EPD), Lake County Narcotics Agency, Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Police Department, Willoughby Hills Police Department and Shaker Heights Police Department (SHPD). The NOLETF is also one of the initial Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiatives. The HIDTA Program supports and helps coordinate numerous Ohio drug task forces in their efforts to eliminate, or reduce drug-trafficking in the State of Ohio.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.