Articles Posted in Drug Charges

A one-time law student was convicted of conspiracy to import and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance in association with the role he played in a drug ring that used the Internet to order synthetic chemicals from China and have them transported to a location in Miami under the control of he and his co-conspirators.

This was the first conviction attained by the government after starting the year 2016 with a 0-3 result for similar illegal importation cases that went to a federal jury.

In this particular case, Mario Melton used his family’s freight forwarding company Transfreight International to ship large amounts of MDMA (Molly) into the country. It was the government’s second attempt at trying Melton; the first resulting in a mistrial when a federal jury couldn’t come to a decision after four days of deliberations.

Melton was convicted of assisting two ex-soldiers; Jorge Hernandez and Matthew Anich along with nine others run one of the largest synthetic drug rings in Miami history. All of the other named conspirators have already accepted plea deals for the charges filed against them.

Not all attorneys in Fort Lauderdale have experience in federal cases. When choosing an attorney for the defense of any federal charge it’s crucial that the chosen advocate is well-versed in all aspects of federal criminal law.

Michael Cohen’s experience in the federal system goes back to when he worked for the US Attorney’s Office as an Assistant United States Attorney. Now working in the private sector for close to twenty years, Mr. Cohen is the proper choice to counter all charges filed by the government.

When the federal government hands down an Indictment most cases are resolved by an agreement between the prosecution and the defense. The accused usually waives their right to a trial by jury and a federal judge ordinarily agrees to the terms of the deal.
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A recent example of enforcement of these new laws is a case involving Saiful Hossain, who worked in his father’s grocery store in Hillsborough County.

In 2012, the business was selling the synthetic drug openly before new laws were enacted banning a list of the chemicals used to manufacture the synthetic drug known as Spice.

According to federal documents, on November 7 of last year, Vero Beach resident Ahmed Maher Elhelw was arrested when federal agents discovered a three kilogram package of XLR-11, a controlled substance chemical used in the manufacture of SSC (smokable synthetic cannabinoids) in his possession. The chemical was one of many that were banned by the new law implemented in 2012. Subsequent investigation uncovered approximately seven more packages, containing equal amounts. The chemical that was imported into the Vero Beach area originating in China had a projected street value of more than $5.4 million.

Elhelw was the first of four South Florida residents who was taken into custody in a conspiracy to import and distribute synthetic chemicals in a plan that was hatched by Hossain after he decided to go out on his own when his father’s grocery store stopped selling the now illegal substance.
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The use of Synthetic Drugs is quickly becoming a massive problem for law enforcement as well as Health and Social Services departments across the country; and in a big way in South Florida. Specifically, synthetic marijuana known as Spice among many other labeling nicknames has contributed to a string of bizarre cases and more so, a spike in drug induced hospitalizations. Based on current statistics, Broward County has been the hardest hit municipality facing the effects of this legal dilemma.

Last month, an Alaska woman suspected of being high on Spice was arrested after she began destroying the interior of a local Subway restaurant. She tore off her clothes until she was completely naked and couldn’t hold a rational conversation with the responding officer, according to the formal complaint. She broke computers and furniture as well as ripping ceiling tiles out before locking herself in the bathroom. Damage to the restaurant was estimated at more than twenty thousand dollars. She was taken to a local hospital for treatment but Police Sgt. Shaun Henry said she would most likely face felony charges once she recovers.

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Although she may not be the mastermind of the operation, twenty-two year old Jaime Nicole Lewis, of Boca Raton has been charged with conspiring to import, possess and distribute several kilos of Alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenon (Alpha-PVP), the main ingredient of an illegal synthetic drug manufactured in China. In street jargon, the drug is commonly known as flakka.

Early last week, Lewis pleaded guilty to conspiring to having the key flakka ingredient imported into the country although she maintains that her role was only acting as a type of accountant responsible for taking care of the “money aspect” for the illegal operation she was charged with being a part of.

She’s been held in federal custody since late April when U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Brannon said that Lewis posed a danger to the community. She was previously arrested multiple times for possession of marijuana; the last arrest a more serious charge of possession with intent to distribute to a minor in a case which is still ongoing in Broward County.

The judge stated that “the major problem I have with the situation is the repeated encounters Ms. Lewis has had with the court system, which apparently don’t teach her anything.”

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The Horace Man School has been a fixture in the Riverdale section of the Bronx celebrating its one-hundred-twenty-fifth anniversary in 2012. In addition to Mann there are several schools in that area and thousands of children of school-age in attendance.

