DENVER – The 18th Judicial District Attorney and a DEA special agent on Wednesday announced another eight people had been indicted in connection with a fentanyl distribution ring in the Denver metro area.
District Attorney John Kellner, who is the Republican candidate trying to unseat Attorney General Phil Weiser in November, and Denver DEA Field Division Special Agent in Charge Brian Besser announced the grand jury indictments and seizures Wednesday, saying that despite near-constant coverage of the surge in fentanyl in drugs across the country, they wanted to again reiterate how deadly the drug can be.
“In my 31 years, I’ve never seen anything like the current drug crisis and how it’s adversely affecting our communities,” Besser said.
They reiterated what law enforcement officials and politicians have said for months now – that fentanyl was making its way into essentially every black market drug on the street, and driving fentanyl poisonings in unsuspecting users, particularly among teenagers and younger adults who have easy access to drugs on social media sites.
The DEA’s Rocky Mountain Region seized more than 1.5 million fake pills that were actually laced with fentanyl as of March 31, but Besser said he believes the numbers are now over 2 million.
DEA investigators have nearly 50 active cases involving deaths resulting from fentanyl, he added. And he noted that Colorado State Patrol in early June seized 114 pounds of what they and Besser called “pure fentanyl powder.”
Besser said he and other law enforcement officials believe “fentanyl qualities like this hold the caliber of a weapon of mass destruction-type concern.”
Kellner said eight people had been indicted by an 18th Judicial District grand jury in connection with smuggling and distribution of meth, heroin and fentanyl pills, as well as money laundering, in the Denver metro area. He said there was an unindicted co-conspirator in that case who “is the primary source” of bringing fentanyl from Mexico to Colorado.
He said one seizure netted 170,000 fentanyl pills at an Aurora apartment, along with two guns. In a separate seizure, 28,000 fentanyl-laced pills were found on I-70 heading toward Oklahoma, Kellner said.
Kellner said 40% of fentanyl pills – now coming in blue, white and pink Colorado – are thought to have lethal fentanyl doses.
“It’s imperative to hammer home that people peddling this poison – it’s not just about the user, the distributor, but what they do impacts our community on a whole,” Kellner said. “It doesn’t stop and start with the seller and addicts.”
But he and Besser also acknowledged that one you take away one aspect of a cartel, someone else will fill that hole. Kellner suggested a state “fusion center” where all municipalities could work together to share information.
And he pushed back on the suggestion that the effect of the indictments was minimal: “Absolutely not,” he said. “Each pill is potentially a life saved.”
Gov. Jared Polis signed a bipartisan bill passed by lawmakers in May that makes it a felony for someone to possess a gram or more of any drug containing fentanyl, which also includes stiffer penalties for distribution, as well as addiction treatment and prevention services. That bill came at the urging of lawmakers and law enforcement after a large rise in fentanyl-related poisoning deaths over the past couple of years.