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Coordinated Law Enforcement Effort Dismantles California to Western Pennsylvania Drug Pipeline

Publication date: 
Tuesday, August 31, 2021

PITTSBURGH, PA – Forty-seven individuals have been charged in six separate, but related, indictments with narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and firearms violations following a nine-month Title III wiretap investigation into drug trafficking in and around the counties of Jefferson, Clearfield, and Allegheny, Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman announced today.

“In the last two years, we have seen methamphetamine distribution on the rise in western Pennsylvania,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kaufman. “Through Operation Return to Sender, we have shut down a major California to western Pennsylvania drug pipeline and improved the quality of life for our citizens.”

“These indictments show how far reaching and effective the efforts of law enforcement collaboration are in combating drug-traffickers that seek to distribute illegal drugs in our communities,” said Thomas Hodnett, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Philadelphia Field Division. “I want to thank all of our law enforcement partners that participated in this investigation that netted drug-traffickers operating not only in Pennsylvania but in Oregon, California, Texas, and Ohio as well.”

“Today is the culmination of a major drug investigation that involved many state and federal agencies working hand-in-hand to protect the citizens of Jefferson County,” said Jefferson County District Attorney Jeff Burkett. “I commend, applaud and thank the DEA, the Pennsylvania State Police, Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman and his office and the many other law enforcement agencies that spearheaded this important effort. It is very gratifying to see so many agencies working so hard together for such a great cause.”

“I am truly grateful for the hard work and dedication of Acting U.S. Attorney Kaufman, his staff, the Pennsylvania State Police, DuBois City Police Department, the DEA, and other law enforcement agencies for dismantling this network that has been supplying enormous quantities of drugs to Clearfield County and surrounding areas,” said Ryan Sayers, District Attorney of Clearfield County. “Organizing and executing an operation of this magnitude across multiple states and jurisdiction is no simple task, but it is worth it to protect our friends and neighbors from these drugs that plague our communities. Operations like this one and Crystal Highway, which occurred last year, send a clear message to drug traffickers—that Clearfield County is closed for their business.”

The first indictment names the following 37 individuals as defendants:

• Derek Hillebrand, 25, of Troutville, Pennsylvania

• George Charlan, 33, of Grants Pass, Oregon

• Yusuf Adekunle, 26, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

• Marco Armenta, 36, of Stockton, California

• Silvia Ayala, 30, of Stockton, California

• Francisco Barba, 32, of Stockton, California

• Amy Bortot, 51, of Clearfield, Pennsylvania

• Brandon Coder, 32, of Dubois, Pennsylvania

• Terrence Dougherty, 28, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

• Darren Douglas, 36, of Big Run, Pennsylvania

• Marco Galvez, of Patterson, California

• Chad Gasbarre, 35, of Brockway, Pennsylvania

• Danielle Gillam, 42, of Blandburg, Pennsylvania

• Kenneth Gillam, 51, of Blandburg, Pennsylvania

• Morgan Gregory, 32, of Dubois, Pennsylvania

• Darryl Isaacs, 56, of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

• Kristy Lepionka, 38, of Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania

• Christian Maldonado, 33, of Stockton, California

• Lisandra Maldonado, 31, of Stockton, California

• Abel Perez, 34, of Stockton, California

• Jeffrey Peters, 65, of Hyde, Pennsylvania

• Megan Pyne, 27, of Dubois, Pennsylvania

• Armando Razo Jr., 31, of Stockton, California

• Christopher Robertson, 60, of Sparks, Nevada

• Brenton Ryans, 33, of Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania

• Ryan Schoening, 31, of Rockton, Pennsylvania

• Brent Shaffer, 37, of Olanta, Pennsylvania

• Christina Shaffer, 53, of Falls Creek, Pennsylvania

• Melvin Shelander, 30, of Kersey, Pennsylvania

• Darnell Smith, 38, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

• Taylor Thomas, 27, of Dubois, Pennsylvania

• Juan Villagran, 23, of Stockton, California

• Jose Villalobos, 40, of Stockton, California

• James White, 38, of Seiad Valley, California

• James Williams Jr., 56, of Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania

• Travis Williams, 29, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania

• Justin Zeruth, 34, of Woodland, Pennsylvania.

