May 10, 2021: 12 Federal Drug Cases with Fatalities—8 with fake Pills—in California, and more counterfeit news

Tracy L. Wilkison, acting United States attorney for the Central District of California, announced eleven separate prosecutions of alleged drug traffickers who provided opioids that killed people in nine California and one Utah community. Seven of the cases involve acute fentanyl poisoning as a result of counterfeit prescription pills.

A twelfth prosecution, in the Eastern District of California, was opened against a Bakersfield man who allegedly sold the fentanyl pills that killed a person in December 2020.

Other Prosecutions

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Telly Savalas Carswell of Midville, Georgia will serve 168 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to running a pill press operation. When DEA agents searched his home in May 2020, they found a pill press, illicit drugs, cash, and drug trafficking paraphernalia. Carswell’s housemate, Cedrick Gabriel Brown, has also pleaded guilty, and is awaiting sentencing.

Bessemer, Alabama residents Earnest Lee Coleman and Tashana Lynn Sims received sentences of 78 months in federal prison and 36 months’ probation, respectively, for possessing pill presses, punches, dies, and plates used to make fake prescription drugs. Coleman made counterfeit pills that looked like Lortab, Adderall, Soma, Xanax, Oxycodone, and OxyContin but contained acetaminophen, fentanyl, heroin, and papaverine.


United States Border Patrol agents at the Interstate 8 checkpoint in Pine Valley, California arrested a man after a canine alerted them to the presence of narcotics in his car. Agents found that he had two-and-one-half pounds of counterfeit pills made with fentanyl taped to his back.

Police in Bakersfield, California seized 1,000 fentanyl pills, and 20 pounds of other illicit drugs during the warranted search of a home in East Bakersfield.

Documents from a federal prosecution show that Kansas state troopers intercepted a shipment of methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl pills hidden in the gas tank of a car in February.

Fentanyl pills taped to a man’s back at an immigration checkpoint in Pine Valley, CA, May 11, 2021.

Warnings and Deaths

Police in Coeur d’Alene warned that three North Idaho teens who have died of fentanyl poisoning since the fall may have been killed by counterfeit prescription pills.

A Fort Worth, Texas-area ambulance service has seen overdose calls increase 250% in the last 12 months, and many of the calls involve counterfeit prescription pills made with fentanyl. At least four teens have died in the region, among them two 16-year-olds: Kyndyl Campbell of Fort Worth and Luke Wright of Aledo.

Authorities in Mobile, Alabama; Dubuque, Iowa; Columbus, Indiana; Rochester, MinnesotaDouglas County, Nebraska; Eugene, Oregon; and across Georgia continue to report poisonings and deaths as a result of counterfeit Xanax and Percocet made with fentanyl.

COVID-19 Fraud

The Chicago Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned Illinois residents about fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, which are illegal and may also expose them to identity theft.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Hampshire charged a North Carolina woman with violating the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act because she continued to sell unapproved COVID-19 remedies online even after the FDA warned her to stop in April 2020. 

In Washington, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department arrested a man who allegedly stole 100 vials of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, medical equipment and a vial of Botox from a dental office in Purdy. The sheriff’s department also reminded residents not to accept COVID vaccines from unofficial providers.

Covid-19 scammers are worldwide: Drug sellers that purport to be foreign pharmacies are taking advantage of anxious Canadians by offering them prescription drugs that are not not effective COVID-19 treatments via websites and via WhatsApp.   

Meanwhile, in Mexico, chronic COVID vaccine shortages have led to a brisk black market. Mexican authorities have reported fake Pfizer vaccines being sold at a clinic, fake Russian “Sputnik V” vaccines on their way to Honduras, and a variety of counterfeit vaccines and COVID-19 treatments being sold online.

Counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines seized in Mexico in March 2021.

PSM is keeping a steady eye on public reports of dangerous counterfeit drugs and other medical products. Check back for next week’s summary.