Regional cell head of Central KY poly drug trafficking organization sentenced to 20 years

Lexington, Ky–A Lexington man described by the DEA as a “regional cell head” of an organization trafficking marijuana, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison Friday by Chief U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves.

Mario Sanchez Barba, 32, pled guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute 50 Grams or More of Methamphetamine and 400 Grams or More of Fentanyl, Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering, and Distribution of 50 Grams of Methamphetamine in September.

The 240 month sentence given was less than the recommended punishment of 324-405 months under federal sentencing guidelines, according to court documents.

Barba is alleged to have been the target of a November 2021 shooting that left one person dead and another injured. According to WKYT:

After the shooting happened in November, WKYT spoke with one of the men shot in the incident, who we are not identifying at this time.

He says a man, who court documents identify as Mario Sanchez-Barba, ran out in front of his car as he drove to work outbound along West Main Street early in the morning on November 5. He says as Sanchez-Barba tried to enter his car as shots rang out. The man was hit in the arm and he drove himself, along with Sanchez-Barba to the hospital.

Police say when they came back to the scene, they found Jimenez dead inside an open apartment.

New information, obtained via court documents, says a fight between Okorley and Sanchez-Barba led to Okorley pulling out his handgun and trying to shoot Sanchez-Barba.

However, the documents say Okorley ultimately shot Jimenez in the head, killing him and prompting Sanchez-Barba to flee the apartment.

Lexington man charged with murder, attempted murder” Jeremy Tombs, WKYT; “Victim wounded in downtown Lexington says he’s received apology for shooting” Victor Puente, WKYT

The West Main residence where the November murder occurred is also linked to another drug trafficking investigation. The shooter would later reach out to the shot driver of the vehicle to apologize for accidentally shooting him.

Defense says Barba had traumatic childhood

A sentencing memorandum written by his attorney, Michael R. Mazzoli of Cox & Mazzoli, PLLC, notes that Barba also had a traumatic childhood where he witnessed severe violence against his mother. When Barba was nine-years-old, he watched as his father attempted to push his mother in front of an oncoming garbage truck, it says. Following the incident, Barba and his brother were placed into foster care.

Barba “suffered mental and physical ailments that caused seizures and aggressive behavior and made it impossible for him to do well in school,” the memo continues. Despite these personal struggles, Barba “has been a loyal husband and loving father, and he has inspired people around him to excel in school and work, even as he struggled in those areas.” His wife credits his encouragement with helping her finish nursing school and for his son to succeed in school and eventually become a police officer.

Me and my brother grew up with violence, we knew what it was to have some bad examples to follow and what it takes to choose to be better than what was shown to us. It’s because of my brother Mario that I myself work as a security officer for the last 14 years, it is great to work and provide to not just myself and family but to also contribute to society in some way, I was lazy and my younger brothers hard work ethic rubbed off on me.

I’m not sure when he lost that drive and chose to do the things that go him in trouble, but I do commend was his ability to keep his affairs away from his children and not expose them to the same behavior that my brother and I witnessed as kids. One may judge my brother but none can say he was a bad father, under him I’ve seen my nephew participate and excel in both sports and academics at school, and be a good kid in general all around. This is not mentioning my niece who’s too small to know what’s going on but as most children smart enough to ask where’s daddy.

Barba’s brother in a pre sentencing letter to the judge.

DEA Criminal Complaint against Barba

According to a charging document written by DEA Special Agent Jason D. Moore, Barba was the “regional cell head of a poly drug trafficking organization operating in central Kentucky.”

Below is the probable cause given in his criminal complaint, filed in federal court March 17, 2022. It provides new insight into how drug trafficking organizations operate in the Bluegrass and what a law enforcement investigation into one looks like.

“On March 8, 2021, Sanchez Barba and Rodriguez were arrested following a stop of a vehicle in which they were traveling near Vail Pass, Colorado by members of Colorado State Patrol. This stop was predicated on suspicion of the operator of the vehicle in which they were traveling was driving under the influence of intoxicants.

Vail Pass, CO lies on I-70, just west of Denver. (Google Earth)

During the stop, approximately 511 grams of suspected methamphetamine was located by members of the Colorado State Patrol secreted in a void of the bed liner of the truck in which Sanchez Barba, Rodriguez, and a third male were traveling. Additionally during the stop, members of law enforcement seized approximately $89,000.00 of suspected drug proceeds wrapped in clothing which had been placed in the various pieces of luggage located within the vehicle. 

