Fourth defendant pleads guilty in counterfeit pill ring

·1 min read

May 19—SALEM — A fourth and final defendant in a North Shore drug ring that sold thousands of counterfeit Percocet pills that contained fentanyl pleaded guilty to a firearms charge on Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Ernest Johnson, 34, of Salem, pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, after reaching a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in the case.

He will be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on Sept. 13, Judge Leo Sorokin ordered.

Johnson, who was known as "Yo, Pesci" and "Mr. Live, Mr. Drive," was an associate of ringleader Vincent "Fatz" Caruso, 27, who pleaded guilty in March to a string of charges stemming from his role as head of the ring. Caruso is set to be sentenced next month.

Johnson, whose record included a prior felony conviction for assaults on correctional officers at the Middleton Jail, was found in possession of a Taurus .45 caliber handgun and six rounds of ammunition when he was arrested at a Saugus motel on June 30 last year.

Prosecutor Philip Mallard told Sorokin that Johnson had been in the practice of livestreaming himself holding firearms and that the Taurus was seen on videos, as was a bag that investigators later found during a search.

As part of his plea agreement Johnson agreed to forfeit the gun and ammunition.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis