110,000 fentanyl pills seized from Denver warehouses; 19 indicted in human trafficking ring

An eight-month investigation into a Denver-based drug trafficking ring resulted in law enforcement officers seizing 110,000 fentanyl pills, 13 pounds of meth, 8 pounds of heroin, 24 pounds of cocaine and $ 450,000 in cash from homes, apartments and secret lockers.

Colorado law enforcement officials announced Wednesday that the 18th district grand jury charged 19 people with 20 crimes related to the multi-state drug trafficking ring.

The indictment outlines the extensive investigation by a coalition of Denver area agencies working with the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in the human trafficking ring. Investigators said they used confidential informants, undercover agents, surveillance and phone tapping to track the movements of those involved and the drugs that carried them across state lines and on the Denver subway.

Law enforcement allegedly linked the trafficking in human beings to seven residences spread across the subway area, including apartments in East Denver, Commerce City and Thornton.

“It was about greed and making money,” said David Olesky, acting special agent for the Denver Field Division of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The charges are brought because the death rate from drug overdose in Colorado has risen to appalling highs. The rate of 25 deaths per 100,000 population in 2020 is 39% higher than the rate recorded in 2019, tripling the rate of 2000.

Authorities and public health institutions point to the proliferation of illicit fentanyl – an extremely potent synthetic opioid often disguised as prescription pills – as the leading cause of the increase in deaths in Colorado.

42 percent of the illegal fentanyl pills tested by the DEA nationwide contain at least 2 mg of fentanyl, which is considered a potentially lethal dose. Using these statistics, Colorado law enforcement officials estimated that the 110,000 pills seized could have contained more than 46,000 deadly pills.

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Photos of fentanyl and other drugs seized during a major investigation are on display for a news conference at the Drug Enforcement Administration, Denver Division, on December 1, 2021.

“What I hope you take away from the indictment of 19 people selling poison in our community today is that one pill alone can kill,” said the 18th.

Defendants are charged with extortion, distribution of controlled substances and money laundering, among other charges. Investigators said at a press conference Wednesday that they linked the weapons seized in the homes to violent crimes, although the defendants are not charged with violent crimes.

DEA agents began the investigation in April by focusing on a single person, Samuel Padilla Romo. They then used a confidential source to make recorded calls with Romo and make a $ 1,600 controlled purchase of methamphetamine.

Agents set up a bug on Romo’s phone and followed his calls for months. Some of the people, according to the charges, discussed working with people in Mexico to source the purchases.

Undercover agents have made two purchases from one of Romo’s employees, Saul Ramon Rivera Beltran, including heroin, fentanyl and meth, according to the indictment. Agents identified Beltran as the leader of the group.

Along with the drugs, police officers seized 28 firearms, ballistic body armor, 100-round drum magazines, armor-piercing ammunition and three hand grenades from houses.

“This organization was preparing for battle,” said Olesky.

Opioids – including fentanyl, heroin, and prescription drugs – caused two-thirds of all overdose deaths in Colorado in 2020.

Fentanyl alone drove the surge in opioid deaths in 2020. according to the Colorado Health Institute. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of fentanyl overdose deaths in Colorado more than doubled from 222 to 540. Between 2016 and 2020, the number of deaths from fentanyl increased tenfold. Last year 540 Coloradans died from a fentanyl overdose.

In 2018, an average of nine Coloradans per month died from an illegal fentanyl overdose. In 2021, the monthly average is 64 – or two a day.

Officials said Wednesday they linked the drugs to the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico but did not provide details on how they made the connection. The indictment makes no mention of the cartel, even though Beltran received a call from a Mexican phone number and spoke to the caller about drug trafficking.

Eight of the 19 people charged in the human trafficking ring were released on Wednesday, officials said.

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