Fentanyl pill operation shut down, 14 people arrested
SAN ANTONIO —
Federal agents say they’ve shut down a huge operation involving the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit painkillers laced with fentanyl. Two homes in nice neighborhoods – one in San Antonio, the other near Houston – were raided over the summer.
Eight people are in federal custody facing charges, including suspected ringleader Alaa Mohammed Allawi. Six more people are facing charges on the local level.
The group used chemicals and pill presses to produce counterfeit oxycodone and other fake prescription drugs laced with fentanyl, an opioid that’s dozens of times more potent than heroin, according to Dante Sorianello, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency office in San Antonio.
“As a whole, until recently, San Antonio has not seen the numbers of opioid-related overdoses, distribution of the prescription pills and the heroin that some of the other parts of the country have been seeing, such as the Midwest, the East Coast,” he said.
The DEA said this is the largest fentanyl bust for the San Antonio area.
“It’s new to San Antonio,” Sorianello said, “in that we actually were becoming the source for the distribution of fentanyl throughout the country. This is just one organization.”
The DEA and a SWAT team raided a home on the Northwest Side of San Antonio in the 13,100 block of Regency Bend, south of the University of Texas at San Antonio campus. Some neighbors said the breaking glass woke them up in late June. The windows remained boarded up Tuesday.
In mid-May, investigators shut down a drug lab at a home in a gated community southwest of Houston in Richmond. The DEA believes at some point, the organization moved its main manufacturing facility from one of its San Antonio locations to the Richmond home, where agents recovered “pill presses, a substantial amount of fentanyl and firearms.”
A “huge number” of pills were distributed locally, Sorianello said. Thousands more were ordered online and shipped through the mail. Some packages were intercepted with the help of postal inspectors.
UTSA police and San Antonio police first caught on to the pills, some of which were located in the campus area. (The Regency Bend home is within a couple of miles of campus. It’s unclear how police first discovered the pills.)
Federal agents are also looking into the possibility that some people died as a result of taking the pills.
“We’re still looking into that,” Sorianello said. “There are some overdose deaths associated to members of this organization, but we’re still investigating.”
The federal court case is ongoing. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.