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MA woman sentenced for role in large-scale drug trafficking organization that made and distributed over 100,000 counterfeit pills with fentanyl



BOSTON – A Massachusetts woman was sentenced in federal court in Boston for her role in a large-scale drug trafficking organization that manufactured and distributed hundreds of thousands of counterfeit Percocet pills containing fentanyl.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Justice, Nicole Benton, 46,of Saugus, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs to two years in prison and three years of supervised. In September 2021, Benton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl and other controlled substances and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy.

Benton was arrested and charged by criminal complaint in June 2021 along with co-conspirators Vincent Caruso, Laurie Caruso and Ernest Johnson, as part of an investigation that began in 2020 in response to an increased number of shootings in communities north of Boston by street gangs whose violence was fueled by drug distribution.

Benton was a lower-level runner of a large drug trafficking organization (DTO) operated by Vincent Caruso, a self-admitted Crip gang member, that included Johnson and Vincent Caruso’s mother, Laurie Caruso, among others. The DTO sold counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl – produced using multiple large pill presses capable of generating thousands of pills per hour – to street gangs for further distribution on the North Shore of Massachusetts. A single counterfeit fentanyl pill allegedly retails between $10-$20, thereby generating millions of dollars in retails sales.

Benton distributed more than 100,000 pressed fentanyl pills on behalf of the organization. Based upon pills seized during the investigation, 100,000 pills would equate to more than 10 kilograms of fentanyl. During a search of Benton’s residence on June 30, 2021, approximately 40 grams of fentanyl pills and a firearm were seized.

In June 2022, Vincent Caruso was sentenced to 250 months (more than 20 years) in prison and five years of supervised release. Laurie Caruso was sentenced in June 2022 to nine years in prison and four years of supervised release. On May 20, 2022, Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of firearm and ammunition and is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 27, 2023.

First Assistant United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; James M. Ferguson, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Boston Division; and Colonel Christopher Mason, Superintendent of the Massachusetts States Police made the announcement. Assistance was provided by the Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk County District Attorneys’ Offices; Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk and Hancock (Maine) County Sheriffs’ Departments; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine; Maine Drug Enforcement Agency; and the 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 & Gang Unit prosecuted the case.

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