A Look Back at Fentanyl Prosecutions in 2023
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert and Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Brian M. Clark announce the actions taken in 2023 in the Eastern District of California to confront the continuing crisis caused by fentanyl.
In 2023, large amounts of fentanyl were trafficked in or transported across our district. In total, approximately 86 individuals appeared in federal district courts in Sacramento and Fresno charged with fentanyl distribution offenses. Approximately 28 individuals were sentenced for fentanyl trafficking offenses with sentences ranging from two to 17 years in prison. Another approximately 29 pleaded guilty to fentanyl-related charges and now await sentencing, with additional cases still pending.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin. Just two milligrams, the equivalent of a few grains of salt, can kill a person. According to the DEA, the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels are largely responsible for the influx of fentanyl into this country. Illicit fentanyl comes in two forms: pills and powder. The cartels are mixing fentanyl powder in with cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, and hiding fentanyl in fake pills that look similar to prescription medications like oxycodone, Xanax, and Percocet. Seven out of 10 pills tested at DEA laboratories contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. The cartels and their associates often use social media applications and encrypted platforms to sell their poison. To get more facts about fentanyl, visit One Pill Can Kill.
“While the work done by our office this year is significant, numbers alone cannot tell the whole story. The sons, daughters, spouses, and friends who have lost their lives due to fentanyl overdoses are not numbers, and the law enforcement officers and agents know firsthand the dangers of fentanyl,” said U.S. Attorney Talbert. “The DEA, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies work together to disrupt the supply chain and arrest suppliers. These efforts combined with treating addiction, educating the public, and ultimately reducing demand can end this epidemic. I urge the public to be aware of the threats and dangers of fentanyl.”
“Fentanyl is the greatest drug threat facing our communities today. It is killing Americans at catastrophic rates and devastating families from coast to coast,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Clark. “The Sinaloa and Jalisco drug cartels are intentionally using synthetic fentanyl, which is cheap, man-made and potent, to increase their profits by driving addiction in the United States. They do not care how many Americans will die, they only care about lining their pockets with the proceeds. Enforcement, treatment, and prevention have never been more important. As DEA continues to pursue and hold accountable every level of the fentanyl supply chain, I encourage you to talk with your family and friends about fentanyl, it could save a life.”
On Aug. 28, 2023, Michael Ortega, 22, of Clovis, was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison for selling fentanyl to a person under the age of 21. According to court documents, on July 2, 2020, Ortega sold one and a half counterfeit oxycodone pills that contained fentanyl to a 17-year-old. The fentanyl caused the teen to overdose with serious bodily injury. Fortunately, the teenager survived and has since recovered. This case was the product of an investigation by the DEA, the Fresno Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurel J. Montoya prosecuted the case.
On Oct. 30, 2023, Jose Santana, 46, of Shafter, in Kern County, was sentenced to 17 years and six months in prison for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and heroin. According to court documents, on Nov. 16, 2021, Santana was found in possession of about 2.5 kilograms of fentanyl, 2.5 kilograms of heroin, two firearms, and approximately $5,000 in cash. This case was the product of an investigation by the DEA and the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin J. Gilio prosecuted the case.
On Aug. 14, 2023, Pedro Duran, 32, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for possessing with intent to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine. During the investigation, Duran was found in possession of 3 pounds of fentanyl in addition to 33 pounds of methamphetamine, 3 pounds of cocaine, 3 pounds of fentanyl pills, and over 3 pounds of marijuana. Duran’s residence also contained additional amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine, seven firearms, ammunition, and approximately $8,800 in cash. This case was the product of an investigation by the FBI, HSI, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, the Fresno Police Department, the Special Operations Unit of the California Department of Justice, and the California Highway Patrol, the CDCR, and the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Justin J. Gilio and Antonio J. Pataca prosecuted the case.
On May 30, 2023, Vincent Jose Vasquez, 30, of Lodi, was sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison for fentanyl and methamphetamine trafficking. According to court documents, in May 2021, Vasquez was found in possession of more than 10,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl, more than 900 grams of cocaine, almost 1 pound of methamphetamine, three firearms, and $21,623 in cash. This case was the product of an investigation by the DEA with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service, the California Highway Patrol, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, and the Lodi Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney David W. Spencer prosecuted the case.
On June 27, 2023, Nathaniel Opondo Hubbert, 42, of Grass Valley, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for fentanyl and methamphetamine distribution offenses. According to court documents, on June 24, 2020, Hubbert was found to be in possession of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin. Hubbert was connected to at least one overdose of a victim who had to be given medical treatment after using drugs purchased from Hubbert. This case was the product of an investigation by the DEA with assistance from the Lincoln Police Department, the Placer County District Attorney’s Office, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, and the Roseville Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrian T. Kinsella prosecuted the case.
On Aug. 29, 2023, Julius Rucks, 42, of Oroville, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison for distribution of fentanyl. According to court documents, in 2018 and 2019, Rucks sold over 1,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl to a confidential source and undercover agent. On July 23, 2019, Rucks was found in possession of a large electric pill press, pill dies for stamping the pharmaceutical markings onto the fake pills, large amounts of powdered fentanyl, pill binder and other pill manufacturing materials, and three handguns with loaded magazines. This case was the product of an investigation by the DEA with assistance from the Calaveras Sheriff’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cameron L. Desmond and David W. Spencer prosecuted the case.
Updated January 3, 2024