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United States Attorney Brandon J. Fremin announced that U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson sentenced Shanard Zelron Banks, age 32, to 181 months in federal prison following his convictions for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances, possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, unlawful use of a communication facility, and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.  The Court further sentenced Banks to serve five years of supervised release following his term of imprisonment and ordered that the firearms involved be forfeited along with $20,000 and a 2011 Porsche Panamera that he purchased using drug trafficking proceeds.

Banks was charged along with twenty other individuals in connection with an extensive federal, state, and local investigation by the Middle District Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) aimed at a drug trafficking organization – FreeBandz – based and operating in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  As a result of this investigation, 19 defendants have been convicted, 10 have been sentenced and one is scheduled for jury trial in February of 2021.

According to admissions made as part of his guilty plea, Banks controlled the organization’s illegal pill-pressing operation whereby he and his co-conspirators used pill press machines, punches, dies, and pill pressing chemicals to illegally manufacture tens of thousands of counterfeit controlled substance pills.  The counterfeit pills were tainted with undisclosed amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl analogues, clonazolam, and other controlled substances that Banks’ co-conspirator obtained from sources located in Houston, Texas, and Los Angeles, California.  These pills were then imprinted with various marks, including several for controlled substance pharmaceuticals.  Thereafter, Banks and his co-conspirators distributed the counterfeit pills to others for further distribution in Baton Rouge, Mississippi, the New Orleans metropolitan area, and elsewhere.  The drug trafficking operation formed in or before 2016 and continued until it was disrupted by law enforcement intervention in 2018.

During their investigation, law enforcement agents recovered a .380 caliber Taurus revolver, a .556 caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic rifle, and five semi-automatic pistols of varying calibers from a number of residences and commercial premises that were used to store drugs and drug proceeds, and to conduct drug transactions.  These firearms were possessed by Banks and a co-conspirator with the purpose of advancing Banks’ drug trafficking operation.

U.S. Attorney Fremin stated, “This defendant is one of the key leaders of a drug trafficking organization responsible for trafficking large amounts of counterfeit pills laced with heroin and other illegal drugs throughout our district.  This sentencing has significantly advanced efforts to restore law and order in the community. The combined federal, state, and local efforts that culminated in this conviction once again reflect our unified front against crime in this district. I appreciate the tremendous dedication and hard work by the agents and prosecutors who worked tirelessly on this important matter.”  

DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael R. Sader said, “Illegal dangerous drugs, including methamphetamine, destroy lives and have far-reaching negative effects in communities where they take hold.  By targeting local distribution networks in the Baton Rouge area and beyond, DEA and our federal, state and local law enforcement partners are working to reduce overall crime and improve the quality of life for area residents.  The numerous arrests and seizures in this investigation are the result of our close cooperation and part of our ongoing efforts to ensure that drug traffickers are held responsible for the harm they cause.  This lengthy sentence sends a message of our unending resolve to pursue drug traffickers who wreak havoc in our communities.”

This investigation is another effort by the OCDETF Program, which was established in 1982 to mount a comprehensive attack against organized drug traffickers.  Today, the OCDETF Program is the centerpiece of the United States Attorney General’s drug strategy to reduce the availability of drugs by disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations, money laundering organizations, and related criminal enterprises.  The OCDETF Program operates nationwide and combines the resources and unique expertise of numerous federal, state, and local agencies in a coordinated attack against major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.

This OCDETF operation is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana; the Baton Rouge District Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the Baton Rouge Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives. This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Kleinpeter, who also serves as a deputy criminal chief.

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