Heroin ring supplier sentenced

Bill Metcalf, Alcohol Tobacco Firearms special agent, speaks during a news conference at U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg while U.S. Attorney Donald Wolthuis looks on after the sentencing Thursday morning of Matthew Santiago of New York. Rich Cooley/Daily

HARRISONBURG – The final chapter in a heroin trafficking conspiracy that brought enormous amounts of the drug to the northern Shenandoah Valley was written Thursday in federal court with the sentencing of Matthew Santiago to 10 years in prison.

Santiago, 37, formerly of New York City, was the last of 15 defendants who were swept up in an investigation conducted by federal and local law enforcement officials across the northern half of the state.

Authorities identified Santiago as the supplier to Ronnie Maurice Jones and Kareem Allen Shaw, two heroin dealers who traveled frequently to New York to buy heroin from him and then sold it in amounts that translated by one estimate into 144,000 individual doses over a six-month period.

Despite his role as the supplier of the conspiracy, Santiago received a shorter prison sentence than the 23 years imposed on Jones and the 18 years Shaw received. Jones operated around Woodstock and Front Royal, and Shaw worked areas farther east in Prince William and Stafford counties.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Wolthuis told U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski that Jones and Shaw orchestrated the distribution of heroin to dozens, perhaps hundreds of addicts, users and smaller dealers while Santiago limited himself to transactions with the two principal defendants.

“He was not in a position of control, command or management,” Wolthuis said in explaining why he recommended that Santiago be sentenced to no more than 11 years and three months.

Santiago and one of his attorneys, Alberto Ebanks of New York City, pleaded for an unspecified prison sentence that Ebanks described in a sentencing memorandum as “fair and just.”

Ebanks said Santiago was 4 months old when his father was murdered. His mother did her best to raise Santiago but the family was mired in poverty, and he failed to complete high school.

“What you have, your honor, is a stage set for a life that is not necessarily going to be a positive one,” Ebanks told Urbanski.

Ebanks added that Santiago loved his two children, ages 14 and 17. His desire to support them led Santiago to turn to heroin dealing, an act Ebanks described as “born of desperation.”

Santiago said his impending prison sentence would be hard on him and his children.

“My kids are what I live for,” Santiago said. “They’re my greatest motivation.”

He added that he regretted the effect his actions had on other families, especially the children of those who consumed the heroin he sold to Shaw and Jones.

“This is something I have to live with for the rest of my life, and for that I’m truly sorry,” Santiago said.

In an interview after the hearing, Wolthuis said Santiago’s case was prosecuted in Virginia instead of New York because the heroin sold to Jones and Shaw was distributed in Virginia.

Santiago was also sentenced to five years supervised probation.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com