Prosecutors in LA announce sweep in fentanyl overdose deaths

Federal authorities in Los Angeles say they have charged 12 suspected drug dealers with selling fentanyl and other opioids that led to a dozen overdose deaths

Via AP news wire
Friday 14 May 2021 02:05 BST
California Opioid Deaths Charges
California Opioid Deaths Charges (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

One alleged drug dealer peddling potent doses of fentanyl warned a customer by text message not to die and added LOL to his message.

Another was a nightclub security manager who prosecutors said provided powdered substances to three patrons who overdosed early one morning at the former bar known as the American Junkie.

The details were included in federal court documents released Thursday in cases charging a dozen men in 12 fatal overdoses, including the death of a 15-year-old boy. Federal prosecutors used the cases to draw attention to a spike in fentanyl being found in counterfeit drugs in Southern California and a rise in deaths from the opioid.

Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison said the announcement was a warning to drug dealers they could face severe consequences if a customer dies and warn potential customers of black market drugs manufactured to look like prescription opioids that can be laced with fatal amounts of fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is increasingly being seen in what customers think are drugs like cocaine and oxycodone,” Wilkison said. “Most of the victims in these cases had no idea they were taking fentanyl — and it cost them their lives.”

The cases, which are unrelated, are the result of a task force headed by the Drug Enforcement Administration focused on combating fatal overdoses that has led to 20 arrests in the past three years.

All the defendants were charged with distribution of narcotics resulting in death. No victims were identified. A conviction on the charge carries a minimum 20-year prison sentence and a potential sentence of life without parole in federal prison.

California has not been hit as hard as other states by the nation's opioid crisis.

While other states, particularly West Virginia, parts of the Northeast and Midwest, struggled with opiate abuse more than a decade ago from prescription drugs, the problem has now arrived in California in fentanyl produced by Mexican cartels and hidden in counterfeit drugs, DEA Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner said.

Court records show the alleged dealers communicated with text messages and the Snapchat app. At least one was selling drugs on Craigslist, advertising “Roxy board short,” a street term for oxycodone pills.

The cases announced Thursday date as far back as November 2016 when Sean McLaughlin was working at American Junkie in Newport Beach and distributed a fentanyl-like substance that led to three ODs and one death at the club, prosecutors said.

McLaughlin, 47, was originally charged by Orange County prosecutors, but federal prosecutors recently took over the case, which carries a stiffer sentence in federal court. His lawyer didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

One defendant, William Fulton, 39, is charged with two deaths over subsequent days in October. Prosecutors said he sold fentanyl to two people staying at hotels in Redondo Beach. The victims were listed only by their initials D.S. and A.L.

Fulton, who has two dozen felony convictions, including burglary, car theft and drug possession, is currently in state prison. It wasn't immediately clear if he had a lawyer who could comment.

Another case involved a 15-year-old boy who died a year ago after buying what he thought was oxycodone, according to Snapchat conversation with the alleged dealer, prosecutors said.

Alexander Declan Bell Wilson, 20, was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in the boy's death. His lawyer didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Another suspect, Jason Soheili, 26, is accused of mailing a fatal dose of fentanyl to a man who had moved to Utah last fall to go to rehab, but had dropped out of the program in January. The victim, who died Feb. 21, was not identified in court documents.

A public defender for Soheili did not return a message seeking comment.

An affidavit for Soheili's arrest includes text exchanges with the alleged victim. In one, when asked if he could provide a powder form of fentanyl, Soheili indicated he could and said: "just dont die ... lol.”

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