Five members of marijuana and money laundering organization sent to prison

By: Elizabeth Steinberg

RALEIGH – Five members of a marijuana and money laundering organization have been sentenced to prison after previously pleading guilty to a slew of charges, including intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.

The investigation that revealed the marijuana and money laundering conspiracy began no later than 2010 and continued until 2014. It led to the arrests of five members of a marijuana and money laundering organization: Alexander Wright Ferguson, Samuel Seth Smithwick, Michael Thomas Haas, Bryan Edward Bough and George Zorio.

Ferguson and Smithwick had shipments of marijuana, supplied by Bough and Zorio, sent from California and Nevada to North Carolina and Virginia through the U.S. mail. Later during the conspiracy, four shipments totaling 375 pounds of marijuana were transported via private jets, rented by Haas.

Ferguson and Smithwick reimbursed Haas for the jet rentals and paid Haas a portion of the net proceeds of the marijuana sales. The marijuana was distributed to Ferguson and Smithwick’s customers in North Carolina, Virginia and Hawaii.

The total amount of marijuana distributed during the conspiracy was in excess of 600 pounds. Drug proceeds in the amount of $1,834,098 were laundered through various bank accounts in amounts less than $10,000 to evade the federal transaction reporting requirement.

Ferguson, 31, was sentenced to 42 months in prison for each count, to run concurrently. The Virginia native will be on supervised release for five years upon his release from the Bureau of Prisons. United States District Judge Boyle ordered Ferguson to forfeit $250,000 representing the gross proceeds of his drug trafficking. Ferguson paid $10,000 towards the amount owed at sentencing.

Smithwick, 33, from Washington, North Carolina, was sentenced to 33 months in prison for each count, to run concurrently. Smithwick will be on supervised release for three years upon his release. Judge Boyle ordered Smithwick to forfeit $36,270 seized upon his arrest.

Haas, 55, was sentenced to 20 months in prison for each count, also to be run concurrently. The Pinehurst, North Carolina, native will be on supervised release for three years upon his release. Haas was directed to forfeit $1,000,000 representing the gross proceeds of his drug trafficking. He received a credit towards the amount owed for the $177,195.97 that was seized from his bank accounts upon arrest.

Bough, 37, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for each count, to be run concurrently. The Nevada native will be on supervised release for four years upon his release. Bough was ordered to forfeit $250,000 representing the gross proceeds of his drug trafficking.

Zorio, 58, was sentenced to 33 months in prison for each count, to run concurrently. Zorio, who is originally from California, will be on supervised release for four years upon his release. He was directed to forfeit $250,000 representing the gross proceeds of his drug trafficking.

The investigation was conducted by several federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Dare County Sheriff’s Office and the Greenville Regional Drug Task Force.

The federal prosecution was handled by Special Assistant United States Attorney Glenn Perry.  Mr. Perry is a prosecutor with the Pitt County District Attorney’s Office.  Pitt County District Attorney Kimberly Robb has assigned Mr. Perry to the United States Attorney’s Office, pursuant to funding provided by the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, to prosecute federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force criminal matters.