Fen­tanyl over­dose death gets 2 in­dicted for mur­der

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Local & State - BY DAVID OVALLE dovalle@mi­ami­her­ald.com

A grand jury has in­dicted two men for mur­der for the fen­tanyl over­dose death of an in­mate at the Mi­ami-Dade County Jail in De­cem­ber.

Two jail in­mates face mur­der charges for sup­ply­ing the fa­tal fen­tanyl that killed a fel­low in­mate at the Mi­ami-Dade County Jail, au­thor­i­ties said Thurs­day.

A Mi­ami-Dade grand jury this week in­dicted the two men un­der a new state law that makes it eas­ier to charge mur­der if some­one pro­vides a lethal hit of fen­tanyl, the pow­er­ful opi­oid that’s hooked ad­dicts across South Florida and the United States.

The ac­cused: Nathaniel Var­gas, 36, and Car­los Martinez, 41. They also face charges of in­tro­duc­ing con­tra­band into a cor­rec­tions fa­cil­ity, a prob­lem that has plagued Mi­amiDade trou­bled jails for years. The grand jury in­dicted them on Wednes- day, but the records were not un­sealed un­til Thurs­day.

For now, the men are only charged with the over­dose death of Je­sus Per­domo, who col­lapsed in­side the jail last De­cem­ber. But the same batch of fen­tanyl is be­lieved to killed a sec- ond in­mate, Juan Sal­gado, and led to the hos­pi­tal­iza­tions of two other in­mates from the same jail wing on the same day.

Fen­tanyl and its syn­thetic vari­ants — which can be up to 50 times more pow­er­ful than heroin — have dec­i­mated com­muni- ties across Florida, where a crack­down on pre­scrip­tion painkillers such as Oxy­codone is be­lieved to have led to the spike in opi­oid abuse.

While a le­gal painkiller, the fen­tantyl on South

Florida streets is be­lieved to an il­licit strain that orig­i­nates from clan­des­tine labs in China, which of­ten sells the prod­uct to U.S. deal­ers through the mail. The new form of drug dealer was chron­i­cled in the Mi­ami Her­ald’s 2015 Pipe­line China se­ries.

Mi­ami, like other parts of Florida, has been par­tic­u­larly hard hit. The im­pov­er­ished Over­town neigh­bor­hood has be­come ground zero for Mi­ami’s opi­oid cri­sis. The Univer­sity of Mi­ami’s Miller School of Medicine now runs a lauded nee­dle ex­change pro­gram in Over­town, and au­thor­i­ties have tar­geted for cleanup a home­less en­camp­ment un­der­neath the Dol­phin Ex­press­way that is rife with opi­oid ad­dicts.

So far this year, pre­lim­i­nary statis­tics show fen­tanyl or its vari­ants have caused 120 deaths, a dra­matic de­crease from 251 for 2017, ac­cord­ing to the Mi­ami-Dade Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner’s Of­fice.

STATE LAW

Florida law has long al­lowed state pros­e­cu­tors to charge some­one with mur­der if they pro­vide a fa­tal dose of heroin or co­caine. In Mi­ami-Dade, a hand­ful of peo­ple have been charged with mur­der in 15 years in con­nec­tion with deaths as­so­ci­ated with those drugs.

But the law did not spec­ify fen­tanyl over­doses. Last year, the Florida Leg­is­la­ture fi­nally passed a law al­low­ing pros­e­cu­tors to charge deal­ers with mur­der if they pro­vide a fa­tal dose of fen­tanyl — and key for pros­e­cu­tors, drugs mixed with fen­tanyl.

The in­dict­ments of Var­gas and Martinez mark the first time pros­e­cu­tors in Mi­ami-Dade have charged some­one un­der the new law. The first such case came in Palm Beach County, where pros­e­cu­tors charged a Boynton Beach man with mur­der for the death of a 28-year-old woman.

In the Mi­ami-Dade case, Sal­gado, 24, and Per­domo, 25, died Dec. 6 af­ter col­laps­ing in­side the Pre­trial De­ten­tion Cen­ter, com­monly known as the Mi­ami-Dade County Jail, 1321 NW 13th St. Two other in­mates, Joseph Del Valle, 49, and Miguel Ta­mayo, 27, were also hos­pi­tal­ized af­ter fall­ing ill from drugs. They sur­vived. All four were housed on the fifth floor of the jail.

Ac­cord­ing to a search war­rant filed in Mi­amiDade cir­cuit court, Del Valle snorted a line of the sus­pected fen­tanyl he got from Var­gas, who had just been trans­ferred from the Turner Guil­ford Knight Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter, an­other Mi­ami-Dade jail.

Var­gas was booked into TGK a few days ear­lier on a co­caine charge. Ac­cord­ing to the war­rant, he showed off eight to 10 “small black bags ... be­lieved to be heroin, but was more than likely fen­tanyl.” He claimed that he wanted to use the bags, each worth about $50, to “barter” for goods while in jail — and he was even go­ing to ped­dle some through a jail “trustee” who is al­lowed to roam the hall­ways, ac­cord­ing to po­lice.

De­tails of the al­le­ga­tions against Martinez were not re­leased . Var­gas re­mains jailed on his orig­i­nal charge.

‘FULLEST EX­TENT’

“For peo­ple wheel­ing and deal­ing in this death drug, be aware you are sub­ject to mur­der charges,” Mi­ami-Dade State At­tor­ney Kather­ine Fer­nan­dez Rundle said on Thurs­day. “We are go­ing to pros­e­cute peo­ple to the fullest ex­tent of the law.”

The two in­mate deaths — and a third, un­re­lated in­mate over­dose death in Fe­bru­ary at TGK — in­creased scru­tiny on con­tra­band at Mi­ami-Dade jails. The long-trou­bled cor­rec­tions sys­tem, which re­mains un­der fed­eral su­per­vi­sion be­cause of shoddy con­di­tions for in­mates, re­sponded by in­stalling high-tech body scan­ners to check for in­mates sus­pected of hid­ing con­tra­band on their bod­ies.

Var­gas is be­lieved to have smug­gled in the drugs in his anal cav­ity.

The scan­ners, by law , can­not be used on cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers, who them­selves are some­times sus­pected of bring­ing in con­tra­band for in­mates. Last month, a Mi­ami-Dade cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer was ar­rested and ac­cused of ac­cept­ing cash to smug­gle in a cell phone and fast food for an in­mate.

WAL­TER MICHOT The Mi­ami Her­ald

In­mates at the Mi­ami-Dade County Jail, which has been plagued by con­tra­band over the years.

Juan Sal­gado, left, and Je­sus Per­domo

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