Riverside County’s war on fentanyl traffickers draws statewide attention – Orange County Register

A partnership between the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and the Attorney’s Office to prosecute suspected drug dealers for murder in fentanyl-related deaths is gaining national attention.

Sheriff Chad Bianco, whose investigators have arrested 22 people in connection with fentanyl-related deaths since the county launched its war on suspected dealers in early 2021, said several law enforcement agencies across California have reached out to his department and prosecutors to find out what they do and how they do it.

Since the district attorney’s office filed its first murder charge in a fentanyl-related death in February 2021, prosecutors have been prosecuting murder counts of 19 defendants accused of 20 deaths. That first case was against Joseph Michaal Costanza, 22, of Eastvale, for selling fentanyl to a man who later died.

District Attorney Mike Hestrin said the county still leads the state in fentanyl-related homicide trials, but as more people become alarmed by the fentanyl epidemic, other counties are paying attention and some are following Riverside County’s lead.

“There are other counties that have jumped on board and are starting to do this, but they don’t have as many law enforcements as we do,” Hestrin said in a phone interview. “We’ve been conducting training across the state. Other prosecutors are very interested in our approach.”

In nearby San Bernardino County, prosecutors filed September 21 murder charges against Alfred Urrea, 18, of Bloomington for allegedly selling fentanyl to an 18-year-old Highland man who died of an overdose. Urrea was the second person the San Bernardino County Attorney’s Office charged with murder in a fentanyl-related death.

“Our office seeks to prosecute these crimes using all available resources at the county, state and federal levels. In doing so, we are trying to bring victims’ families to a conclusion and hold the illegal drug dealers accountable,” District Attorney Jason Anderson said in a statement.

In Los Angeles County, district attorneys have charged a 15-year-old boy with manslaughter for the fatal overdose of 15-year-old Melanie Ramos on September 13 in a Hollywood high school restroom. The Bureau’s position has been that increased penalties for drug offenses do not save lives.

“We do not know whether or not this is the first case of involuntary manslaughter related to fentanyl, but it is not the first in which an indictment of overdose death has been filed,” prosecutors said in a statement of Los Angeles County. “The filing does not reflect new policy and the case was evaluated on the elements of manslaughter like any other.

“It was determined that we have sufficient evidence to prove that the offense was committed. The fact that a drug was involved does not protect a person who otherwise clearly fits the definition of the crime.”

The Orange County Attorney’s Office has not yet filed any fentanyl-related murder charges.

“We’re reviewing cases — we just haven’t filed any murder cases yet,” said bureau spokeswoman Kimberly Edds.

Even federal prosecutors are beginning to take steps to crack down on fentanyl dealers. A federal grand jury in December 2021 indicted 22-year-old Brendan Michael McDowell of Riverside, convicting him on a count of distributing fentanyl causing death in connection with the December 22, 2019 death of 20-year-old Alexandra Capelouto from a fentanyl Overdose accused her Temecula home.

Capelouto, a grad student at Arizona State University, was home for the holidays when she bought what she thought was an oxycodone pill from McDowell via the Snapchat social media platform. What she got was a pure fentanyl pill called M-30, authorities said.

death sentence ordered

The latest trial in a Riverside County fentanyl-related murder trial came on Friday, September 30, when a Superior Court judge ordered 19-year-old Raymond Gene Tyrrell II of the French Valley to appear in connection with September 24. To stand trial February , 2021, death of 16-year-old Jenna Lynn Gordon.

Gordon and Tyrrell had taken an M30 fentanyl pill in Jenna’s bedroom at their French Valley home – ground into powder, split into two lines and snorted by both. At Tyrrell’s preliminary hearing at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, Jenna’s mother, Tammy Lyon-Gordon, testified that she found the two unconscious in the bedroom and called 911. Tyrrell was revived and survived, but Jenna did not.

Less than a year before Jenna’s death, Lyon-Gordon’s son, Tyler Jason Gordon, 18, had died of a fentanyl overdose after taking a Percocet pill he bought from someone he met on Snapchat.

Sheriff’s Detective Wesley Martinelli testified that during an interview, Tyrrell told him he knew the pill he gave Jenna was an M30 and contained fentanyl, that her brother had recently died of a fentanyl overdose and that he had previously overdosed on an M30 pill bought from the same retailer.

The 19-year-old Canyon Lake man who allegedly supplied Tyrrell with the M30 pills, Jeremiah David Carlton, has also been charged with murder in connection with Jenna’s death, but his case will be tried separately. He will next appear in court for a pre-trial hearing on October 7.

Labor intensive

To put into perspective the kind of work Riverside County Sheriff’s investigators have assigned them to in fentanyl-related deaths, Bianco said the county averages 80 to 100 homicides a year and he has about 20 investigators working on those cases work.

By comparison, he said he has a team of four investigators and a sergeant now investigating 482 active fentanyl-related deaths nationwide.

“I’d like to hire 100 more investigators to investigate fentanyl deaths, but that can’t happen, so we’re doing our best,” Bianco said, adding that lawmakers from other allegiances in the areas where the alleged crimes committed were added are called in to help with the investigation.

Hestrin said fentanyl-related deaths and arrests have skyrocketed over the past year. In June, in three investigations, the Riverside County Gang Impact Team seized 40,000 M-30 fentanyl pills and 5 kilos of fentanyl powder with an estimated street value of $1.5 million.

“It just went through the roof. It was bad a year ago, now it’s four and five times what it was before,” Hestrin said. “It’s what everyone in law enforcement has been talking about, it’s fentanyl.”

killer drug

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. About 2 milligrams is a potentially lethal dose for most people. A teaspoon of fentanyl contains about 5,000 milligrams.

The drug’s extremely high risk of death has earned it a phrase among its staunch opponents: “One and done.”

Fentanyl is manufactured in foreign labs, including in China, and smuggled across the US-Mexico border by cartels, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The substance is a popular additive that is added to a variety of narcotics and drugs.

The US Department of Justice said fentanyl is the nation’s deadliest drug threat.

In 2021, a record number of Americans — 107,622 — died from drug poisoning or overdoses, and 60% of those deaths are due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the Justice Department.

Chad Bianco, Riverside County Sheriff. (File photo, The Press-Enterprise)
Chad Bianco, Riverside County Sheriff. (File photo, The Press-Enterprise)

turning point

Bianco said Capelouto’s death marked a turning point in Riverside County for his department and prosecutors as they waged their war on fentanyl dealers.

“I met with Mike (Hestrin) and we started talking about the alarming numbers of fentanyl overdoses, or poisoning as we call them, and I said, ‘We’ve got to do something,'” Bianco said. “He said it would be difficult. I told him we have to do something. He said, ‘You put a team together, I’ll give you a lawyer and we’ll see if there’s a way to indict them.’ ”

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

https://www.ocregister.com/2022/10/02/riverside-countys-war-on-fentanyl-dealers-gaining-attention-across-state/ Riverside County’s war on fentanyl traffickers draws statewide attention – Orange County Register

Dais Johnston

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