A Riverside man was arrested on accusations that he sold counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl that lead to the deadly overdose of a college student who was visiting her family for the holidays two years ago, the Department of Justice announced.
Brandon Michael McDowell, 22, was arrested and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon in United States District Court in Riverside.
McDowell was named in a grand jury indictment filed Wednesday that charges him with one count of distributing fentanyl resulting in death. The fentanyl-distribution charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a maximum possible sentence of life without parole.
According to the DOJ, McDowell allegedly distributed fentanyl in the form of counterfeit oxycodone M30 pills on December 22, 2019.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Prosecutors said the victim, a 19-year-old identified in the indictment as “A.C.,” died after ingesting the drug at her Temecula home.
The investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Homeland Security Investigations and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office found evidence that the victim ordered the pills from McDowell on Snapchat, according to the DOJ.
“This is another incredibly sad case that demonstrates the deadly threat of fentanyl that is now seen in a wide array of drugs sold on the street,” said United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “My office and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate fatal overdose cases to identify and bring to justice every individual involved in the trafficking of fentanyl.”
Assistant United States Attorney John Balla and Special Assistant United States Attorney Stephen Merrill of the Riverside Branch Office are prosecuting this case. SAUSA Merrill is a Riverside County deputy district attorney assigned by his office to work with the Justice Department.
“The Riverside County DA’s Office is grateful for the hard work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in this collaborative effort with our federal partners to get justice for the victim in this case,” said Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin.
Fentanyl Deaths On The Rise in Riverside County
Last month, Hestrin joined the Orange County district attorney to announce manufacturers or sellers of fentanyl can be charged with murder if someone dies after ingesting or being exposed to it.
Hestrin told News Channel 3's Madison Weil that the fentanyl crisis has escalated out of control in recent years in Riverside County. He said in 2016, there were two fentanyl-related deaths in the county. This year, they expect to see between 500-600 deaths.
Hestrin attributed the skyrocketing deaths, in part, due to how cheap fentanyl is to produce.
Fentanyl is being found in all kinds of drugs: from cocaine, methamphetamines, even anti-anxiety or sleeping medications. Hestrin said cartels now have the ability to create pills that look identical to regulated pills like Percocet or Valium — citing the case of one 21-year-old boy who died after taking Percocet from a friend. Neither of them knew it was laced with fentanyl.
The DEA estimates that up to 40% of counterfeit pills on the street right now contain a fatal dose, Hestrin said.
The Riverside County DA's Office is prosecuting nine fentanyl-related murder cases, including a case where two parents were arrested after their 15-month-old toddler overdosed.