For Immediate Release - June 16, 2017

Lawrence Residents Arrested, Arraigned in Connection With Trafficking Heroin and Fentanyl

LAWRENCE –  Two Lawrence residents have been arrested and arraigned in connection with running a drug trafficking operation in which authorities seized more than 1,200 grams of a suspected mix of heroin and fentanyl, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.

On Wednesday night, authorities arrested Washin Cuesta Gonzalez, age 34, and Adalgisa Vallego Garcia, age 25, in Lawrence. They were arraigned Thursday morning in Lawrence District Court on the charge of Trafficking more than 200 grams of Heroin (one count each).

The charges are the result of a joint federal and state investigation involving the Attorney General’s Office, the State Police Transportation Drug Unit, the Portsmouth Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the New Hampshire State Police Narcotics and Investigations Unit.

“This deadly opioid crisis is continuing to plague communities across our state and we are committed to tackling this epidemic on all fronts,” said AG Healey. “Our office will work with our federal and state partners to go after traffickers who bring these lethal drugs into our neighborhoods.”

“Opioid abuse is at epidemic levels across New England and those suffering from opioid addiction need access to treatment and recovery,” said Special Agent in Charge of the DEA New England Division Michael J. Ferguson. “But those responsible for distributing a lethal drug like fentanyl to the citizens of Massachusetts and New Hampshire need to be held accountable for their actions. DEA is committed to aggressively pursue Drug Trafficking Organizations or individuals who are coming from out of state to distribute this poison in order to profit and destroy people’s lives. This investigation demonstrates the strength and continued commitment of our local, state and federal partners and our strong partnership with Attorney General Healey’s office.”

 

“These arrests and seizures showcase the effectiveness of collaboration among the different divisions within New Hampshire State Police as well as our strong partnerships with the DEA and the Massachusetts State Police,” said Lt. John Encarnacao, Commander of the New Hampshire State Police Narcotics and Investigations Unit.

Gonzalez and Garcia pleaded not guilty and were held on $800,000 cash bail. They will be due back in Lawrence District Court on July 6. Gonzalez was arrested after authorities observed him arranging for and selling approximately 460 grams of what is believed to be a mix of heroin and fentanyl. Authorities later seized more than 800 grams of what is believed to be a mix of heroin and fentanyl and other material used to measure drugs during the arrest of Garcia at a Lawrence apartment. In total, authorities seized approximately 1,260 grams of what is believed to be a mix of heroin and fentanyl.

Massachusetts law enforcement has seen a significant increase in the presence of fentanyl, especially in drug overdoses and deaths. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimates that 2,069 people – the highest number ever recorded in the state and a 15 percent increase year-over-year – died from opioid overdoses in 2016. The number of deaths from opioid overdoses involving fentanyl continued to climb last year, with more than 60 percent of the fatal overdoses last year involving the lethal drug. Essex County is one of the counties in the state with the highest rate of overdoses.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Drug traffickers frequently mix the drug with heroin, without the knowledge of the buyer. It can be deadly in even low doses.

Legislation to criminalize the trafficking of fentanyl went into effect in February 2016. Prior to the law going into effect, drug traffickers could only be charged with the lesser crimes of manufacturing, distributing or possessing fentanyl, regardless of the quantity of the drug they were caught with.

AG Healey recently announced that her office is committing a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to a new Fentanyl Strike Force. In partnership with the Massachusetts State Police, the task force will target heroin and fentanyl traffickers and dismantle their distribution networks across Massachusetts. The funds will expand the AG’s Office’s own drug enforcement work – which has increased sixfold since 2015 – and to build enhanced partnerships with federal, state, and local law enforcement.

This investigation is ongoing. These charges are allegations and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Terrence Reidy, Chief of AG Healey’s Enterprise, Major and Cyber Crimes Division. The case is being investigated by the State Police Drug Transportation Unit, the New Hampshire State Police Narcotics and Investigations Unit, the Portsmouth Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and with assistance from the Lawrence Police Department.