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Press Release

Chula Vista Man Admits Being Source of Fentanyl that Resulted in Overdoses of Five People in Alpine

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

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Walker Hobson (619) 961-0287


SAN DIEGO – A Chula Vista man pleaded guilty in federal court today to drug crimes, admitting that the fentanyl he distributed led to the accidental non-fatal overdoses of five people in Alpine, some of whom were revived by first responders with Naloxone.

Joel Rodriguez entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jan Adler to conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

In his plea agreement, Rodriguez admitted that he obtained fentanyl from Mexico and then delivered it to another person for distribution in San Diego. Eventually, Rodriguez’s fentanyl led to the accidental overdoses of five individuals in Alpine on or about December 7, 2017.  The victims, who believed that they were using cocaine, ended up in the hospital, including two who had to be treated at the scene with Naloxone – a drug that reverses the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system caused by opioids.

Rodriguez also admitted that he drove a vehicle containing 55 pounds of cocaine on May 17, 2017 from San Diego County to Riverside County to deliver the bulk cocaine to another person for further distribution.  According to court records, on December 12, 2017, during the course of a San Diego Sheriff's Department narcotics search warrant at Rodriguez’s residence following the overdoses in Alpine, Sheriff’s deputies along with federal agents from Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations found additional cocaine and fentanyl.

“I am sending the strongest warning possible to anyone who is struggling with drug addiction,” said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman. “We have seen a dramatic surge in deaths and international trafficking activity related to fentanyl, which is 30-50 times more powerful than heroin and so dangerous that in its purest form, even a tiny amount touching the skin can be deadly. Every time you use drugs, you are playing Russian Roulette.  These people who overdosed thought they were using cocaine. But there’s no way to know. You may think you’re going to get high, but you’re really going to get low, as in six feet under.”

“This was a horrendous crime that resulted in five drug overdoses in one community,” said Sheriff William Gore. “The threat of fentanyl and other drugs being sold in our communities endangers our young people and wreaks havoc in the lives of more than just those who use them.  It is imperative that we continue to proactively investigate and prosecute the individuals who profit from the destruction of others.”

“Rodriguez’s guilty plea serves to remind the public of the serious dangers linked to transnational smuggling activity along the U.S/.Mexico border,” said David Shaw, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in San Diego. “HSI and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate and bring to justice those involved in the trafficking and distribution of these deadly drugs into our communities.”

“This is exactly the kind of investigation needed in the face of our nation’s current opioid crisis,” said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Steve Woodland.  “Targeting the sellers of this poison should send a clear message that San Diego law enforcement will not tolerate these criminals in our communities.”

Sentencing is scheduled for May 21, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Anthony J. Battaglia.

DEFENDANT                                   Criminal Case No.18CR0164AJB

Joel Rodriguez                                    29                    Chula Vista, California


Count 1:  Possession of Cocaine With Intent to Distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §841

Maximum penalties:   10 year minimum mandatory; life maximum; fine of $1 million; supervised release of at least 3 years.

Count 2:  Conspiracy to Distribute Fentanyl, in violation of  21 U.S.C. §841 and 846

Maximum penalties:   20 years maximum; fine of $250,000; supervised release of three years.


San Diego District Attorney’s Office

San Diego Sheriff’s Department

Homeland Security Investigations

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration





Updated March 1, 2018

Press Release Number: CAS18-0301-Rodriguez