Fieldston Terrace is a peaceful street just a little north from The Horace Mann School. It was there that DEA agents were able to uncover close to 70 pounds of cocaine. The drug was carefully packaged in cellophane and found hidden in a closet in the bedroom of an apartment within the building that is located just west of Broadway, neighboring Van Cortlandt Park to the east. The Major Deegan Expressway goes directly through the park. The DEA has recently noted a trend where “stash houses” that hold large amounts of drugs have been found to be located neighboring major state interstate highways and thruways.

The stash was found this past September 26, which led to the immediate arrest of Juan Rojas, 30, who shared the apartment with his girlfriend Ana.

In addition to the cocaine that has been valued at over $1.5 million, two loaded firearms, scales, a money counter, drug ledgers as well as over $1.6 million in cash were seized by the DEA agents who made the bust.

A portion of the packages of cocaine were soaped in a type of grease, and a five-gallon container of that substance was also found in close proximity to the stockpile of drugs. According to DEA sources, drug traffickers brush cocaine with this type of grease to disguise the scent from drug-sniffing dogs that are trained to track illegal substances. The container’s incidence in the bedroom led law enforcement officials to believe that the apartment was used as a “stash house” which held the drugs before they were staged and transported, according to DEA Agent spokeswoman Erin Mulvey. “It was going to be used to mask the smell in transportation somewhere,” she stated referring to the confiscated tub of grease. Based on calculations, law enforcement believes that Rojas was trafficking in the area of 110 pounds of cocaine on a monthly basis. The apartment was targeted by DEA agents as a suspected drug trafficking locality as part of an ongoing investigation

The apartment was neither listed in the name of Rojas or his girlfriend. Records revealed that it was listed under the name of a Ms. Then.

Rojas, 30, now faces charges of first-and-third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance; one third-degree count of criminal possession of a weapon as well as two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. In the statement that was released by the DEA it wasn’t specified if the suspect caused any commotion when he was arrested as the raid took place. His girlfriend Ana, who was present at the apartment when the bust went down, was taken into custody and later pleaded guilty to criminal facilitation which is a misdemeanor.

Rojas was indicted last week after being held without bail since his arrest. His attorney stated that his client has no prior records of arrest and pointed out that the apartment belonged to another person. “It was another individual’s apartment and he’s going to vigorously fight the case,” commented his attorney in a phone interview with the Riverdale Press. The lawyer went on to say that his client planned to plead not guilty at his arraignment which is scheduled for next week.

Neighbors that were interviewed by the same publication that conducted the telephone interview reported that they seemed surprised by news of the goings on in the apartment.

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Follow Up: The Prosecution accused the two doctors of being “drug dealers in white coats”. They inferred that the pair abandoned their medical ethics and were reckless, authorizing illegal pill distributors, and persons addicted to drugs the reward of being prescribed hundreds of pills at a time if they were willing to make the journey to the South Florida pain clinic where they worked. In some cases, individuals described as such would travel more than 1,000 miles to arrive where the two doctors and others like them practiced their craft.

The prosecution originally accused the doctors of murder by causing the deaths of patients who overdosed on the pain medications they prescribed in addition to money laundering; with reference to the proceeds of the prescriptions they wrote.

In a previous article posted here on July 26 it was reported that the two doctors each refused to accept plea deals, emphasizing their innocence. As a result of those decisions the penalty of life imprisonment loomed large.

Nonetheless, last week, although the jury acquitted doctors Cynthia Cadet, 43, and Joseph Castronuovo, 74, on the principal charge of murder (causing the deaths of nine patients that died due to Oxycodone overdoses which they prescribed), they were found guilty of the lesser charge of money laundering for their part in the conspiracy which involved a collection of South Florida pain clinics nicknamed “Oxy Alley”.

Cadet, a retired U.S. Air Force major, and Castronuovo worked at the pain clinic dubbed a pill mill by law enforcement authorities, owned and operated by Chris and Jeff George. Both George brothers are currently serving significant periods of incarceration for their previous guilty pleas in the pain clinic controversy.

Previously in this case, 26 other doctors accepted guilty pleas, most of them receiving five-year sentences. Cadet and Castronuovo were the only two hold-outs.

The West Palm Beach federal jury deliberated for 20 hours before reaching their verdict.

On the money laundering charges, the prosecution sought Castronuovo to pay more than $60,000, and Cadet to pay $1.2 million in a forfeiture of their proceeds. But the decision by the jury was for each to pay $10,001 in the monetary segment of their sentence. There was no mention how and why the jury came up with that specific monetary figure.

