Charged with allegedly importing 91,000 fentanyl pills

Two men were charged nationwide on Thursday, July 21. for allegedly importing 91,000 fentanyl pills into Whatcom County.

Juan E. Hernandez-Hernandez and Alejandro Macias-Velazquez were each convicted by a grand jury in the Western District of Washington in Seattle on one charge of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one charge of possession of a controlled substance with intent to make related thereto accused of distributing and selling fentanyl pills, according to federal court documents and a Friday press release from the US Department of Homeland Security.

Hernandez-Hernandez and Macias-Velazquez are being held in a federal prison pending a trial, court filings show.

In July, special agents with the Homeland Security Investigations received information that a transnational criminal organization was importing large quantities of fentanyl pills from Mexico to western Washington. A confidential Homeland Security source told agents they have been in contact with a member of the Mexico-based criminal organization believed to be in Bellingham, according to court records.

The confidential informant had multiple phone calls with the Washington-based member, later identified as Hernandez-Hernandez, and the two brokered a deal in which Hernandez-Hernandez would supply 50,000 fentanyl pills in exchange for $125,000, the in said the court records. When Hernandez-Hernandez announced he had 90,000 pills of fentanyl, the deal was renegotiated and the whistleblower agreed to pay $185,000 for the pills, records show.

On July 7, the whistleblower and an undercover agent went to a coffee shop in Bellingham to get the pills. There they met Hernandez-Hernandez and decided to do the deal at a hotel in Bellingham.

Hernandez-Hernandez and the whistleblower remained in the hotel lot, and later a white Honda Odyssey driven by Macias-Velazquez parked next to the whistleblower’s vehicle, the records say.

Macias-Velazquez grabbed a duffel bag from his car and went to put it in the trunk of the informant’s car, and both Macias-Velazquez and Hernandez-Hernandez were arrested.

Agents found several cardboard boxes and potato chip containers filled with zip-lock plastic bags containing small blue pills in the holdall. The pills, which weighed nearly 10 kilograms, contained fentanyl, court filings say.

Hernandez-Hernandez reportedly admitted he knew the duffel bag contained fentanyl pills, that he was responsible for the drug deal and admitted to acquiring the pills, records show. He told agents he told Macias-Velazquez to get the duffel bag from the house they shared and take it to the hotel.

Macias-Velazquez told agents he didn’t know what was in the holdall and that Hernandez-Hernandez told him to take it to the hotel, court filings say. Macias-Velazquez said Hernandez-Hernandez agreed to pay him $5,000 to have the holdall delivered and that he knew there was “something bad or illegal” inside the bag, documents show.

“The dangers of fentanyl cannot be underestimated, especially in an area where recent overdose deaths have been linked to fentanyl pills,” Acting Special Agent Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security operations in the Pacific Northwest, said in a statement notice statement.

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Some of the roughly 91,000 fentanyl pills shipped to Bellingham, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Two men were charged with drug trafficking offenses in connection with the distribution and sale of fentanyl pills in Washington’s Western District on Friday, July 22. About 10 kilograms of fentanyl were hidden in boxes and potato chip containers found in a duffel bag by special agents from Homeland Security Investigations. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Courtesy of The Bellingham Herald

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, is commonly used used in counterfeit versions of legitimate-looking drugsaccording to a story in The Guardian about a national study, and it can be used in pills disguised to look like pharmaceutical versions of Percocet, Xanax, Adderall or its most famous fake blue oxycodone form “M30”.

There have been overdose deaths associated with the use of fentanyl on the rise both nationally and in Whatcom County.

There were 10 deaths linked to fentanyl use in March of this year, The Bellingham Herald previously reported.

And from that Investigated 50 drug overdose deaths According to the 2021 Examiner’s Annual Report, fentanyl was found in 29 of them, according to the 2021 Examiner’s Annual Report by the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The first recognized case in Whatcom County involving fentanyl occurred in 2018, and the following year four fentanyl-related overdose deaths were reported, The Herald previously reported.

In 2020, there was an increase to 23 fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

Seizures of fentanyl-laced pills have also increased, with the Whatcom Gang and Drug Task Force seizing nearly 120,000 fentanyl pills in 2021.

“Street sales of illicit forms of fentanyl are causing deaths in Whatcom County and across Washington,” Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said in Friday’s news release. “The street price of the drug has dropped and it is widely available in our local community. The Sheriff’s Office is working very closely with Homeland Security investigations and other partners to disrupt the organized crime businesses that deal in this drug. This case illustrates the gains that can be made in fighting the spread of fentanyl when local and state law enforcement agencies join forces.”

This story was originally published July 22, 2022 11:30 am.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.

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