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A Colorado man pleaed guilty Monday in federal court to being a courier, or "mule," in a drug conspiracy that shipped a half-ton of marijuana to Western New York every year.

James M. Nichols, 38, plead guilty before U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny to violating federal drug statues that could result in five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000, or both, when he is sentenced March 23.

The drug operation resulted in 16 arrests in December of 1996. Raymond Peracciny Jr., 42, a Lockport City Water Treatment Plant worker on disability, was identified by U.S. Drug Enforcement agents, the FBI, and the Niagara County Drug Task Force, as the kingpin of the drug operation that allegedly netted $1.44 million in proceeds from 1992 until the arrests.

Peracciny pleaded guilty in federal court last week to drug charges and encouraging a federal witness to testify falsely before a grand jury. He faces up to 40 years in prison and a maximum $2 million fine for the drug charge and 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for tampering with a grand jury witness. His sentencing is set for April 21.

Federal wiretaps and surveillance of Nichols's activities by local authorities led to his arrest after he drove to Buffalo in a pick-up truck with hidden compartments that contained 75 pounds of marijuana.

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