Leader of Multi-State Drug Trafficking Organization Pleads Guilty to Drug and Gun Charges

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PITTSBURGH, PA — An Ohio resident pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to violating federal narcotics laws, United States Attorney Cindy K. Chung announced.

Bruce McKnight, 55, of Columbus, Ohio, pleaded guilty on September 23, 2022, to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine from March of 2019 through September of 2020 and one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl from March of 2020 through September of 2020 before United States District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan. In addition, McKnight accepted responsibility for possessing a firearm in conjunction with his drug trafficking. McKnight is the lead Defendant of 13 defendants charged in the Indictment returned in this case.

In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that the Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating a cocaine and fentanyl trafficking organization that operated throughout the United States, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico. Beginning in December of 2019 and continuing through August of 2020, the DEA received authorization to conduct a Title III wiretap investigation into the organization. McKnight, as the leader of this multistate drug trafficking organization, was intercepted orchestrating and directing the movement of cocaine from various states into the Western District of Pennsylvania for distribution. McKnight was also intercepted communicating about acquiring fentanyl, distributing fentanyl, and cutting fentanyl to increase profits. In addition to the intercepted communications, agents seized cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, ecstasy, marijuana, firearms, and bulk United States Currency from members of the organization, including McKnight.

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Judge Ranjan scheduled sentencing for Feb. 23, 2023. The law provides for a total sentence of not less than 15 years to a maximum of life imprisonment, a fine not to exceed $20,000,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant. McKnight remains in custody pending sentencing.

Assistant United States Attorney Mark V. Gurzo is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

The DEA in Pittsburgh, PA; the DEA, Columbus, OH; the DEA, Harrisburg, PA; Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Pittsburgh, PA; HSI, Orlando, FL; Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations; United States Postal Service, Columbus, Ohio; Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General; Lawrence County Drug Task Force – Special Investigations Unit; and New Castle Police Department conducted the investigation leading to the prosecution of McKnight.

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