TRENTON –Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino today announced the indictment of four men in connection with the record-setting seizure of 45 kilograms – or nearly 100 pounds – of the super-potent synthetic opioid fentanyl by the New Jersey State Police in June. The State Police also seized nearly 40 kilos of heroin.
Fentanyl is one of the deadliest opioids, with a potency that is 50 times greater than heroin. The 45 kilos of fentanyl could have yielded over 18 million lethal doses, since a dose as small as 2 to 3 milligrams can be fatal. This case shatters the prior record for the largest seizure of fentanyl by law enforcement in New Jersey, which was set in March when the New Jersey State Police and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations seized 14 kilos of fentanyl in Camden. The fentanyl seized in June – including 40 kilos seized in North Bergen and five kilos seized in the same operation in Willingboro – was initially suspected to be heroin because of the huge quantity, but lab testing revealed it was fentanyl.
“The 45 kilos of fentanyl seized in this case is the largest fentanyl bust in the history of the state, having broken the prior record announced only a few months ago,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Dealers lace heroin with this deadly poison to boost potency, and with these amounts of fentanyl being stockpiled in New Jersey, I am desperately urging heroin users to seek treatment now more than ever, as their next dose could be their last. Fentanyl is so deadly that just these 45 kilos of fentanyl could have yielded enough lethal doses to kill the entire populations of New Jersey and New York City combined.”
The Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau obtained a state grand jury indictment charging the following three men with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl (2nd degree), possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute (2nd degree), and possession of fentanyl (3rd degree), in connection with the seizure of 40 kilos of fentanyl in North Bergen:
Jesus Carrillo-Pineda, 31, of Philadelphia, Pa.
Jesus Yanez-Martinez, 22, of Somerton, Arizona
Daniel Vasquez, 28, of Somerton, Arizona.
Omar Zeus Rodriguez, 38, of Willingboro, N.J.
Yanez-Martinez and Vasquez each face a charge of distribution of fentanyl (2nd degree), and Carrillo-Pineda faces a charge of possession of heroin (3rd degree) related to the North Bergen arrests.
The indictment also charges Carrillo-Pineda and Omar Zeus Rodriguez, in connection with the seizure in Willingboro of five kilos of fentanyl, nearly 40 kilos of heroin, and a smaller quantity of methamphetamine. They are each charged with conspiracy (2nd degree), possession of heroin with intent to distribute (1st degree), possession of heroin (3rd degree), possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute (1st degree), possession of methamphetamine (3rd degree), possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute (2nd degree), and possession of fentanyl (3rd degree).
“Cases like this involving the interdiction of major drug traffickers represent just one facet of our efforts to fight the opiate epidemic,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We also have a strike team that has criminally charged six doctors with indiscriminately prescribing opioid pain pills for profit, including two who face first-degree charges of strict liability for a drug-induced death. We are bringing the full force of the law to bear on those responsible for fueling opiate addiction.”
“The unfortunate trend of adding fentanyl to narcotics has created a demand for this deadly opiate, putting not only the lives of users in grave danger, but also the lives of troopers and other first responders who may have come into contact with it,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “It is without question that this record-setting seizure of fentanyl preserved life and saved countless families the agony of losing a loved one to this terrible scourge.”
During the investigation, New Jersey State Police detectives from the Trafficking North Unit developed information that a shipment of drugs was being delivered to a location in North Bergen. On June 28, 2017, State Police detectives, assisted by members of the North Bergen Police Department, located and arrested Carrillo-Pineda, Yanez-Martinez and Vasquez in the parking lot of a business in North Bergen after observing an alleged drug transaction, in which the fentanyl allegedly was transferred from a tractor-trailer occupied by Yanez-Martinez and Vasquez to a Mercedes Benz driven by Carrillo-Pineda. The arrests resulted in the seizure of the 40 kilograms of fentanyl, which were individually wrapped and held in two black duffel bags that had been transferred to the trunk of the Mercedes Benz. A search of the car also revealed a handbag containing $1,050 in U.S. currency and a small quantity of heroin. The 40 individually wrapped kilos of fentanyl were initially suspected to be heroin, but lab testing revealed the packages contained fentanyl.
The next day, June 29, State Police detectives of the Trafficking South Unit continued the investigation with assistance from the Willingboro Police Department, conducting a search at Rodriguez’s residence in Willingboro, where Carrillo-Pineda had been staying. As a result, detectives arrested Rodriguez and seized nearly 80 kilos of suspected narcotics. Rodriguez was loading suitcases into a Range Rover outside his residence when he was approached by detectives. The drugs were found in the suitcases and an open Fed Ex box in the vehicle’s trunk. Testing confirmed that the seized kilos included five kilos of fentanyl, nearly 40 kilos of heroin, and a smaller quantity of methamphetamine. Other kilo packages contained cutting agents.
While it has been spotlighted for killing Prince and other celebrities, fentanyl also is responsible for a growing death toll in New Jersey, where there were 417 overdose deaths from fentanyl in 2015, and 394 overdose deaths from fentanyl and fentanyl analogs in just the first six months of 2016. Fentanyl is commonly mixed with heroin or cocaine for sale on the street, or is sold in powder compounds or counterfeit pills disguised as heroin, oxycodone or Xanax. Fentanyl is now found in approximately 30 percent of the heroin specimens tested by the New Jersey State Police forensic laboratories. By comparison, fentanyl was found in only 2 percent of the heroin tested by those labs in the first quarter of 2015. Given the tiny size of a lethal dose, drug users are dying because dealers are careless about how much fentanyl they put in such mixes and pills.
Fentanyl is so potent that medics and police across the U.S. have been sickened by coming into contact with it while responding to overdoses or making arrests. The State Police Hazardous Materials Response Unit assisted with the search in Willingboro to address the concern about collateral exposure.
In addition to fentanyl, seven fentanyl knock-offs have been sold on the street in New Jersey, usually disguised as less-powerful drugs like heroin or oxycodone, triggering overdose deaths. The Attorney General’s Office issued an emergency order last year adding those fentanyl knockoffs to the list of drugs subject to the strictest level of state control.
Deputy Attorney General Norma Garcia presented the indictment to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Annmarie Taggart and Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis.
Detective Sgt. Jeovanny Rodriguez was the lead detective for the investigation for the State Police Intelligence Section, Violent & Organized Crime Control Bureau North, Trafficking North Unit. Detective Garrett Cullen was the lead detective for the investigation for the State Police Intelligence Section, Violent & Organized Crime Control Bureau South, Trafficking South Unit. Attorney General Porrino commended all of the detectives and troopers who participated in the investigation for the New Jersey State Police. He also thanked the North Bergen Police Department and Willingboro Police Department for their assistance.
The first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while the third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $35,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Hudson County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment.