standing Rhode Island State Police hq

Rhode Island State Police headquarters in North Scituate. Sun file photo

A state investigation that brought together 36 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and led to charges against 23 individuals who have all since been found guilty for various roles in an organized drug-distribution ring was recognized this week with a national Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces award.

The U.S. Department of Justice recognized 10 individuals with the OCDETF honor. The recipients included personnel with he U.S. Postal Service, Pembroke (Mass.) Police Department, Rhode Island State Police, Marlboro (Mass.) police, Drudge Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Among those who received recognition were Richard Atwood, James Burns, Mario Cerullo, Kristopher Dees, Daniel Hernandez, Alexander Koumanelis, Sam Masiello, Andrea Metz, Michael Rusciano and Lindsay Beltzer.

“This award is a testament to two things: the results that flow from effective coordination among our law enforcement partners, and the commitment of those agencies to dismantle and disrupt significant drug trafficking in our state and region,” U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said. “I am pleased to see the team deservedly recognized with this award.”

Cunha said in a news release that the eight-month Project Safe Neighborhoods investigation, dubbed “Operation Panamera,” relied on the combined expertise of the Rhode Island DEA Drug Task Force, the DEA Cape Cod Drug Task Force and the Rhode Island State Police High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, whose joint work dismantled a drug-trafficking organization that imported hundreds of kilograms of fentanyl and cocaine from Mexico and Puerto Rico and redistributed them to drug dealers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont.

The investigation culminated in the seizure of 13 kilograms of fentanyl, 11 kilograms of cocaine, 11 kilograms of marijuana and two kilograms of psychedelic mushrooms. In addition, law enforcement also seized $60,000 in cash, 10 vehicles and a handgun.

All 23 individuals charged, including several from the greater Providence area, have since been judged guilty in the U.S. District Court in Providence and sentenced to federal prison.

“I’m proud of the work our Troopers do every day to keep illegal narcotics out of our neighborhoods,” said Col. James M. Manni, superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and director of the Department of Public Safety. “Today I am especially pleased that their efforts, along with those of 35 other law enforcement partners, were recognized with an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces award.”

— Jason Vallee

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