Six suspected narcotics dealers have been charged with selling a substance that state Attorney General Josh Shapiro described as "literally a drug used to tranquilize elephants."
The case centers on an alleged drug ring, operated out of the Braddock and Homestead areas, that sold $750,000 in suspected narcotics in 2016 and 2017.
It resulted in the first known seizure in Allegheny County of carfentanil, said a spokesman for Shapiro's office.
“It is outrageous criminal conduct, we won’t allow it, and with strong law enforcement collaboration, we’ve shut down a drug ring that sold three-quarters of a million dollars of poison in towns across Allegheny County," Shapiro said Thursday in a prepared statement.
Carfentanil is marketed under the trade name "Wildnil" and is intended as a tranquilizer for large animals, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The drug is about 10,000 times more potent than morphine, the FDA has said.
Charged in connection with the case are:
- Deondray Beasley, 29, of Homestead, who was identified by the grand jury and investigators as "the boss" of the alleged drug ring. Beasley is charged by Allegheny County police with three counts each of possession of controlled substances and delivery of controlled substances, as well as criminal use of a communications facility.
Beasley is being held in Allegheny County Jail in connection with a previous case. He faces a preliminary hearing on the new charges Nov. 14 before Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning.
- Derek Williams, 22, of Munhall, and Dorrean Watson, 30, of Pittsburgh's North Side are charged with four counts each of possession with intent to deliver, three counts of criminal conspiracy and one count of participating in a corrupt organization.
Williams is free on bond pending a preliminary hearing Nov. 21 before Magisterial District Judge Scott Schricker in Turtle Creek. Watson is being held in Allegheny County Jail in connection with a previous arrest.
- Patrick Sanders, 27, of Duquesne, is charged with two counts of each of possession with intent to deliver and criminal conspiracy. He is free on his own recognizance pending a preliminary hearing Nov. 21 before Schricker.
- James Wells, 29, of North Braddock, is charged with three counts of possession with intent to deliver, delivery of a controlled substance and carrying a firearm without a license. He remains at large, Shapiro said.
- A sixth man, identified as Rand Wolford, 29, of Braddock, also was accused by Shapiro of participating in the drug ring. Court officials had no record Thursday afternoon of charges being filed against Wolford, who remains at large, Shapiro said.
Shapiro said the investigation was conducted by Allegheny County Police and a statewide grand jury.
According to the attorney general's office, Beasley is accused of buying and selling carfentanil; fentanyl, another opioid-based drug; and heroin in Pittsburgh and Munhall, Braddock Hills, North Braddock and Braddock.
The investigation began in September 2016, Shapiro said, when police observed a suspected drug transaction occur between Beasley, a known associate and a drug buyer, Shapiro said. When police stopped the car, they discovered 23 bags of carfentanil and 27 bags of heroin mixed with fentanyl in the buyer’s possession.
Collaborating with Allegheny County police narcotics detectives, Shapiro said, investigators began intense surveillance of the suspected drug ring and made controlled buys of suspected narcotics from Beasley, Williams and Watson. The drugs were later determined to be carfentanil, fentanyl and heroin, Shapiro said.
Investigators believe Wells was one of the day-to-day managers of the suspected drug ring, Shapiro said.
In May 2017, a Pittsburgh police officer responding to call of "shots fired" stopped a vehicle containing Wells and three other people.
Police recovered three handguns from the car, one of which was loaded with armor-piercing bullets, Shapiro said, as well as additional ammunition and magazines. Wells lacked a valid permit to carry a firearm, Shapiro said.
Investigators also made controlled drug buys from Wells, Sanders and Wolford, Shapiro said.
Then, in September, investigators searched three locations in Pittsburgh, Munhall and Homestead that were occupied or frequented by Beasley and Watson. Investigators seized cell phones, drug packaging and processing materials, a blender attachment with drug residue, and a loaded Glock handgun, Shapiro said.
According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dealers are mixing powerful drugs such as carfentanil and fentanyl with heroin. The increased potency is responsible for a sharp increase in the number of drug overdoses being reported, CDC officials said.
Carfentanil is a controlled substance in the United States and other Western countries, and is suspected in the deaths of victims of a 2002 hostage situation in Moscow, Russia.
Its toxicity has been compared to that of nerve gas, leading to concerns that the drug may someday be used as a chemical weapon by terrorists.
Despite that, carfentanil was widely manufactured in China, where it was unregulated until March 2017, and was available for sale on the Internet from Chinese sources.
“This was an extremely dangerous drug organization operating in Allegheny County and surrounding areas,” Allegheny County police Lt. Jeffrey Korczyk said in a prepared statement.
“Some of our undercover agents observed these individuals making threats against police officers, but the most dangerous aspect of this criminal organization is they were knowingly putting lives at risk by selling carfentanyl on our streets," Korczyk said.
Sanders and Williams were arrested Wednesday, court records indicate.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Marnie Sheehan-Balchon will prosecute the cases, Shapiro's office said.
Originally published November 09, 2017.