A press release from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced the arrest and the indictment of three individuals for allegedly conspiring to manufacture and distribute counterfeit pills containing fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine. Police arrested Agustin Vasquez Chavez, Yefri Hernandez-Ozoria, and Roberto Castillo after a long-term investigation. Vasquez Chavez and Hernandez-Ozoria were charged with Conspiracy in the Second Degree and Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the First and Second Degree. Castillo was charged with Conspiracy in the Second Degree and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the First, Second, and Third Degrees.
Castillo was the superintendent of a residential apartment building in New York’s Bronx borough. In that role, he allegedly provided access to a vacant apartment and the building’s boiler room for pill manufacturing and packaging. Agents and officers with the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecution and the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force Group Z-42 already suspected Vasquez Chavez and Hernandez-Ozoria to be members of a major black market pill distribution ring. On July 31, 2018, an undercover agent bought 860 oxycodone pills and 50 other pills from the pair for $5,000. Testing revealed the oxycodone pills were fake and contained fentanyl and heroin.
On September 11, 2018, the undercover agent again met with Vasquez Chavez and Hernandez-Orozia to purchase 3,000 oxycodone pills for $20,000. After the deal, police arrested the men. The pills appearance was consistent with the ones purchased in July, but test results are still pending. Vasquez Chavez and Hernandez-Ozoria immediately told the police about the manufacturing locations.
During their search of the locations, law enforcement officers found a pill press, pill molds, surgical masks, a vacuum sealer, cutting agents, grinders, and powders in an assortment of colors. Another 1,000 pills resembling the pills sold to the undercover agent were also seized. DEA Special Agent in Charge James Hunt said, “A boiler room in the Bronx was used as an opioid supplier’s secret den; equipped with a pill press capable of an unlimited supply of deadly pills. The new threat facing public health and law enforcement is synthetic drugs because dealers act as mad scientists, producing unregulated concoctions for street sales.” Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget B. Brennan said, “Narcotics traffickers have long exploited the nation’s high demand for pain pills, a powerful gateway to addiction. But this investigation reveals an even more deviant scheme – an organization creating and distributing counterfeit pills with highly potent and lethal compounds, manufactured in an apartment right next to the boiler room.”
Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations said, “It is disturbing the lengths dealers will go to ensure their customers can get hooked on their product, like alleged here, where counterfeit oxycodone was made up with heroin and fentanyl.” This case is far from the first time that counterfeit pills made with fentanyl have been found in the state. If you like to learn about other counterfeit medicine incidents, you can read PSM’s New York 2018 Infosheet.