10 indicted in federal probe of drug deals

YOUNGSTOWN — Ten people are indicted for their roles in a conspiracy in which the leader allegedly controlled large shipments of fentanyl stamped into pills, heroin, cocaine and other drugs from Mexico to Cleveland while using a cellular phone smuggled into his prison cell at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center.

Named in the 17-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland are: Jose Lozano-Leon, 41, a Mexican citizen who was living in Painesville; Mario Hernandez-Leon, 31, of Mexico; Clemente Gutierrez-Meraz, 27, of Mexico; Lorne Franklin, 45, of Cleveland; Leevern Coleman, 49, of Bedford; Belen Orozco-Sigala, 36, of Painesville; Najee Amir Evans, 28, of Cleveland; Troy Pinnock, 47, of Cleveland; Damon Bybee, 60, of Garfield Heights, and Montez Vanburen, 38, of Cleveland.

All are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

According to the indictment and related court documents, Lozano-Leon is alleged to be the leader of the Lozano drug trafficking organization. Lozano was indicted in October 2018 on a charge of illegal re-entry. He was found to be in the United States on Oct. 17, 2018, after having been deported in 2017. Lozano pleaded guilty to that charge earlier this year and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. He was incarcerated at NEOCC in Youngstown.

Beginning at least in November 2018, Lozano allegedly used a smuggled, contraband cellular telephone to communicate with other defendants and manage the Lozano drug trafficking organization from his prison cell at NEOCC.

Lozano spoke frequently with the co-defendants and others to arrange shipments of drugs from Mexico and other locations to Cleveland, for distribution in Northeast Ohio, authorities said.

“The lead defendant is accused of running an international drug trafficking organization from a jail cell in Ohio,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “He has come to this country illegally and allegedly made his living selling the same kinds of drugs that are killing our friends and neighbors. He is an importer of pain and will be prosecuted accordingly.”

“Arrests like these are saving lives,” said Keith Martin, Drug Enforcement Administration Detroit field division special agent in charge.

“In Ohio and other parts of the country, we are seeing an increase in these blue pills that at first glance appear to be legitimately produced oxycodone, but in fact are laced with fentanyl. By working collaboratively with our law enforcement partners, we are getting members of this drug trafficking organization off the streets where they can no longer push these lethal drugs into our communities.”

“Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine — a speck the size of a grain of sand may be fatal,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “Our communities are exponentially safer thanks to the work of this task force.”

The case was investigated by the DEA, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Cleveland Heights Police Department, Lake County Narcotics Drug Task Force, Cleveland Division of Police, Euclid Police Department, Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Marshal Service and NEOCC. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliot Morrison.


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