Mexican drug cartel affiliate, 4 others plead guilty in ‘extensive drug trafficking ring’ in NC, Virginia


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The man who orchestrated “an extensive drug trafficking ring” for fentanyl, heroin and cocaine in Virginia and North Carolina has pleaded guilty in federal court.

In addition, four people who also participated in the ring have pleaded guilty for their respective roles, the United States Department of Justice announced Friday.

The DOJ said Ramiro Ramirez-Barreto, 44, pleaded guilty to charges related to the trafficking ring on Monday. Four others — two Virginia residents and two from North Carolina — were also found guilty or sentenced this week.

Official said the group was linked to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

The five were arrested as part of Operation Cookout, which resulted in the arrest of 39 people in August 2019. During that operation, authorities seized more than 30 kilograms of fentanyl, 30 kilograms of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine, 42 firearms and more than $700,000.

At the time, the U.S. Attorney said that amount of fentanyl could kill up to 14 million people.

At Ramirez-Barreto’s home, authorities also found 19 kilograms of heroin and more than $600,000 in cash.

Ramirez-Barreto is from the Mexican State of Morelos and had criminal connections in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and California. He and his drug sources were also linked to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

As far as the connections in Virginia and North Carolina, the DOJ said his operation supplied cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl to numerous drug trafficking organizations in Newport News, Virginia and in Henderson and Greensboro, North Carolina.

“According to one of Ramirez-Barreto’s many North Carolina customers, Ramirez-Barreto supplied him with 60 kilograms of heroin from early 2018 to mid-2019,” the DOJ wrote in a news release. “Another one of Ramirez-Barreto’s customers was an inmate in federal prison operating a drug trafficking organization in Henderson, North Carolina, using a bootleg mobile phone.”

The other people who pleaded guilty this week, per the DOJ, include:

  • Tangynika Johnson, 44, of Henderson, North Carolina, assisted co-defendant Cory Bullock, an inmate in a West Virginia federal prison, in getting drug proceeds delivered to Ramirez-Barreto. Johnson pleaded guilty on January 29, 2021, to using a communication facility in furtherance of drug trafficking. She is scheduled to be sentenced on July 12, 2021, and faces a maximum penalty of four years in prison.
  • James Noyes, 55, of Newport News, was a mid-level heroin distributor within co-conspirator Damarcus Mackie’s drug trafficking organization. Noyes was sentenced to 10 years in prison on January 29, 2021.
  • Keith A. Brownson, 42, of Henderson, North Carolina, was a cocaine and heroin dealer who arranged drop-offs of drugs and drug proceeds with Ramirez-Barreto. Brownson pleaded guilty on January 29, 2021, to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 21, 2021, and faces a mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison.
  • Russell P. Johnson, 50, of Suffolk, VA, was sentenced to 140 months in prison on January 25, 2021, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, 400 grams or more of fentanyl, and 500 grams or more of cocaine.

Ramirez-Barreto’s sentencing is scheduled for July 12. As part of the sentence, his home will be forfeited. He faces a minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life.

“Fentanyl and heroin have inflicted immeasurable amounts of pain and brought devastation to families across the United States and in EDVA,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Due to their tenacity and commitment, our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners seized 24 illegal firearms, 30 kilograms of heroin, and enough fentanyl to kill over 14 million people, saving our communities from significant loss of life and destruction.”

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