The luggage contained many items of brand new clothes with the tags still affixed. Sanchez-Barba made statements to investigators at the time of the stop that they were traveling back to California after having partied the previous weekend in Lexington, Kentucky. The vehicle in which the three were traveling was a rental with a California license plate and the renter was not present in the vehicle. None of the individuals, Sanchez Barba, Rodriguez, or the driver, claimed ownership of the seized methamphetamine. When the large sum of U.S. currency was discovered, Sanchez Barba stated it belonged to all three. Sanchez Barba, Rodriguez, and the third individual were all charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Controlled Substance and their prosecutions are ongoing in Summit County, Colorado.

Members of the Lexington Police Department (LPD) and DEA LRO Resident Office identified Sanchez Barba as a kilogram level poly-drug trafficker operating in the Lexington, Kentucky area. Seizure and examination of cellphone records of an individual associated with Sanchez Barba’s drug trafficking organization (DTO) revealed that Sanchez Barba imports fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, and pills to Lexington, Kentucky, often through the use of parcels shipped to nominee or fictitious names who operate in the state of Kentucky. Cellphone records of this DTO member revealed texts, screenshots, and photographs of tracking numbers from third party carriers of packages believed to contain illegal drugs and drug proceeds. To date, Sanchez Barba has been identified to distribute marijuana, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine.

On April 27, 2021, Sanchez Barba was indicted in Fayette County (Kentucky) Circuit Court Case 21-CR-00454-002 for the offenses of Enhanced Trafficking Marijuana greater than 5 pounds, Possession for Sale Simulated Controlled Substance First Degree, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. This prosecution resulted in Sanchez Barba being placed on home incarceration pending the final disposition of the case. 

On July 16, 2021, Sanchez Barba was charged in Fayette County (Kentucky) District Court Case 21-F-02021 with the offenses of Criminal Trespassing 3rd Degree and Possession Controlled Substance First Degree, Cocaine. 

On August 13, 2021, Sanchez Barba pleaded guilty to an amended charge of Possession Controlled Substance Second Degree, Drug Unspecified in this matter and was sentenced to 30 days home incarceration at the above described address. 

On January 21, 2022, Sanchez Barba was charged in Fayette County (Kentucky) District Court Case 22-F-00128 with the offense of Trafficking in Marijuana Greater than 5 Pounds and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. That prosecution is likewise ongoing and Sanchez-Barba was again placed on home incarceration with ankle monitoring pending the final disposition of that case. As such, his movements have been tracked electronically by members of the Fayette County (Kentucky) Detention Center and that information has been shared as requested in real time with members of the DEA LRO.

In January 2022, DEA LRO utilized an established confidential source (CS 1), working for consideration as to potential criminal exposure, to make a series of recorded and monitored telephone calls to an identified member of Sanchez Barba’s drug trafficking organization (DTO) for the purpose of conducting a controlled purchase of 2 pounds of methamphetamine. 

On February 1, 2022, the DTO member agreed to complete the transaction with CS 1 in exchange of $6,000.00. Members of the DEA LRO and LPD conducted pre-buy surveillance of the DTO member as he traveled to Sanchez-Barba’s residence at the time, 1xx Old Georgetown Street, Unit xxx, Lexington, Kentucky. Sanchez Barba was observed to be present at the time the DTO member entered Sanchez Barba’s unit xxx just prior to the transaction. Immediately after exiting unit xxx, the DTO member traveled to meet CS 1 where CS 1 provided $6,000.00 in exchange for approximately 1,000 grams of methamphetamine. Immediately following the transaction, the DTO member returned to and entered Sanchez’s residence at 1xx Old Georgetown Street, Lexington, Kentucky.

(Google Earth)

Toll records obtained for this DTO member confirmed his/her communication with a telephone number 859-xxx-7227 surrounding the methamphetamine transaction. Service provider Sprint, pursuant to a DEA administrative subpoena, has identified that telephone number 859-xxx-7227 is registered in the name of Mario Barba with a billing address of 13xxx Judd Street, Pacoima, California. The transaction between CS 1 and the DTO member was captured via digital recording devices. Additionally, electronic monitoring of Sanchez Barba by the Fayette County Detention Center placed him inside his Old Georgetown Street residence at the times the DTO member traveled there pre and post the controlled purchase. The substance purchased by CS 1 was subsequently examined by members of the DEA LRO using a reliable testing device and showed positive for the presence of methamphetamine.

