Drug Enforcement Administration

New York

Raymond P. Donovan, Special Agent in Charge

March 04, 2019

Contact: Erin Mulvey

Phone Number: (212) 337-2906

Second leader of major opioid trafficking organization sentenced in Rochester

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr., and DEA New York Division Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan announced that Maximillian Sams, 31, of Elmira, who was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute, 100 grams or more of a fentanyl analogue, was sentenced to serve 210 months in federal prison by Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci, Jr. In addition, Chad Smith, 27, of Horseheads, who was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and distribute, U-47700, was sentenced to serve 22 months in prison.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett A. Harvey, who handled the case, stated that Sams, along with co-conspirator Robert Ian Thatcher, ran a large-scale opioid manufacturing and trafficking organization in the Southern Tier of New York and northern Pennsylvania between 2015 and May 2017. As part of the conspiracy, Thatcher and Sams imported bulk quantities of furanyl fentanyl and U-47700 from overseas suppliers China. They ordered the furanyl fentanyl and U-47700 on what is known as “the dark web,” and used different people and addresses in New York and Pennsylvania to receive the shipments. Sams and Thatcher purchased equipment and materials – including pill presses/mechanical tableting machines, microcrystalline cellulose, lactose magnesium stearate and powdered food coloring – which they used to manufacture tens of thousands blue pills containing furanyl fentanyl and U-47700. The pills were made to look like legitimate 30 milligram Percocet pills.


At least two individuals – a 21 year old female, and a 25 year-old male – died after ingesting the blue pills containing furanyl fentanyl and U-47700. In addition, at least one individual overdosed on more than one occasion after using the blue pills manufactured, but survived after being treated by first responders with Narcan.


Sams and Thatcher used residences at 604 South Lehigh Avenue in Sayre, Pa., and 665 Sawdey Road in Catlin, N.Y., to manufacture and process the pills for distribution. During the execution of a search warrant at the Sayre location on May 16, 2017, law enforcement agents recovered, among other things, 244 blue pills containing furanyl fentanyl, four long guns and ammunition. In addition, during the execution of a search warrant at the Catlin location on May 18, 2017, law enforcement agents recovered, among other things, materials used by the defendant and Sams to manufacture the pills for distribution. During the conspiracy, Thatcher also possessed several firearms at the Pennsylvania location and his residence in Elmira.


After manufacturing the pills, Sams and Thatcher would distribute them in large quantities to other co-conspirators – including Anthony Prettyman, Jesus Rivera, Terrance Washington, and Dwayne Banks, aka Fizzle, aka Fizz, who would then distribute the pills to various street-level customers in the Elmira area. Sams also supplied pills to an individual in the Charlotte, N.C., area. As part of the conspiracy, Sams used co-conspirator Anthony Prettyman to transport 5,330 blue pills containing furanyl fentanyl from Elmira to North Carolina in October 2016. On Oct. 25, 2016, in North Carolina, deputies with the Iredell County (N.C.) Sheriff’s Office conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle in which Prettyman was traveling. During a subsequent search, the deputies recovered and seized a paint can with a false bottom containing the 5,330 blue pills from inside Prettyman’s vehicle.


In early 2017, Thatcher arranged for a package of furanyl fentanyl, that he ordered over the dark web, to be sent to co-conspirator Carlito Rios, Jr. On March 13, 2017, Customs and Border Protection officers at the John F. Kennedy International Airport Mail Branch in Queens, N.Y., examined a United States Postal Service package addressed to co-conspirator Rios at 1015 Oak Street in Elmira. The sender was listed as an entity in China. Upon inspection, the package was found to contain approximately 249 grams of furanyl fentanyl. Sams and Thatcher intended to use the seized furanyl fentanyl to manufacture and distribute additional quantities of the blue pills.


To date, 16 members and associates of the opioid manufacturing and trafficking operation have been convicted of federal narcotics offenses. Seven defendants have been sentenced: Thatcher was sentenced to serve 23 years in federal prison; Thatcher’s girlfriend, Amber Bates, who was convicted of money laundering conspiracy, was sentenced to five years’ probation to include six months of home detention; Robert J. Elford was sentenced to 121 months in federal prison; Edward Barrett was sentenced to 90 months in federal prison; Dusty Pemberton was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison; Deven Hill was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison; Anthony J. Prettyman was sentenced to serve 125 months in federal prison; Dwayne Banks was sentenced to 108 months in federal prison; and Isaiah McLaurin, who was convicted of witness tampering after threatening an individual working with the Drug Enforcement Administration on Facebook, was sentenced to serve 57 months in federal prison.


The sentencing is the result of an investigation by the DEA Rochester Resident Office and DEA Scranton Resident Office; the New York State Police, Community Narcotics Enforcement Team Southern Tier; the Elmira Police Department; Homeland Security Investigations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, New York Field Division; the Pennsylvania State Police; the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office; the Iredell, NC County Sheriff’s Office, and Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Unit. Additional assistance was provided by the Northeast Regional Laboratory.


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