Conspirators Used the United States Mail and Other Common Carriers
to Ship Drugs from California to West Michigan
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN—A federal jury convicted Calvin Charles Colbert, Jr., 33, of Los Angeles, California, of federal drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy offenses following a five-day trial, U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge announced today. Colbert is one of ten defendants who were convicted for their roles in connection with the conspiracies, which was led locally by Johaun Lamont Howland, 31, of Grand Rapids. Shortly before trial, Howland pled guilty to the drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracies involving Colbert, and to firearms charges.
From January 2017 through September 2018, Colbert was Howland’s Los Angeles-based source for cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl. Colbert used the United States Postal Service and other interstate carriers to ship large quantities of drugs to Howland, who would further distribute the drugs in Grand Rapids and surrounding areas.
Law enforcement developed the investigation, in part, through multiple package interceptions. For instance, on February 28, 2018, investigators intercepted a USPS package that contained approximately 50 grams of heroin, 1 kilogram of cocaine, and 800 grams of fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. During the investigation, agents seized approximately 2.5 kilograms of cocaine, 800 grams of fentanyl, 400 grams of crystal methamphetamine, 1.2 kilograms of marijuana, quantities of heroin, and over $100,000 in drug proceeds.
“Black market fentanyl, which is manufactured in Mexico and China, can be fatal at exceedingly small doses compared to other opiates,” said U.S. Attorney Birge. “Lives were undoubtedly saved by law enforcement’s interception of the package on February 28, 2018. Criminals may think they can evade detection by using the U.S. mail or other common carriers to ship their poison, but Colbert and Howland learned the hard way that these same convenient means of transport can in fact become convincing proof of guilt.”
The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began the investigation into Colbert and Howland’s drug trafficking organization in 2017, in partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), the Kent County Sheriff’s Office, and the Grand Rapids Police Department.
“Battling synthetic opioids, illegal drugs, or paraphernalia in the U.S. Mail is one of the highest priorities for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the federal law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service. We utilize enhanced investigative methods and leverage strategic partnerships with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to conduct joint investigations and maximize our resources and impact, as evidenced in this case, to remove dangerous drugs from the mail and ensure those responsible for related drug trafficking are prosecuted to the fullest extent possible under the law,” said Bryan Musgrove, Acting Inspector in Charge for the Detroit Division of USPIS.
Keith W. Martin, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Detroit Field Division, stated: “This conviction highlights the impact of multiple agencies joining together to target a drug trafficking organization. DEA will continue to join forces with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to target and remove criminals who peddle poisons and prey on our communities.”
In addition to Colbert and Howland, Mark Anthony Martin, Sterling Wesley Hickmon, II, Justin David Martin, Jamica Taylor, Christian Yvonne Newbern, Teyon Rosser-Burch, Malik Saladian Green and Jacarr Devon Cox have been convicted of charges relating to this operation. Taylor, Newbern, Rosser-Burch, Green and Cox received sentences ranging from time served to 92 months. The remainder await sentencing.
This investigation and prosecution is part of an Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) operation called Operation Bad Rap. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.
Howland and Colbert’s sentencing hearings will be held, respectively, on June 14, 2021 and June 29, 2021 before U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff. Both Howland and Colbert face a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Clay Stiffer, Austin Hakes, and Dan McGraw.