Investigators announce charges in local drug-trafficking ring, allegedly tied to Mexican drug cartel

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According to the Department of Justice, the ring operated in Sharon, New Castle and Farrell, as well as other areas

NEW CASTLE, Pa. (WKBN) – The Department of Justice announced charges Tuesday in an alleged drug-trafficking ring with local ties, following an 18-month investigation called “Operation No Mercy.”

Investigators say the organization had ties to a Mexican drug cartel and was bringing in multiple kilos of cocaine, as well as fentanyl, to Sharon, New Castle, Farrell and other areas. The operation also had operations in Florida and Puerto Rico, according to investigators.

A SWAT team was spotted at a house in Farrell on Monday, where one person was arrested in connection with the investigation. Investigators also made arrests in New Castle.

“They brought multiple kilos of cocaine to those communities every week, and the money was sent back to Columbus and to Florida,” said U.S. Attorney Scott Brady.

Investigators said the ring flooded local streets with cocaine and fentanyl.

“We are seeing an unprecedented level of narcotics being brought into our county and distributed. We’ve had a high rate of drug overdose deaths,” said Mercer County District Attorney Pete Acker. “This conspiracy and the quantities that they were distributing bring with them a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison, up to life.”

Lawrence County District Attorney Josh Lamancusa pointed to the connection between drug trafficking and illegal weapons.

“We can point to 10, 20, 30 examples of where you have a direct nexus between illegal narcotics trafficking and illegal firearms,” he said.

An unsealed indictment accused the following of conspiring to distribute cocaine in the area and elsewhere from March 2019 to September of 2020:

  • Bruce McKnight, 53, Columbus
  • Noberto Castillo-Lopez, 31, of Mexico
  • Jossian Ayala-Ruberte, 39, of Kissimmee, Florida
  • Luis Mattei-Albizu, 39, of Columbus
  • Nathaniel McKnight, 28, of New Castle, Pa.
  • Michael Talbert, 41, of Farrell, Pa.
  • Tony McKnight, 55, of New Castle, Pa.
  • Trevor Austin, 46, of Sharon, Pa.
  • Thomas Pierce, Jr., 48, of Farrell, Pa.
  • Thomas Jones, 44, of Farrell, Pa.
  • Romondo Oatis, 46, of Farrell, Pa.
  • Darnell Latham, 51, of New Castle, Pa.
  • Brandon Jetter, 39, of McKeesport, Pa.

Bruce McKnight is also accused of conspiring to possess and distribute fentanyl in western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. According to the indictment, he had been previously convicted of a similar charge and had served time in prison.

Also convicted and serving time on past drug charges were Oatis, Pierce and Talbert, according to the ndictment.

U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Homeland Security Investigations, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and the Lawrence and Mercer counties District Attorneys’ Offices held a press conference about the operation in Lawrence County on Tuesday.

They said they sent out SWAT teams to multiple locations on Monday, seizing drugs, cash and firearms.

Lawrence and Mercer County drug investigation (3)

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