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Russell B. Long Federal Building and United States Courthouse, seen Thursday, June 20, 2019.

A high-level Baton Rouge drug trafficker who conspired to illegally manufacture tens of thousands of counterfeit pills laced with heroin and other illegal drugs has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison, U.S. Attorney Brandon Fremin announced Wednesday.

Shanard Zelron Banks, 32, also was ordered by U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson to forfeit several firearms, $20,000 in cash and a 2011 Porsche Panamera that he bought using drug trafficking proceeds, Fremin said.

The pills also were tainted with undisclosed amounts of methamphetamine, fentanyl analogues, clonazolam and other controlled substances that Banks' co-conspirators obtained from sources in Houston and Los Angeles, he said.

The pills were then stamped with various imprints, including several for controlled substance pharmaceuticals, Fremin said, and Banks and his co-conspirators distributed the counterfeit pills to others for further distribution in Baton Rouge, Mississippi, the New Orleans metropolitan area and elsewhere.

Banks was a leader of the "FreeBandz" drug trafficking organization, Fremin stated.

Law enforcement disrupted the operation in 2018. It began around 2016, prosecutors said.

The investigation resulted in 19 convictions. Ten of those defendants have been sentenced, Fremin said, and one is set for trial in February.

Banks pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine; possession of firearms during a drug-trafficking crime; unlawful use of a communication facility; and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.