A repeat Florida felon who supplied huge amounts of cocaine in 20 deliveries from California and Georgia to a secluded house in Penn Hills in one of the region’s largest-ever narcotics rings faces up to 22 years in prison at sentencing next week.

Don Juan Mendoza of Jacksonville, a drug dealer since the sixth grade, is set to be sentenced Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak, who has already imprisoned many of Mendoza’s drug cronies following the indictments of some 40 defendants in 2017.

One of them was top distributor Jamie Lightfoot Jr., a Donora native whose house on Harvest Lane in Penn Hills was the epicenter of the coke ring.

He cooperated with the government and got 11 years in federal prison. At his sentencing, Judge Hornak rejected his plea for leniency, saying, “You had busloads of cocaine in the driveway of your house.”

Mendoza, 41, a New York native with ties to Mexican cocaine cartels, was the man behind those busloads.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney said Mendoza should get a sentence between 228 and 270 months.

He said Mendoza was introduced to Lightfoot in May of 2017. Between June and November of that year, the network made 20 deliveries at Mendoza’s direction to Lightfoot’s house for distribution across the region, especially in Fayette County.

The shipments ended in November because the FBI and state police, who had been monitoring the ring for months, swept into the Harvest Lane location on Nov. 5 after tracking an RV full of coke on its cross-country trip from Los Angeles. Agents and troopers seized 52 kilos of coke, 85 pounds of marijuana and an AK-47.

Mendoza had flown in from Atlanta to supervise the delivery. Agents arrested him when he pulled up in a rented SUV.

In addition to using the RV, wiretaps revealed that Mendoza had also made arrangements to ship drugs from Atlanta using a distinctive van imprinted with the sword-wielding promotional image of his rapper wife, Charlene Mendoza, who used the stage name “Sno-Cold.”

Mendoza, whose parents were both drug dealers, has a history of dealing and convictions in Florida. In the 2000s, he cooperated with police in helping them solve four homicides and earned a sentence reduction, but that action also made him a target of other criminals in Jacksonville. Gunmen shot him in the head in 2013. He relocated to Charlotte after that incident. In a court proceeding, he told a judge he was done dealing drugs and wanted to run hair salons with his wife.

But he didn’t quit the drug life. Agents said the salons were fronts for laundering drug money. He later moved to Atlanta, using his contacts in California and Mexico to arrange for the coke shipments into Penn Hills.

In his plea, he took responsibility for distributing between 50 and 150 kilos.

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.

Torsten Ove

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.