Area law enforcement agencies assist in federal drug trafficking investigation

Staff Report

A member of a drug trafficking network based and operating in Baton Rouge was sentenced to federal prison.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Gathe Jr. announced the sentencing of 42-year-old Yascia N. LaFrance of Baton Rouge as part of Operation Hidden Fee, an extensive federal, state, and local investigation by the Middle District Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force aimed at the drug trafficking network.

Chief Judge Shelly D. Dick sentenced LaFrance to 90 months in federal prison following her convictions of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, and cocaine base. LaFrance must also serve four years of supervised release following her term of imprisonment.

According to admissions made as part of her guilty plea, LaFrance was the partner of Travis James. LaFrance joined James and others to negotiate for and purchase kilogram quantities of cocaine and heroin in Houston. 

Their source of supply in Houston, in turn, received the narcotics from Mexico. James and his associates then brought the narcotics to Baton Rouge for sale and distribution. 

To this end, Travis James maintained local stash houses where he kept hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, stored and cut large quantities of cocaine into smaller distribution amounts, and cooked powder cocaine into “crack” cocaine. 

LaFrance lived with James at one of those locations, where they concealed large amounts of drug trafficking proceeds. On June 12, 2017, LaFrance delivered $200,000 of those proceeds to other members of the organization who were traveling to Houston to purchase kilogram amounts of cocaine and heroin.

On June 13, 2017, while executing search warrants at the home LaFrance shared with Travis James, investigators seized approximately $280,310 in drug proceeds concealed in the attic and a money counter. An additional $179,000 in cash was seized in another warrant search from Travis James’ safe deposit box at a local bank. 

To date, 11 members of this large-scale conspiracy have been prosecuted and convicted.

The investigation is another effort by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Program, which was established in 1982 to mount a comprehensive attack against organized drug traffickers. 

Today, the OCDETF Program is the centerpiece of the United States Attorney General’s drug strategy to reduce the availability of drugs by disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations and money laundering organizations and related criminal enterprises. 

The OCDETF Program operates nationwide and combines the resources and unique expertise of numerous federal, state, and local agencies in a coordinated attack against major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. 

This investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration with invaluable assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), the Internal Revenue Service, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Baton Rouge City Police Department, and the Louisiana State Police. 

Other agencies also assisted in apprehending the defendants, including the U.S. Marshal’s Service, and the Sheriffs’ Offices in Ascension, Iberville, and West Baton Rouge Parishes. These cases were prosecuted Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Piedrahita and Lyman E. Thornton III.