The named conspirators include leaders, members, drug suppliers, and associates of a drug trafficking organization responsible for distributing narcotics throughout Western Pennsylvania.  According to the Indictment, the defendants conspired to possess with intent to distribute and distribute over 50 grams of methamphetamine, 500 grams of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, 500 grams or more of a mixture containing a detectable amount of cocaine, and a quantity of a mixture and substance containing marijuana from July 2020 through August 2021. The Indictment further alleges that several members of the conspiracy conspired to launder the monetary proceeds of the illegal drug trafficking activity. Finally, the Indictment alleges individual drug trafficking violations against Morgan Gregory, Jeffery Peters, and Christina Shaffer, as well as a firearms violation against Justin Zeruth. For all defendants, the law provides for a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and up to life, a fine of not more than $10,000,000, or both.

A second indictment names:

• Yusuf Adekunle, 26, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

• Adrian Alvarez, 27, (address unknown)

• Jesus Gonzalez, 35, of Houston, Texas.

According to the two-count Indictment, on or about October 22, 2020, the defendants conspired to distribute and possessed with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. The law provides for a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and up to life, a fine of $10 million or both.

A third indictment names Doug Austen, 40, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the sole defendant. According to the Indictment, Austen possessed with intent to distribute and distributed more than 50 grams of methamphetamine on June 9, 2021. The law provides for a maximum total sentence of not less than 10 years to a maximum of life in prison, a fine not to exceed $10,000,000, or both.

A fourth indictment names Brent Coder, 54, of Dubois, Pennsylvania, as the sole defendant. According to the Indictment, on or about August 19, 2020 Coder distributed a quantity of methamphetamine and or about September 17, 2020, Coder possessed with intent to more than 500 grams of methamphetamine. The law provides for a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and up to life in prison, a fine of $10 million or both.

A fifth indictment names John Vos, 44, address unknown, as the sole defendant. According to the Indictment, Vos conspired with others to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine and on October 21, 2020, possessed with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. The law provides for a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and up to life in prison, a fine of $10 million or both.

A sixth indictment names six individuals:

• Diego Zamudio, age 23, Pasadena, Texas

• Kimari Jackson, age 25, Richmond Heights, Ohio

• Terry Kelly, age 60, of Penfield, Pennsylvania

• Kareem Rock, age 27, of Richmond Heights, Ohio

• Ryan Schoening, age 31, of Rockton, Pennsylvania

• Jason Whitaker, age 48, of Dubois, Pennsylvania.

According to the Indictment, the defendants conspired to distribute and possess with intent to distribute and distributed more than 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine from November 2020 through April 22, 2021. Jackson and Rock were also charged with possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine following a traffic stop on February 6, 2021. A subsequent search of their hotel room resulted in the seizure of more than 50 grams of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine and 40 grams or more of fentanyl. The law provides for a maximum total sentence of not less than 10 years to a maximum of life in prison, a fine not to exceed $10,000,000, or both.

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 each defendant.

The six indictments, returned by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on August 24, 2021, were unsealed today.

The Drug Enforcement Administration led the multi-agency investigation of this case, which also included the United States Postal Service – Office of Inspector General, United States Postal Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Internal Revenue Services – Criminal Investigation, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and Pennsylvania State Police. Also assisting were the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, Clearfield County District Attorney’s Office, the Allegheny County Police Department, the Clarion Borough Police Department, and the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.

Acting U.S Attorney Kaufman also recognized the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, under the leadership of Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert, for their assistance with the investigation and handling of initial proceedings in their District. 

This prosecution is a result of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles high-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten communities throughout the United States. OCDETF uses a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan D. Lusty and Michael R. Ball are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

An indictment is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Additional Details
URL
Component
USAO - Pennsylvania, Western;
OIG
Department of Homeland Security OIG