Federal investigators have busted a drug trafficking scheme that used toy stuffed animals to mail many pounds of fentanyl pills from Arizona to Minnesota.
The six men and women were charged in U.S. District Court in St. Paul with conspiracy to distribute the powerfully addictive opiate from August to December in 2022. One of the defendants, 30-year-old Fo’Tre Devine White, of Minneapolis, also was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of a machine gun.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger on Thursday identified White’s co-defendants as Cornell Montez Chandler Jr., 24; Robiel Lee Williams, 23; and Quijuan Hosea Bankhead, 30, all of St. Paul; along with Stardasha Christina Davenport-Mounger, 24; and Shardai Rayshell Allen, 24, both of Minneapolis.
The charges allege that several of the defendants traveled to Phoenix to obtain fentanyl pills from suppliers, then hid them in stuffed animals and mailed them to addresses in and around the Twin Cities.
Law enforcement in Dakota, Ramsey, and Washington counties became aware of the trafficking and initiated a joint investigation that led to the seizure of six packages containing more than 66 pounds of fentanyl pills.
All six defendants have appeared in court and have a joint hearing scheduled for March 7. White remains jailed without bond. The others were released from custody after posting bond.
The Star Tribune contacted counsel for each defendant for comment, and two have replied.
Frederick Goetz said on behalf of Chandler that his client has pleaded not guilty, and “he looks forward to his day in court to refute these allegations.”
Williams’ attorney, Kenneth Udoibok, said his client “must be given the presumption of innocence.”
Agencies involved in the investigation into this case included the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, the Dakota and Washington counties drug task forces and the Ramsey County Violent Crime Enforcement Team.
There were 1,343 drug overdose deaths in Minnesota in 2022, according to preliminary data released in October by the Minnesota Department of Health. That is a slight decline from 1,356 the year before. Both totals are about twice what was reported in 2018.
Fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin, was involved in 92% of all opioid-involved deaths and nearly two-thirds of all overdose deaths statewide, according to the early data for 2022.