Several years ago, Donte Holdbrook was a member of a Middletown High School football team who caught touchdown passes and a guard on the basketball team.
Today, Holdbrook, 24, is in federal custody as the accused ringleader of a drug trafficking organization that supplied dealers with fentanyl and heroin in Middletown and throughout southern Ohio. The organization, officials say, had ties to the notorious Sinaloa Drug Cartel in Mexico that was led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who also is in federal custody in New York awaiting trial on multiple charges.
Federal indictments were unsealed and announced last week against Holdbrook and 11 others alleging possession of drugs, interstate travel (to) facilitate unlawful activities and money laundering conspiracy. U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman of the Southern District of Ohio said the investigation disrupted and dismantled the local drug trafficking operation.
The multi-state investigation extended from Middletown to the West Coast into Mexico and caused the seizure of large quantities of cash, drugs and firearms. The investigation by local, county, state and federal agents took more than a year and also includes the indictments of more than 40 people in California and other areas as part of the alleged money laundering operation.
Undercover FBI agents and task force officers posed as managers and employees of a worldwide criminal organization engaged in money laundering and drug trafficking for months to get evidence that led to the mass indictment of those they say dealt millions of dollars worth of heroin and fentanyl.
According to the federal criminal affidavit and complaint filed Dec. 4, 2017, in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, the FBI alleged Holdbrook knowingly and intentionally possessed with intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing fentanyl.
The complaint also said during a Dec. 2, 2017, traffic stop in Middletown, Holdbrook abruptly parked the vehicle, got out and walked into an adjacent alley in an attempt to distance himself from the Dodge Ram pickup truck registered in his mother’s name. Middletown police approached Holdbrook, whose driver’s license was suspended, and he attempted to run away from police. Holdbrook was arrested for obstruction of official business and driving under suspension. The key to the vehicle was found on Holdbrook.
After a Middletown police canine sweep of the vehicle that detected narcotics, the vehicle was searched, and 369 grams of a heroin/fentanyl mix was found. So were two cell phones, various documents including a multi-entry Mexican visa bearing Holdbrook’s name, a Mexican government identification of another person and a receipt from a Phoenix, Ariz., hotel, according to the complaint.
The complaint noted the person whose ID was found in Holdbrook’s truck was involved in a separate traffic interdiction on April 18, 2017, west of Cincinnati, where authorities seized about $182,000 in a bulk cash transfer that was believed to include proceeds from illegal narcotics trafficking. The agents investigating that seizure said that person had communicated with Holdbrook’s telephone number.
While Holdbrook was in the Middletown police interview room, he tried to break his cellphone that he concealed in what investigators believe was “an attempt to destroy evidence related to illicit narcotics trafficking,” according to the complaint.
In the complaint, it was noted that U.S. Homeland Security records revealed that Holdbrook had made multiple recent trips to Mexico and that his criminal history included felony convictions of drug possession and tampering.
Last week’s indictment alleges that “fentanyl, heroin and other narcotic substances were processed, cut, packaged and stored prior to distribution to members of the conspiracy and/or customers, in safe locations, known as stash houses, located in and around the city of Middletown, Ohio, and elsewhere in the Southern District of Ohio. The defendants and others used stash houses to manufacture, prepare, process and store fentanyl, heroin, fentanyl mixtures, heroin mixtures, narcotics-processing and packaging materials, and monies obtained through the illegal sale of controlled substances, in order to avoid their detection.”
The indictment further alleged that Holdbrook coordinated the transfer of fentanyl and heroin from the Sinaloa Drug Cartel to Middletown and funneled or smuggled large amounts of bulk cash back to Mexico. Investigators witnessed at least seven bulk cash pick-ups within the Southern District of Ohio, six in Cincinnati and one at a Comfort Inn and Suites in West Chester. Transactions ranged from $25,000 to more than $180,000. Glassman said between $1 million and $10 million in cash was laundered through the operation.
Among the various charges in the indictment, the defendants are accused of distributing more than 400 grams of fentanyl and one gram of a mixed substance containing fentanyl.
An apartment on Aaron Drive where Frank Frazier Jr., 24, lived was a key location in the alleged drug ring, according to indictments. Frazier also is in federal custody, as are most of those who were listed in the indictment last week.
Middletown police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said the apartments were used because that’s where the suspects felt safe, and they knew people there.
Muterspaw said he was not worried about another drug trafficking organization picking up where the Holdbrook organization left off.
“I am not concerned because we have showed these drug gangs what will happen to them if they set up here,” Muterspaw said. “Every major drug ring that has come here has ended up in prison through state or federal sentencing.”
He said there are three active drug task forces working in Middletown, and police are adding additional police canines and drug interdiction officers in 2018 to make it even harder for them.
“You come in here selling, and you will be on our target list,” Muterspaw said.