Operation Engage Spokane: Several Large-Scale Distributors of Counterfeit Pills Charged in Federal Court
Part of Ongoing Efforts to Target the Distribution of Fentanyl in Eastern Washington
SPOKANE, Wash. – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, recently launched Operation Engage Spokane, which is a comprehensive community-level approach for addressing the drug epidemic – focusing on fentanyl distribution – through prevention strategies, facilitating conversations, and collaboration with local partners.
When Operation Engage Spokane was launched, DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarantino III expressed the need for the entire community to work together to target fentanyl.
“The impact and overall effectiveness of this initiative is directly dependent on the community, law enforcement, health care, prevention and social service professionals working together to mitigate the fentanyl drug threat,” said Tarantino.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, Vanessa R. Waldref agreed that communities must unite to address the opioid crisis, emphasizing that her office will continue to do its part to curb the illegal distribution of fentanyl.
“As the chief law enforcement officer in Eastern Washington, I am committed to prosecuting the criminal drug cartels who put our communities and our youth at risk,” said Waldref. “Our office has been prosecuting fentanyl cases since 2016, and we will continue vigorously prosecuting these cases as part of our ongoing efforts to build safer and stronger communities in the Eastern District of Washington.”
“The fentanyl crisis is the new face of the opioid epidemic. By working together with our law enforcement partners, local governments, and community outreach organizations, such as the Spokane Alliance for Fentanyl Education and the Rayce Rudeen Foundation,” added Waldref. “We have a unique opportunity to proactively work to avoid the tragedy that fentanyl causes on a daily basis.”
“These dangerous counterfeit pills are impacting people of all ages.” U.S. Attorney Waldref emphasized. “Drug traffickers are adapting to social change, using Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and other mainstream social media to infiltrate this poison into communities like ours. As a mother who is navigating social media and screen time for my kids – like so many parents – it is frightening to know that fentanyl can be hidden in plain sight and accessible through any smartphone.”
For its part, the United States Attorney’s Office currently is prosecuting numerous cases involving fentanyl distribution in Eastern Washington. The following are recent examples of fentanyl cases, some of which are pending in federal court in Spokane, Richland, and Yakima. For those matters that are currently pending, an indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
• United States v. Dustin Allen and Kolin Mazur: Indicted on January 4, 2022 for distribution of fentanyl. Mazur originally was charged in Idaho state court, and the matter was referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington. According to state court documents, Allen and Mazur’s distribution resulted in at least one overdose death.
• United States v. Francisco Erasmo Angulo-Rivera: Indicted on April 5, 2022, for distributing fentanyl on various occasions in 2021 and 2022.
• United States v. Yancarlos Arredondo-Mendoza: Indicted on February 1, 2022, for possession with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl. According to charging documents, Arredondo-Mendoza was in possession of approximately 20,000 suspected fentanyl-laced pills, suspected heroin, and a loaded Glock 9mm pistol in early January 2022.
• United States v. Raymond Keith Hewlett: Indicated on April 5, 2022, for distributing fentanyl and methamphetamine in Spokane, Washington.
• United States v. Antoinne Holmes and Reigan Allen: Indicted on July 20, 2021 for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and, specific to Holmes, two counts of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and two counts of felon in possession of a firearm. Holmes had previously been indicted in the District of Idaho on April 14, 2021 for distribution of fentanyl resulting in the death of a sixteen-year-old. Allen’s then-five month old infant also overdosed on fentanyl during the conspiracy, but survived.
• United States v. Jeremiah James LaFave: Indicted on March 1, 2022, for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, felon in possession of a firearm, and assault on law enforcement with a deadly weapon.
• United States v. Hunter Bow O’Mealy, Caleb Ryan Carr, Jaime Lynn Bellovich, and Matthew Gudino-Pena: Indicted on November 2, 2021 on conspiracy charges stemming from distribution of fentanyl in Spokane, Washington. Charging documents allege the defendants’ conspiracy resulted in at least one violent shooting, at least one overdose death, and the seizure of more than 50,000 fentanyl pills as well as numerous firearms.
• United States v. Josue Medina-Perez and Francisco Delgado: In March 2021, Medina-Perez was sentenced to a 96-month term of imprisonment and Delgado was sentenced to 10 years of incarceration. According to charging documents, Medina-Perez and Delgado were identified as one of the first major sources of Fentanyl-laced pills in Eastern Washington and were responsible for transporting and distributing more than 5,000 to 10,000 pills per week beginning in 2017.
• United States v. Lewis Mesa: Indicted on April 5, 2022, for possession with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl and for possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.
• United States v. Dwight Norwood Jr.: Indicted on March 1, 2022, for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and felon in possession of a firearm.
• United States v. Carlos Reyes-Santana, Eduardo Reyes-Santana, Rosa Martinez-Rodriguez, Molly Margret Brown, and Alfonso Avila Olivera: Superseding indictment filed on February 15, 2022, alleging various drug-trafficking offenses, including conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, 1 kilogram or more of heroin, 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, and 400 grams or more of fentanyl. According to charging documents, law enforcement recovered approximately 52 pounds of methamphetamine, 1 pound of cocaine, about 50,000 fentanyl-laced pills, $500,000 in U.S. currency, and multiple firearms during the execution of a number of search warrants in March 2021.
• United States v. Jonathan Rivera-Venegas: Indicted on April 5, 2022 on charges of conspiracy and distribution of fentanyl in Ellensburg, Washington. While Rivera-Venegas initially was charged in Washington state court, the case was adopted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for federal prosecution. According to state charging documents, Rivera-Venegas’s distribution of fentanyl has been linked with at least two overdose deaths.
• United States v. Keauve D. Ruff: Pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and cocaine in September 2021. As part of his guilty plea, Ruff admitted to distributing fentanyl, which resulted in an overdose death in Airway Heights, Washington in May 2020. Ruff’s sentencing currently is set for July 15, 2022 in Spokane, Washington.
• United States v. Michael Lee Vantiger: Indicted on February 19, 2020 for possession with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl. According to charging documents, Vantiger was found in possession of approximately 53,000 fentanyl-laced pills inside a rental car.
• United States v. Christopher West and Ron Montgomery: Indicted on January 7, 2020 on charges stemming from a conspiracy to distribute fentanyl in the Tri-cities area. According to court documents, West and Montgomery’s distribution resulted in at least one overdose death.