Rhode Island Man Sentenced to 33 years in Federal Prison for His Leadership Role in a Large-Scale International Fentanyl Trafficking Operation, Investigated Under “Operation Denial”

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FARGO – Acting United States Attorney Nicholas W. Chase, District of North Dakota, along with Acting United States Attorney Scott E. Asphaug, District of Oregon, and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr., U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, announced that Steven Barros Pinto, age 40 of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Peter Welte, to 33 years imprisonment for the charges of Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances and Controlled Substances Analogues, Conspiracy to Import Controlled Substances and Controlled Substances Analogues into the United States, Money Laundering Conspiracy, Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE), and Obstruction of Justice.

On June 8, 2021, the trial of Steven Pinto commenced, in Fargo, North Dakota. Steven Pinto was part of a Rhode Island organization that was receiving fentanyl and fentanyl analogues from Canada and China. After a 5-week trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Steven Pinto on various narcotics trafficking charges. The partner of Steven Pinto in this criminal conspiracy, Anthony Santos Gomes, age 36 from Rhode Island, was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment on July 30, 2021.

This case is part of “Operation Denial,” an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation into the international trafficking of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues and was significantly aided by the national and international coordination led by the multi-agency Special Operations Division (S.O.D.) near Washington, DC, as part of “Operation Deadly Merchant.” The investigation started in North Dakota, on January 3, 2015, with the overdose death in Grand Forks, ND, of Bailey Henke.

Operation Denial has led to thirty-one (31) defendants charged in North Dakota and three (3) defendants charged in Oregon. The investigation has resulted in nearly $1 million in cash and property forfeited from members of the organization.

In 2021, three Canadian nationals from Quebec, Canada, Jason Joey Berry, 38, Xuan Cahn Nguyen, 41, and Marie Um, 41, were extradited from Canada to the United States. These defendants are detained and are currently awaiting trial scheduled on October 4, 2022, in Fargo. On August 31, 2021, the U.S. Department of State offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of People’s Republic of China (PRC) national Jian Zhang, a fugitive in this transnational investigation.

This case is being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -Homeland Security Investigations; North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; IRS-Criminal Investigation, Fargo; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force; Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Portland Oregon Police Bureau – Drugs and Vice Division; Portland HIDTA Interdiction Task Force; Oregon State Police; and Grand Forks Police Department.

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The prosecutors for this case are Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher C. Myers, District of North Dakota; Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Kerin, District of Oregon, also designated as a Special Assistant U.S Attorney in North Dakota; and Trial Attorneys Kaitlin Sahni and Imani Hutty, Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division.


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