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July 31, 2023St. Paul, MN, United StatesNarcotics

Colombian national sentenced to 27 years for operating prison-based fentanyl enterprise

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Chief District Court Judge Peter Welte sentenced Daniel Vivas Ceron, 42, of Colombia, to 27 years of imprisonment followed by five years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $11,048.43 in restitution for his role in a fentanyl distribution operation originating in a Canadian prison. U.S. Attorney Mac Schneider for the District of North Dakota, U.S. Attorney Natalie K. Wight for the District of Oregon, and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division announced the sentence on July 25.

Ceron was extradited from Panama to the United States on Jan. 25, 2017, with significant assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

On July 12, 2019, Ceron pleaded guilty to charges that included continuing criminal enterprise; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and controlled substance analogues resulting in serious bodily injury and death; and money laundering conspiracy.

As part of that plea, Ceron acknowledged he and Jason Berry led an international fentanyl and fentanyl analogue distribution operation from inside Drummond Institution in Drummondville, Quebec, Canada. Using a cellphone from inside the prison, Ceron and Berry arranged shipments of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues from China to Canada and the United States. The distribution of these substances led to overdoses — some fatal — in North Dakota, Oregon, New Jersey and North Carolina.

This case is part of Operation Denial, an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation into the international trafficking of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. The investigation was significantly aided by the national and international coordination led by the multiagency Special Operations Division near Washington, D.C. as part of Operation Deadly Merchant. The investigation started on Jan. 3, 2015, with the overdose death of Bailey Henke in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

“Illicit fentanyl is one of the greatest dangers we’re facing as a country,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) St. Paul Special Agent in Charge Jamie Holt. “The conviction and sentencing of Ceron highlights the strength of our international and state partnerships and the dedicated professionals who spend countless hours combating a poison that is harmful to many communities and families. HSI St. Paul is steadfast in its efforts to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations and combat the flow of illicit opioids into the United States.”

Operation Denial has led to 31 defendants charged in North Dakota and three defendants charged in Oregon. The investigation has resulted in nearly $1 million in forfeited cash and property.

“The sentences announced today and the suite of related prosecutions that preceded them reflect the impressive cooperation and dedication of state, local and federal law enforcement, along with our Canadian partners, to take down a pernicious and deadly network of fentanyl distributors,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable those like Ceron, Berry, Nguyen and members of their network who injected fentanyl and fentanyl analogues into American society with deadly results. Concerted efforts like Operation Denial demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to eliminating the influx of fentanyl into our communities at their points of origin.”

“These defendants are responsible for fentanyl poisoning deaths in North Dakota and several other states, and today’s strong sentence ensures accountability for those crimes,” Schneider said. “This result is a credit to the tireless work and seamless cooperation exhibited by our office’s prosecution team and their law enforcement partners in North Dakota, across the country and in Canada.”

“Disrupting large drug trafficking networks, like the Ceron network, is vitally important to our ongoing effort to combat the fentanyl crisis in America and save innocent lives. Networks like these span jurisdictions and stopping them requires robust coordination among many domestic and international partners,” said Wight.

“This international investigation is an excellent example of the results that can be achieved when multiple law enforcement partners combine their efforts and expertise, and it has had a significant impact for our communities. Thanks to the collaboration of the various stakeholders, we have successfully neutralized a criminal network involved in major trafficking of a highly dangerous substance between Canada and the United States,” said acting Criminal Operations Officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Quebec Superintendent Karine Gagné.

This case was investigated by HSI St. Paul; the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the IRS Criminal Investigation’s Fargo field office; the Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the Portland Oregon Police Bureau’s Drugs and Vice Division’s Portland HIDTA Interdiction Task Force; the Oregon State Police; and the Grand Forks Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher C. Myers of the District of North Dakota; Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Kerin of the District of Oregon and as a Special Assistant U.S Attorney in North Dakota; and Assistant Deputy Chief Kaitlin Sahni and trial attorney Imani Hutty of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section prosecuted this case.

HSI St. Paul oversees suboffices in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Members of the public can report crimes and suspicious activity 24/7 by dialing 866-347-2423.

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