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2 horsemen, woman admit drug ring roles

Two local harness racers and a Blasdell woman have pleaded guilty to participating in a drug-smuggling operation involving people from Canada, Mexico, California and Western New York.

Harness racers Louis Russo, 38, and his brother, Christopher, 34, both of Batavia, pleaded guilty Tuesday to concealment of a felony, the U.S. attorney's office reported.

An associate, Lynn M. Hess, 47, pleaded guilty to the same charge.

In 2004, Drug Enforcement Administration agents charged the three with taking part in a massive cross-border smuggling operation involving tons of ephedrine, a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

A drug-trafficking trial for three other defendants, including Hugh Stevens, 60, of Derby, is scheduled to begin April 24 before U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny. DEA agents said Stevens, a horse owner and trainer, was the alleged transportation coordinator for the drug ring. Stevens and his co-defendants deny the charges.

In July 2004, Louis Russo was caught at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge trying to smuggle 431 pounds of ephedrine into the United States, prosecutor Thomas S. Duszkiewicz said. Federal agents found the ephedrine in a horse trailer that Russo was transporting.

More than 90 people were arrested in the United States and Canada in 2004, and they were accused of smuggling enough ephedrine to make methamphetamine with a street value of $100 million.

The Russos, Hess and Richard Amhmad Mishal, an admitted trafficker who recently pleaded guilty in Sacramento, Calif., will be required to testify at the upcoming trial, Duszkiewicz said in court papers.

email dherbeck@buffnews.com

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