Pittsburgh; Western PA Drug Trafficking Organization Based In New Castle Dismantled

(STL.News) – Thirteen members of a drug trafficking organization were indicted by a federal grand jury for trafficking significant quantities of cocaine and fentanyl, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today.

“Mexican cartels present a clear and present danger to the safety and well-being of our western Pennsylvania communities,” said U.S. Attorney Brady.  “Our success in dismantling such a broad-reaching drug trafficking network is due to strong local, state and federal coordination, and the leadership of Lawrence County DA Joshua Lamancusa and Mercer County DA Peter Acker.  Together, we remain committed to keep these drugs – and the violence and public health challenges they bring – out of our neighborhoods and communities.”

“McKnight and his associates are alleged to have distributed five kilograms or more of cocaine and over forty grams of illicit fentanyl across Western Pennsylvania.  These are both dangerous drugs, however, illicit fentanyl has caused thousands of overdose deaths across our region,” said Jonathan A. Wilson, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Philadelphia Field Division.  “This investigation was successful due to our working relationship with our law enforcement partners such as HSI, IRS-CID, USPS-OIG, PSP, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, the New Castle Police Department, and the Lawrence County Drug Task Force.”

“Today we recognize the culmination of local, state and federal agencies working together toward one common goal – the dismantling of a serious drug ring,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.  “This coordinated effort resulted in the arrests of 12 subjects and seizures that included almost 100,000 doses of heroin and significant doses of cocaine, fentanyl, and more.  This operation will have lasting positive impact in Pennsylvania, particularly Lawrence and Mercer counties.”

“Yesterday’s operation was the culmination of months of federal, state and local collaborative policing efforts,” said Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa.  “Dozens of law enforcement officers and prosecutors from western Pennsylvania spent hundreds of hours investigating and preparing this case.  It was through their tireless efforts and steadfast dedication to duty that Pennsylvania is a safer place today.”

“Mercer County has a significant drug trafficking and overdose problem, which is not only local in scope but intercounty, interstate and apparently international, said Mercer County District Attorney Peter Acker.  “As District Attorney of Mercer County I am extremely grateful for the support of the U.S. Attorney Scott Brady and his staff in Pittsburgh, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the PA Office of Attorney General Bureau of Narcotics Investigation, the Lawrence County District Attorney’s Drug Task Force, the Mercer County Critical Incident Response Team and all our other partners who coordinate our efforts to attack our drug problems.  Yesterday’s arrests in Farrell and New Castle demonstrate the effectiveness of our coordinated efforts and they will not be the last.”

The Indictment, returned on September 22 and unsealed yesterday, charges the following individuals with conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, in the Western District of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, from in and around March of 2019, and continuing until in and around September of 2020:

• Bruce McKnight. 53, of Columbus, OH;

• Norberto Castillo-Lopez, 31, of Mexico;

• Jossian Ayala-Ruberte, 39, of Kissimmee, FL;

• Luis Mattei-Albizu, 39, of Columbus, OH;

• Nathaniel McKnight, 28 of New Castle, PA;

• Michael Talbert, 41, of Farrell, PA;

• Tony McKnight, 55, of New Castle, PA;

• Trevor Austin, 46, of Sharon, PA;

• Thomas Pierce, Jr., 48, of Farrell, PA;

• Thomas Jones, 44, of Farrell, PA;

• Romondo Oatis, 46, of Farrell, PA;

• Darnell Latham, 51, of New Castle, PA; and

• Brandon Jetter, 39, of McKeesport, PA.

The Indictment also charges Defendants Bruce McKnight and his nephew, Nathaniel McKnight, with conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute forty grams or more of fentanyl, in the Western District of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, from in and around March of 2020, and continuing until in and around September of 2020.

The law provides for a maximum total sentence of not less than ten years to a maximum of life imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000,000, or both, as to each charged Defendant.  Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentences imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history of the defendants.

Assistant United States Attorney Mark V. Gurzo is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

The DEA in Pittsburgh, PA led the multi-agency investigation that included members of the DEA, Columbus, OH; DEA, Harrisburg, PA; Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Pittsburgh, PA; HSI, Orlando, FL; Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation; United States Postal Service – Office of Inspector General, Eastern Area Field Office; Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General; Pennsylvania State Police; Lawrence County Drug Task Force – Special Investigations Unit; and the New Castle Police Department.

This case is part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program, known as OCDETF.  OCDETF was established in 1982 to support comprehensive investigations and prosecutions of major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.  It is the keystone of the drug reduction strategy of the Department of Justice.  By combining the resources and expertise of federal agencies and their state and local law enforcement partners, OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the most serious drug trafficking, money laundering, and transnational criminal organizations.

An indictment is an accusation.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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