Oct. 14—A Rhode Island man has been sentenced to 33 years in federal prison for his involvement in an international fentanyl distribution ring with connections to the death of Bailey Henke, an 18-year-old Grand Forks man who fatally overdosed in 2015.
Steven Barros Pinto, 40, of Pawtucket, R.I., was found guilty earlier this year by a jury following a five-week trial. He was convicted of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and controlled substances analogues, conspiracy to import controlled substances and controlled substance analogues into the U.S., money laundering conspiracy, continuing criminal enterprise and obstruction of justice.
According to a release from the U.S. Attorney's office, Pinto was part of a Rhode Island organization that was receiving fentanyl and fentanyl analogues from Canada and China. Pinto's partner, Anthony Santos Gomes, 36, also of R.I., was also sentenced to 30 years in prison for his involvement in the criminal conspiracy in July.
The case is a part of "Operation Denial," an international drug investigation that started in Grand Forks on Jan. 3, 2015, with Henke's death. Operation Denial has led to 31 defendants charged in North Dakota and three defendants charged in Oregon. Three Canadian nationals have also been extradited to the U.S. and are awaiting trial in Fargo.
The U.S. Department of State is also offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Jian Zhang, a Chinese national.
Nearly $1 million in cash and property have been forfeited from members of the organization as part of the investigation, according to the release.
The investigation is ongoing, and the case is being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — Homeland Security Investigations, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Portland Oregon Police Bureau — Drugs and Vice Division, Portland HIDTA Interdiction Task Force, Oregon State Police, and the Grand Forks Police Department.