By Kristine Gill
Just six of 28 suspects — many of them Youngstown area residents — accused of involvement in an international drug-trafficking organization remained at large Wednesday afternoon.
City officials and local FBI leaders announced a 101-count indictment against the 28, urging those remaining to turn themselves in. “That’s the safest way,” said U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach.
The group is accused of trafficking cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, crack cocaine and marijuana from San Diego and New York to the Youngstown area from 2006 to 2010.
A long-term effort by the FBI, Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force and the Drug Enforcement Administration brought the 22nd person into custody Wednesday.
Dettelbach likened the ring to a diversified business that sold a range of drugs instead of specializing in one type.
“This drug-trafficking organization operated almost like a Costco,” he said. “Moving wholesale, bulk and retail amounts of heroin, cocaine, crack, marijuana and methamphetamine from one coast to the other and then eventually to Youngstown, Ohio where it was sold on the streets and poisoned our community.”
Drugs also were brought into the Philadelphia area and New York City. Assistant Special Agent Pete Bickmore with the Cleveland FBI said the ring has direct ties to Mexican drug cartels but would not specify which, as the investigation is ongoing.
One of the accused leaders in the ring, Brian Greene of Youngstown, was gunned down in March 2010, but the organization continued in his absence through his girlfriend, named in the indictment, Tremaine Mabry of Youngstown.
“The fact that Brian Greene was gunned down in a drive-by shooting speaks to the violence associated with large-scale narcotics organizations and drug trafficking,” Dettelbach said.
Greene and Mabry would obtain large shipments of cocaine, heroin and marijuana from two men in New York City and either brought them or had the drugs brought to Youngstown.
In turn, the NYC group would receive cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana from a group in California. That California group also shipped methamphetamine directly to Youngstown.
Of the 28 included in the indictment, those from the Youngstown area are: Michael Cylar, Austintown; Shawntel Patton, Poland; Andrew Ryan, Salem; Sherman Sanders, Girard; David Melfi, Torrey Harris, Tremaine Mabry, Marlan Everson, Toye Larry, Michael Hamlett, Mychaelann DeFrank, Matthew Porter, Andre Johnson, Lashell Penson and Victor Higgins, all of Youngstown.
In September investigators obtained 6 kilograms of cocaine from some of the 28 in California.
Also in September, the FBI, task force and Ohio State Highway Patrol seized 13.2 pounds of cocaine and arrested Michael T. Argentine of Santa Barbara.
In November 2010, the largest methamphetamine bust in Northeast Ohio’s history took place when investigators seized 13 pounds of it from three men, Daniel Hernandez-Meza and Oscar Esteban Lavenant-Escalante of San Diego, and Timothy A. Vennemann of St. Paul, Minn.
Police Chief Jimmy Hughes and Mayor Jay Williams thanked the FBI and the task force for their collaboration.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Williams said of the effort to rid the city of similar criminals. “This is an effort that must continue.”
Hughes agreed, saying the investigation has so far taken a significant amount of drugs off the city’s streets and that any drugs that stayed in the city could have been a jumping off point for separate drug trafficking crimes.
Dettelbach applauded the collaborative efforts of federal, state and local partners, citing a press conference here last week, where authorities announced the indictment of 23 men in connection with the LSP gang on Youngstown’s South Side.
At the same time, Dettelbach admitted that the indictment doesn’t signal an end to drug use in the area but it does send a message to others looking to commit similar crimes.
“We’ll have more. It’s not going to stop,” he said. “It’d be naive to say that, but this is a significant dent.”