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Press Release

Federal Jury Convicts Fentanyl Trafficker Who Stole 7 Kilos from Fayetteville Stash House

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

WILMINGTON, N.C. – A federal jury convicted Hector Perez Valenzuela, age 34, for conspiracy and drug trafficking charges related to his role in the theft of seven kilograms of fentanyl with an estimated value of more than $250,000 from a Fayetteville stash house.

“According to DEA, fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat our country has faced,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. “We are working closely with our law enforcement partners to stem the tide of this highly addictive and potentially lethal drug in our communities.”

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, in 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Fayetteville Police Department began investigating a large-scale fentanyl trafficking ring with ties to the Sinaloa cartel.

The leaders of the drug trafficking organization were based on the west coast, but they set up apartments in the Fayetteville, North Carolina as hubs for the distribution of kilogram quantities of fentanyl across the United States.

John Ellingson was a courier for the drug trafficking organization. From Fayetteville, he transported dozens of kilograms of fentanyl to several cities, including Chicago, Atlanta, and Baltimore.

In early November, 2019, Ellingson and two co-conspirators—Kittisack Sam Vorana and Hector Perez Valenzuela, the defendant—decided to steal large quantities of drugs that belonged to the drug trafficking organization. They planned to make the theft look like a burglary. They also planned to sell the drugs and divide the profits.

On November 7, 2019, the defendant and Vorana traveled from the west coast to Fayetteville. They broke into the apartment and took 7 kilograms of fentanyl and approximately 3,000 fentanyl pills.

They then began driving back to the west coast in a rented Dodge Caravan.

In the early morning hours of November 8, 2019, Vorana and the defendant were stopped for speeding in St. Charles County, Missouri. Vorana and the defendant consented to a search of the vehicle.

During the search, law enforcement discovered a toolbox that contained seven brick-like packages. The packages had been wrapped in electrical tape and covered in grease to help evade detection by drug canines. A key to the toolbox was found in the defendant’s pocket.

Vorana and the defendant were arrested and admitted to the theft of narcotics. They also admitted that they planned to sell the drugs in the Portland, Oregon area. Each kilogram was valued at approximately $38,000.

The packages were tested by a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) laboratory and found to contain more than seven kilograms of fentanyl.

On June 8, 2023, the jury convicted Perez Valenzuela of both counts with which he was charged: conspiracy to distribute and posses with the intent to distribute fentanyl (Count One) and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, and aiding and abetting (Count Two). At sentencing, he faces up to 40 years’ imprisonment.

Vorana and Ellingson have previously pleaded guilty to fentanyl conspiracy charges, and they are awaiting sentencing.

This is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launders, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

Related Cases:

  • United States v. John Ellingson: 5:20-CR-397-M-1.
  • United States v. Kittisack Sam Vorana: 5:20-CR-12-M-2.

The leaders of the drug trafficking organization are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after Chief U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers II accepted the verdict. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Fayetteville Police Department, and the St. Charles County Police Department investigated the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Lemmon and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Gainer prosecuted the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 5:20-CR-00012-M-1.

Updated June 9, 2023