Federal officials today charged four people with involvement in a north-of-Boston drug ring, including alleged ringleader Vincent "Fatz" Caruso and his mom, Laurie Caruso, who does not have a street nickname.
They and two others were swept up in an ongoing federal probe called Operation Street Sweepah. Earlier this year, two Malden residents were charged after a part of the investigation dubbed "Operation Street Sweepah: Kings of Belaire" because of the couple's love of Belaire champagne.
The four people charged today were part of a related investigation dubbed "Operation Street Sweepah: Guns and Butter," the name of which was not explained in an FBI affidavit, but which may have been partly written in proper English because there are limits to the use of the Boston accent in federal investigations. The affidavit mentions additional organization members who were not charged today.
According to the FBI affidavit, the Caruso operation supplied drugs to at least three gangs north of Boston: the Tiny Raskals Gang, the Little Crip Gangsters and Epic Nation the Label, using a $60,000 device that could churn out 15,000 pills an hour. Caruso typically advertised his wares as Percocets, although the pills were actually pressed out of fentanyl, the affidavit states, adding he is also responsible for orchestrating "violent offenses such as armed robbery, witness intimidation, and assaults."
Some of the pills:
Caruso, also known as Big Boy, is a member of the Little Crip Gangsters, according to the affidavit.
Caruso, 27, was formally charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to use firearms during a drug-trafficking crime and conspiracy to possess a tableting machine to manufacture a controlled substance. Laurie Caruso and Nicole Benton were charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money and Ernest Johnson was charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to use firearms during a drug-trafficking crime.
CARUSO currently has an open fentanyl trafficking and firearm case indicted in Essex Superior Court resulting from a prior investigation by Massachusetts State Police in January 2020, and a second open case relating to a Danvers Police investigation in May 2018.
In 2019, he was sentenced to 15 days in jail for breaking into a Salem property to film a video, the affidavit notes.
Two months after being bailed in the Essex court case, the affidavit continues, Caruso served as the driver for two other guys who broke into an apartment and stole $20,000 in cash and jewelry.
Laurie Caruso, 51, also faces charges in the Essex Superior Court case, which stems from a raid of three Saugus townhouses controlled by the Caruso operation, the affidavit states, adding the raids came after State Police or informants working for them made "multiple controlled purchases" of pills from Laurie Caruso.
Believed to be employed full time in the distribution of controlled substances, specifically engaging in actual deliveries on behalf of the CARUSO DTO and frequently travelling to stash locations and CARUSO’s residence multiple times per day.
Nicole Benton, 45, played a similar role in the organization, according to the affidavit.
Ring member Ernest "Yo Pesci" Johnson, 33, has a long record of gun crimes and assault and battery, including a 2019 conviction for beating up a correctional officer. Although that crime has a ten-year maximum sentence, he got a year.
Johnson, the affidavit continues, has become something of a YouTube star, frequently posting videos about his and Fatz's exploits (he also used Facebook and Snapchat):
One particular video that launched JOHNSON’s internet celebrity was a live stream in which JOHNSON was shot at while in a vehicle. In short, JOHNSON has become a viral video star for his willingness to discuss crimes, firearms possession, drug trafficking and violent incidents. A hallmark of his videos is the use of “allegedly” following his admissions to crimes and violence.
Johnson with an alleged gun, from one of his videos, allegedly:
With all the money pouring in , Fatz lived the high life; the affidavit reports on a private dinner Fatz and his boys had at Mastro's in the Seaport on March 3 of this year - which was chronicled in a video posted to YouTube:
During the video, CARUSO is featured prominently, wearing a large chain with his street name, "Fatz," encrusted with diamonds. During the beginning of the music video, CARUSO hands [an as yet unindicted gang member who goes by "Shizzy"] a diamond-encrusted red-faced Rolex watch. CARUSO and other attendees then commence to have a meal at what appears to be a private dinner.
Fatz owned an Audemars Piguet watch, fully encrusted with diamonds; just the watch alone goes for $10,000:
To maintain some level of respectability, Caruso and the others figured out how to use a complex way of wagering at a New Hampshire casino to convert drug money into legit cash, the affidavit states. Brooks, his mom and Johnson would go up to the Brook, in Seabrook, and place "parlay" bets, typically of several thousand dollars apiece - but always well under the federal $10,000 reporting requirement - on the outcomes of several sporting events.
In order to win, all of the chosen teams must prevail. ... The benefit of a parlay is that there are much higher payoffs because you are betting upon multiple outcomes simultaneously and all of those chosen teams must win in order for the wager to pay off. The more teams you bet upon, the less of a chance to win, but the greater the payout if they do.
As the payouts are so high, the favored team parlay scheme offers the chance for immediate and lucrative returns in exchange for a relatively small investment of drug proceeds. In the event that the parlay bet is successful, the CARUSO DTO can show a purported legally-obtained source for a large amount of cash on hand. Furthermore, since the purpose of the laundering efforts is to show a purported source of ostensibly illegally-obtained cash on-hand that could not otherwise be transacted (instead of to win money), the CARUSO DTO need only break-even or at least not lose a large proportion of the cash in order for the laundering activity to be successful.
Yo Pesci and mom at the Brook:
But it wasn't all fun and games in Fatzworld. The affidavit recounts a 2018 incident in which some guys tried to rob him:
According to police reports and other information, CARUSO was entering into an apartment unit controlled by the CARUSO DTO [drug-trafficking organization], when multiple individuals chased him into the residence. The living area for the CARUSO DTO controlled unit, was on the 2nd floor, and CARUSO ran up the stairs away from the assailants. CARUSO then ran into a bedroom and jumped off the 2nd floor balcony landing down onto the 1st floor balcony, which was associated with another unit. According to witness reports, CARUSO was in a state of terror and hid in that apartment with the first-floor resident, who was a neighbor. Police were called to the scene and conducted a protective sweep of the residence, and located a firearm in the CARUSO DTO controlled residence. A search warrant was obtained and: over $30,000 cash, a firearm, over 200 apparent oxycodone pills (appearing to be Percocet 30 mg that I believe are in fact pressed fentanyl pills), approximately 6 grams of crack cocaine, and approximately 8 pounds of marijuana were recovered. Drug ledgers, and paperwork belonging to CARUSO were also present in the premises. This address was identified to be the residence of CARUSO's sister, and mother, Laurie CARUSO.
Complete affidavit (3.1M PDF).