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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

One of the Largest-Ever Fentanyl Seizures in New York City Results in Four Charged for Operating Fentanyl Mill

Drug traffickers appear to have converted an apartment within a two-family house in a residential neighborhood in the Bronx into a facility for wholesale distribution of fentanyl.

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Frank A. Tarentino III, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Ivan J. Arvelo, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations, announced today the filing of a Complaint in Manhattan federal court charging Wellington Eustate Espinal, a/k/a “Ronny,” Cristian Eustate Espinal, Heriberto Eustate Espinal, a/k/a “Daulin,” and Roberto Jose Vargas-Paulino with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and distribution of narcotics.  The defendants were arrested yesterday afternoon in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx.  The defendants were presented today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stewart D. Aaron.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Last night, while conducting a Court-authorized search of a residence in the Bronx, law enforcement made one of the largest-ever seizures of fentanyl in New York City’s history — apparently more than 50 pounds of the poisonous drug.  And now four defendants are in federal custody for allegedly operating a pill mill.  The thought of the potential damage this stunning amount of fentanyl could have inflicted on New Yorkers is terrifying.  I express deep gratitude to our law enforcement partners and the career prosecutors of this Office for their continued vigilance in keeping fentanyl off of our streets.”

DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino said: “This is one of the largest fentanyl pill mills we have seen in New York City.  The DEA recently announced that 7 out of 10 pills tested by the DEA laboratories across the county contain a lethal dose of fentanyl.  Allegedly, this industrial pill mill, located in the heart of the Bronx, had enough lethal fentanyl to dispense well over a million lethal doses.  Fentanyl pills are being manufactured in these clandestine pill mills right here, in our neighborhoods, and unleashed into our communities.  They are then marketed and sold to many who have no idea the pills — many of which are purposefully made to look like other prescription or party drugs — contain fentanyl.  With the growing increase of fentanyl-related poisonings, this toxic operation is unacceptable and law enforcement, at all levels, is vigilantly tracking down drug trafficking organizations responsible for bringing the most harm to our communities.”

HSI Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo said: “The HSI New York El Dorado Task Force, in conjunction with our dedicated partners, has dismantled yet another clandestine lab, suspected to have operated within a residential building, dangerously close to where families reside and children innocently play.  These areas were designated as ‘drug-free zones,’ emphasizing the severity of the situation.  In recent months, we have witnessed a devastating pattern, with multiple instances of deadly activities occurring mere feet away from places we entrust our children’s safety.  This alarming reality underscores the urgency of our commitment to collaborate with our partners in the relentless fight of safeguarding our communities.  HSI New York remains steadfast in our vow to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations who seek to poison our communities in the ongoing lethal epidemic of fentanyl poisoning.”

As alleged in the Complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court:[1]

Since at least in or about September 2023, members of law enforcement have been investigating a network of drug traffickers who, among other things, appear to have converted an apartment within a two-family house in a residential neighborhood in the Bronx, New York, to be utilized for the purpose of packaging large quantities of fentanyl into portions for wholesale distribution.  In particular, the traffickers used the apartment (the “Fentanyl Mill”) to store kilogram-quantities of fentanyl, combine the fentanyl with other fillers, use dyes to color the combined powders, and use large industrial-scale pill presses to create hundreds of thousands of deadly fentanyl pills at a time.

On or about October 5, 2023, members of law enforcement searched the Fentanyl Mill and found all four defendants inside.  During their search, investigators found, among other things, approximately 24 kilograms of suspected fentanyl in powder form — comprised of approximately 14 kilograms of compressed powder in brick-shapes members of law enforcement believe to contain  fentanyl and approximately 10 kilograms of loose powder members of law enforcement believe to contain fentanyl — as well as over 200,000 suspected fentanyl pills already packaged and ready for distribution to other traffickers for further sale.  Some of the pills appear to have been manufactured to mimic prescription drugs, and others were pressed into colorful shapes to resemble party drugs such as ecstasy.

Members of law enforcement also found three commercial pill presses and another disassembled pill press; one kilogram press; and various manufacturing and distribution paraphernalia including blenders, dyes, and jars of calcium citrate, that are used in connection with pressing narcotics into pill form and packaging narcotics for further distribution, as well as what appear to be industrial-grade protective face masks.

Law enforcement further found that the interior of the Fentanyl Mill appeared to have been converted for dedicated use as a fentanyl repackaging and redistribution facility.  For example, in an apparent effort to conceal the narcotics operation occurring in the Fentanyl Mill, the first-floor windows were covered with black trash bags and dark fabric, preventing outside observers from a view of what was occurring inside.  The Fentanyl Mill also had a surveillance system, including a television screen mounted in the basement displaying a live feed of camera footage from outside the Fentanyl Mill.

Although lab testing is pending for the pills and powders discovered during the search, preliminary field tests reveal that the powders have tested positive for fentanyl.

Wellington Eustate Espinal, 41, of New York, New York; Cristian Eustate Espinal, 20, of the Bronx, New York; Heriberto Eustate Espinal, 27, of New York, New York; and Roberto Jose Vargas-Paulino, 31, of the Bronx, New York, are charged in Count One with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and in Count Two with narcotics distribution.  Both Count One and Count Two carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The statutory minimum and maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the El Dorado Task Force International Narcotics and Money Laundering Unit, which is comprised of law enforcement officers from Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the New York City Police Department, the New York State Police, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and the United States Postal Service. Mr. Williams also thanked the New York State Police Contaminated Response Team and the DEA Chemist Team for their processing of the scene.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Maggie Lynaugh is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Read more at DEA

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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