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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, July 12, 2019

San Francisco Man Pleads Guilty To Crimes Related To Illegal Fentanyl Pill Manufacturing Operation

Defendant Admits Advertising Pills Online as Oxycodone While Manufacturing and Distributing Thousands of Pills Containing Fentanyl

SAN FRANCISCO - Kia Zolfaghari pleaded guilty today to charges regarding his role in a conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, as well as to related weapons and money laundering charges, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson and Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Chris Nielsen.  The plea was accepted by the Honorable Susan Illston, Senior United States District Judge.

In the plea agreement, Zolfaghari, 42, of San Francisco, admitted that from May of 2014 until June of 2016 he agreed with others to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl.  Fentanyl, a Schedule II controlled substance, is a highly potent opiate that can be diluted with cutting agents to create counterfeit pills that attempt to mimic the effects of oxycodone, and can typically be obtained at a lower cost than genuine oxycodone.   However, small variations in the amount or quality of fentanyl can have significant effects on the potency of the counterfeit pills, raising the danger of overdoses.  In this case, Zolfaghari admitted that his role in the conspiracy included buying a pill press, using it to manufacture pills, and selling the pills, principally online.  Zolfaghari admitted he stamped the pills in a manner consistent with genuine oxycodone and advertised the pills as oxycodone, but that the pills did not contain oxycodone and instead contained fentanyl.  

In his plea agreement, Zolfaghari also described the roles of two of his co-conspirators in the drug trafficking conspiracy.  For example, Zolfaghari acknowledged that one of his co-conspirators assisted him in the operation by packaging and mailing pills as well as cleaning up after he manufactured the pills.  Additionally, Zolfaghari explained that another co-conspirator assisted him by maintaining a post office box for the delivery of fentanyl powder that he used to make pills and by delivering the powder that arrived in that post office box.  Zolfaghari admitted that over the course of the conspiracy he made over $400,000 through his sales, and sold at least 13,000 fentanyl pills.

Zolfaghari also pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder the proceeds of the drug trafficking operation.  Specifically, Zolfaghari admitted that sometime before May 1, 2014, he agreed with others to engage in several financial transactions to conceal the of those proceeds of his drug sales. For example, he arranged to be paid in the digital currency bitcoin, he used unlicensed bitcoin brokers to exchange the bitcoin for cash, and he directed a co-conspirator to purchase gift cards with the cash.  Zolfaghari further admitted that these transactions were intended to conceal the source and ownership of the proceeds of his drug transactions.  Zolfaghari also admitted he used the proceeds from his drug trafficking operation to make a $40,000 down payment (and additional monthly payments) on a 2015 Audi RS5 Coupe; to make payments on an apartment in San Francisco; and to make purchases of luxury goods such as high-end watches, designer shoes, and jewelry.

Zolfaghari was arrested on June 10, 2016.  At the time of his arrest, Zolfaghari was found in possession of a Smith & Wesson handgun and 500 pills containing fentanyl.  

On November 29, 2016, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Zolfaghari, charging him with four counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); four counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); and one count each of conspiracy to manufacture, to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; using, carrying, or possessing a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); conspiracy to launder drug proceeds, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h); and engaging in money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957.  Today, Zolfaghari pleaded guilty to the drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracies, as well as to the weapons charge.    

Judge Illston scheduled Zolfaghari’s sentencing for November 22, 2019.  Zolfaghari faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $10,000,000 fine for the conspiracy to manufacture and distribute fentanyl charge.  The charge also carries a minimum 10 years in prison. The statutory maximum for the money laundering conspiracy charge is 20 years in prison, and a fine of $500,000 or twice the gain or loss from the criminal activity.  The statutory maximum for the weapons charge is life in prison and a $250,000 fine.  This charge carries a minimum five years in prison, which term must run consecutive to any other sentence imposed.  Additional terms of supervised release and monetary assessments also may be ordered; however, any sentence will be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.  

In April 2017, Zolfaghari jumped bail and failed to appear for a hearing in this case.  On February 9, 2018, Judge Illston sentenced his wife and co-defendant, Candelaria Dagandan Vazquez, 43, who was also a fugitive, to 151 months imprisonment.  In February 2019, the United States Marshals Service, together with the Mexican Federal Police, located Zolfaghari and Vazquez in Mexico.  Vazquez is currently serving her sentence in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Also prosecuted for his role in the drug distribution scheme was King Edward Harris, II, 37, of Oxnard.  On September 22, 2017, Judge Illston sentenced Harris to five years in prison for possession and distribution of 40 grams or more of fentanyl.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nikhil Bhagat is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Linda Love.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with assistance from the United States Marshals Service, the San Francisco Police Department, the San Francisco Fire Department, and the Mexican Federal Police.  This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a focused multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force investigating and prosecuting the most significant drug trafficking organizations throughout the United States by leveraging the combined expertise of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. 
 

Updated July 12, 2019