Dealer Receives Life Sentence for Distributing Fentanyl That Caused Overdose Death

By Paul Gaita 01/17/17
Navarius Westberry is the first person in Kentucky to receive a life sentence in federal court for causing a fentanyl overdose death.
Handcuffed man.

A Michigan drug trafficker was sentenced to life in prison for overseeing a heroin and fentanyl trafficking organization in Kentucky that caused several overdoses, including one death.

U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves handed down the sentence on January 9 to Navarius Westberry for distributing a controlled substance resulting in an overdose death. This carries a prison term of 20 years to life; after a lengthy hearing, the court imposed the maximum term on the 38-year-old Michigan native. 

Four other co-conspirators also pled guilty, including Benjamin Fredrick Charles Robinson, who was sentenced to 20 years for his role in the operation. The case marks the first time in Kentucky that a person was given a life sentence in federal court for causing a fentanyl overdose death. 

Westberry admitted that from January 2014 to August 2015, he operated a drug trafficking organization in the city of Richmond that distributed between 750 grams and one kilogram of heroin, and 50 grams of fentanyl. He also admitted that the heroin and fentanyl they supplied led to the overdose death of 25-year-old Cory Brewer in March 2015.

In a statement issued on January 11, U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey said, "The facts of this case are particularly disturbing. Mr. Westberry and his co-conspirators moved to Kentucky from Michigan for the sole purpose of establishing a large scale distribution network for heroin and fentanyl. The drugs sold by the Westberry organization caused multiple overdoses, including fatalities. The evidence indicates that Mr. Westberry knew the drugs sold by his organization were particularly dangerous.

"The Court determined that his freedom must be forever forfeited as a result of his criminal conduct. I hope that those inclined toward this sort of destructive conduct, whether they live in Kentucky or occupy a higher position in the drug distribution network, take heed – the people of Kentucky have had enough. The drugs you are peddling will kill people and the price you will pay for that is steep – whether ether you are the street level dealer, or a leader of the criminal organization."

Harvey has sought to impose stiff penalties on Kentucky drug dealers since 2015, when he launched the Overdose Prosecution Initiative. The plan, developed in concert with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), seeks to impose sentences ranging from 20 years to life on defendants convicted of selling specific drugs, including heroin and fentanyl.

The initiative was spawned by a 2015 case in which a 25-year-old woman died as a result of drugs smuggled into prison by her mother and two other women. The mother, who believed she was supplying her daughter with heroin but actually gave her a mix of fentanyl and morphine, was sentenced to 18.6 years in prison, while the others received sentences of 13 and 12 years, respectively.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.