ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WENY) – An Elmira man who was convicted for running a drug trafficking ring and selling at least 100 grams of fentanyl and other opioids was sentenced to serve 23 years in federal prison.

Assistant US Attorney Brett Harvey, who handled the case, said 31-year-old Robert Ian Thatcher and his co-conspirator Maximillian Sams ran a large-scale opioid manufacturing and trafficking organization in the Twin Tiers between 2015 and May 2017.

Officials say Thatcher and Sams imported bulk quantities of fentanyl and U-47700, an opioid said to be more potent than morphine, from Chinese suppliers. The two reportedly were able to order the drugs from the dark web and used different people with addresses in New York and Pennsylvania to receive the shipments.

Thatcher and Sams then bought equipment and materials to make tens of thousands of blue pills containing the two opioids. Federal officials say the pills were made to look like 30 mg Percocet pills.

Officials say at least two people – a 21-year-old woman and a 25-year-old man – died after taking the pills. Additionally, another individual – identified in federal documents only as J.M. – overdosed on more than one occasion after taking the pills, but was revived by first responders using Narcan.

Thatcher and Sams used homes on South Lehigh Avenue in Sayre, Pennsylvania and Sawdey Road in Catlin, New York to make and process the pills. During this time, prosecutors say Thatcher also illegally possessed several firearms at the Sayre home and at his own home in Elmira.

After making the pills, Thatcher and Sam would then distribute them to co-conspirators. Federal documents have identified these suspects as Anthony Prettyman, Jesus Rivera, Terrance Washington and Dwayne Banks, who also went by “Fizzle” or “Fizz”.

The co-conspirators would then sell the pills to various customers in the Elmira area. Officials say pills were also sold to someone in the Charlotte, North Carolina area.

As part of the conspiracy, Sams reportedly used Prettyman to transport 5,330 blue pills containing fentanyl from Elmira to North Carolina in October 2016. On October 25, 2016, North Carolina deputies with the Iredell County Sheriff's Office conducted a traffic stop, searched Prettyman's vehicle and seized a paint can with a false bottom containing the 5,330 blue pills.

In early 2017, officials say Thatcher arranged for a package of fentanyl – that he reportedly ordered over the dark web – to be sent to another co-conspirator, Carlito Rios, Jr. On March 13, 2017, Customs and Border Protection officers at the John F. Kennedy International Airport Mail Branch in Queens examined a package addressed to Rios at a home on Oak Street in Elmira. The sender was reportedly listed as an entity from China. Upon inspection, the package was reportedly found to contain approximately 249 grams of fentanyl.

Officials said Thatcher and Sams intended to use the seized fentanyl to manufacture and sell more blue pills.

“That the members of this organization sought to profit by pushing poison on those struggling with addiction, is reprehensible,” stated U.S. Attorney Kennedy. “In my view, however, what is even more insidious about their behavior was their efforts to press this poison into counterfeit pills, thereby given their customers a false sense of security that there was some quality and dosage control associated with their manufacture.”

To date, 13 members and associates of Thatcher's opioid trafficking operation have been convicted of federal narcotics offenses. Each of those defendants are awaiting sentencing. Among them is Thatcher's girlfriend, Amber Bates, who was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to five years probation, including six months of house arrest.

Additionally, Elmira resident Isiah McLaurin was convicted in September 2017 of witness tampering after he reportedly made threats on Facebook against an individual working with the Drug Enforcement Administration during the investigation. He was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.

The sentencing is the result of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Rochester Resident Office and Scranton PA Resident Office, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Ray Donovan, New York Field Division; the New York State Police, Community Narcotics Enforcement Team Southern Tier, under the direction of Major Mary Clark and Lieutenant Kevin P. Sucher; the Elmira Police Department, under the direction of Chief Joseph Kane; Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kelly; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge John B. Devito, New York Field Division; the Pennsylvania State Police, under the direction of Acting Commissioner Lieutenant Colonel Robert Evanchick; the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Christopher J. Moss; the Iredell, NC County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Darren E. Campbell, and Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Unit, under the direction of Director Brian Manaher. Additional assistance was provided by the Northeast Regional Laboratory.