News Release
January 12, 2010
Contact: Jodie Underwood
Number: (206) 553-5443

Leader of Drug Trafficking and Bank Fraud Ring Sentenced to
8+ Years in Prison

JAN 12 -- (Seattle) –– Mario Earl, 31, of Seattle, Washington, the leader of a crime ring involved in both drug trafficking and bank fraud was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 102 months in prison and five years of supervised release for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and bank fraud. Additionally, Earl was ordered to pay approximately $30,000 in restitution.

Earl was arrested in January 2009, following an investigation of a drug trafficking organization moving large amounts of marijuana from Seattle and Phoenix, Arizona to Chicago, Illinois. The investigation of the drug trafficking followed a bank fraud investigation which revealed members of the conspiracy were obtaining identity documents in other people’s names and “skimming” identifying information from bank debit cards and credit cards. Investigators learned that the leaders of the bank fraud ring were also distributing large amounts of marijuana to the Chicago area. The conspirators were shipping 15-20 pound boxes of marijuana to Chicago via FedEx and would dump fabric softener in the boxes to try to mask the smell of marijuana.

According to the prosecutors sentencing memo, Earl has a lengthy criminal history, which includes prior drug offenses, weapon offenses, crimes of violence, and fraud/identity theft offenses. Earl was arrested in Chicago in the midst of the fraud scheme, charged in state court, and released on bond. Earl continued to participate in the drug conspiracy while on pretrial release.

Also sentenced today was Eddie Vaughn Chaney, 37, of Seattle, who also participated in the same marijuana trafficking conspiracy. Chaney was sentenced to 54 months for acting as a courier, and for stealing the identity of an innocent victim in the attempt to avoid arrest on other criminal warrants. Willie James Earl, Mario Earl’s brother, was a participant in the conspiracy and was sentenced last November to 68 months in prison.

This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) and the King County Sheriff’s Office.