Feds: Cobb man smuggled cocaine in children’s toys through U.S. mail

A Cobb County man has been sentenced to serve nearly two decades in prison for smuggling cocaine in children’s toys through the United States Postal Service. Marlon Matthew Pittman was sentenced to 17 years in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg.

Pittman, 45, of Mableton, will also have to serve eight years on probation and give up the home he purchased using drug money, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia said.

Pittman, who pleaded guilty in August on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and conspiracy to commit money laundering, was the last of three men convicted of operating a money- and drug-smuggling ring through the mail, federal prosecutors said.

Pittman and Puerto Rico residents Vladimir Collazo-Florido, 44, and Carlos Gonzalez-Catala, 42, hid cocaine inside children’s toys and powdered milk cans and shipped those items from the U.S. territory to Atlanta. All three men were previously convicted on federal drug trafficking charges.

“These drug smugglers endangered countless people from Puerto Rico to Atlanta and beyond,” said U.S. Attorney BJay Pak. “Ironically, it was the money laundering scheme they created to hide their criminal enterprise that first caught the attention of investigators and led to their downfall.”

According to federal prosecutors, investigators in 2012 noticed “suspicious financial activity” at an Atlanta car rental business and an unusual pattern of money order purchases.

Those federal investigators determined that activity to be money laundering and began wiretapping cell phones used by Pittman, the owner of the car rental business, and members involved in his enterprise.

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Prosecutors said Collazo-Florido imported more than 200 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia into Puerto Rico and sent the cocaine in packages through the U.S. mail to Atlanta. Those packages contained up to 1.5 kilograms of cocaine at a time, and were hidden inside items such cans of beans, powdered milk and toys.

Gonzalez-Catala packaged the drugs using a can-sealing machine, and Pittman used people in Atlanta to receive the packages under false names, prosecutors added. He would sell the drugs to customers not only in Atlanta, but in South Carolina, Maryland and New York.

The Mableton resident initially would transfer proceeds from the sales by carrying large amounts of cash in a duffel bag on commercial flights to Puerto Rico. However, he set up his car rental business to “conceal the scheme” by funneling the money through the business’s bank accounts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Pittman avoided detection by buying money orders in small increments at different post offices. He mailed the money orders to Puerto Rico where they were cashed by others working with the trio.

Collazo-Florido and Gonzalez-Catala pleaded guilty in November 2017 and February 2018, respectively, and were sentenced to serve time in federal prison. While awaiting trial, Pittman planned to flee the country and was apprehended while passing through a TSA checkpoint to board an international fight.

When he was taken into custody, prosecutors said he had 11 pounds of ecstasy tablets inside children’s vitamin bottles. Federal agents also discovered he “had been on a crime spree on his way out of the country.” He tried to obtain money through fraudulent loans and tax returns, and emptied his family’s food stamps account, the feds said.