Court

BALTIMORE — Three men accused of running a heroin-fentanyl-cocaine distribution operation in Cecil County — including one defendant who had a pending application to be a Baltimore City Police Department officer at the time of his crimes — are facing lengthy prison sentences after accepting plea deals, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Federal prosecutors identified one of the men as 36-year-old Oscar O. Pilarte-Rivera, noting that he is the defendant who had a pending officer application with the BPD. They identified the remaining defendants as Elvin Solano-Pena (aka Joseph — or Jose — Allen Fields), 37; and 21-year-old Herme Soriano, whose alias is Miguel Urraca-Gonzalez.

During a U.S. District Court hearing Friday, Solano-Pena pleaded guilty to a narcotics charge that carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison, a USAO spokeswoman said.

Soriano, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to distribution of heroin and cocaine, and he now faces a maximum 20-year prison term, she added.

Both of those defendants also pleaded guilty to immigration crimes relating to their illegal status in the United States.

The remaining defendant, Pilarte-Rivera, pleaded guilty to using a communication device to facilitate drug trafficking — a crime that is punishable by up to four years in prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett, who accepted the guilty pleas from the three defendants, scheduled Pilarte-Rivera’s sentencing for Oct. 18 and set Oct. 25 sentencing hearings for Solano-Pena and Soriano.

According to their plea agreements, starting as early as June 2017 and continuing through Sept. 26, 2018, Solano-Pena and Soriano conspired with others to distribute heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and crack cocaine to drug users living primarily in Cecil County.

Witnesses advised law enforcement that they purchased narcotics from the conspirators by calling a designated phone number assigned to what investigators described as a “dispatch phone,” federal prosecutors said. Solano-Pena possessed the dispatch phone and was its primary user, prosecutors added.

Customers would call that phone and place drug orders and Solano-Pena or another conspirator, in turn, would arrange a meeting place, according to prosecutors. Then Solano-Pena, Soriano or a co-conspirator would arrive at the designated meeting location and provide the drugs in exchange for cash, prosecutors reported.

On Sep. 5, Soriano and a co-conspirator were arrested, prosecutors noted. Soriano lied to police about his identity, claiming to be a U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico and providing a fraudulently obtained driver’s license using his alias, Miguel Urraca, according to prosecutors.

Investigators reported that the black Honda Civic that Soriano and co-conspirator were using for transportation had been used during drug transactions, which surveilling law enforcement officers had observed.

That Honda, which was towed to Cecil County after those arrests, was registered to Pilarte-Rivera, prosecutors said. Pilarte-Rivera later admitted that he provided assistance to the drug dealers by, among other things, allowing them to use the car registered in his name — knowing that the men were involved in drug trafficking, prosecutors added. Pilarte-Rivera claimed possession of the black Honda from police custody, prosecutors noted.

On Sept. 26, some three weeks after those arrests, federal investigators confiscated 160 grams — more than 5½ ounces — of a heroin-fentanyl mixture, in addition to crack cocaine packaged for sale, while conducting a court-approved search of the co-conspirator’s Aberdeen residence, according to prosecutors.

Shortly before executing that search warrant, investigators saw Pilarte-Rivera driving the black Honda Civic in front of the leasing office at that apartment complex, prosecutors reported.

Investigators went to the leasing office, attempting to identify all occupants who had been using that vehicle, and they encountered Pilarte-Rivera and Solano-Pena, prosecutors said. When questioned by investigators, Solano-Pena falsely identified himself as Joseph Allen Fields, prosecutors added.

Pilarte-Rivera, who was born in the Dominican Republic, is a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to his plea agreement, which also indicates that “during the events charged in his case, Pilarte-Rivera had an application pending to be a Baltimore City police officer.”

When investigators asked about the Honda and about the reason the suspects were attempting to enter their co-conspirator’s apartment, Pilarte-Rivera and Solano-Pena maintained that they were picking up some items for a friend, whom they identified by an alias, prosecutors said.

Pilarte-Rivera provided a Maryland driver’s license and told officers that he had obtained a power-of-attorney status from the co-conspirator in order to enter the apartment and gather some birth certificates that the co-conspirator needed, according to prosecutors. The power-of-attorney documents, however, had been fraudulently notarized, prosecutors reported.

According to the plea agreements, both men knew there were drugs inside that apartment.

Moreover, Pilarte-Rivera gave Maryland State Police detectives consent to search the Honda in question, after a specially trained scent dog alerted to the presence of illegal drugs in the vehicle, prosecutors said. Searchers found the dispatch phone on the driver’s seat and confiscated it, prosecutors added.

Also contained in the plea agreement, Solano-Pena resisted the arresting officers and made an unsuccessful attempt to run, before he was quickly subdued by officers. Solano-Pena was fingerprinted, which later yielded information that he had had previous removals from the United States, that his true name is Elvin Solano-Pena and that he has a criminal history.

The fourth defendant in this case — Ivanovich Mercedes-Soriano — is scheduled for an Aug. 26 trial, according to the USAO spokeswoman.

The list of agencies involved in the investigation leading to Friday’s plea deals and to Mercedes-Soriano’s charges and upcoming trial includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (Baltimore office) and MSP. It also includes the USAO, with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sandra Wilkinson and Paul Riley serving as the prosecutors.

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