LOS ANGELES – A Van Nuys man has been arrested on federal charges that he sold the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl to a 23-year-old victim, who then suffered a fatal overdose.
James Dorion Rodriguez, 27, was arrested Wednesday afternoon at a motel in Mission Hills.
Rodriguez was taken into custody by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, with the assistance of agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration. The arrest followed Rodriguez being charged in the first indictment brought under a new task force to investigate opioid overdoses.
The indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury on September 28, charges Rodriguez with distributing the lethal dose of fentanyl. The case was unsealed today after Rodriguez was turned over the federal authorities.
The arrest of Rodriguez signals the first case brought under a new state-federal law enforcement partnership established to aggressively investigate opioid overdose deaths and prosecute the responsible drug dealers. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s newly formed Tactical Diversion Squad is part of the Southern California Drug Task Force, which operates under the auspices of the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program.
“With this state and federal partnership, we are going after drug dealers who leave a trail of death and misery in their wake,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “Fentanyl is a highly dangerous synthetic drug that has caused countless overdose deaths in our community, and we will use every tool at our disposal to send the dealers to federal prison.”
“DEA wants to send a very strong and clear message to street opioid dealers: You are predators and the federal law enforcement system will not tolerate you,” said DEA Associate Special Agent in Charge Daniel Comeaux.
A search warrant also unsealed today details an investigation after the overdose victim was found deceased in his crashed car in a restaurant parking lot on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks on the morning of March 18. The affidavit in support of the search warrant reflects how investigators used surveillance video, phone records and witness statements to determine that Rodriguez supplied the narcotics to the victim only hours before he was found dead. The affidavit also states that Rodriguez had intended to sell cocaine to the man, but accidentally gave him fentanyl instead. The overdose was the result of him snorting the drugs.
The affidavit documents how Rodriguez sold the fentanyl only one month after he was convicted on felony cocaine trafficking charges in Los Angeles Superior Court. When he was arrested on that state case in April 2017, Rodriguez was in possession of cocaine, various pharmaceutical narcotics and marijuana.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Rodriguez is expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in United States District Court.
If convicted of the charge in the new indictment, Rodriguez would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. The statutory maximum sentence for the narcotics distribution charge is life without parole.