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Press Release

Chula Vista Man Sentenced to 10 Years for Being Source of Fentanyl that Resulted in Non-Fatal Overdoses 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 was sentenced today in federal court to 10 years in prison for distributing fentanyl that led to the non-fatal overdoses of five people in Alpine, some of whom were revived by first responders with Naloxone.

In sentencing Joel Rodriguez of Chula Vista, U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia said the crimes were “very very serious” and drugs, like fentanyl, are “highly addictive and destructive to the population.”

According to court records, Rodriguez admitted that he obtained fentanyl from Mexico and then delivered it to another person for distribution in San Diego. Rodriguez knew that the substance was fentanyl and reminded his distributors that the substance was dangerous.  Eventually, Rodriguez’s fentanyl led to the accidental overdoses of five individuals in Alpine on or about December 7, 2017.  The individuals, who believed that they were using cocaine, ended up in the hospital. Some were treated at the scene with Naloxone – a drug that reverses the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system caused by opioids.  During the search of Rodriguez’s residence, agents found several baggies of cocaine and fentanyl, cutting agents, digital scales, and pay-owe sheets documenting drug deliveries and payments.

Rodriguez also admitted that he drove a vehicle containing cocaine on May 17, 2017 from San Diego County to Riverside County to deliver the bulk cocaine to another person for further distribution, months prior to his distribution of fentanyl. 

“Buyer beware!  These people thought they were using cocaine, not deadly fentanyl,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “This is a strong sentence for a dealer who came close to pushing his unwitting customers to the point of no return. Dealers are on notice: We have an unyielding commitment to identify fentanyl dealers in our community in order to save lives. And users: Don’t play Russian Roulette with your life.”

Brewer thanked prosecutor Sherri Walker Hobson, the San Diego Sheriff’s deputies and detectives and agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration for their work on this investigation which led to Joel Rodriguez’s arrest within days of the non-fatal overdoses. Brewer also thanked the first responders who revived the overdose victims.

“Our thoughts go out to the friends and families of the victims of Mr. Joel Rodriguez’s selfish crimes and greed,” said Juan Munoz, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego. “It is impossible to quantify the extent of the harm done by Rodriguez, but holding him accountable will continue to prove that our agents are dedicated to identifying and putting a stop to those engaged in the illegal smuggling of contraband, such as fentanyl.”

“Mr. Rodriguez made the decision to risk the lives of others to make a quick buck,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Karen Flowers. “Five people almost lost their lives from the drugs provided by Mr. Rodriguez and countless others were impacted by his decision to traffic cocaine.  Now Mr. Rodriguez will pay for his poor decisions by losing his freedom for 10 years during the prime of his life.  His sentence should serve as yet another reminder: If you deal drugs, there will be consequences that will cost you your freedom.”

DEFENDANT                                   Criminal Case No. 18CR0164

Joel Rodriguez                                    30                    Chula Vista, California


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

Maximum penalties: Ten-year mandatory minimum to life in prison; $1 million fine

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

Maximum penalties: Twenty years in prison; $250,000 fine


San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

Homeland Security Investigations

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

San Diego District Attorney’s Office

Updated July 22, 2019

Press Release Number: CAS19-0722-Rodriguez