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Two charged in opioid distribution ring with Monmouth connection

Two California men have been charged in connection with what law enforcement officials described as a large-scale opioid distribution conspiracy that involved the shipment of at least 500,000 fentanyl pills to New Jersey, including to locations in Monmouth County.

The arrests were announced by Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick on Dec. 20.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Fitzpatrick said Andrew Tablack, 26, of Beverly Hills, Calif., and Stephan Durham, 43, of Altadena, Calif., were both charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of cyclopropyl fentanyl. Tablack is also charged with the distribution of 400 grams or more of cyclopropyl fentanyl.

Both men were arrested on the morning of Dec. 20 and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh in Los Angeles federal court, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney.

According to the complaint, beginning in August 2017, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration began an investigation into the distribution of fentanyl in  Monmouth County.

Agents executed a search warrant at a Monmouth County residence that resulted in the seizure of a substantial quantity of controlled substances, including approximately 300,000 cyclopropyl fentanyl pills that allegedly had been shipped by Tablack to New Jersey.

Tablack and his customers across the United States, including New Jersey, allegedly used the Dark Web – a part of the internet that is not accessible without specific software – to arrange shipments of quantities of cyclopropyl fentanyl to various places throughout the country.

Tablack also allegedly used end-to-end encrypted communication applications to take orders for fentanyl from customers in New Jersey.

The New Jersey customers allegedly provided Tablack with residential addresses in Monmouth County to which the packages of fentanyl could be mailed and arranged to intercept the packages before they were delivered.

Customers paid Tablack with Bitcoin, a form of cryptocurrency that is increasingly common in the narcotics trade due to its relative anonymity.

One such set of packages, mailed by Tablack in September, was intercepted by law enforcement when it reached New Jersey. When the packages were opened, agents found they contained 226,520 cyclopropyl fentanyl pills that weighed nearly 20 kilograms.

Tablack allegedly maintained a pill production facility in California. Shipping records revealed Tablack had purchased at least nine pill press machines that were shipped to an industrial building in California.

Records showed that a company ostensibly run by Durham was registered as the lessee of that industrial property.

Tablack allegedly purchased quantities of fentanyl from a laboratory in China that shipped the packages disguised as food and beauty products. Law enforcement officers in California were able to intercept several additional packages sent from various parts of Asia bound for properties controlled by Tablack and Durham, including fentanyl and dyes used to mark illicitly manufactured pills.

The charges carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, a potential maximum penalty of life in prison and a $10 million fine, according to the U.S. Attorney.

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