BOSTON (WWLP) – A Salem man was found guilty on Thursday to being a felon in possession of a gun and ammunition in a case relating to his role in a drug trafficking organization that supplied counterfeit drugs containing fentanyl to suppliers on the North Shore.
According to the news release sent to 22News by the Department of Justice in Boston, Ernest Johnson, 34, known as “Yo Pesci,” or “Mr. Live Mr. Drive,” pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Johnson was arrested and charged in June along with co-conspirators Vincent Caruso, Laurie Caruso, and Nicole Benton.
On October 1, 2021, Benton pleaded guilty to her role in the conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing which is set for September 8, 2022. Additional charges were brought against Vincent Caruso by a federal grand jury on January 19, 2022.
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 allegedly sold counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl, produced using multiple large pill presses, to street gangs for further distribution on the North Shore of Massachusetts.
It is alleged that one pill press weighed 1,000 pounds and was capable of producing 15,000 pills per hour. According to the charging documents, a single counterfeit fentanyl pill retails between $10 to $20, thereby generating millions of dollars in retail sales.
Johnson had and used guns in drug trafficking activities. Additionally, Johnson used social media to post and message photos and videos that depicted firearms (including an AR15), fentanyl pills, cash, and high-end jewelry. In a number of videos, Johnson described his involvement in shootings, beatings, and drug trafficking and identified people he believed to be a “rat” or a “snitch.” Based on prior felony convictions, Johnson was prohibited from lawfully possessing guns.
The charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition provides for a sentence of up to 10 in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.