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March 4, 2019Pittsburgh, PA, United StatesNarcotics

Pittsburgh man pleads guilty to drug trafficking, money laundering charges

PITTSBURGH — On March 4, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, announced a Pittsburgh man, pleaded guilty in federal court to charges regarding his trafficking of cocaine and money laundering, following a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Internal Revenue Service, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police,  and the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

Richard Stuart Wright, 76, pleaded guilty to aforementioned charges. The law provides for a total sentence of up to 60 years in prison, a fine of up to $2,500,000, or both.  Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of a defendant.

In connection with the guilty pleas of Wright and his co-defendant, Walter John Amman, III, 69, the court was advised that Wright had been purchasing kilogram level amounts of cocaine each month for over 2 decades. The defendant would process the cocaine by packaging it in smaller quantities and converting some into crack. In more recent years, co-defendant Walter Amman would help the defendant with the processing, packaging and distribution of the cocaine. Two controlled purchases of cocaine were made from Mr. Amman, helping the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Branch, HSI and Pittsburgh Police obtain search warrants for locations attributable to Amman and Wright. The Jan. 11, 2017 searches resulted in law enforcement locating items which included:

  • In the defendant’s residence: cocaine prepackaged for sale and color-coded for size; multiple firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition; large amounts of cash; multiple vehicles registered to Amman and his family;
  • In the defendant’s garage: amounts of powder cocaine; numerous inositol bottles and material to convert cocaine into crack; large amounts of cash; three pistols (including one registered to Amman); and a safe imbedded into the concrete floor; and
  • At Amman’s residence: firearms; prepackaged amounts of crack and cocaine in a jacket with Amman’s name on it; keys to a truck (in the jacket); in the truck was approximately $1,000 and additional prepackaged cocaine.

Wright and Amman both utilized the same color-coded bread-tie system to signify the quantities in the baggies. In this way, the defendant was both a buyer of large quantities and a street-level dealer, keeping all of the middleman profits for himself. The drugs located by police included 5,864.588 grams (5.9 kilos) of cocaine and 289.607 grams (1/4 kilo) of crack cocaine. Wright admitted to all of the drugs, while Amman agreed that he was personally responsible for between 700 grams and 1 kilogram of cocaine, as well as the 5.767 grams of crack cocaine found at his property.

Wright had been on disability and had not had a job since the late 1980’s. He and others commonly laundered his drug money by structuring it. In but one example, Wright deposited $10,000 in cash into another person’s account, added it to $40,000 of that person’s “legitimate” money and used it to make a $50,000 deposit on a Daytona Beach house. They paid the next $100,000 off by buying multiple postal money orders-- for $1,000 each, at multiple different locations, in short periods-- and then used them to pay the monthly amount due on the property. They also financed the purchase of vehicles and many other items listed in the indictment similarly. Wright also cashed paychecks in return for cocaine.

The government forfeited numerous items from the defendants including a residence, automobiles, motorcycles and large amounts of cash. 

Wright brought an oxygen bottle to court and used it throughout the proceeding. After considering Wright’s frail health and recent hospitalization, the Court agreed to allow the defendant to remain on Electronic Home Monitoring (with a house arrest bracelet) pending his sentencing. Co-defendant Amman is incarcerated pending his sentencing.

Wright is scheduled for sentencing on July 18, 2019 at 9:30 am and Amman’s sentencing was scheduled for June 7, 2019 at 10:30am. 

Assistant United States Attorney Ross E. Lenhardt, a prosecutor in the Major Crimes Section of the Office of the United States Attorney, is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

Updated: 03/05/2019