NY authorities seize 15K fentanyl pills resembling candy concealed in LEGO box

"Using happy colors to make a deadly drug seem fun and harmless is a new low, even for the Mexican cartels."


By Maura Grunlund
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — In the largest seizure of its kind to date in New York City, authorities confiscated about 15,000 fentanyl pills resembling candy and fake prescription medications just weeks before Halloween.

The multi-colored fentanyl pills were concealed in a LEGO box and intended for distribution throughout the five boroughs as part of a troubling trend in which drug cartels appear to be targeting children, according to authorities.

The enforcement action that resulted in the arrest of suspect Latesha Bush, 48, of Trenton, was announced at a news conference on Tuesday by Frank A. Tarentino III, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's New York Division; Bridget G. Brennan, New York City's special narcotics prosecutor; NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell, and New York State Police Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen.

Seized as part of a continuing investigation into a fentanyl-trafficking organization, the huge stash signals that there is widespread distribution of these dangerous, colorful pills in New York City, according to authorities.

In addition to resembling sweets, some of the fake prescription pills confiscated also were imprinted with "M" and "30″ to resemble real 30 mg pills of oxycodone hydrochloride, authorities revealed on Tuesday.

Authorities say it's virtually impossible to tell the difference between real prescription pills for opioids such as oxycodone, sedatives such as alprazolam, and stimulants including amphetamines and fakes that may be loaded with fentanyl.

Experts caution that a single dose of the opioid could claim the life of even the healthiest person.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

DRUG CARTELS IN MEXICO MARKET FENTANYL THAT MIMICS CANDY

The Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation drug cartels in Mexico are mass producing fentanyl pills in rainbow colors to not only brand their products, but to mimic candy and/or legitimate prescription drugs, authorities said on Tuesday.

"Using happy colors to make a deadly drug seem fun and harmless is a new low, even for the Mexican cartels," Brennan said. "Fentanyl is already involved in more than 80% of overdose deaths in the city. If you take any drug sold on the street or through the internet, regardless of its medicinal markings or festive appearance, you risk your life."

"Disguising fentanyl as candy — and concealing it in children's toys — will never hide the fact that fentanyl is a deadly poison that harms our communities, our families and our city," Sewell said.

About 40% of the pills analyzed by the DEA contain a lethal dose of fentanyl, Tarentino said.

The DEA previously announced the results of the third phase of the One Pill Can Kill initiative focused on combatting the fake-pill threat that led to the seizure of more than 10.2 million fentanyl pills and approximately 980 pounds of fentanyl powder from May 23 through Sept. 8 of this year.

The amount of fentanyl taken off the streets during this surge is equivalent to more than 36 million lethal doses removed from the illegal drug supply. DEA New York seized about 500,000 fentanyl pills in the state during that enforcement period, Tarentino said.

INSIDE THE PROBE THAT UNCOVERED 15K FENTANYL PILLS

The investigation was conducted by DEA's New York Drug Enforcement Task Force (NYDETF) Group T-12, including agents and NYPD officers. The city Special Narcotics Prosecutor's Investigators Unit assisted in the probe.

On Sept. 28 at around 7:11 p.m., members of NYDETF Group T-12 were conducting surveillance as part of a continuing investigation into narcotics trafficking when they allegedly saw Bush carrying what appeared to be a black tote bag wrapped around a large object as she entered a vehicle in front of 475 10th Avenue in Manhattan, according to authorities.

After the vehicle was stopped, agents and officers allegedly found Bush in the rear seat with two black tote bags and a yellow-colored LEGO container. Inside the LEGO container were several brick-shaped packages covered in black tape lying next to LEGO blocks. The black tape covering one of the packages was partially opened, exposing the multi-colored pills. A subsequent examination of the packages revealed that they contained about 15,000 pills, according to authorities.

During the investigation, agents and officers learned that just prior to the arrest, Bush had traveled from New Jersey to the vicinity of 475 10th Avenue in a rental car. Agents and officers also learned that the multi-colored fentanyl pills allegedly originated in Mexico.

DEA laboratory analysis of the narcotics seized in New York is pending, but preliminary testing indicated the presence of fentanyl.

A criminal complaint filed by the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor charges Bush with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first and third degrees. She was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on Sept. 30 and bail was set at $25,000 cash/$150,000 insurance company bond/$100,000 partially secured surety bond, according to authorities.

DETAILS OF DEA ENFORCEMENT EFFORT

During the DEA's May-to-September enforcement effort, 390 cases were investigated, including 51 cases that are linked to overdose poisonings and 35 cases linked directly to the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.

In addition, 129 DEA investigations are linked to social media platforms, including Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and TikTok.

Teens and young adults are being targeted by these predators, who use deceptive tools such as innocuous emoji as a secret language to sell potentially-deadly drugs laced with fentanyl.

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(c)2022 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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