Authorities Seize Enough Fentanyl To Kill 14 Million People From Drug Ring

By Paul Gaita 09/06/19

Law enforcement seized 30 kilograms of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine, 24 firearms and over $700,000 in cash in the massive bust.

federal officials announcing fentanyl bust
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More than two-dozen law enforcement agencies descended on a drug-trafficking ring based in Virginia, and seized enough fentanyl to reportedly kill 14 million people.

Federal prosecutors announced on August 29 that 35 individuals were arrested in Virginia, North Carolina and Texas for their alleged roles in the distribution organization, which was based in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Thirty kilograms of fentanyl, as well as 30 kilograms of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine, 24 firearms and over $700,000 in cash were also seized as part of "Operation Cookout."


Over 120 law enforcement officers were involved in the arrests, which were the culmination of a two-year investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces.

According to the 108-page indictment, 39 co-conspirators, ages 19 to 63, were allegedly involved in what federal prosecutors described as a "large-scale drug trafficking organization" that began in March 2016.

The 35 defendants and unindicted co-conspirators purchased narcotics from suppliers on both coasts and in Mexico and then have them shipped to their base of operations in the metropolitan region of Hampton Roads using a variety of transportation vehicles equipped with "hidden traps." Reportedly, one suspect also requested fentanyl from a dealer in Shanghai, who shipped the drug to them via the U.S. Postal Service.

Inside The Trafficking Ring

Prosecutors also alleged that the defendants and co-conspirators used locations throughout the Hampton Roads area to prepare heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and cocaine base for distribution, as well as to meet and discuss future narcotics sales and distribution. 

The co-conspirators reportedly used at least 94 different communication devices, pre-paid cell phones, as well as encrypted apps like FaceTime, to arrange locations for selling and buying drugs, as well as other "day-to-day operations," as the indictment noted. 

The 35 defendants arrested in Operation Cookout were charged with 106 counts of alleged offenses, including conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribution cocaine, heroin, cocaine base and fentanyl; conspiracy to launder money; felon in possession of a firearm; interstate travel in aid of racketeering enterprises; and illegal re-entry by a previously deported or removed alien.

The indictment only alleged that the defendants committed a crime, and are presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

"This massive interdiction of narcotics, which included enough fentanyl to kill over 14 million people, is proof positive of the power and strength of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies," said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "This operation, through its seizure of scores of kilograms of illicit narcotics, saved lives in the Eastern District and elsewhere. Any day where we can do that is particularly meaningful and impactful."

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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.