Eight-week federal trial results in conviction of Chapo associates in Buffalo, NY
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; New York Division, U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr., and James D. Robnett, IRS Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office, announced today that following an eight week trial, a federal jury has convicted Herman E. Aguirre, a/k/a 007, a/k/a Lucky, a/k/a Primo, a/k/a Freddy, of Brea, California, and Troy R. Gillon, of Lockport, NY, of narcotics conspiracy. Defendant Aguirre was also convicted of operating a continuing criminal enterprise and money laundering conspiracy. The charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
“Throughout this trial, it clearly demonstrates to the public that traffickers are reaping millions of dollars off overdoses, addiction and death,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan. “DEA’s seizures and enforcement efforts in Buffalo denied the Sinaloa Cartel revenue of $2.5 million but more importantly, put 17 members in jail and took nearly three million doses of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine off the streets. I commend our law enforcement partners and the prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of New York for their diligent efforts in this investigation.”
“This transnational drug organization and these defendants were responsible for introducing the scourge of lethal fentanyl into our community, resulting in the loss of lives,” stated U.S. Attorney Kennedy. “However, as a result of this verdict and previous convictions of multiple co-defendants, the organization and the pipeline have been effectively shut down.”
“IRS Criminal Investigation uses financial investigative expertise to pursue those individuals who engage in illegal activities as seen in the significant drug organization on trial in this case,” said James D. Robnett, IRS Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office. “Money laundering constitutes a serious threat to our communities and to the integrity of our financial system; today’s verdict is an example of how merging the unique skills of each agency makes a formidable team as we prosecute the offenders.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Meghan A. Tokash and Michael P. Felicetta, who handled the prosecution of the case, stated that Aguirre was the leader, and Gillon a member, of a transnational drug trafficking organization that utilized contacts and a source of supply whose territory included Mexico, Arizona, California, and elsewhere. The source of supply was the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
The local organization trafficked thousands of kilograms of illegal narcotics, including heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine throughout the United States, including Lockport, Niagara Falls, and Buffalo, via the mail, individual vehicles outfitted with “trap” compartments, and on pallets loaded on tractor trailers. Members of the organization created fictitious “front” companies to launder drug proceeds including Triton Foods, Inc., Kamora Investment Enterprises, Inc. and Fresh Choice Produce, all of which were incorporated in the State of California. Another fictitious company, Corral Seafoods, LLC, registered in the State of New York, was allegedly located in Cheektowaga, NY, but proved to be completely fake.
Using these companies, the defendants disguised kilogram quantities of heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine on pallets described on inventory and other documents as containing “Sea Cucumbers.” Evidence presented by the Government at trial showed that sea cucumbers are commonly found in Southeast Asia and Europe but rarely, if ever, in Western New York State. The pallets bearing the illegal narcotics were secreted in containers sealed with foam or spray insulation to avoid detection by law enforcement.
Members of the organization also utilized numerous bank accounts at local Bank of America branches to deposit illegal drug proceeds. Local members of the drug trafficking organization deposited over $19,000,000 of illegal drug proceeds into these fake seafood accounts, while California conspirators created false invoices to make it look like Western New Yorkers were buying sea cucumbers at astounding rates and quantities. The Western New York Asset Protection Manager of Wegman’s Food Markets, Inc. testified at the trial that none of its 13 Western New York stores have ever carried sea cucumbers because there is no demand for the product in Buffalo and the surrounding areas.
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement officers seized over $5,000,000 worth of illegal narcotics, including:
• 52.5 kilograms of cocaine;
• 17.5 kilograms of heroin; and
• 8.5 kilograms of fentanyl
Using standard dosage amounts, the seized drugs potentially represented over 1,500,000 “hits” of cocaine, and 2,700,000 “hits” of heroin and considering that two milligrams of fentanyl can be a lethal dose, enough fentanyl potentially to kill over four million people. Further evidence presented by the Government at trial revealed that after a December 2014 meeting in Buffalo, defendant Aguirre shipped 10 kilograms of fentanyl to Buffalo and defendant Gillon took possession of the 10 kilograms. Gillon sold two kilograms of the fentanyl before residents of the Lockport area started overdosing on the drug shortly after New Year’s Day, 2015. DEA Special Agent Shane Nastoff testified that Gillon told police that he returned the remaining eight kilograms to a co-conspirator in early March 2015 because, “People are dying off this (expletive).” The co-conspirator moved the remaining fentanyl, along with two kilograms of cocaine, and 22 kilograms of heroin, to a house on Folger Street in the City of Buffalo. On March 23, 2015, Buffalo Police seized 32 kilograms of drugs from the Folger Street location—including Gillon’s eight kilograms of fentanyl.
The investigation further determined that between June 2013 and September 2015, members of the organization additionally distributed over 5,000 pounds of cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and marijuana in the Western New York area. Approximately $20,000,000 was sent from Western New York banks to California in a two year period of time.
Aguirre and Gillon were indicted along with 15 others including:
• Jose Ruben Gil, a/k/a Unc, a/k/a Ruben Gil Campos, a/k/a Mayor of Mexico, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Sonia Hernandez, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Margaret Banuelos, a/k/a Lisa, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Darryl J. Williams, a/k/a D, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Trent Adair Hamilton, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Michael Paul Mitchell, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Demetrius Yarborough, a/k/a Tu, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Rashawn Crule, a/k/a Black, a/k/a Shawn, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Maulana Lucas, a/k/a Big Daddy, a/k/a Shabazz, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Shirley Grigsby, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Ralik Hamilton; was convicted and is awaiting sentencing;
• Dion Cheatham, was convicted and is awaiting sentencing; and
• Joseph Thompson, a/k/a Jo-Jo, a/k/a Skools, a/k/a Skoolboy, convicted and sentenced.
Charges are pending against defendants Martha Aguirre and Juan Alfaro. The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The trial verdict is the result of an investigation by the DEA Buffalo Resident Office; Homeland Security Investigations; the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division; the Niagara County Drug Task Force; the Buffalo Police Department; the Lockport Police Department; the Montebello, California Police Department, the Nebraska State Patrol, and the DEA Los Angeles Field Division.
Defendant Aguirre is scheduled to be sentenced on June 12, 2019, Gillon on June 14, 2019, both before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo, who presided over the trial of the case.
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