Law enforcement officials announced a dozen new federal cases targeting Los Angeles County fentanyl dealers who — in all but one case — allegedly sold fentanyl and fake pills containing fentanyl that directly resulted in the death of at least one victim.
The 12th case charges a person who allegedly distributed fentanyl to teenage girls who suffered overdoses and required hospitalization, said Thom Mrozek of the United States Attorney’s Office.
Authorities also announced that a man who sold fentanyl through several dark web marketplaces has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges, admitting that his products caused the death of three individuals and that he sold fentanyl-laced pills to two others who died soon afterward. The announcements were made on Tuesday, May 9, at a news conference at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown Los Angeles, where federal and local law enforcement leaders discussed their ongoing efforts to combat the proliferation of the deadly drug.
“We are fully committed to combating the fentanyl crisis, which is wreaking so much destruction across this nation,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said.
“Those who traffic in fentanyl should be on notice that our office will hold you accountable and the consequences will be severe. The deadly risks of fentanyl are well known. The cases announced today charge drug dealers who have caused the death or injury of others, and thereby prioritized greed over human life,” Estrada continued. “These cases that focus on fentanyl distribution resulting in death are the result of an unprecedented level of cooperation between federal agents and local authorities throughout our district.”
DEA Los Angeles Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner said the “two main drivers” causing fentanyl-related deaths are “accessibility and deception.”
“Social media platforms have made fentanyl widely available to anyone with a smartphone and made every neighborhood an open-air drug market,” Bodner said. “The deceptive marketing tactics used by the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels have created a vast pool of victims who unknowingly ingested fentanyl and did not make a choice to be harmed or die.”
The 12 new cases resulted from the ongoing efforts of the Overdose Justice Task Force, a DEA-led project designed to investigate fatal fentanyl poisonings and identify the individuals who provided the fentanyl that directly caused the deaths. Under the Overdose Justice program for the DEA’s Los Angeles County Field Division, DEA agents established collaborative relationships with local law enforcement agencies across the seven counties that make up the Central District of California.
Mrozek noted that local authorities are almost always the first to respond to an overdose death, and DEA agents have provided training to dozens of local agencies to help them analyze evidence to determine if there are circumstances that might lead to a federal criminal prosecution. Since the project’s launch in 2018, and including the cases announced Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed charges against 64 defendants who allegedly sold drugs that resulted in a fatal fentanyl poisoning, Mrozek said.
The 12 cases announced Tuesday involved charges against 13 defendants, most of whom have entered not guilty pleas to the charges contained in indictments issued by federal grand juries, Mrozek said.
Among the cases:.
— U.S. v. Benavides-Schorgi. Adrian Benavides-Schorgi, 22, is accused of selling counterfeit pills containing fentanyl that led to life-threatening overdoses of two 15-year-old girls who thought they were buying ecstasy. Benavides- Schorgi was charged by a federal grand jury with one count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in serious bodily injury for the alleged narcotics sale on May 24, 2022. Benavides-Schorgi was arrested on April 27, and he was ordered held without bond at a hearing the following day. A trial is scheduled for June 20.
— U.S. v. Galvan. Heriberto Galvan, 24, was arrested last week on charges of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, along with various other charges. The indictment alleges that Galvan distributed fentanyl on Dec. 4, 2021, to a 19-year-old man who was found dead in his car the next day. Galvan was arraigned on Monday and was ordered held in custody without bond pending a trial scheduled for July 11.
— U.S. v. Gutierrez. Juan Carlos Gutierrez, 32, was arrested on May 2 after being indicted on a charge of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death. On Dec. 9, 2022, Gutierrez allegedly distributed fentanyl that resulted in the death of a 34-year-old man at a drug treatment facility the next day. At his arraignment on May 5, Gutierrez was ordered held without bond, and a trial was scheduled for June 27.
— U.S. v. Alvarado. Dominick Kingdiamond Alvarado, 22, was arrested May 3 on charges of distributing fentanyl in the form of fake Percocet pills that caused the deaths of an 18-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl. Alvarado allegedly sold fake pills laced with fentanyl to a group of young people at a mall in Valencia on July 11, 2022. Two days later, an 18-year- old Santa Clarita resident was found dead by his brother. Ten days after the first death, Alvarado allegedly sold fake pills containing fentanyl to another group of teenagers at the same mall. Following this second sale, a 17-year-old girl died of fentanyl poisoning after ingesting the narcotics and suffering an overdose in a Santa Clarita park. Following his arrest, Alvarado was ordered held without bond, and a trial was scheduled for June 27.
— U.S. v. Villegas. Joshua Villegas, 25, was arrested April 21 pursuant to a federal grand jury indictment charging him with one count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death. On May 30, 2020, Villegas allegedly distributed fentanyl, which resulted in the death of a person who lived in the same apartment complex. The investigation revealed that Villegas used Instagram to negotiate the drug deal, authorities said. Following the arrest, a United States magistrate judge ordered Villegas jailed without bond. A jury trial is scheduled for June 13.