Federal narcotics agents and prosecutors in Colorado held a press conference in July to tout their efforts to remove fentanyl from the streets amid a highly publicized string of overdose deaths.
“I wanted to tell you something different today,” said Brian Besser, a special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Denverfield Division. I wanted people to see the aggressive and tenacious police work and prosecution going on to save the people and bring people to justice.”
Among the cases Besser highlighted was the seizure of 114 pounds of pure fentanyl in June, which he said was enough to kill more than 25 million people. He described it as the largest fentanyl bust on a US highway in history.
“We’re not sleeping behind the wheel,” Besser said.
It was an odd phrasing, considering it happened right after his record-breaking fentanyl seizure. A stunning debacle that was not mentioned at the press conference on July 6th.
The DEA lost track of a man who was transporting a large quantity of fentanyl.
The suspect, David Maldonado, 27, agreed to work with federal agents to help arrest drug traffickers in South Bend, Indiana, according to the Colorado State Patrol. However, in the middle of making the deal, Maldonado lost DEA agents and was able to remove the tracker they had placed on his car.
He is now considered a fugitive.
The case represents a troubling episode for the DEA at a time when drug cartels are flooding the United States with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, and overdose rates are skyrocketing.
A spokesman for the Colorado Patrol that first discovered fentanyl offered a candid explanation for the failed operation.
“The DEA was working with us and they made a deal with the drivers,” said Master Trooper Gary Cutler. “After they handled the case, he ran to them, And that was their fiasco.”
Maria “Maki” Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former DEA consultant, said agents should have extra scrutiny on potential collaborators who don’t have enough time to investigate. He said he should have known that it was necessary.
“This is a flop for the DEA,” said Haberfeld.
DEA spokeswoman Catherine Pfaff declined to comment to NBC News, citing an ongoing investigation. However, after this article was published, DEA officials confirmed that her 114 pounds of fentanyl had been seized.
“These drugs have been in the possession of law enforcement since then,” the official said. “The DEA is relentlessly pursuing individuals involved in trafficking seized fentanyl and will continue to do so.”
Overdose deaths in the United States topped 100,000 for the first time last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is mainly due to fentanyl. Of the 107,622 fatal overdoses reported in 2021, 71,238, or 66%, Contains fentanyl.
Because the highly potent opioid is cheaper than other drugs and comes in the form of a white powder, traffickers mix it with cocaine and other drugs or stamp it on prescription drugs such as Xanax to expand their supply. , can increase profits.In many cases, cocaine and pills laced with fentanyl killed people who were unaware they were consuming it. Looking for fentanyl now for its sheer height.
In Colorado, the number of deaths from fentanyl has increased more than 10-fold over the past five years, rising from 81 in 2017 to more than 900 in 2021, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Overdose deaths are also soaring in Indiana, where the fentanyl from the Colorado bust was clearly headed.
“How bad?” said Robin Vida, director of health, outreach, promotion and education at the St. Joseph County Health Department serving South Bend.
The Maldonado incident, first reported by Denver Gazette, started with regular traffic stops. A state trooper arrest warrant application filed in Colorado District Court provides a detailed narrative of the events leading up to Maldonado’s disappearance.
At approximately 10:37 a.m. on June 18, police officers found a car jammed on Interstate 70 just west of Denver.
The trooper stopped the car and found the driver “very nervous”.
The driver, identified as Maldonado, told the troopers that he had spent a week in the town of Grand Junction visiting family. However, the police knew the story was false. He checked Maldonado’s license plate before the stop and learned that the Southern California license plate had been scanned by his reader about 24 hours earlier.
When the troopers searched Maldonado’s car, they found it empty except for two energy drinks, gas station snacks, and a blanket in the back seat.
“Maldonado’s tension didn’t subside throughout the contact,” the arrest warrant application said, even though the troopers told him he hadn’t received a ticket and only a warning.
Maldonado insisted he wasn’t nervous. He had to go to the “really bad” bathroom. He initially refused to let officers search the car, but he relented because he wanted to get back on the road, court documents say.
The trooper made you drive 3 miles to the next exit to use the restroom. While Maldonado was in the bathroom, the troopers led drug sniffing dogs around the car. According to the affidavit, the dog alerted him to the presence of drugs and police searched the vehicle.
According to the affidavit, the trooper found two traps used to hide contraband in the floorboards. In total, he weighed 114 pounds, according to court documents.
Maldonado agreed to speak to a DEA agent after the troopers arrested him. In addition to telling agents that the drugs were heading to South Bend, Maldonado said he got fentanyl in California and had done drugs at least once before, his affidavit says.
Maldonado agreed to complete the drug delivery so that the DEA could identify traffickers high in the criminal network.
The next day, Maldonado set out on a controlled delivery with a tracking device attached to his car. However, at some point in his journey — where it was not clear — he managed to escape surveillance and successfully remove the tracker from his vehicle, his affidavit states.
Maldonado is wanted on two felony counts of illegally distributing more than 225 grams of a controlled substance and bringing the substance into Colorado.
The U.S. Marshals Service has confirmed that its Colorado Violent Criminals Task Force is looking for Maldonado, who was described in an affidavit as being 6 feet 2 inches and weighing 245 pounds.
“Due to the sensitive nature of our investigation, we are unable at this time to provide additional information to prevent any aspect of our case from being compromised,” the agency said in a statement.
Former FBI deputy director and NBC News national security contributor Frank Figliuzzi said the DEA was most likely conducting an internal investigation.
“There’s a record amount of fentanyl in here, enough fentanyl to kill everyone in Colorado, in fact,” Figlizzi said. “Individuals who were dosed with that amount of fentanyl are now getting wind of it. And as far as we can tell, the other bad guys don’t seem to be bound, so it’s a massive failure.”
Maldonado’s family is in Mexico, but he grew up in the small town of West Liberty, Iowa (population 3,800), according to the warrant application.
He was a member of West Liberty High School’s varsity football team for at least one season, according to the report. High School Sports Website Max Preps.
However, Maldonado started breaking the law when he was still a teenager.
In August 2013, he was reportedly stopped by police who allegedly found a marijuana pipe and a handgun wrapped in a pillowcase in his car. Muscatine Journal in Iowa. A search of his bedroom found him over 21 grams of marijuana in 23 bags and a scale.
The charges were later dismissed, according to an online court search.
Maldonado has two Facebook accounts but rarely posts.
His last accident was in March, three months before the Colorado road shutdown. It consisted of a photograph showing him standing on a large rock holding what appeared to be a machete.
On his old Facebook page, he posted a comment in July 2020 lamenting that only nine people responded to his new profile picture.
“And there is not a single one from those close to me,” Maldonado wrote in Spanish. Man, what a s—-y path was given to me!
NBC News reached out to multiple families but either did not respond or declined to comment.
“I don’t know anything[about Maldonado]so I don’t want him to care what he gets into,” said one family member.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com