Distributor of deadly fentanyl pills sentenced to 7 years in prison

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Seattle – A 23-year-old Mount Vernon, Washington, woman was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 7 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman.  Rosaliana Lopez-Rodriguez sold counterfeit oxycodone pills tainted with fentanyl in Skagit and Whatcom Counties.  The pills were connected to at least two overdoses, including the overdose death of a Bellingham 17-year-old.  At the sentencing hearing Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez urged the friends and loved ones of the victim and the defendant to spread the word about the dangers of fentanyl.  “Think what you can do to keep your family and friends as safe as you possibly can,” the Chief Judge said.

“This defendant continued to sell deadly fentanyl pills to a teenager, even after learning that the teenager’s friend almost died from an overdose,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman.  “Overdose deaths in this country are at an all-time high from fentanyl.  Those who sell it with such a casual disregard for human life need to face significant sanctions.”

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Lopez-Rodriguez and her supplier, 22-year-old Jiovanni Nunez, were arrested in November and December 2019 after an investigation to track down the source of the deadly pills.  Both defendants have been in custody since their arrests.

According to records filed in the case, a family member found the 17-year-old victim unresponsive on November 9, 2019.  Despite efforts of emergency responders to resuscitate him, the victim died; his cause of death was later determined to be fentanyl overdose.  Investigators found a whole and a partial pill near the 17-year-old victim.  These pills were designed to look like oxycodone 30-milligram pills, with “M” and “30” stamped on them.  But they were fakes tainted with fentanyl.  Similar pills have been linked to other overdose deaths throughout the Puget Sound region.  In fact, a friend of the 17-year-old victim nearly died after smoking one of the pills on November 1, 2019.  Lopez-Rodriguez knew of that near-fatal overdose when she sold the 17-year-old victim more pills on November 9, 2019.

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As part of her plea agreement, Lopez-Rodriguez also admitted selling an undercover law-enforcement officer fentanyl pills, which Lopez-Rodriguez stated she had received from Jiovanni Nunez.  In addition, Lopez-Rodriguez admitted that during this investigation, law enforcement served court-authorized search warrants at each defendant’s residence.  At Lopez-Rodriguez’s residence, in her bedroom, law enforcement found two and a half fentanyl pills.  At the co-conspirator’s residence, law enforcement found a safe containing hundreds of fake oxycodone pills that matched the appearance of the fentanyl-laced pills linked to the fatal overdose.  Lopez-Rodriguez admitted that Jiovanni Nunez had provided her with the pills that killed the Bellingham 17-year-old.

The victim’s sister told the court at sentencing that she is haunted by the memory of finding her brother’s body, and she said that Lopez-Rodriguez had shown “blatant disregard for human life.” The victim’s mother described the pain she lives with every day.  She expressed her anger at the defendant for selling the pills that killed her son and said, “That’s all his life was to her, a few bucks.”

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Jiovanni Nunez is scheduled for sentencing October 1, 2021.

The case is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office; the Skagit County Interlocal Drug Enforcement Unit; and the Whatcom County Drug and Gang Task Force, which includes members of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, Bellingham Police Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Homeland Security Investigations.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jonas Lerman.

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