Penn Hills man guilty of guarding drugs, money for cross-country ring tied to Mexican cartels
A Penn Hills man pleaded guilty to guarding massive amounts of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and cash as a participant in one of the largest drug rings ever busted in Western Pennsylvania, federal prosecutors said July 31.
Chace Johnson, 21, was convicted of one federal narcotics charge for “maintaining a drug-involved premises,” U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady said.
Johnson was among 39 people indicted in April 2018 for their alleged roles in a far-reaching operation that stretched from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, prosecutors said.
Investigators said the ring, referred to as the Lightfoot-Mendoza drug trafficking organization, had connections to Mexican cartels.
In August and September 2017, Johnson lived at a house on Harvest Drive.
He shared the house with Jamie Lightfoot Jr. — one of the leaders accused of coordinating the movement and sales of drugs, along with his brother, Deaubre Lightfoot, 28, of Monessen, prosecutors said. The brothers’ father, Jamie Lightfoot Sr., was accused of participating in the ring from federal prison.
With help from interstate drug trafficker Don Juan Mendoza, a former Georgia resident, they moved the drugs into Western Pennsylvania via either a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van or a large recreational vehicle (RV), the indictment said.
Johnson’s role was to protect the drugs and money stored at the residence, prosecutors said. He also helped obtain drug paraphernalia and supplies needed to assist in selling the illegal street drugs.
The two-year investigation, called Operation Heavy Hand, involved the FBI, state police and police from South Strabane, Elizabeth, Penn Hills and Perryopolis.
Their work came to a head in November 2017 when officials caught one of the ring’s RVs — occupied by Pedro Blanco, Brian Powell and Troy Rowe — attempting to haul more than 52 kilograms — or 110 pounds — of cocaine and heroin from Los Angeles to Jamie Lightfoot’s Penn Hills home, the indictment said.
Searches of the homes and vehicles of those accused of participating in the ring also turned up 85 pounds of marijuana, illegal steroids, 11 guns and nearly $1 million in cash, officials said.
Brady described the bust as one of the largest ever of its kind in the region at a time when “cocaine is making a comeback.”
All told, the amount of cocaine seized had a street value of $2 million.
Johnson faces a maximum possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $500,000. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark. R. Hornak scheduled his sentencing for Dec. 13.
Assistant U.S. attorneys Timothy M. Lanni and Shaun Sweeney prosecuted the case.
The case was federally funded by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which teams up federal, state and local agencies to combat interstate and international drug trafficking.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .