Ring leader of Tacoma-centered opioid trafficking scheme is sentenced

A Tacoma man accused of leading an opioid trafficking scheme that brought pills from Los Angeles to Western Washington has been sentenced.

Lionel Lee Hampton Jr., 48, pleaded guilty earlier this year in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

On Monday, Judge Benjamin Settle sentenced him to five years behind bars.

Court records give this account of the investigation:

Investigators stopped Hampton and several other people in 2010 and 2011 (in Hampton’s case for a DUI), and found they were carrying prescription pills.

“While Mr. Hampton has had various brushes with law enforcement over the years, he had for the most part avoided any significant consequences before the filing of this case (in 2016),” assistant U.S. attorneys wrote in several court filings.

In one case, a driver stopped in Oregon was carrying more than 8,000 oxycodone pills. He said he was delivering tires from Tacoma to Los Angeles for Hampton, for $1,000, and didn’t know the pills were in the truck.

After that stop and others, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency started investigating Hampton, and found he regularly made short trips to Los Angeles — “the main source city for prescription opiates illicitly sold in Seattle,” federal prosecutors wrote.

They determined he was an intermediary between suppliers in California and redistributors in Western Washington. He primarily sold to one main distributor, and at some points investigators had Hampton sell to an informant.

Agents used wiretaps on several of Hampton’s phones to identify his suppliers, and at one point found 6,000 oxycodone pills in Hampton’s bag when he returned to Sea-Tac Airport.

They ultimately arrested Hampton and others in the ring on July 14, 2016.

Hampton told law enforcement he moved about 10,000 pills a month, and investigators found about 3,000 pills and $37,000 at his home.

Prosecutors also alleged money laundering.

They said Hampton used a shell company to sell properties to associates, and that cash often was transferred from the company to the buyers, probably to make it look as if the buyers had enough money to do the deals.

Hampton agreed to forfeit 10 Pierce County properties.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell