Operation Denial leads to the indictment of a Rhode Island man on fentanyl charges.
Steven Barros Pinto, 40, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, has been indicted on charges related to conspiring to import fentanyl from China and producing counterfeit Percocet pills. A federal jury convicted Pinto on charges related to importing and distributing fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, continuing criminal enterprise, money laundering conspiracy, and obstruction offenses. Pinto also engaged in activities meant to silence witnesses and destroy evidence, according to prosecutors.
Pinto supplied tens of thousands of the fentanyl-laced pills after acquired the fentanyl and producing the fake pills with the help of co-conspirators Daniel Vivas Ceron, of Colombia, who pleaded guilty in July 2019, and Anthony Gomes, of Rhode Island, who pleaded guilty in April 2018. Vivas Ceron pleaded guilty specifically to continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and controlled substance analogues resulting in serious bodily injury and death, and money laundering.
“Daniel Vivas Ceron’s heinous crimes have caused unthinkable pain and anguish for dozens of people in Oregon and far beyond, including four victims who lost their lives to fatal overdoses. At a time when our country desperately tries to free itself from the painful grip of the opioid crisis, criminals like Ceron and his more than twenty co-defendants are seeking to profit off addiction and death,” said Billy J. Williams, U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon, at the time of his hearing. “The tragic irony of crime is that while Ceron will continue to live out his life in prison or beyond, four of his victims will not. The damage he caused is permanent. We cannot forget that.”
“My heart goes out to the friends and families of those who lost their lives as a result of the greed and selfishness of all of the individuals involved in this case,” added Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. “The amount of cooperation between HSI and our state, federal, and international partners was invaluable to halting the deadly actions of this complex drug organization. While we will never know how many lives are saved because of our efforts, we hope we are able to provide just a small bit of peace to the families whose lives are forever changed as a result of the offender’s careless actions.”
U.S. Attorney Drew H. Wrigley for the District of North Dakota said, “Ultimate justice can seem elusive in a case with such a wide swath of destruction….I want to personally commend the team of prosecutors and investigators who worked so ably across the nation and globe to make today’s guilty plea possible. We will work assiduously to secure a sentence that reflects the light of justice on the far-reaching damage done to innumerable victims, families, and communities.”
The case is part of “Operation Denial,” an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation into the international trafficking of illicit drugs, including producing fake pills with fentanyl for profit. The task force was assisted by the national and international coordination led by the multi-agency Special Operations Division near Washington, DC, as part of “Operation Deadly Merchant.”
Pinto is scheduled to be sentenced on October 14 and faces a mandatory minimum of two decades in prison.