On March 9, 2022, members of the DEA LRO and LPD conducted surveillance of the Hilton Hotel located at 369 West Vine Street, Lexington, Kentucky after Sanchez Barba was determined to be a guest at that location.

(Google Earth)

That day, investigators observed as Jessica Cryns was present with Sanchez Barba in the parking garage attached to the Hilton. At that location, agents witnessed as DTO courier Jason Sparks arrived at the hotel and picked up Cryns along with a suitcase. Surveillance team members surveilled Sparks in his Toyota Scion with Kentucky license xxxxxx as he transported Cryns from the Hilton hotel directly to Bluegrass Airport located at 4000 Terminal Drive, Lexington, Kentucky. Investigators were aware that this DTO was known to transport drug proceeds through couriers traveling via commercial airlines with money secreted amongst clothing in checked bags. Sanchez Barba specifically had money seized from his luggage in this manner on a prior occasion. On January 6, 2021, $36,350.00 was seized from Sanchez Barba’s checked bag as he traveled through Charlotte Douglas International Airport from Lexington, Kentucky to Los Angeles, California.

At the Bluegrass Airport, LRO investigators observed Cryns as she was dropped off from the Toyota Scion operated by Sparks in possession of the same suitcase present with her earlier at the Hilton hotel. Cryns checked her single suitcase with Delta Airlines. Based on this action, members of the LRO directed that Delta hold Cryns suitcase from being placed on Cryns airplane destined for Los Angeles, California. DEA LRO investigators directed that members of the Kentucky State Police (KSP) Interdiction Team, who were now present at the airport, deploy a trained drug detection canine to sniff the exterior of Cryns’ checked suitcase. The canine alerted to the presence of the odor of illegal drugs emanating from the suitcase. At that time, members of the LRO approached Cryns at her boarding gate and made her aware of the alert by the KSP canine. Cryns provided consent for investigators to examine her suitcase.

Prior to searching, investigators inquired of Cryns if there was any large sums of money inside her suitcase. Cryns gave conflicting answers regarding that question stating that her father had provided approximately $5,000.00 which would be located amongst the clothing in her suitcase. When investigators examined the suitcase, they found approximately $39,700.00 in U.S. currency hidden among the pockets of the assorted men’s and women’s clothing packed inside. Cryns was traveling alone and observed to be wearing women’s clothing at the time of her encounter with law enforcement. When asked further questions about the presence of this large sum of money, Cryns advised that she was traveling to California to restart her life. When asked where in California she was moving, Cryns could not provide a destination. As investigators continued the search, Cryns stated that the money was present in her suitcase due to a “domestic violence” situation. When investigators offered to provided her assistance regarding any threats to her person, Cryns declined to elaborate on the meaning behind that statement. After all suspected drug proceeds were secured, Cryns declined to make any further statements regarding the origin of the money. After investigators departed the airport, Cryns did not continue on her scheduled flight to Los Angeles, California.

Based on my training and experience, I know that drug trafficking organizations routinely utilize cash to further drug trafficking activities. DTO members frequently transport large amounts of currency to the source of supply to pay for narcotics. Drug distribution networks are unable to function without the consistent transportation of currency to the source of supply. Due to controls set in place through banking industry regulations, it is my experience that that the smuggling of bulk drug cash proceeds is a common method for DTO members to move revenues to different parts of their organization.

On March 15, 2022, members of the DEA LRO received folio information for Mario Sanchez Barba from staff at the Hilton hotel pursuant to a DEA administrative subpoena. Staff of Hilton provided that Mario Sanchez, using the address 13xxx Judd Street, Los Angeles, California, checked into room 325 on March 3, 2022 where he remained as a guest at the hotel until departing on March 13, 2022.

In the morning hours of March 16, 2022, members of the DEA LRO observed as the tracking device for Spark’s Toyota Scion placed the vehicle in close proximity to a barbershop located near Southland Drive, Lexington, Kentucky. Investigators were aware that the barbershop is affiliated with Marc Petit Frere. Through toll analysis of telephone numbers associated with Sanchez Barba and physical surveillance of the same, investigators were aware that Petit Frere was also a member of Sanchez Barba’s DTO. 

