According to The Bismarck Tribune, the recently unsealed court documents against a Rhode Island man illustrates his role as an organizer of an international drug ring that distributed tens of thousands of fentanyl pills across the United States. Steven Barros Pinto, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is just one of 32 people indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in connection to Operation Denial. Authorities launched this international investigation after the January 2015 overdose death of Bailey Henke in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
According to the superseding indictment, Pinto and the five others listed on the document have been charged with two counts. The first is conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute controlled substances and controlled substance analogues resulting in serious bodily injury and death. The second count is conspiracy to import controlled substances and controlled substance analogues into the United States resulting in serious bodily injury and death. Pinto also faces one count of continuing a criminal enterprise, two counts of tampering with a witness, and one count of obstruction of justice.
Starting from around January 2013, these six defendants are alleged to have possessed with intent to distribute multiple drugs including fentanyl, ANPP (a precursor ingredient for making fentanyl), ethylone, acetyl fentanyl, beta-hydroxy-thiofentanyl, U-47700, and furanyl fentanyl. Counterfeit pills made with these substances were distributed all across the United States including North Dakota, Oregon, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Georgia. The DOJ lists multiple deaths or serious injuries they believe occurred because of pills this group made in North Carolina, New Jersey, and Oregon.
The informant admitted working with Pinto between 2015 and 2017 and at times manufacturing up to 40,000 counterfeit pills at one time. They said those pills were distributed around the country. The criminal complaint said, “Steven Pinto utilized multiple people and/or addresses to receive packages of pure fentanyl powder shipped into the United States from China, conduct money transfers … and assist in the distribution of fentanyl pills,” adding he “was the principal administrator, organizer and leader of the enterprise.”
While Pinto is alleged to have lead the U.S.-based part of the drug trafficking ring, other international players have also been indicted. Jason Joey Berry, a/k/a Daniel Desnoyers, and Daniel Vivas Ceron allegedly ran their end of this criminal conspiracy while incarcerated in the Drummond Institution, a medium security prison facility located in Quebec, Canada. Jian Zhang, a/k/a Jong Kong Zaron, is alleged to have been the leader of this criminal conspiracy in China.