10 indicted in drug operation run from smuggled phone inside Youngstown prison

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Prosecutors say the alleged drug king pin ran shipments from his jail cell in Youngstown

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Ten people were indicted this week for their roles in a drug operation where the leader controlled large shipments of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and other drugs from Mexico to Cleveland from his jail cell in Youngstown, according to federal prosecutors.

Investigators say a cellphone smuggled into the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown was used by Jose Lozano-Leon, 41, a Mexican citizen who was deported in 2017 but was later found to be back in the country. He was indicted on charges of illegal reentry in October 2018.

Lozano-Leon pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 18-months in federal prison. He was incarcerated at NEOCC.

While at NEOCC, investigators say Lozano-Leon used a smuggled cellphone to run a drug trafficking operation and speak to other defendants in the case.

Named in the 17-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland are: Jose Lozano-Leon, 41, a Mexican citizen who was living in Painesville; Mario Hernandez-Leon, 31, of Mexico; Clemente Gutierrez-Meraz, 27, of Mexico; Lorne Franklin, 45, of Cleveland; Leevern Coleman, 49, of Bedford; Belen Orozco-Sigala, 36, of Painesville; Najee Amir Evans, 28, of Cleveland; Troy Pinnock, 47, of Cleveland; Damon Bybee, 60, of Garfield Heights and Montez Vanburen, 38, of Cleveland.

All ten are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

“The lead defendant is accused of running an international drug trafficking organization from a jail cell in Ohio,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “He has come to this country illegally and allegedly made his living selling the same kinds of drugs that are killing our friends and neighbors. He is an importer of pain and will be prosecuted accordingly.”

Prosecutors say Lozano-Leon spoke frequently with the co-defendants and others to arrange shipments of drugs from Mexico and other locations to Cleveland, for distribution in Northeast Ohio.

The group allegedly specialized in pills containing fentanyl and/or fentanyl analogs but which appeared to be prescription oxycodone, according to the indictment.

The group also allegedly trafficked heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, according to the indictment.

Lozano-Leon “Lozano” is alleged to be the leader of the Lozano drug trafficking organization, according to the indictment.

A detention hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 19.

NEOCC is owned and operated by CoreCivic, a private company that owns and operates prisons and detention centers.

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