‘Murder for hire’: Members of opioid trafficking rings involved in ‘hits,’ court docs say

A years-long investigation that just broke up one of the largest opioid drug trafficking...
A years-long investigation that just broke up one of the largest opioid drug trafficking organizations in Greater Cincinnati uncovered allegations “members have been involved in successful murder-for-hire ‘hits’, some of which are active and ongoing,” federal court records show.(WCAX)
Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 3:45 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A years-long investigation that just broke up one of the largest opioid drug trafficking organizations in Greater Cincinnati uncovered allegations “members have been involved in successful murder-for-hire ‘hits’, some of which are active and ongoing,” federal court records show.

Authorities received these tips from multiple sources as they worked to dismantle the narcotics conspiracy involving millions of dollars worth of opioids, an FBI agent wrote in a Nov. 16 affidavit.

These details were disclosed in the agent’s sworn statement to a federal magistrate judge in Cincinnati as he sought a criminal complaint on one of the 14 men charged, fentanyl distribution suspect Juan Marcano, 47, of New York City.

All 14 are charged with conspiring to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl. They face 10 years to life in prison if convicted.

They also possessed and distributed heroin and methamphetamine, according to an indictment unsealed Dec. 1.

Marcano, two Cincinnati brothers, and 11 others are accused of distributing opioids as part of the drug ring for at least the past four years, moving drugs in Cincinnati, Akron, Fairfield, and Gary, Indiana.

The “Roberson Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO) obtained drugs from multiple sources of supply, including in Atlanta and Baltimore,” court records show.

Steffen Roberson, 40, known as “Worm,” and his older brother, Anthony Roberson, 44, known as “Chemist,” led the drug ring and are charged with conspiring to distribute fentanyl, according to the U.S. Attorney Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

Investigators say Steffen Roberson has been “running one of the largest heroin/fentanyl drug trafficking organizations in the greater Cincinnati area” for at least the past four years. He bought distributable amounts of opioids for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

Federal authorities say his brother manufactured heroin and fentanyl mixtures for the drug trafficking organization by cutting the narcotics with fillers and looking for ways to make the drug mixtures more potent.

“Sources of information have advised that the ROBERSON DTO members work together coordinating the distribution of narcotics including heroin/fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana.

“The ROBERSON DTO is known to purchase narcotics from numerous sources of and distribute them throughout the ROBERSON DTO. Multiple sources have said that members of the ROBERSON DTO have been involved in successful murder-for-hire “hits,” some of which are active and ongoing,” the FBI agent’s affidavit states.

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Steffen Roberson
Steffen Roberson(Butler County Sheriff's Office)

This all came out during a lengthy investigation from multiple federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. It was announced last week by the new U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Ken Parker, and J. William Rivers, Special Agent in Charge of the Cincinnati FBI office, and Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Issac.

The other agencies involved are the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Hamilton County Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit (RENU), Hamilton County Probation Office, Drug Abuse and Reduction Task Force (DART), Warren County Drug Task Force and the Butler County Undercover Regional Narcotics Unit (BURN).

Federal authorities have remained mostly tight-lipped on the case since FOX19 NOW found the “murder for hire” reference in the affidavit shortly after it was filed back in mid-November as we conducted a routine search for new federal court cases.

A spokesman for the Cincinnati office of the FBI asked FOX19 NOW to hold off on reporting it due to the ongoing investigation and looming arrest of the suspects.

We honored that request and did not report the details in the affidavit at that time, or that Mercado was already in custody at a local jail.

When federal authorities announced the indictments last week, we checked back with them to see if we could release these details - and if they could discuss the murder for hire development.

“Since the indictments have all been unsealed, it is okay to proceed with your story,” FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren wrote in an email to FOX19 NOW. “The investigation remains ongoing, so our office has declined interviews at this time.”

More than 30 state and federal search warrants have been executed since 2018 on residences of the 14 men and large quantities of fentanyl and loaded firearms have been routinely recovered.

“In total, law enforcement has seized approximately $150,000 in cash, 10 kilograms of fentanyl, multiple vehicles and 28 firearms related to the investigation,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release last week.

Most of them have been arrested and already made initial appearances in federal court in Cincinnati.

Others charged in the case include Alton Beacher, 42, of Cincinnati; Jimmy Daniel III, 32, of Cincinnati Gregory Donaldson Jr., 32, of Cincinnati; Donald Fairbanks III, 33, of Middletown; David Hamler, 31, of Maineville; Quinton Jennings, 39, of Cincinnati; Jerome Newton, Jr., 29, of Cincinnati; Devon Price, 36, of Atlanta; Roderick Smith, 46, of Cincinnati; Rashawn Zanders, 35, of Cincinnati;

The 14th suspect, Sterling Parish, 36, remains a fugitive with an outstanding arrest warrant.

Parish, also known as “Sterl,” is accused of selling drugs for the Robersons including some to undercover investigators.

Federal court records reveal confidential informants greatly assisted authorities. One admitted to selling nearly 53 pounds of heroin to the Roberson brothers and their alleged drug ring in 2017.

