Concord – In July 2018, the Department of Justice announced the launch of Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (S.O.S), a program aimed at reducing the supply of synthetic opioids in 10 high impact areas, including the District of New Hampshire and identifying wholesale distribution networks and international and domestic suppliers.
Under Operation SOS, the United States Attorneys in 10 districts with some of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country each designated a county where they would focus on prosecuting every readily available case involving fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other synthetic opioids, regardless of the drug quantity.
“The Justice Department’s commitment to fighting the opioids epidemic is stronger than ever, and we are using every tool in our arsenal to disrupt the supply of these drugs on our streets,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. “Operation SOS has had a significant positive impact on the communities where it is being employed. The Department will continue to build on these successes and work to stop the drug traffickers who so callously wreck lives.”
“Since the initiation of Operation SOS in New Hampshire, approximately 93 separate defendants have been charged with drug trafficking offenses in federal court,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “By taking aggressive action against drug traffickers in Hillsborough County, Operation SOS is limiting the supply of fentanyl and other drugs in the community and helping to reduce the overdose death rate in that county. We also are sending a message to drug dealers that their dangerous and unlawful conduct will not be tolerated. We will continue to work with the Manchester and Nashua Police Departments, the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and all of our law enforcement partners in Hillsborough County to identify and prosecute the drug dealers who are damaging the quality of life in the Granite State.”
Numerous significant drug traffickers have been prosecuted under Operation SOS, including the following:
- Jai Britt, 45, of Manchester was sentenced to ten years in federal prison for trafficking in fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and crack cocaine. Britt, who was selling drugs while on probation and wearing an ankle monitor, engaged in a hand-to-hand fentanyl transaction with a cooperating individual. A search warrant of his residence later yielded over 135 grams of crack cocaine, 194 grams of cocaine, and 1.5 grams of heroin.
- Richard Rowell, 47, of Nashua was sentenced to nine years in federal prison for trafficking crack cocaine while he was on bail for a state offense. Evidence in the case showed that Rowell, who had multiple prior drug trafficking convictions, also had been trafficking crack cocaine and fentanyl.
Several significant Operation SOS matters are pending trial, including the following:
- Jonathan Sargent, 37, of Manchester, has been charged with two counts of distributing fentanyl, one count of possessing methamphetamine and fentanyl with intent to distribute, possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking, and possession of firearms by a convicted felon.
- Robert Audette, 30, of Manchester, has been charged with one count of distributing methamphetamine, two counts of distributing fentanyl, one count of possessing fentanyl with intent to distribute, one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Nationally, since 2018, Operation SOS has resulted in approximately 750 defendants being charged in federal court, with 384 of those defendants charged thus far in FY 20. Most importantly, the districts participating in the program have seen a decline in opioid overdoses. From 2017 to 2019, most SOS counties reported a decline of 14% to 24%. One notable success was in the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the opioid overdose rates declined by nearly 45%.
The nine other participating districts and some of their successes are listed below:
- The Eastern District of California has reported 60 active Operation S.O.S. investigations. Recently, the USAO charged one sentence-enhanced “death resulting” prosecution. In February 2020, another investigation resulted in the seizure of over 20,000 fentanyl-laced counterfeit oxycodone pills.
- The Eastern District of Kentucky reported that an SOS investigation led to a residential search warrant and seizure of more than 1,300 grams of fentanyl, more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, $15,000 cash, two firearms, and paraphernalia used to traffic narcotics including a device for pressing fentanyl into a brick-like shape
- The District of Maine reported a July 2020 arrest of a defendant on charges of distributing counterfeit fentanyl pills marked as Percocet, in connection with a fatal fentanyl overdose that occurred in May 2020. In addition, a Maine man was sentenced in February 2020 to five years in prison for two counts of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, in connection with an incident where the defendant was found in possession of fentanyl less than 24 hours after he was released on a state summons for possession of fentanyl.
- The Northern District of Ohio reported a 10-defendant wire case involving a drug trafficking organization (DTO) operating out of Elyria and Sandusky, Ohio. The DTO purchased kilogram quantities of cocaine and oxycodone pills. Co-conspirators would later cook the cocaine and sell it as crack to local dealers in Elyria. During the conspiracy, agents seized approximately ½ kilo of cocaine, 100 grams of crack, oxycodone pills, and five firearms.
- The Southern District of Ohio reported the arrest of an individual who had previously served a nine-year state prison sentence for drug trafficking. On October 22, 2019, after law enforcement observed activity consistent with drug transactions, including the delivery of what appeared to be a kilogram of narcotics by a courier, members of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force executed a search warrant at a residence in Dayton, Ohio, where they located three firearms, 1,205 grams of methamphetamine, 1,716 grams of fentanyl, 305 grams of heroin, drug processing equipment, and 12 cellular telephones. One of the recovered cellular telephones contained photographs of multiple kilograms of fentanyl and communications with a narcotics supplier. Through subsequent investigation, law enforcement recovered an additional 19.5 kilograms of fentanyl/carfentanil.
- The Western District of Pennsylvania prosecuted 98 SOS cases thus far in FY 2020. Particularly noteworthy among them is the prosecution of Lynell Guyton. Guyton was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of cyclopropyl fentanyl and other charges, including firearms and money laundering violations. Guyton, who had been receiving shipments of fentanyl analogues from China, is both a Career Offender and an Armed Career Criminal. The case gained media attention when, during the execution of a search warrant in connection with the charges, the conspirators tipped over a table, sending cyclopropyl fentanyl into the air, sickening several law enforcement officers on the scene.
- The Eastern District of Tennessee reported multiple cases arising out of a single investigation involving a drug trafficking organization responsible for trafficking heroin and fentanyl from Michigan to various communities in the Eastern District of Tennessee. 29 defendants have been indicted on various charges, including drug trafficking conspiracy, overdose death enhancements, money-laundering conspiracy, and various firearms offenses. More than 5.5 kilograms of heroin and/or fentanyl and 11 firearms were seized during the investigation.
- The Northern District of West Virginia reported a July 21, 2020, forty-four count indictment against 12 defendants. During the nearly yearlong investigation, law enforcement officers seized more than 280 grams of cocaine base and more than 40 grams of fentanyl from one of the defendant’s residences in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Throughout the investigation, officers seized more than 280 grams of fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl, and heroin; more than 350 grams of cocaine base; more than one kilogram of liquid PCP; various amounts of cocaine; five firearms; and over $28,000.
- The Southern District of West Virginia reported that after a three-day trial, a jury convicted Steven McCallister of distribution of fentanyl, possession with the intent to distribute fentanyl, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. Officers conducted a 50-gram purchase of heroin from McCallister, which then led to the execution of a search warrant at McCallister’s home. Officers seized over one kilogram of fentanyl and a firearm.
The charges and allegations contained in an indictment are simply an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.