COLUMBUS, Ohio – A Columbus man was sentenced Thursday to more than 11 years in federal prison for his role as a supplier in a large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy that was targeted and dismantled by the Central Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force.
Levi Winston, 50, of Columbus, pleaded guilty May 2 to charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and money laundering.
During the course of the investigation, a known drug-trafficking organization operated by Winston transported several tons of marijuana from Mexico to central Ohio. On Oct. 17, 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents and task force officers conducted a controlled delivery of 1,798.12 pounds of marijuana to a warehouse that Winston had rented located in Gahanna. Winston and his associates hid large quantities of the drugs inside tractor trailers and industrial machinery destined for his warehouse. Winston and several of his associates were later arrested on conspiracy to distribute marijuana charges.
"Mr. Winston’s conduct is that of bringing in a literal mountain of marijuana into the Southern District of Ohio," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Hunter told the court at sentencing. "His admitted relevant conduct is approximately 5,000 kilos of marijuana which has an approximate street value of between $4 and $4.5 million."
"We are pleased by the strong work coming out of this Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission task force to fight organized drug crimes," said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. "This is a clear example of successful teamwork between local, state and federal agencies."
"The laundering of illegal drug profits is as important and essential to drug traffickers as the very distribution of their illegal drugs. Without these ill-gotten gains, the traffickers could not finance their organizations," said Kathy A. Enstrom, special agent in charge, of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS) Cincinnati Field Office. "IRS Criminal Investigation is united with the rest of the law enforcement community in our resolve to financially disrupt criminal organizations that commit crimes against our society."
"I would like to congratulate the Central Ohio HIDTA Drug Task Force and the U.S. Attorney’s Office on a job well done. Drug traffickers prey on Central Ohio because of its ideal geographic location," said Franklin Country Sheriff Zach Scott. "This is a prime example of agencies working together to send a loud and clear message that drug trafficking will not be tolerated in Franklin County and law enforcement will be diligent in bringing those involved to justice."
"The level of cooperation between local, county, state and federal authorities continues to play an important role in keeping the citizens of Columbus safe and in reducing the availability of illegal drugs in the Columbus area," said Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs.
In addition to the nearly 2,500 pounds of marijuana seized by investigators in Columbus, cooperation from individuals and intelligence gathered during this investigation directly led to the seizure of an additional 3,500 pounds of marijuana, worth more than $3 million, in several other jurisdictions across the United States.
Other agencies participating in the investigation include the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Gahanna Police Department, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Hilliard Division of Police, the Ohio Casino Control Commission and the Ohio National Guard Counterdrug Program.
As a result of this investigation, nine other individuals pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute narcotics or conspiracy charges:
- Didnicio Diaz-Barrera – Sentenced Oct.10, 2012, to 33 months in federal prison.
- Adan Anaya – Sentenced June 6, 2012, to 57 months in federal prison.
- Pedro Barrera-Diaz – Sentenced June 10, 2012, to 33 months in federal prison.
- Alberto Hernandez – Sentenced June 6, 2012, to 12 months in federal prison.
- Antonio Andriao – Sentenced May 1, 2012, to 21 months in federal prison.
- Steven Johnson – Sentenced Aug. 8 to 60 months in federal prison.
- Robert Crook – Sentenced Sept. 20 to 12 months in federal prison.
- Jose Garza – Sentenced Sept. 17 to 46 months in federal prison.
- Marco Torres – Sentenced Aug. 8 to 24 months in federal prison.
U.S. Attorney Stewart commended the cooperative investigation by the agencies, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Hunter who prosecuted the case.