Salem man pleads guilty to possession of firearm in conspiracy to traffic fentanyl pills | USAO-MA

ByDonald L. Leech

May 20, 2022

BOSTON — A Salem man pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston yesterday to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition in a case stemming from his role in a prolific drug trafficking organization that provided counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl to vendors on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

Ernest Johnson, 34, aka “Yo Pesci,” aka “Mr. Live Mr. Drive,” pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. The judge of the United States District Court, Leo T. Sorokin, set his sentence for September 13, 2022.

Johnson was arrested and charged in June 2021 along with co-conspirators Vincent Caruso, Laurie Caruso and Nicole Benton. On October 1, 2021, Benton pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy and awaits sentencing which is set for September 8, 2022. Additional charges were brought against Vincent Caruso by a federal grand jury on January 19, 2022.

According to the charging documents, Johnson was a member of a major drug trafficking organization (DTO) run by Vincent Caruso, a self-confessed member of the Crip gang, which included Benton and Vincent Caruso’s mother, Laurie Caruso, among others. . The DTO allegedly sold counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl – produced using several large pill presses – to street gangs for further distribution on the North Shore of Massachusetts. It is alleged that a pill press weighed 1,000 pounds and was capable of producing 15,000 pills per hour. According to the charging documents, a single counterfeit fentanyl pill sells for between $10 and $20, generating millions of dollars in retail sales.

Johnson possessed and used firearms in connection with drug trafficking activities. Additionally, Johnson used social media to post and send photo and video messages depicting firearms (including an AR15), fentanyl pills, cash and high-end jewelry. In a number of videos, Johnson described his involvement in shootings, beatings and drug dealing and identified people he believed to be a “rat” or a “snitch”. Based on previous felony convictions, Johnson was prohibited from legally owning firearms.

The charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, up to three years of probation and a fine of up to 250,000 dollars. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on US sentencing guidelines and the laws that govern sentencing in a criminal case.

First Assistant United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy: Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; James Ferguson, Special Agent in Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Boston Division; and Col. Christopher Mason, Superintendent of the Massachusetts States Police, made the announcement today. Assistance was provided by the Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk county district attorneys’ offices; Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, and Hancock (Maine) Counties Sheriffs Departments; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine; Maine Drug Enforcement Agency; and Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Danvers, Everett, Lynn, Malden, Salem, Saugus, Somerville, Revere, Bolton, Maine, Bangor, Maine, Portland, Maine, and Westbrook, Maine police departments. Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip A. Mallard of the Organized Crime and Gangs Unit is prosecuting the case.

The operation was carried out by a multi-agency task force through the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OECDTF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The primary mission of the OECDTF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, arms trafficking and money laundering organizations, as well as the main responsible for the supply in the country’s illegal drug. More information about the OECDTF program is available here:

The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. Other defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a court.