Rhode Island Man Sentenced In North Dakota Fentanyl Case

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A Rhode Island man accused by prosecutors of having a “leadership role” an international fentanyl trafficking operation has been sentenced in North Dakota to 33 years in federal prison.

Steven Pinto, also known as Yeaboy, is one of more than 30 people, including a handful of Chinese nationals, accused of dealing large amounts of the powerful opioid in the U.S. and Canada. Deaths from drugs traced to the operation have been reported in North Dakota, North Carolina, New Jersey and Oregon.

Pinto, 40, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was convicted by a jury in June following a five-week trial. In addition to his prison term, Pinto was ordered Thursday to serve three years of supervised release.

The investigation known as “Operation Denial” began after 18-year-old Bailey Henke, of Grand Forks, North Dakota, died from a fatal overdose in January 2015. Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to North Dakota in April 2019 to talk about the case after Jian Zhang, the alleged ringleader from China, was charged.

The U.S. State Department is offering up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Zhang.

Three Canadian citizens accused in the operation have been extradited to the United States and are scheduled for trial in Fargo in October 2022.