For Immediate Release
Member of Violent North Shore Drug Enterprise Sentenced for Possessing Firearm in Fentanyl Distribution Conspiracy
Defendant Involved in Distribution of Over 500,000 Counterfeit Fentanyl Pills Made Using High-Volume Pill Presses; Defendant Showcased and Promoted Violence on Social Media
BOSTON – A member of a prolific and violent North Shore-based drug trafficking organization that manufactured and supplied over 30 kilograms of fentanyl pills was sentenced today in federal court in Boston for possessing firearms, including an automatic weapon.
Ernest Johnson, 34, a/k/a “Yo Pesci,” a/k/a “Mr. Live Mr. Drive,” of Salem, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin to 90 months in prison and three years of supervised release. In May 2022, Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of firearm and ammunition.
“We can only hope that the ‘Yo Pesci’ show has reached its final episode. Mr. Johnson was an active participant in a violent drug enterprise that coordinated armed robberies, engaged in violent shootings and pumped more than 500,000 deadly fentanyl pills onto our streets. He not only unlawfully possessed a stockpile of dangerous firearms, including a machine gun and large capacity magazines, but Mr. Johnson brazenly flaunted his arsenal through livestream videos,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy. “His behavior, both on and off social media, promoted violence and a complete disregard for the rule of law. His days as social media influencer for criminal enterprises have ended. Our office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to put down violent criminal organizations and do everything in our power to keep our communities safe.”
“Today, convicted felon Ernest Johnson learned his fate for brandishing numerous firearms he wasn’t allowed to possess in support of an extremely violent drug trafficking enterprise that dealt deadly fentanyl and orchestrated numerous shootings and armed robberies, using an arsenal of firearms, including machine guns,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. “The FBI’s North Shore Gang Task Force will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify, investigate, and eliminate violent criminal organizations like the one Johnson belonged to that are responsible for inflicting serious harm on our communities.”
“Armed violent drug dealers are wreaking havoc in our communities, and using fentanyl in counterfeit prescriptions is a deadly combination. ATF will continue to work alongside our OCDETF partners to become a force multiplier in stopping these organizations from devastating our neighborhoods,” said James Ferguson, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Boston Division.
Johnson was arrested and charged in June 2021 along with co-conspirators Vincent Caruso, Laurie Caruso and Nicole Benton – all of whom pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. On Dec. 15, 2022, Benton was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of supervised. On June 30, 2022, Vincent Caruso was sentenced to 250 months (more than 20 years) in prison and five years of supervised release. On June 29, 2022, Laurie Caruso was sentenced to nine years in prison and four years of supervised release.
Johnson was a member of a large drug trafficking organization (DTO) operated by Vincent Caruso, a self-admitted Crip gang member, that included Benton and Vincent Caruso’s mother, Laurie Caruso, among others. The DTO specialized in the manufacture and sale of pressed counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl designed to imitate Percocet tablets. The DTO produced the pills using multiple large pill presses and distributed the illicit drugs to dealers throughout the North Shore. According to court papers, Caruso boasted about utilizing a pill press that weighed 1,000 pounds and was capable of producing 15,000 counterfeit fentanyl pills per hour – with pill retailing for between $10-$20, thereby generating millions of dollars in retails sales. In total, the Caruso DTO trafficked more than 30 kilograms of fentanyl, equating to 500,000 pills per year.
Johnson served in a security role as Vincent Caruso’s driver and personal assistant. As a member of the DTO, Johnson possessed and used a variety of firearms (including an AR-15; a fully automatic Glock 17; multiple large caliber revolvers; and a number of pistols equipped with large-capacity magazines) to threaten rival drug dealers and cultivate the DTO’s violent reputation in furtherance of its drug trafficking activities. The investigation determined Johnson was involved in multiple violent offenses committed on behalf of the DTO, including an attempted armed robbery in May 2021. Additionally, Johnson used social media to post and message photos and videos that showcased the DTO’s arsenal of firearms, fentanyl pills, cash and high-end jewelry. In a number of videos, Johnson boasted about his involvement in shootings, beatings and drug trafficking, promoted the DTO’s reputation for violence and gunplay, as well as identified and threatened people he believed to be a “rat” or a “snitch.” Based on multiple prior felony convictions, Johnson was prohibited from lawfully possessing firearms.
FAUSA Levy; FBI SAC Bonavolonta; ATF SAC Ferguson; and John E. Mawn Jr., Interim Colonel of the Massachusetts State Police made the announcement today. 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.
The operation was conducted by a multi-agency task force through the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply. More information on the OCDETF program is available here: https://www.justice.gov/ocdetf/about-ocdetf.