Most of the confidential sources have past convictions and some face new criminal charges, but further details are blacked out on another FBI affidavit in the court record.

Those informants are cooperating with officials in the hopes of receiving lower sentences, the court document states.

The investigation developed as a result of another ongoing one.

The FBI in Cincinnati was working on a separate investigation into a “high-level Cincinnati drug trafficker” that included a court-authorized wiretap in 2018, court records show.

Calls between the two Roberson brothers were intercepted during that case.

Several recorded calls to Anthony Roberson included what appeared to be coded drug trafficking.

Federal court records show Anthony Roberson “manufactured heroin and fentanyl mixtures, cut the drugs” and looked “for ways to make the drug mixtures more potent.”

One of the informants explained how the organization worked, court records show. Steffen Roberson exclusively communicated through Facetime to elude law enforcement. Anthony Roberson’s recipe for drugs is one part heroin and two parts filler. Then, the powder is sprayed with “concentrated liquid fentanyl.”

The Robersons paid about $55,000 per kilogram, and then tripled the weight of their product, according to the FBI affidavit.

DART agents searched Anthony Roberson’s Mt. Healthy home on Nov. 2018. They found drugs, guns, money and equipment needed to cut and package drugs, court documents state.

Anthony Roberson, who was home during the raid, admitted the drugs and guns were his and gave the FBI insight into the organization.

He “stated that he is ‘one shoe’” and his brother “is the other shoe and that (his brother) has all the money,” an FBI agent wrote the affidavit.

The day of that raid, a man named Kevin Suttles - “aka Fat Kev” according to the affidavit - fled an area near Anthony Roberson’s house, according to the affidavit.

Officers tried to pull his vehicle over, but he led them on a chase. Suttles, 38, crashed into another vehicle, got out and ran.

He was detained, and officers found about 35 grams of a substance that tested positive as a heroin/fentanyl mix in Suttles’ coat pocket, court records show.

Multiple sources, including one of the confidential informants, identified Suttles as a member of the drug trafficking ring, according to the affidavit. Suttles is the brother of one of the men indicted in this case, Jerome Newton Jr., who authorities say distributes heroin/fentanyl and is one of the multiple suppliers for the drug ring.

Newton, known as “Kodak” and “Boo,” has corroborated this in a consensual audio recording he made in or around October, the FBI agent wrote:

“Newton stated that Roberson owed Newton $200,000 in (cash) for drugs. In a second, consensual audio recording Newton made in November, Newton said that Roberson now owes Newton $224,000 in (cash).”

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Jerome Newton Jr.
Jerome Newton Jr.(Butler County Sheriff's Office)

Suttles admitted in an interview after he was detained following the chase that he frequented Pure Quality Rap Studio and he knows the Roberson brothers. The FBI agent wrote in the affidavit that members of the drug trafficking ring regularly spent time at the studio, including both Roberson brothers.

Anthony Roberson is listed in state business filings as the agent for Pure Quality Entertainment LLC and he has been seen going in and out of it for short periods of time and then leaving with multiple people, the affidavit states.

“Based on my experience and training, I know that this type of activity is consistent with drug trafficking,” the FBI agent wrote.

Suttles was “murdered” earlier this year in Roselawn, the FBI agent wrote in the affidavit.

Suttles’ homicide was the first one in 2021 for Cincinnati after record-high slayings and shootings in the city during 2020.

There were 94 homicides and 486 shootings in Cincinnati during 2020. That’s 21 more homicide victims than 73 in 2019, a 28.7% increase.

Jahman Akins shot Suttles nine times on Jan. 5 as Suttles sat in the barber’s chair at a barbershop on Brookcrest Drive, Hamilton County prosecutors wrote in Akins’ bill of particulars.

Akins, 28, of Springfield Township was then shot by an unknown person.

After the shooting, Akins “disposed of the firearm and the clothing he was wearing,” the county court record shows.

Akins was later arrested in his hospital gown at Jewish Hospital as he underwent treatment, prosecutors have said.

Authorities have learned the identity of the person who shot Akins.

The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office determined it was in self-defense and the person won’t be charged, spokeswoman Amy Clausing said.

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Kevin Suttles (left) and Jahman Akins (right)
Kevin Suttles (left) and Jahman Akins (right)(Cincinnati Police Department)

Akins is currently held at the Hamilton County Justice Center on a $1 million bond.

He’s charged with two counts each of murder and having weapons under disability. He also faces one count of tampering with evidence.

Akins is prohibited from having weapons such as guns “due to multiple prior convictions,” his court records show.

Akins was convicted in Hamilton County in 2013 of possession of heroin in 2013, trafficking in heroin in 2014 and attempted robbery in 2011, according to his indictment.

Akins has pleaded not guilty.

He requested and received 11 delays in proceedings in his case between Feb. 3 and Oct. 21, court records show.

On Nov. 22, he signed a handwritten motion asking the judge to dismiss his indictment.

His jury trial is scheduled for May 16, 2022.

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