Woman Pleads Guilty to Supplying Fentanyl Resulting in Death
NORFOLK, Va. – A Virginia Beach woman pleaded guilty today to her role in a heroin and fentanyl distribution conspiracy that resulted in an overdose death.
“Best was dealing death from the comforts of her beach-front neighborhood,” said U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger. “Heroin and fentanyl do not discriminate across economic boundaries, and nor do we. We will remain vigilant in our pursuit of drug dealers who pump poison into our communities, no matter who they are or where they are.”
According to court documents, Michelle Renee Best, aka Michelle Smith, 43, managed her fentanyl operation from her home in the Croatan neighborhood of Virginia Beach. In December 2017, co-conspirator Christopher Bardall distributed fentanyl to a person who used it and subsequently went into a 17-hour coma and died. Virginia Beach Police arrested Bardall the following day. Virginia Beach Police and DEA investigators later learned that Bardall received his supply of fentanyl from co-conspirator Darin Milligan, who in turn got his fentanyl from his regional supplier, Michelle Best. Best knew the narcotics she was distributing were strong and had resulted in multiple overdoses. When she learned of the overdose death, she told Milligan to keep the information to himself and that it would be “business as usual.” Both Best and Milligan continued to buy and sell fentanyl for nearly three months following the overdose death until their arrest on March 13.
“We’ve really worked hard to crack down on the supply of fentanyl in the Commonwealth because it has been one of the primary drivers of the rise in overdose deaths in Virginia,” said Mark R. Herring, Attorney General of Virginia. “Fentanyl is profitable and dangerously potent, with just a few specks capable of killing on any given use, or even through accidental ingestion or absorption. Hampton Roads will be safer now that this local fentanyl source has been taken offline.”
On March 13, a Virginia Beach S.W.A.T. team executed a search warrant on Best’s home and recovered a commercial money counter, nearly $42,000 in cash, 1.85 kilograms of cocaine, 1.12 kilograms of marijuana, 382 grams of heroin laced with fentanyl, a drug ledger, devices used for drug manufacturing such as a hydraulic press, a vacuum bag sealer, scales, and four firearms including an AR-15 rifle and a Ruger .38 Special revolver. Best was prohibited from owning these firearms due to a prior felony animal cruelty conviction in North Carolina for her involvement in a dog-fighting ring.
Best pleaded guilty to conspiracy and distribution of fentanyl resulting in serious bodily injury. She faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison when sentenced on March 14, 2019. Bardall pleaded guilty for his role in the conspiracy and will be sentenced on March 5, 2019. Milligan also pleaded guilty for his role in the conspiracy and will be sentenced Jan. 29, 2019. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. The Department reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of a renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally-based strategies to reduce violent crime.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Mark R. Herring, Attorney General of Virginia, Scott W. Hoernke, Acting Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Field Division, James A. Cervera, Chief of Virginia Beach Police, made the announcement after U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence R. Leonard accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorneys John F. Butler, Andrew C. Bosse, and Joseph E. DePadilla are prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:18-cr-147.