Law enforcement leaders today announced that an unprecedented two-month fentanyl-enforcement surge along the southwest border has resulted in the seizure of about 4,721 pounds of fentanyl, 1,700 pounds of fentanyl precursors and more than 200 arrests of alleged smugglers, traffickers and dealers within the Southern and Central Districts of California.
The surge, labeled Operation Blue Lotus, was launched by the Department of Homeland Security along the Southwest border, including the Southern and Central districts of California and the District of Arizona, from March 13 to May 10, 2023.
According to DHS, in San Diego County alone, the two-month surge has resulted in a 300 percent increase in fentanyl seizures versus the same period last year – from 732 pounds in 2022 to 2,931 pounds in 2023. During the DHS surge, the U.S. Attorney’s Office saw a 30 percent increase in defendants prosecuted for fentanyl-related crimes in the Southern District of California compared to the same time period in 2022. And these prosecutions follow a record-setting fiscal year 2022, when we prosecuted 317 defendants for fentanyl offenses (more than an 1,800 percent increase compared to FY2017).
The operation involved the deployment of an extra 85 Homeland Security Investigations special agents and 35 Customs and Border Protection officers; many more targeted inspections at the border; the use of advanced technology at locations along the border; and intensified efforts to gather intelligence to build criminal cases against transnational criminal organizations and U.S.-based distribution networks.
“We are an epicenter for fentanyl trafficking into the United States, and we know the immense responsibility that we bear to address this crisis,” said U.S Attorney Randy Grossman. “We are answering that call to action with hard work, a purpose and a plan. Every milligram of fentanyl that we seize, and every smuggler, trafficker and dealer we bring to justice, means less fatal doses on the streets of San Diego and beyond.”
“As demonstrated by the results under Operation Blue Lotus, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), our DHS partners, law enforcement agencies and departments throughout Southern California are bringing the full weight of combined federal and local law enforcement resources to combat this fentanyl crisis,” said Chad Plantz, special agent in charge, HSI San Diego. “We are not only seeking to seize the Mexican cartel’s deadly drugs, but to remove their members and their associates from our communities and deny their opportunities to continue their deadly criminal enterprises.”
“Operation Blue Lotus represents the kind of exceptional law enforcement and prosecution innovation and collaboration that can effectively impact deadly fentanyl distribution and save lives,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. “I want to recognize the leadership of the U.S. Attorney and other key partners in bringing this operation forward. This operation yielded an extraordinary outcome that is having a direct impact on public safety. The prosecutions that resulted from this operation are an example of our ongoing commitment to holding dealers and traffickers accountable.”
“This operation was truly an outstanding demonstration of our partnership approach here in San Diego in working together to combat the importation of fentanyl,” said Sidney K. Aki, Director of Field Operations for San Diego Field Office of Customs and Border Protection. “CBP alongside our partner agencies are committed and will continue to protect our communities from this devasting.”
“In just a few months, Operation Blue Lotus was successful in removing millions of potentially deadly doses of fentanyl off the streets,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Shelly Howe. “But our work is not done. Fentanyl and meth continue to find their way onto the streets of San Diego, fueling addiction and driving deaths higher. Combined with our federal, state, and local partners we will continue to hold accountable those who traffic drugs and threaten the safety of our community.”
“I’m extremely proud of the work our investigators have done to interdict and interrupt the cross-border criminal organizations who continue to traffic deadly drugs into our communities and across the nation. The long hours and collaboration across federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement organizations is a testament to the dedication and commitment all of us feel to keep our communities safe,” said San Diego County Sheriff Kelly Martinez.
Some examples of the Blue Lotus Operation results include:
- seized fentanyl that also tested positive for xylazine. The White House has designated the combination of xylazine and fentanyl as an emerging threat to the United States based on xylazine’s growing role in overdose deaths.
- Officials seized a quantity of fentanyl precursor drugs that could produce more than 200 million fentanyl pills.
- A vehicle inspection at the border resulted in the discovery of 116 packages containing about 163 pounds of fentanyl concealed in the rear bumper, quarter panels, doors, seats, center console, gas tank, and firewall of the vehicle. The driver was arrested and charged.
In addition to the surge associated with Operation Blue Lotus, law enforcement officials here have attacked the fentanyl crises through aggressive prosecutions at every level of the supply chain – from the Sinaloa Cartel leadership, to cross-border trafficking organizations, to money launderers, to street level dealers who are selling drugs that result in overdose deaths. These impactful cases are the result of a close collaboration among the U.S. Attorney’s Office and several multi-jurisdictional task forces focused on combatting the fentanyl crisis, including the HSI-led Fentanyl Abatement and Suppression Team (FAST), a joint federal, state and local law enforcement task force that targets fentanyl distribution networks in the Southern District of California. FAST’s mission compliments the work of the DEA’s Overdose Response Team (formerly Team 10) which investigates fentanyl overdoses in the City of San Diego.