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Opioid Trafficker Admits Selling and Manufacturing Fentanyl Analogues

The leader of an opioid distribution operation in New York pleaded guilty to drug charges linked to the distribution of U-47700 and furanyl fentanyl purchased from various darkweb suppliers.

U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York announced that Robert Ian Thatcher, 30, had pleaded guilty to two charges stemming from his drug operation out of New York and northern Pennsylvania. Thatcher pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute U-47700 and one count of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of furanyl fentanyl.

According to the United States Attorney’s Office, investigators learned in 2017 that Thatcher and his co-conspirators had been importing U-47700 (U4) and furanyl fentanyl from darkweb suppliers residing primarily overseas. The investigation was launched after a series of young people overdosed on a combination of both drugs Thatcher and his co-conspirators sold locally in New York. One 21-year-old woman fatally overdosed on both drugs and a 21-year-old man fatally overdosed on the same drugs in addition to acetyl fentanyl, lorazepam, and alprazolam according to court documents. All of the drugs showed up in a tox screen but he may not have ingested them simultaneously.

United States Customs and Border Protection officers intercepted a package in 2017 headed to an address in Elmira, New York, that contained more than 249 grams of furanyl fentanyl. Over time, nearly a dozen state and federal law enforcement agencies joined the investigation into Thatcher and his 13 known co-conspirators. As of October 29, all defendants with known involvement in the drug trafficking organization have pleaded guilty to various drug trafficking and gun charges. One co-conspirator, another Elmira resident named Isaiah McLaurin, also pleaded guilty to witness tampering after publicly identifying and threatening one of the individuals who had been providing information to the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations.

The Star Gazette, a local paper in Elmira, published an article about the investigation months before the primary conspirators landed in police custody. The article referenced information priced by two confidential informants. McLaurin used information provided by the newspaper and information about the conspiracy from his own memory to identify the informant over Facebook. He then posted that the informant and the informant’s child needed to be in protective custody. “Cause if he thinks he can just pick his daughter up from school and everything’s gonna be ok, he’s got it coming,” McLaurin wrote in one post.

Alongside Customs and Border Protection officers, Homeland Security Investigations agents intercepted more packages of fentanyl analogues, U4, and pill binders. The federal agents learned that Thatcher had at least six individuals in New York who received drug packages Thatcher had ordered from darkweb vendors. Court documents revealed that Thatcher had hired these defendants in an effort to keep his name out of any case that stemmed from the importation of controlled substances.

After his New York co-conspirators received the packages, another co-conspirator would pick the packages up and deliver them to Thatcher. Thatcher then pressed counterfeit oxycodone pills with the fentanyl analogues and other opioids. After pressing them, he passed them off to co-conspirators who drove them to dealers in New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Maximillian Sams, one of the primary co-conspirators, also placed orders on the darkweb and arranged for their delivery. Sams and Thatcher used a residence in Sayre, Pennsylvania, and a residence in Catlin, New York, to press the pills and store many of the pills between sales. Neither defendant lived in the house used as the operation base.

During the execution of search warrants at both facilities, agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Elmira Police Department, and law enforcement in Pennsylvania discovered pill presses, thousands of pills, and several rifles with accompanying ammunition. Thatcher and Sam’s also had firearms and cash at their residences in Elmira, New York. Although many of the co-conspirators made thousands of dollars during the operation, Thatcher made at least $750,000, according to information revealed in court.

Thatcher and all 13 of his co-conspirators have entered guilty pleas are are waiting for sentencing hearings on early 2019.

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