Previously on January 13, 2022, Marc Petit Frere was charged in Fayette County District Court Case 22-F-00084 with the offenses of Trafficking Controlled Substance First Offense, Heroin, Trafficking in Controlled Substance First Degree Drug Unspecified, No Registration Plates, and Failure to or Improper Signal in Fayette County District Court Case. On that day, members of law enforcement observed Petit Frere operating a white Chrysler 300 with Kentucky license xxxxxx, registered to Petit Frere at 3xx Ohio Street, Lexington, Kentucky. After observing traffic infractions, law enforcement conducted a stop of Petit Frere in his vehicle. A search of his vehicle yielded two plastic bags (1.9 grams and 29.4 grams respectively) of a powdery substance in the center console of the vehicle along with a Glock 17 9mm which was seized from the driver side floor board under a red hand towel. An examination of both powdery substances by the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratory revealed both to contain fentanyl, a schedule II controlled substance.

At approximately 7:45 am, agents established physical surveillance of the Toyota Scion near Southland Drive. Later, members of the KSP Interdiction Team determined the vehicle to be occupied by both Sparks and Cryns.

(Google Earth)

The vehicle remained near the barbershop before ultimately traveling to 27xx Silver Mare Court, Lexington, Kentucky at approximately 10:00 am. The residence at 27xx Silver Mare Court was previously known by investigators to be utilized by Petit Frere.

Petit Frere had been personally observed at this residence by members of the DEA LRO and court authorized tracking for his aforementioned Chrysler 300 placed it there frequently overnight. At that location, investigators witnessed Sparks exit the Toyota, approach the front door, and subsequently gain entry inside the residence. 

After a brief period, Sparks exited the residence carrying a box. Petit Frere accompanied Sparks out the door but was not observed to carry anything. Sparks placed the box in the rear passenger compartment of his Toyota and departed the area with Petit Frere remaining at the Silver Mare residence. Members of DEA LRO maintained surveillance of Sparks as he traveled to downtown Lexington, Kentucky. 

At approximately 10:15 am near the 500 block of West Main Street, members of the KSP Interdiction team conducted a traffic stop of the Toyota Scion. Cryns and Sparks were determined to be the sole occupants. A trained drug detection canine was presented to the exterior of the Toyota Scion Sparks’ vehicle and alerted to the odor of illegal drugs emanating from inside. 

(Google Earth)

Inside Sparks’ vehicle, troopers located and seized a box with a return address of California further containing a plastic pelican style case. Inside the case, troopers recovered a package of illegal drugs that weighed approximately one kilogram. At the DEA LRO, agents used a reliable handheld spectrometer on the seized kilogram substance with it testing positive for the presence of fentanyl. In the glove box of Sparks’ vehicle, troopers also located and seized a Canik brand 9 mm handgun with a loaded magazine along with an additional loaded magazine. Following the stop, Cryns gave a Mirandized statement to affiant where she again denied knowledge of the money seized from her luggage or its origin. She advised that she was traveling that morning to Scott County to obtain a domestic violence order. These statements were inconsistent with the actions observed of her by surveillance team members of the DEA LRO that day and preceding days.

During the traffic stop, troopers and agents witnessed as a cellular telephone seized from Sparks receive incoming calls from telephone numbers programmed with the IDs “Mario Mario Sanchez Bar…” and “Marc”. The telephone number associated with contact “Mario Mario Sanchez Bar…” was observed on the face of the device as being associated with telephone number 859-xxx-xxxx, the same telephone number in contact with the DTO member surrounding the controlled purchase buy CS 1 of methamphetamine on February 1, 2022.

During this time, agents and officers maintained surveillance of 27xx Silver Mare Court, Lexington, Kentucky and 2xx Chippendale, Unit xxxx, Lexington, Kentucky, the newest residence of Sanchez Barba as provided by the Fayette County Detention monitors of his pretrial release.

(Google Earth)

At approximately 11:11 am, investigators observed as Petit Frere exited his residence and placed trash in the bottom of the trash receptacle adjacent to his residence. At approximately 11:56 am, Petit Frere departed the residence in his Chrysler 300. Petit Frere was subsequently stopped and detained by members of the KSP Interdiction Team based on the discovery of the box of suspected fentanyl in Sparks’ Toyota which had originated from his home. That afternoon, affiant applied for and received a state of Kentucky search warrant authorized by Fayette County District Court Judge Lindsay Hughes Thurston to search the residence located at 27xx Silver Mare Court, Lexington, Kentucky.

At approximately 1:47 pm, members of the DEA LRO and LPD executed the search warrant at 27xx Silver Mare Court, Lexington, Kentucky. 

Inside the residence, agents and officers located and seized approximately 250 grams of suspected fentanyl from the freezer of the residence pressed and packaged for resale in multiple plastic bags. 

