After an investigation spurred by dozens of fentanyl overdoses in the Fresno area, the alleged leader of a drug trafficking ring and 17 others were arrested and charged by federal authorities, prosecutors said Friday.
Horacio Torrecillas Urias Jr., the self-proclaimed “M30 King of Fresno,” and the others were charged last month with trafficking fentanyl powder and pills, cocaine and methamphetamine, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California.
The investigation into the ring began after a series of overdoses last fall involving counterfeit oxycodone tablets, commonly labeled “M30,” which were found to contain fentanyl.
“Similar to authentic oxycodone M30 tablets, they are small, round, and light blue or green in color with ‘M’ stamped on one side and ‘30’ on the other,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.
According to the criminal complaint, Torrecillas obtained tens of thousands of counterfeit M30 pills and large quantities of other drugs from sources in Mexico, then distributed them along with his co-defendants to dealers in California and elsewhere.
Local, state and federal agencies including the Fresno Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Department of Homeland Security participated in the investigation.
“During the investigation, federal, state, and local law enforcement agents conducted traffic stops, intercepted packages, and executed residential search warrants that resulted in the recovery of over 55,000 M30 fentanyl pills, 6 pounds of fentanyl powder, 10 pounds of methamphetamine, a pound of cocaine, 25 firearms, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.
In one case, an investigation into the overdoses of two juveniles last October led to the arrest of Uriel Diaz-Santos on suspicion of supplying the pills. During a search of Diaz-Santos’ phone, investigators determined that Torrecillas may have supplied Diaz-Santos with the pills, according to the federal complaint.
In December, investigators searched a phone found at the scene of another overdose and discovered conversations between the person who had overdosed, Torrecillas and another person, Brayan Cruz, in which they discussed a drug sale, prosecutors said.
Following busts of other dealers, investigators said they discovered other conversations involving Cruz, Torrecillas and other dealers negotiating sales, some in private messaging apps on social media sites.
Investigators said they obtained a wiretap warrant for Torrecillas’ cellphone in January. In one intercepted conversation, they said, he asked another person to drop off a package at the post office to send to New Mexico. The package was found to contain 3 pounds of methamphetamine.
Over the course of several weeks, investigators said they intercepted several conversations between Torrecillas and others negotiating the sale, purchase and distribution of thousands of pills and other drugs.
“Fentanyl is a true danger, not just to our community, not just to our state, but to our nation,” Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said in a news release. “It was fentanyl overdoses that led to the development of the Fentanyl Overdose Resolution Team (FORT) here in Fresno. Last year alone, they responded to 84 overdoses, with 34 of them resulting in death.”
The defendants each face prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life and fines of $1 million to $10 million, prosecutors said.