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Press Release

San Francisco Woman Who Helped Sell Counterfeit Oxycodone Pills Sentenced To 151 Months In Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California

SAN FRANCISCO – Candelaria Vazquez was sentenced in absentia today to over 12 years in prison for her role in a conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl, announced Acting United States Attorney Alex Tse and Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge John J. Martin.  The sentence was handed down by the Honorable Susan Illston, U.S. District Judge.  

Vazquez, 42, of San Francisco, pleaded guilty on November 8, 2016, to conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and conspiracy to launder drug proceeds.  According to the plea agreement, Vazquez admitted that for two years, she and her husband operated a pill press that generated thousands of fake oxycodone pills.  Although stamped to appear like genuine oxycodone, the pills were in fact laced with fentanyl.  Vazquez helped with the pill pressing operation and packaged, mailed, and delivered fentanyl pills for two years before the pair was arrested on June 10, 2016.  She also conspired to launder the drug proceeds, which were received in bitcoin and exchanged for cash using unlicensed bitcoin brokers.  

“Fentanyl is a potent drug that can be deadly for users,” said acting U.S. Attorney Tse.  “Today’s sentence is just and reflects the grave danger when, as in this case, Fentanyl was used as an ingredient in counterfeit prescription medicines.  This office will vigorously prosecute cases to address this threat that has devastated lives in our community.”

On June 21, 2016, a federal grand jury indicted Vasquez charging her with conspiracy to manufacture, possess with intent to distribute, and distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and distribution and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C).  Pursuant to her plea agreement, Vasquez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, and one count of conspiracy to launder drug proceeds in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h).  After pleading guilty, Vazquez fled in April 2017 and became a fugitive.  She was sentenced in absentia, and is still a fugitive.  

Vazquez and her husband had distributed hundreds of thousands of fentanyl-laced pills via online marketplaces.  Fentanyl is a dangerous and highly potent opiate about 100 times more powerful than morphine.  Just two milligrams of fentanyl can constitute a lethal dose.  Fentanyl is particularly dangerous when it is used to create counterfeit pills.  Illegal pill press operations will sometimes use fentanyl, which is cheaper than other opiates, to create fake pills that stamped to look like genuine oxycodone pills.  Because fentanyl is such a powerful opiate, a small difference in the amount of fentanyl in a homemade pill can make a huge difference in its potency.  Counterfeit pills containing fentanyl have already been linked to numerous unintentional overdoses by users who believed they were ingesting a much less powerful opiate.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Illston sentenced Vasquez to a three-year period of supervised release.  The defendant will begin serving the sentence upon her apprehension.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rita Lin is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Amanda Martinez, Rawaty Yim, and Theresa Benitez.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Postal Inspector, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Internal Revenue Service.  This case is the product of 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 February 14, 2018