Drug Enforcement Administration

San Francisco

Daniel Comeaux, Special Agent in Charge

January 27, 2020

Contact: Casey Rettig

Phone Number: (415) 436-7994

Fresno man found guilty of distributing fentanyl resulting in first reported fentanyl overdose deaths in Fresno and Madera Counties

FRESNO, Calif. — On Friday, a federal jury found Darnell Pearson, 41, of Fresno, guilty of two counts of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death and serious bodily injury, DEA Special Agent in Charge Daniel C. Comeaux and U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced. 

“Fentanyl is man-made and potent in the smallest amounts. A few grains of the substance can lead to overdose, and we are increasingly seeing it sold as other illicit drugs. The message has been sent, if you distribute drugs that result in death and serious bodily injury, we will use every tool available to ensure that justice is served,” said Special Agent in Charge Comeaux. “I applaud the collaborative efforts and good old fashioned police work that led to the successful prosecution of this investigation.”

“This defendant sold what his customers thought was cocaine that was, in fact, fentanyl and caused the deaths of two people and serious injury to two others,” said U.S. Attorney Scott. “These two deaths were the first reported fentanyl overdose deaths in Fresno and in Madera. As they demonstrate, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and is a serious public health threat in our area and the nation as a whole. Even trace amounts of this drug can be lethal, and it poses serious risks to those who come into contact with it, including first responders. We will continue to work with our state and federal partners to target those who distribute this poison in our communities.”

According to court documents, on Jan. 7, 2019, law enforcement officers responded to a call concerning an overdose in Fresno and found three individuals on the ground with faint or no pulse. All three individuals were transported to Community Regional Medical Center for treatment. One of the individuals was pronounced dead on Jan. 10, 2019. A toxicology report determined that the cause of death for the individual was overdose from fentanyl. The other two individuals survived and were later released from the hospital. The jury found that the death resulted from the use of the fentanyl distributed by Pearson, and it caused the other two victims to suffer serious bodily injury.

Pearson was convicted of a second count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in the death of a victim in Madera County, and the jury found the death of this victim resulted from the use of the fentanyl distributed by Pearson. On Jan. 7, 2019, the victim, the mother of Pearson’s children, was found motionless on the floor of her bathroom by family members. Officers and paramedics were unable to revive her and she was pronounced dead that evening.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, the Fresno Police Department, and the Madera Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laurel Montoya and Michael Tierney are prosecuting the case.

Pearson is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on May 8. Pearson faces a minimum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison, a maximum of life in prison, and a $1 million fine on each count. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

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