Cocaine and Fentanyl Trafficking Ring Dismantled in Western New York
14 Individuals Indicted for Roles in Flooding Communities with Cocaine and Fentanyl
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James and Special Agent in Charge Frank A. Tarentino III, Drug Enforcement Administration New York Division announced the takedown of a drug trafficking operation that flooded communities in Western New York with cocaine and fentanyl pills. As alleged in the 129-count indictment — unsealed in Erie County Court yesterday — 14 individuals trafficked more than $250,000 worth of cocaine and thousands of fentanyl pills disguised as Oxycodone throughout Erie and Niagara counties. The investigation ultimately led to the seizure of approximately 1,440 counterfeit prescription “M-30” fentanyl pills, nearly one kilogram of cocaine, a loaded .45 caliber pistol, and more than $4,000 in cash.
This takedown was the result of an 18-month investigation led by the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF), in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Buffalo District Office’s Tactical Diversion Squad, and New York State Police’s (NYSP) Violent Gang and Narcotic Enforcement Team (VGNET).
The investigation — dubbed “Operation Big Eight Narco” due to the frequent trafficking of cocaine in 1/8 kilogram amounts — included physical and court-authorized wiretapping of cellular telephones. During the investigation, wiretaps also captured numerous conversations between Sims, Ramadan, Richmond, and McPhee, who frequently utilized coded and cryptic terminology in an attempt to disguise their illicit activities, such as referring to cocaine as “big eight”, “girl,” or “chicken,” and narcotics proceeds as “ticket”, “bread,” or “bones.”
As alleged in the indictment, the central figure in the trafficking network, Charles Sims, purchased large quantities of cocaine from Musa Ramadan, Tevin Jeter, Eric Richmond, and others. Sims then allegedly supplied large quantities of cocaine for resale to Michael McPhee, Devon Jones (a/k/a “Dutch”), Gregory Miller, and others. Miller, who is now deceased, obtained large quantities of counterfeit prescription “M-30” fentanyl pills from Michael Clark Jr., who then supplied the pills for resale to Anthony Fugate and others. Tajine Benning, a customer of Sims, was the subject of a traffic stop that led to the recovery of a loaded .45 caliber pistol. Sims is charged with Operating as a Major Trafficker, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
“Keeping our streets and communities safe from dangerous drugs and violence is a top priority,” said Attorney General James. “Any drug operation that floods our streets with cocaine and fentanyl puts our residents at risk, but this operation was particularly dangerous because they disguised these lethal drugs as prescription pills. This takedown is part of our ongoing efforts to keep our neighborhoods safe and go after those who put New Yorkers in harm’s way. I thank our partners in law enforcement for their critical support and collaboration.”
“DEA investigates criminal networks, worldwide and locally, who are responsible for fueling drug poisonings and violent crime,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino. “This particular investigation highlights how drug traffickers use social media and violence to further their illegal business, leaving damaged communities in their wake. I commend the DEA Buffalo District Office-Tactical Diversion Squad, New York State Police, and the New York State Attorney General’s Office for their diligent work throughout this investigation.”
“I want to thank the Attorney General’s Office and our law enforcement partners for their vigilant hard work that has resulted in the indictment of these 14 dangerous individuals,” said NYSP Acting Superintendent Steven A. Nigrelli. “The sale of these highly addictive drugs perpetuates a cycle of substance abuse which poses a significant threat to safety and quality of life within our neighborhoods. Yesterday's events send a strong message to dealers that we will not tolerate illegal drugs and weapons being brought into or sold in our communities.”
This indictment charges the 14 individuals with various crimes related to their involvement in the narcotics trafficking operation, including Operating as a Major Trafficker and various counts of Criminal Sale and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance (class A and B felonies), as well as Conspiracy in the Second Degree (a class B felony).
Those charged in the unsealed indictment include:
Tajine Benning, 48 years old, Niagara Falls, NY
Ronnie Cason, 46 years old, Buffalo, NY
Michael Clark, Jr., 23 years old, Buffalo, NY
Melanie Duchnik, 40 years old, Buffalo, NY
Anthony Fugate, 31 years old, Buffalo, NY
Tevin Jeter, 30 years old, Buffalo, NY
Devon Jones, a/k/a “Dutch”, 33 years old, Buffalo, NY
Jasper Lewis, 34 years old, Buffalo, NY
Negmarie Marcano, 40 years old, Buffalo, NY
Michael McPhee, 36 years old, Lockport, NY
Musa Ramadan, 36 years old, Buffalo, NY
Eric Richmond, 36 years old, Buffalo, NY
Charles Sims, 50 years old, Buffalo, NY
Ronald Washington, 35 years old, Buffalo, NY
The charges against the defendants are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.
In addition to the acknowledged partners, Attorney General James would like to thank the Buffalo Police Department, Amherst Police Department, Lockport Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the New York State Army National Guard Counter Drug Task Force for their invaluable assistance in the investigation.
The investigation was directed by DEA Special Agent Gregory Yensan, under the direction of GS Jason Staab-Peters; OCTF Supervising Detective Ever S. Quiñones, under the supervision of OCTF Upstate Assistant Chief Investigator John Monte and Acting Deputy Chief Investigator Andrew Boss; and NYSP investigators. The OAG’s Investigations Division is led by Chief Investigator Oliver Pu-Folkes.
The cases are being prosecuted by OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Nathanael C. Kapperman, under the supervision of OCTF Upstate Deputy Chief Maria Moran. Nicole Keary is the Deputy Attorney General in Charge of OAG’s OCTF. The Division for Criminal Justice is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Jose Maldonado. Both the Investigations Division and the Division for Criminal Justice are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.