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Press Release

32-Year-Old Memphis Man Sentenced to 20 Years for Distributing a Lethal Dose of Fentanyl

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Tennessee

Memphis, TN – A local man has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for distributing a lethal dose of fentanyl resulting in a fatal overdose. U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant announced the sentence today.

According to information presented in court, on October 10, 2016 the body of Zachary Rutherford, 21, was discovered outside the Valero gas station located on Shelby Drive. The cause of death was a fentanyl overdose. The source of this lethal dose of fentanyl was Cortez Armstrong, 32. On June 29, 2017, Armstrong was indicted and charged with distribution of fentanyl resulting in death. He pleaded guilty on September 21, 2018.

What is fentanyl? Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substance Act which is fifty times more potent than heroin and one hundred times more so than morphine. Fentanyl has undoubtedly contributed to the sharp increase in opioid deaths both nationally and locally. Because of the rise in deaths associated with the introduction of this narcotic into the drug market, the Department of Justice and this District have taken an aggressive approach in identifying distributors, especially those whose distribution results in death.

U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant said, "Our nation, state, and district are suffering from the opioid epidemic, causing increases in drug trafficking, violence, addiction, and overdose deaths that are tearing families and communities apart. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has developed a district-specific strategy to prioritize and aggressively prosecute cases involving fentanyl distribution causing overdose deaths, and this case demonstrates the significant penalty that we will use to hold dealers accountable and deter others from selling poison to our citizens. We commend the outstanding investigative work of our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, and we hope this sentence will achieve some measure of justice for the Rutherford family."

On March 6, 2019, United States District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker sentenced Armstrong to the mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Memphis Police Department Organized Crime Unit, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michelle Kimbril-Parks and Special Assistant United States Attorney Joseph Griffith.


Cherri Green
Public Information Officer

Updated March 7, 2019