District of Massachusetts | Member of the Violent North Shore Drug Enterprise convicted of possession of a firearm in a fentanyl distribution conspiracy
BOSTON — A member of a prolific and violent North Shore-based drug trafficking organization that manufactured and shipped over 70 pounds of fentanyl pills was found guilty of possession of firearms, including an automatic weapon, in federal court in Boston today.
Ernest Johnson, 34, aka “Yo Pesci”, aka “Mr. Live Mr. Drive” from Salem was sentenced by US District Judge Leo T. Sorokin to 90 months in prison and three years of supervised release. In May 2022, Johnson pleaded guilty to felony possession of firearms 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 company that coordinated armed robberies, was involved in violent shootings and pumped more than 500,000 deadly fentanyl pills onto our streets. Not only did he illegally possess a stockpile of dangerous firearms, including a machine gun and large-capacity magazines, but Mr. Johnson brazenly flaunted his arsenal in live-streamed videos,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy. “His behavior, both on and off social media, encouraged violence and a total disregard for the rule of law. His days as a social media influencer for criminal companies are over. Our office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to combat violent criminal organizations and do everything in our power to protect our communities.”
“Today, convicted felon Ernest Johnson learned of his fate for wielding numerous firearms he was not allowed to own in support of an extremely violent drug trafficking operation that trafficked in deadly fentanyl and orchestrated numerous shootings and armed robberies, using an arsenal of Firearms, including machines, were used weapons,” 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 that which Johnson was a part of that are responsible for causing serious harm to our communities.”
“Armed violent drug dealers are wreaking havoc in our communities and the use of fentanyl in counterfeit prescriptions is a deadly combination. ATF will continue to work with our OCDETF partners to become a force multiplier to stop these organizations from wreaking havoc on our neighborhoods,” said James Ferguson, Special Agent in Charge for 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 – who all pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. On December 15, 2022, Benton was sentenced to two years in prison and three years in custody. On June 30, 2022, Vincent Caruso was sentenced to 250 months (more than 20 years) in prison and five years of supervised imprisonment. 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 major drug trafficking organization (DTO) run by Vincent Caruso, a self-proclaimed member of the Crip Gang, which included Benton and Vincent Caruso’s mother, Laurie Caruso, among others. The DTO specializes in the manufacture and sale of compressed, counterfeit, prescription pills containing fentanyl to mimic Percocet tablets. The DTO manufactured the pills using several large pill presses and distributed the illicit drugs to dealers throughout the North Shore. According to court documents, Caruso boasted about using a pill press that weighed 1,000 pounds and was capable of making 15,000 counterfeit fentanyl pills an hour – with pill sales of between $10 and $20, generating retail sales in the millions. In all, Caruso’s DTO has traded more than 30 kilograms of fentanyl, the equivalent of 500,000 pills a year.
Johnson served in a security role as Vincent Caruso’s driver and personal assistant. As a member of the DTO, Johnson owned and used a variety of firearms (including an AR-15, a fully automatic Glock 17, several large-caliber revolvers, and a number of pistols equipped with large-capacity magazines) to threaten rival drug dealers and the to nurture the DTO’s violent reputation for promoting their drug trafficking activities. The investigation found that Johnson was involved in multiple violent crimes committed on behalf of the DTO, including an attempted armed robbery in May 2021. In addition, Johnson used social media to post and send photos and videos showing the arsenal of the DTO on firearms, fentanyl pills, cash and high quality jewelry. In a series of videos, Johnson boasted about his involvement in shootings, beatings and drug dealing, promoted the DTO’s reputation for violence and shootings, and identified and threatened people he believed to be a “rat” or a “snitch.” Due to multiple previous felony convictions, Johnson was banned from lawful possession of firearms.
FAUSA levy; FBI SAC Bonavolonta; ATF SAC Ferguson; and John E. Mawn Jr., interim colonel for the Massachusetts State Police, announced today. Assistance was provided by the Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk County District Attorneys; Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk and Hancock (Maine) County Sheriffs’ Departments; US Attorney 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. US Assistant Attorney Philip A. Mallard of the Organized Crime and Gang Division prosecuted the case.
The operation was conducted by an interagency task force of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The primary mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, arms trafficking and money laundering organizations, as well as those primarily responsible for the country’s illicit drug supply. More information about the OCDETF program is available here: https://www.justice.gov/ocdetf/about-ocdetf.