33-year sentence for U.S. man in case of fentanyl ring run from Canadian prison
A prison is seen in this undated file photo.
TORONTO -- An American man has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for his role in an international fentanyl trafficking ring that was operating out of a Canadian prison.
In a press release published Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Steven Barros Pinto, 40, of Rhode Island, would have to serve 400 months in prison for various charges, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, money laundering conspiracy, continuing criminal enterprise, and obstruction of justice.
Pinto was part of a Rhode Island-based organization that was distributing fentanyl and fentanyl-like drugs from Canada and China, the department said.
One of Pinto’s principal U.S.-based partners in the operation, Anthony Santos Gomes, 36, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on July 30, the announcement said.
The investigation into the drug-trafficking ring, known as “Operation Denial,” began in January 2015 following the overdose death of 18-year-old Bailey Henke in Grand Forks, N.D.
U.S. authorities allege the enterprise involved distributing fentanyl and other similar substances from Canada and China into the United States, where some of those drugs resulted in 15 overdoses, including 11 that caused serious bodily injuries and four that resulted in fatal overdoses.
Since the investigation began, authorities have laid charges against more than 30 individuals in the U.S., Canada, and China for their involvement in the enterprise.
Three of those Canadians, Jason Joey Berry, 38; Xuan Cahn Nguyen, 41; and Marie Um, 41, all from Quebec, were extradited from Canada to the United States earlier this year.
They have been detained and are currently awaiting trial scheduled for Oct. 4, 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In 2019, Berry and Nguyen’s alleged co-defendant, Daniel Vivas Ceron of Colombia, 41, pleaded guilty for his role in operating an international fentanyl trafficking organization from a medium-security prison in Quebec. According to court documents, he arranged co-conspirators to conduct transactions in Canada and China through money wires, bank wires, bank deposits and the use of virtual currency systems.
Ceron pled guilty to continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and controlled substance analogues resulting in serious bodily injury and death, and money laundering.
“From a Canadian jail cell, Daniel Vivas Ceron directed a deadly drug ring that fueled the opioid epidemic and took the lives of four Americans,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division said at the time.
Ceron was extradited to the U.S. in 2017 and is facing a life sentence in prison.
In August 2021, the U.S. Department of State announced the offer of a reward of up to US$5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Zhang Jian, aka Hong Kong Zaron, 42, of China for allegedly leading the international fentanyl trafficking operation.