August 19, 2014
Contact: Public Information Officer
AUG 18 (BROOKLYN, N.Y.) - Earlier today at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, John Venizelos, also known as “John V,” “Big Man,” and “John from Staten Island,” an alleged associate of the Bonanno organized crime family of La Cosa Nostra, was sentenced to 11 years in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release. In May 2013, Venizelos pleaded guilty to marijuana trafficking charges contained in a superseding indictment returned on April 3, 2013. As part of his sentence, Venizelos will also forfeit $148,480 and two firearms that federal agents seized from multiple locations in Staten Island where Venizelos stored narcotics and drug proceeds.
The sentence was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and James Hunt, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, New York (DEA).
“Today’s sentencing is a credit to the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force who worked diligently with the United States Attorney’s Office in order to keep our city and state crime free. John Venizelos was responsible for flooding American streets with thousands of pounds of marijuana while profiting millions of dollars. DEA is committed to identifying the drug kingpins that sit on the top of the drug trafficking chain and bringing them to justice,” stated DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Hunt.
“Venizelos used violence and intimidation to protect his position as a major narcotics distributor. Those who challenged him were threatened, tortured, and beaten. Venizelos’s conviction underscores our commitment to prosecuting drug traffickers who flood our communities with narcotics, especially when those individuals have chosen a life of organized crime,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. Ms. Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the NY Drug Enforcement Task Force comprised of agents and officers from the DEA, the New York City Police Department, and New York State Police; DEA’s New York Division; Nassau County Police Department; and Laval Police Service for their work on the case. Ms. Lynch also expressed her appreciation to the Department of Justice Office of International Affairs Montreal Police Department; Peel Regional Police Department, Ontario; Delta Police Department, British Colombia; Royal Canadian Mounted Police - Swift Current Division; Ontario Provincial Police; Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service; Akwesasne Tribal Police; Beverly Hills Police Department; Santa Ana Police Department; Anaheim Police Department; Costa Mesa Police Department; U.S. Border Patrol and Philadelphia Police Department for their important contributions to this investigation.
According to the indictment and other court filings submitted by the government, Venizelos was a major Staten Island-based distributor of narcotics for a Canadian narcotics trafficking enterprise. Specifically, Venizelos was charged with narcotics and firearm-related offenses and witness tampering as a part of an indictment in which ten members of a Montreal-based drug distribution organization affiliated with the Rizzuto and Bonanno crime families, the Hells Angels, and the Sinaloa Cartel were charged with trafficking over $1 billion worth of marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy into the United States between 1998 and 2012. The organization transported tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana from outdoor growers in British Colombia to Montreal, Canada, and controlled numerous warehouses in and around Montreal for the manufacture of ecstasy and hydroponic marijuana. The drugs were smuggled into the United States using transportation networks run by the Hells Angels and Native American co-conspirators from the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation along the U.S./Canadian border. Once the drugs were sold in the United States, much of it by distributors tied to the Bonanno crime family in New York, the organization used millions of dollars in drug proceeds to purchase more cocaine from the powerful Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico for exportation to and distribution in Canada. Venizelos was charged with witness tampering in connection with his attempts to dissuade a co-conspirator from cooperating with law enforcement by, among other things, informing the co-conspirator about a $2 million “hit fund” set aside to murder or otherwise retaliate against any individuals who cooperated with the government.
During the course of the investigation, federal agents seized more than 80 kilograms of cocaine and approximately $10,000,000 in suspected drug proceeds. At the time of Venizelos’ arrest, agents discovered narcotics, multiple encrypted Blackberry devices, approximately $150,000 in drug proceeds, and multiple firearms in his residence and a second stash house used by Venizelos – including a loaded semi-automatic handgun that had been stolen from a law enforcement officer. During the search, federal agents also discovered several handwritten letters addressed to Venizelos by an incarcerated associate of organized crime discussing a myriad of violent crimes committed by the author with, or on behalf of, Venizelos, including “a broad daylight kidnaping” and “torture” of an individual Venizelos suspected of stealing his drugs, threats of violence, and vicious assaults against customers who owed Venizelos drug debts, and preventing a witness (through threats and intimidation) from positively identifying Venizelos for a crime that would have resulted in him serving “at least 7 years in jail.”
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Steven L. Tiscione, Gina M. Parlovecchio, Amir H. Toossi, and Tanisha Payne.