The head of a Lawrence-based fentanyl ring that distributed the powerful drug in New Hampshire faces a likely 45-year prison term and a $2 million forfeiture order after pleading guilty Tuesday to crimes related to the sprawling organization, prosecutors said.
In a statement, the office of Scott W. Murray, US attorney in New Hampshire, said the defendant, Sergio Martinez, 29, of Lawrence, pleaded guilty in federal court in that state to “leading a continuing criminal enterprise and participating in a money laundering conspiracy.”
A lawyer for Martinez didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Murray’s office said a plea agreement filed in the case, if accepted by the sentencing judge, “would require Martinez to serve a 45-year prison sentence and forfeit $2,000,000 in cash, as well as three houses in Lawrence.”
He pleaded guilty on the sixth day of his trial, prosecutors said.
Murray’s office said that during the trial, which started Oct. 1, the prosecutors presented evidence that Martinez “operated a fentanyl trafficking operation that employed numerous individuals to sell fentanyl to customers from various New England states, including New Hampshire. Testimony at trial showed that customers knew the Martinez organization by the name ‘Brian’ and that most of the organization’s customers came from New Hampshire. Distributors knew to identify customers on the streets of Lawrence by their New Hampshire license plates.”
Trial testimony showed the crew serviced three different sets of customers, according to Murray’s office.
“The first group of customers, who ordered the smallest amounts of drugs, was served by various telephones (‘small phones’) that were located in a specific residence and answered by dispatchers,” the statement said.
That residence, prosecutors said, “was referred to as ‘the base’ and dispatchers staffed ‘the base’ from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily. Dispatchers took orders and directed customers to meet various distributors throughout the Merrimack Valley area, mostly in Lawrence or Haverhill, Mass., but sometimes in Salem, N.H. These phones usually received hundreds of calls daily from customers placing fentanyl orders.”
A second group of customers, authorities said, was serviced by a so-called “big phone,” which “was reserved for customers who typically purchased from ten grams to 200 grams of fentanyl at a time, quantities which the purchasers would then distribute themselves,” Murray’s office said.
Then there was the third, highest tier of VIPs.
“A third, much smaller set of customers, who ordered particularly large quantities of fentanyl (usually one kilogram or more at a time) called the defendant directly to place order,” the statement said. “The organization would deliver directly to these individuals by sending a distributor, often in a taxi, to deliver to these customers at or near their residences.”
Murray’s office said Martinez was heard on one wire-tapped call talking to a fentanyl supplier in Sinaloa, Mexico.
According to prosecutors, Martinez told the supplier, “what I look for is quality for when I prepare it and give it to people. Because I’m one of those people that’s moving a lot here. I move between 15, to 30, to 35 kilos a month.”
In another call, prosecutors said, Martinez bluntly stated that “what we give out is poison.”
His sentencing is slated for Jan. 28.
Murray’s office said 34 defendants have been charged with participating in the drug ring, and most have pleaded guilty, while four remain fugitives.
In addition, prosecutors said, “13 New Hampshire-based individuals who obtained fentanyl from this organization have been charged with drug trafficking offenses. Twelve of those individuals have pleaded guilty and one is still awaiting trial.”
Murray said in the statement that the case evidence shows Lawrence-based fentanyl traffickers have made a windfall moving their product in New Hampshire.
“Mr. Martinez ran a sophisticated marketing operation that served as a conduit between the Mexican drug cartels and customers in Northern New England,” Murray said. “This was a complex case in which the entire law enforcement community worked together to bring high-level fentanyl traffickers to justice. The end result should serve as a warning to those who choose to sell fentanyl in the Granite State.”
Murray’s words were echoed by Brian D. Boyle, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New England division.
“DEA is committed to investigating and dismantling large scale drug trafficking organizations like this one operating in Lawrence, MA led by Mr. Martinez,” Boyle said in the statement released by Murray’s office. “Fentanyl distribution destroys people’s lives and wreaks havoc in our communities. DEA and our law enforcement partners will aggressively pursue any individual or organization that distributes this poison.”