During the trial, both defense attorneys argued that the two doctors were uninformed of any conspiracy and were only practicing medicine within state standards regarding the prescribing of drugs to their patients. This standard allows a licensed physician to dispense psychoactive chemical opioid pain pills without fear of reprimand.

“There was not a single piece of evidence at this trial that showed she knew of any conspiracy,” argued Cadet’s attorney.

“It’s an inconsistent verdict when you’re saying to the judge, we’re finding her not guilty, yet on the proceeds of the conspiracy, she’s guilty of that.”

Lawyers for the defendants said that the convictions were a “compromise verdict” handed down by a jury that needed to find the doctors guilty of “something” after a trial that lasted eight-weeks. But both defense attorneys said they were pleased by the outcome thus far. They also both asserted they would appeal the money laundering sentences, on the grounds that they were inconsistent with acquittals in the more serious drug charges.
To read our previous article on this topic, click here

The FBI Press Release can be read by clicking here.

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A history of violence surrounds a Miami family that operated marijuana grow-houses in Miami since 2004. They paid a multitude of caretakers to watch over the crops and were known to be cultivating over 1000 marijuana plants worth millions of dollars, according to Federal authorities.

They were the owners of dozens of houses all over Dade County, but had the property titles listed under the names of other less significant-known collaborators, according to the prosecution in a case that involved the 2009 murder of Fidel Ruz Moreno, who the family believed was stealing marijuana plants from one of their properties.

After finding out that his Miami drug operation was under investigation, it is believed that Gilberto Santiesteban Jr. who ran the operation fled to Mexico in early 2010. But it is thought that in the latter part of the year, he paid a “coyote” to sneak him back into the U.S.
Gilberto’s three brothers were also known as kingpins of the grow-house enterprise.
In June 2012, thirteen men and women, who were either family members or persons associated with the family, were arrested for their involvement in the enormous grow-house network. Federal authorities said that the arrests included baby-faced Gilberto, his Father; Gilberto Sr. and his three brothers. Norge Manduley, 39, another member of the “family” was also arrested in the roundup.

Manduley was accused of hijacking Moreno’s cargo van, beating him severely, then shooting him and putting the body into the cargo hold of his van
As his empire dissolved, on April 29, Gilberto pled guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Since February, the detained Santiesteban family and their cronies have been dealing with the prosecution in attempts to lessen the time they would have to serve for their crimes. One of the brothers, Derrick Santiesteban, along with his wife Yadira pled guilty on February 15. Five of the other defendants, including Brother Alexander Santiesteban went on to plead guilty later in the month. Four more of their connections pled guilty in March.

On April 12, the Father, Gilberto Sr., joined the rest of his codefendants with a guilty plea. Gilberto Jr. and another brother, Darvis, were the last plead out with exception to Manduley who was found not guilty of kidnapping and the murder when deliberations concluded last Monday following a weeklong trial. The jury did find Manduley guilty of one count of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute less than 100 marijuana plants.

Manduley hugged his defense attorney after hearing the outcome of the jury’s considerations.

It appears that the jury had their doubts about the murder and kidnapping charges when a group of government witnesses testified in federal court that Manduley was the shooter, but a few of the defense witnesses disputed that fact and stated that he wasn’t the person who fired the weapon that killed Fidel Ruz Moreno in 2009.

“There was a lot on the line here,” Manduley’s attorney said after the 12-person jury’s acquittal of his client.

He told a reporter from the Miami Herald that “The government had a bunch of co-defendants who were all dirty and the jury didn’t like that… The government brought no independent witnesses. I brought two independent witnesses who identified another person as the shooter.”

If convicted, Manduley would have had to face a compulsory life sentence. He’ll be sentenced for the one count guilty verdict on July 30 before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore.

The head of the organization, the younger Gilberto’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 18.

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A Police Officer that was arrested last weekend told a news reporter that he was innocent of the charges lodged against him and that the incident that led to his arrest was a set up as well as what he dubbed a case of “forbidden love”.

Hialeah Police Department 15-year veteran, Sergeant Tomas Muñoz, 41 was arrested last Saturday when he and an unidentified woman were discovered by police in a room of the Ernesto Motel on West Flagler Street. When the police searched the room they found crack cocaine rocks in plain sight on a night stand, as well as drug paraphernalia, including a crack pipe that was found under the mattress.

As the arrest took place, Muñoz seemed to be consoling the woman. He was heard saying “It’s ok Hilda. It’s ok. Things happen for a reason according to the police report.”
The woman was not charged during the course of the officer’s arrest according to Carl Zogby a spokesman for the Hialeah Police. He also said that she is cooperating in the progression of the investigation.

