Fentanyl, a cheap synthetic opioid, is now the top killer of Americans who die by drug overdose. Often put in blue pills to mimic the prescription drug oxycodone (or the branded OxyContin), fentanyl now kills twice as many as heroin, according to the most recent figures provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In Mesa, a three-month push seized more than 80,000 fentanyl pills. Illegal drugs were behind many of the crimes targeted by the Mesa Police Department’s “Operation Summer Project.”
According to Sgt. Charles Trapani, “The main goal of the Operation Summer Project was to reduce violent crime within the city of Mesa.” He said over a three-month period, police used “a high-visibility enforcement model...focused on violent crime.”
While police arrested several men charged with deadly assault, they also made some big drug busts, keeping thousands of fentanyl pills from being sold to teenagers and young adults. Amy Neville has a name for drug dealers: murderers.
Her son Alex died after using the social media app Snapchat to buy pills laced with fentanyl.
Alex died June 23, 2020. “We were in California,” his mother, a Mesa native, said. “He was born here, then we lived in California.” She returned to the East Valley after her son’s death. Amy Neville has been active in going to meetings such as the recent Mesa Prevention Alliance event to warn parents about the dangers of drugs and social media, which she said can be a lethal mix.
Amy said Alex was an excellent student (“his teachers loved him”) but curious about drugs. “He was very interested in how drugs would alter his mind since he was 7,” she said.
“He came home from a drug prevention day at school saying, ‘This is interesting; tell me more.’” Two days before his death, the teenager shared with his parents that he started taking what he thought was oxycodone.
“I just wanted to try oxy,” he told his parents. “I don’t know why, but these pills have a hold on me.” He said he didn’t have any pills left and agreed to get help. While waiting for a call back from a treatment center, Amy went to check on Alex – and found him dead, after apparently taking one last pill he had hidden. “Six weeks later, I was having lunch with a friend of his and said, ‘Do you know where he got (the pills).’
He said yeah, and gave me (the dealer’s) Snapchat information,” Amy said. “This guy I found out killed somebody before Alex and somebody after Alex.” In Mesa over the last three months, police officers seized more than 80,000 fentanyl pills. On Sept. 17, after informants told them of a drug spot at the Sandal Ridge apartments, officers swooped in at 645 N. Country Club Drive near University Avenue – “a high crime and drug area,” according to the arrest record – and arrested Abdul Broner, 42.
After arresting him, police found a recording telling a woman to “hide everything or I’ll kill you.” “Everything” included more than $15,000 in cash, methamphetamines, cocaine and 6,000 blue pills. “I know it to be a common trend of illegal pills containing fentanyl stamped with ‘M30’ to mimic the appearance of the narcotic pills Percocet,” Officer Brandon Liniger wrote in his arrest report.
While Liniger questioned Broner in the apartment, “the defendant’s phone was continually going off with subjects asking to buy drugs,” according to the report. Also on Sept. 17, Officer Andrew Tafoya arrested Jesus Manuel Barcelo in a Walmart parking lot on Baseline Road. According to the arrest document, an informant made a series of buys from Barcelo in that parking lot, including the purchase of 2,000 “M30 fentanyl pills,” paying $4,500, or only $2.50 per pill. (A smaller purchase of 100 pills cost $3.50 per pill.) According to Tafoya’s report, he admitted to selling the drugs, saying he was out of work and “trying to get back on my feet.” He has previous drug sales convictions. Statistics from Operation Summer Project included:
• 645 arrests (317 adult felony, 321 adult misdemeanor, three juvenile felony, four juvenile misdemeanor)
• 32,800 grams of methamphetamine seized, street value of $180,700
• 84,603 fentanyl pills seized, street value of $846,000
• 1,784 grams of cocaine seized, street value of $142,700
• 136 DUI arrests (alcohol)
• 33 DUI arrest (drugs)
• 73 firearms seized
A few of the arrests:
Rickey Cheney, 54 was arrested for armed robbery, aggravated assault and third degree burglary after allegedly robbing a customer at a convenience store near Higley Road and Southern Avenue, then assaulting a second victim at a home two blocks away.
Frankie Miranda, 30, was arrested for aggravated assault, warrants and weapons charges after allegedly shooting a victim near Dobson and McKellips roads.
Marc Garcia, 38, was arrested for aggravated assault and weapons charges when officers saw him waving a large knife as he chased two men near Country Club Drive and Main Street downtown.