PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that a North Providence man was sentenced last week in Providence County Superior Court to serve nine years at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) after pleading to drug distribution charges stemming from a long-term, Court-authorized wiretap investigation into incidents of drug trafficking and violent crime by the Rhode Island State Police High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force and the Office of Attorney General.
Luis Munoz Mercado (age 27) pleaded nolo contendere to a total of 30 counts: three counts of possession with intent to deliver fentanyl, three counts of possession with intent to deliver between one ounce and one kilogram of fentanyl, one count of delivery of fentanyl, and multiple counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl and cocaine.
At a hearing on February 17, 2021, before Superior Court Justice Kristin E. Rodgers, the Court sentenced Munoz Mercado to 20 years at the ACI, with nine years to serve and the balance of the sentence suspended with probation.
"This Office and our partners in law enforcement continue to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of significant drug trafficking organizations," said Attorney General Neronha. "The defendant was a major player in just such an organization, and his lengthy sentence is warranted by the scope and scale of his drug distribution activity. I am grateful to our federal and state law enforcement partners for their excellent work on this time-intensive, complex investigation and prosecution."
Had the case proceeded to trial, the State was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that on diverse dates between April 5, 2019 and July 1, 2019, Munoz Mercado made frequent narcotics transactions, including deliveries of fentanyl, cocaine and oxycodone in his Dodge Charger Hellcat and from his place of business, Mamby's Barbershop on Hartford Avenue in Providence.
During the wiretap investigation, HIDTA task force members recorded multiple phone conversations between Munoz Mercado and co-conspirators discussing the distribution of fentanyl and cocaine. Intercepts also captured evidence that Munoz Mercado was processing powder cocaine into crack cocaine and distributing narcotics in pill form.
The investigation, named "Operation Heat," led to the arrest of 27 defendants on charges related to the possession and sale of illegal firearms, distribution of narcotics, and felony assault.
"This case is a textbook example of how local, state and federal law enforcement can work together to protect Rhode Islanders," said Colonel James M. Manni, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Department of Public Safety. "We're proud to be part of the team that took this prolific drug dealer off the streets and is shutting down his criminal network."
The HIDTA task force is comprised of the Rhode Island State Police, the Rhode Island Office of Attorney General, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, the United States Homeland Security, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Providence Police Department.
The investigation and prosecution of this case was led by Sergeant Derek Melfi of the Rhode Island State Police and Assistant Attorneys General James Baum and Joseph McBurney and Special Assistant Attorney General Edward G. Mullaney of the Office of Attorney General.