Muñoz was arrested with the support of the Miami Police according to authorities.

Police acted on anonymous information that tipped them off that Muñoz was seen purchasing the drugs on Friday night, in the vicinity of Miami International Airport, according to the arrest report. They reportedly spotted Muñoz driving a 2004 white Dodge Intrepid with a woman inside and followed him to the motel. They then knocked on the door of the room where they suspected Munoz to be and requested him to sign a consent form to allow them to search the room; which he did in fact sign
At the time of his arrest, Muñoz had already been suspended with pay from the force on a separate matter and was the target of an internal affairs investigation that began more than a few weeks before this current incident occurred.

Muñoz posted a $6,000 bond on Monday and told WFOR-CBS4 news reporters a tale of an apparent tawdry affair that triggered his current situation.

He told one of the reporters, “I met a girl, she happens to have a pimp, and we fell in love,” He went on to say “And he doesn’t let her be free. This came about because he set the whole thing up.”

When questioned on the telephone by CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, Muñoz said “I’m saying this whole thing came about from that so let me give you his name, Darin James Febus.”

D’Oench then reached Febus, also by phone but before the reporter was able to question him, Febus hung up.

It was discovered that on February 8th of last year Febus and a woman; Miriam Scott Dailey were arrested at a house located at 2021 SW 37th Avenue and were charged with possession of cannabis and grand theft. Febus was also charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

When D’Oench tried to question Muñoz further he chose not to answer any more questions about the drug charges against him or any internal affairs investigation that he was part of before the motel arrest.

“I’m not answering any questions pertaining to the charges,” he told CBS4’s Summer Knowles. When Knowles asked him why not, he replied, “I don’t feel like it.”

Knowles also asked him if he thought that the charges against him would be dropped. He replied, “That’s up to them. I deal with everything as it comes. The present moment, right now, I’m dealing with this moment here and I’m good and I’m going to be good no matter what.” He went on to tell the reporter that he wasn’t upset.

Muñoz has been charged with one count of felony cocaine possession (non-trafficking amount), and one count of Misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia according to the Police Department press release.

Muñoz, who has been with the Hialeah Police Department since 1998 had been reassigned to an administrative post from his regular duties since the internal affairs investigation began, and is recognized now to be in “at-home” status. He has also been suspended from all other police responsibilities according to Zogby.

His arraignment hearing is scheduled for May 28.

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Shane McKenney was branded a racketeer and principal of a prescription pill mill responsible for illegally obtaining thousands of pills from local pharmacies. Shane’s drug of choice is oxycodone and has been addicted to the narcotic for several years.

The guilty verdicts were returned by the jury that consisted of five women and one man at the beginning of their second day of deliberations. The jury convicted him of dozens of trafficking charges going back to 2007. He was also found guilty of lesser trafficking charges due to the actual weights of the pills in some of the cases. Out of the more than 100 trafficking charges he was only acquitted of an insignificant amount.

In 2008, McKenney, a resident of North Palm Beach was rounded up with more than a dozen others in connection with an oxycodone ring which surfaced at the end of an investigation of a home burglary in Palm Beach Gardens.

Prosecutor Christy Rogers called upon other persons arrested with McKenney to provide testimony against him including Michael Zimmerman who explained to the jury how McKenney attained phony prescriptions on the Internet and then handed them out to other members of the group to be filled by local pharmacies. Zimmerman was quick to suggest that the pharmacies did very little or nothing at all to verify the authenticity of the prescriptions. All the prescriptions were paid for with cash. McKenney’s attorney argued the same point before the court and pointed out that her client was an oxycodone addict who heavily used the drugs he was suspected of trafficking.

McKenney will be sentenced on Oct. 29 to a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in prison. Still because of the conviction of racketeering McKenney could face a much longer term of imprisonment. At the discretion of Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal, the term can vary but family members commented that because he is an addict the case should not be compared to that of Chris and Jeff George who plea bargained a 25 year minimum mandatory sentence in a similar type of case. Chris George received 17 ½ years and his Brother Jeff’s penalty was capped at 20 years in prison.

After the verdict was read the defendant’s lawyer stated that she planned to file papers showing that her client should have been charged with fraudulently obtaining a prescription which is a third degree felony which carries a maximum five-year sentence as opposed to the minimum five years that he is now looking at.

It is important to note that narcotic addiction and dependence are medical illnesses that need the full attention of the health care community. McKenney’s mother told a deputy that Shane was a man whose pill addiction propelled him to get fake prescriptions for others to primarily feed his own habit.

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