Sunday, July 04, 2021

Mt. Vernon man pleads guilty to conspiracy to distribute deadly fentanyl

 Tainted pills linked to overdose death of Whatcom County 17-year-old

Seattle – A 22-year-old Mount Vernon, Washington, man pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman.  Defendant Jiovanni Nunez supplied counterfeit oxycodone pills tainted with fentanyl to an associate, who distributed them in Skagit and Whatcom Counties.  The pills are connected to at least two overdoses, including the overdose death of a Bellingham 17-year-old.  Nunez and co-conspirator Rosaliana Lopez-Rodriguez, 23, of Mount Vernon were arrested in late 2019 after an investigation to track down the source of the tainted pills.  Both defendants have been in custody since their arrests.  Lopez-Rodriguez has already pleaded guilty.

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.  The 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 2, 2019.  Nunez’s co-conspirator knew of that near-fatal overdose when she sold the 17-year-old victim more pills a week later, on November 9, 2019.

During this investigation, law enforcement executed court-authorized search warrants at each defendant’s residence.  At Nunez’s residence, law enforcement found a safe containing more than 900 fake oxycodone pills that matched the appearance of the fentanyl-laced pills linked to the fatal overdose.  Co-conspirator Lopez-Rodriguez admitted that Nunez supplied her with the pills that killed the Bellingham 17-year-old.  She is scheduled for sentencing on August 19, 2021.

Nunez faces a mandatory minimum five years in prison and up to forty years in prison when sentenced by Chief Judge Ricardo S. Martinez on October 1, 2021.  Under the terms of the plea agreement, the prosecution and defense will each recommend a term of imprisonment for Nunez of between seven and nine years.  Chief Judge Martinez is free to impose any sentence allowed under the statute.

The case is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, the Skagit County Interlocal Drug Enforcement Unit (SCIDEU), and the Whatcom County Drug and Gang Task Force, which is made up of members of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Department of Corrections, 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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