According to an announcement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of New York, a 31-year-old man from Elmira who, with a co-conspirator, headed an opioid dark web trafficking ring was sentenced to 17 years and six months in federal prison. The sentence was issued after the man was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and distribution of more than 100 grams of a fentanyl analogue. Authorities believe that at least two people died after consuming opioids sold by the man’s ring, while another overdosed on several occasions but survived after being treated.
From 2015 to May 2017, Maximillian Sams, 31, and his partner, Robert Ian Thatcher, led an opioid manufacturing and distribution ring from Elmira, New York. Sams and Thatcher used the dark web to order U-47700 and furanyl fentanyl from China and had the drugs shipped to addresses of members of their ring in Pennsylvania and New York. On arrival, the drugs were moved to either of the gang’s operation bases – one at 604 South Lehigh Avenue, Sayre, Pennsylvania, and the other at 665 Sawdey Road, Catlin, NY. In each of the two residences, Sams and Thatcher had pill presses that they used to produce blue pills that contained furanyl fentanyl and U-47700. Following the manufacturing of the pills, Sams and Thatcher distributed them to their accomplices who then sold the pills on the streets around the Elmira area.
The ring’s opioid distribution operation caught the attention of law enforcement in October 2016 after Sams ordered one of the ring members, Anthony Prettyman, to move the blue pills from Elmira to North Carolina. On October 25, 2016, deputies of the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office stopped the vehicle used by Prettyman to move the drugs. The deputies searched Prettyman’s car and found a paint can that had a bottom which had been tampered with; inside the can the deputies found 5,330 pills. Lab tests on the pills indicated that they contained furanyl fentanyl. Prettyman was consequently arrested and investigations against the ring’s operation were initiated by a multi-agency task force.
The arrest of Prettyman and the seizure of the pills did not prompt Sams and Thatcher to change their style of operation; they instead choose to continue as before. In the beginning of 2017, Sams used the dark web to order a furanyl fentanyl and gave the address of one of his ring members in NY as the shipping address. On March 13, 2017, agents of the Customs and Border Protection intercepted a package sent from China and addressed to a residence at 1105 Oak Street, Elmira. The agents allegedly found 249 grams of furanyl fentanyl in the package. Investigations stemming from the interception led to the discovery that the package had been addressed to Carlito Rios Jr., one of Sams’ accomplices.
The agents involved in the investigation did not arrest Rios after intercepting the package but carried out further investigations into the ring’s entire operation. On acquiring enough incriminating evidence, the agents obtained five search warrants against four residences in Elmira, NY, and one in Pennsylvania. The search warrants were executed on May 16, 2017, and resulted in the seizure of 200 blue pills, a bulletproof vest, seven firearms, and ammunition, blue food colouring, blue powder, and containers used by the ring to hide the drugs during distribution. Sams, Thatcher, Rios, and Dwayne Banks, a member of the ring, were arrested during the searches.
Court records show that investigations into the ring’s operation led to the arrest of a total of 16 people tied to the ring. All of those arrested were tried and convicted; once charged, they ultimately pleaded guilty to charges levied against them. Before Sams’ sentencing, seven members of the ring had already been sentenced including Thatcher who was recently sentenced to 23 years in federal prison, Prettyman to 125 months’ imprisonment, Dwayne Banks to 108 months in prison, and Isaiah Maclaurin who pleaded guilty to witness tampering was sentenced to 57 months in jail.
U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. announced that after sentencing Sams to 210 months in federal prison, Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. sentenced 27-year-old Chad Smith from Horseheads, NY, another member of the ring, to 22 months in jail.