Head of deadly Elmira opioid trafficking ring pleads guilty
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Acting Special Agent in Charge Keith Kruskall, New York Division, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that Robert Ian Thatcher, 30, of Elmira, N.Y. pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci, Jr. to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute, U-47700 and 100 grams or more of furanyl fentanyl. The charge carries a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, a maximum of life, and a $10,000,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett A. Harvey, who is handling the case, stated that the defendant, along with co-conspirator Maximillian Sams, 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 in 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. The defendant and Sams 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 of 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 female identified as B.S. and a male identified as C.H. – died after ingesting the blue pills containing furanyl fentanyl and U-47700. In addition, at least one individual – identified as J.M. – overdosed on more than one occasion after using the blue pills manufactured but survived after being treated by first responders with Narcan.
Thatcher and Sams 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, the defendant and Sams would distribute them in large quantities to other co-conspirators – including Anthony Prettyman, Jesus Rivera, Terrance Washington, and Dwayne Banks, a/k/a Fizzle, a/k/a Fizz, who would then distribute the pills to various street-level customers in the Elmira area. Pills were also supplied to an individual in the Charlotte, North Carolina 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 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. The defendant and Sams intended to use the seized furanyl fentanyl to manufacture and distribute additional quantities of the blue pills.
To date, 13 members and associates of the defendant’s opioid manufacturing and trafficking operation have been convicted of federal narcotics offenses. Each of those defendants is awaiting sentencing. In addition, an Elmira resident, Isaiah McLaurin, was convicted in September 2017 of witness tampering, after he made threats on Facebook against an individual working with the DEA during the investigation. Chief Judge Geraci sentenced McLaurin to 57 months in federal prison.
“This defendant and his co-conspirators may have thought they could elude law enforcement detection by purchasing supplies through the so-called ‘dark web,’ but as this investigation showed, that is clearly not the case,” said U.S. Attorney Kennedy. “Whether these criminals choose to pedal their deadly poison in urban, suburban, or rural areas, we will track you down, and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law. The opioid epidemic has taken far too many lives, but thanks to the efforts of many, including law enforcement, health officials, and treatment and prevention organizations, we are starting to stem this deadly tide.”
The plea is the result of an investigation by the DEA’s Rochester Resident Office and Scranton Resident Office; the New York State Police, Community Narcotics Enforcement Team Southern Tier; the Elmira Police Department; Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Pennsylvania State Police; the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office; the Iredell, N.C. County Sheriff’s Office, and Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Unit. Additional assistance was provided by the DEA Northeast Regional Laboratory.
Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 7, 2019, at 3:00 p.m. before Chief Judge Geraci.
# # #