Drug Ring Allegedly Used Stuffed Animals To Smuggle Heroin

By Keri Blakinger 05/10/17

Two men are facing drug charges for dealing tainted heroin that led to 10 overdoses. 

a variety of colorful stuffed animals.

Branded “King of Death,” a batch of fentanyl-tainted heroin was stashed inside stuffed animals when Erskine Dawson Jr. and his crew brought it into Virginia Beach, federal prosecutors allege. 

But the fluffy disguise belied the drug’s fatal effects—feds blame the ominously branded bags for 10 overdoses last year, including three deaths. 

Now, two of the men allegedly at the center of the dope-smuggling operation are behind bars facing federal gun and drug charges after a still-sealed April indictment, according to The Virginian-Pilot. Three other men are still on the loose. 

Dawson, 33, and Thomas E. Jennings, also 33, appeared in court last Wednesday as their lawyers futilely pleaded for their release.

The accused dealers headed up the Old Dominion State drug ring for about six months of last year, using a motel as their base of operations, federal prosecutor John Butler told the court last week in Norfolk. 

The drugs—both the heroin and the more potent fentanyl mixed in with it—came from a United Bloods Nation gang member in New Jersey, Butler said. Dawson’s crew, which included at least five runners, used commercial buses to move the drugs south for distribution in the Hampton Roads area.

Butler outlined for the court two overdose deaths that feds have linked to Dawson’s drugs: one in September, and another in October. In the earlier case, Jennings was at the scene and later said he called 911 to try to save the dying woman. 

But even after the deaths revealed the fatal strength of the dope, Dawson and Jennings continued peddling their wares, Butler said. 

They only stopped selling in December, after they were both collared in Virginia Beach on state drug charges. At the time, police raided their hotel rooms and Jennings’ car and found two loaded guns and around 2,000 bags of heroin—labeled “King of Death” and “Mad Max.” 

Feds later tracked down the criminal crew’s bank account, which held nearly $80,000 in potentially ill-gotten gains deposited over a six-month period before the arrests. 

In court Wednesday, Jennings’ attorney argued that his client is a drug user who needs treatment. Dawson’s lawyer said his client did not have a violent record or track record of failing to show up in court. 

But Butler stressed the amount of time the accused men could be facing in prison if found guilty—adding that more charges could be coming, especially in light of the fatal overdoses.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.