Around his Plymouth Street neighborhood, Elliott Fuentes was known as “The Godfather.”
It was a nickname he earned after beating drug and weapons charges in 2007.
Five years later, the law has caught up with Fuentes. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to heading up a drug network that imported cocaine from Puerto Rico for sale on Buffalo’s West Side.
The Godfather now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
“From October of 2007 to May of 2009, Elliott Fuentes operated a large-scale cocaine-distribution ring,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel A. Violanti said in court Wednesday.
For years after his initial arrest in 2007, Fuentes was viewed as untouchable, a reputation that led to his street name, a moniker that investigators say he adopted as his own, even publicizing it on his Facebook page.
But Fuentes, 39, was arrested again in 2009, this time as part of a federal drug investigation that included wiretap recordings of his conversations with others involved in the drug ring.
“At the time of his arrest, he was a significant trafficker of cocaine and heroin on the West Side of Buffalo,” said Dale M. Kasprzyk, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Buffalo.
Fuentes and his attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, said very little during his appearance before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, but his plea agreement outlines a wide range of admissions about his role in the drug network.
He acknowledges paying for large amounts of cocaine that arrived by mail from Puerto Rico and then using several other people as street-level drug dealers.
“How many people were involved in this?” Arcara asked at one point Wednesday.
“Altogether, Judge, about 10,” Violanti said.
“And where did they operate?” the judge asked.
“They operated primarily on the West Side, but also on the East Side,” Violanti said.
Of the 10 defendants in the case, including two of Fuentes’ sisters, five have pleaded guilty.
At the time of Fuentes’ second arrest in 2009, people in his neighborhood confirmed the story about his nickname and suggested that it was based on the famous 1972 film starring Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, a Mafia boss known for avoiding prison.
Investigators said at the time that the 2007 drug charges against Fuentes – they say 2 pounds of cocaine, 7 ounces of heroin and $60,000 in cash were found at his home in the 500 block of Plymouth – were dropped because a relative took the fall.
When he was arrested again two years later, police described Fuentes as a flashy drug dealer who owned two 2007 Mazdas and a custom-made blue motorcycle that featured a picture of the drug dealer played by actor Al Pacino in the 1983 movie “Scarface” on the side gas tank.
Violanti referred to a motorcycle in court Wednesday and estimated its value at between $35,000 and $50,000.
Fuentes, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single felony charge of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, will be sentenced in June.