Inside the bedroom accompanying mail matter addressed to Petit Frere, officers recovered approximately 500 grams of suspected methamphetamine. The substance was cylindrically-shaped and had a shard-like, hard, crunchy consistency indicative of methamphetamine and was packaged in a similar manner as the methamphetamine acquired through the controlled purchase conducted by CS 1 on February 1, 2022. 

In the garage of the residence, agents located and seized a kilogram press. Affiant is aware that such a device is frequently used by drug traffickers to repress controlled substances with additives or adulterants to maximize weight for profit on their resale. In the trash can of the residence where Petit Frere was observed placing item(s) prior to departing, officers recovered additional amounts of suspected controlled substances.

Also immediately prior to the traffic stop of Sparks and Cryns in the Toyota Scion, members of the DEA LRO conducted surveillance of Sanchez Barba’s residence located at 2xx Chippendale, Unit xxxx, Lexington, Kentucky. During that surveillance, investigators observed a black Toyota Tacoma with Kentucky license xxxxxx arrive and pull forward into a parking spot near that apartment. The vehicle was subsequently identified by law enforcement as being registered to Enterprise Rental and currently rented to Jason Sparks of xx Rowland Avenue Winchester, Kentucky. A young Hispanic male was observed exiting the vehicle and greeting Sanchez Barba at the patio of unit xxxx. Subsequently, the driver returned back to the vehicle where he repositioned it, backing into a nearby spot. The Hispanic male then returned back to Sanchez Barba’s apartment xxxx and was observed entering. 

Following the stop on West Main Street of the Toyota Scion, members of the DEA LRO observed the same young male, later identified as Alejandro Rodriguez, exit apartment xxxx carrying 2 back packs and place both in the back seat of the Toyota Tacoma. Sanchez Barba and Rodriguez were observed peering out the windows following that action. 

Following the placement of the bags into the truck, members of the KSP Interdiction Team arrived at the Chippendale location. A KSP K-9 was again deployed to conduct an open air sniff of the exterior of the Toyota Tacoma. Following a positive alert from the drug detention canine, members of the KSP conducted a search of the vehicle. Inside the truck, troopers located the two backpacks. Inside the bags, investigators located and seized bulk U.S. currency consistent with drug proceeds in excess of $60,000.00. 

Simultaneously to the actions of KSP, Sanchez Barba and a third Hispanic male were observed exiting apartment xxxx through the unit’s windows. Moments later, investigators encountered Rodriguez and a Hispanic female. Rodriguez is Sanchez Barba’s codefendant in the criminal prosecution of the 500 grams of methamphetamine seized by Colorado State Patrol in March 2021.

Following the seizure of the suspected drug proceeds as placed in the truck by Rodriguez from Sanchez Barba’s apartment, investigators applied for and received a state of Kentucky search warrant from Fayette County Judge Bruce Bell authorizing a search of 2xx Chippendale, Unit xxxx, Lexington, Kentucky. At approximately 3:52 pm, members of the DEA LRO and LPD executed the search warrant at 2xx Chippendale, Unit xxxx, Lexington, Kentucky. Inside the residence, investigators seized a money counter and personal use amounts of marijuana.

Based on the facts stated above, affiant states that Mario Sanchez Barba is the regional cell head of a poly drug trafficking organization operating in central Kentucky. 

Evidence contained within this affidavit supports that Sanchez Barba utilizes couriers Jessica Cryns and Jason Sparks to move drugs and drug proceeds between he and local distributors such as Marc Petit Frere. Marc Petit Frere’s residence was found to contain significant quantities of suspected methamphetamine and fentanyl on top of that which came from his residence via Sparks and Cryns. Evidence also supports that Alejandro Rodriguez functions as a DTO member responsible for the storage and transport of drugs and drug proceeds. All this is done in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and fentanyl, both Schedule II Controlled Substances, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.


I believe that the facts set forth above support that there is probable cause to believe that on or about March 8, 2021 through March 16, 2022, in Fayette County, in the Eastern District of Kentucky, Jason Sparks, Jessica Cryns, Marc Petit Frere, Alejandro Rodriguez, and Mario Sanchez Barba did knowingly and intentionally conspire to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine and 400 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl, both Schedule II controlled substances, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and § 841. I declare under the penalty of perjury that the above-statement is true and correct to the best of my knowledge, information, and belief.”

–Jason D. Moore, Special Agent
Drug Enforcement Administration