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Undercover NCIS agents buy thousands of fentanyl-laced pills in operation after sailor's death

Kristina Davis

October 23, 2018

A Riverside man is suspected of selling thousands of fentanyl-laced pills to undercover agents, concealing the drugs in everything from potato chip bags to laundry detergent bottles to Hanes T-shirt packages during handoffs near schools and in Starbucks parking lots, according to a complaint unsealed in San Diego federal court Friday.

Marcell Travon Robinson III is charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs. He was arrested Thursday after a long undercover operation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The investigation began with the Aug. 8, 2017, overdose death of a sailor in San Diego County. While the toxicology test found fentanyl, mitragynine, alprazolam, nordiazepam and ecstasy in his system, the medical examiner concluded that the level of fentanyl alone was enough to have killed him, according to the complaint. The name of the sailor, a petty officer second class, was not released.

At the scene, investigators seized six blue pills marked with “M” on one side and “30” on the other, appearing to be oxycodone pills. A test of the drugs, however, found the make-up to be fentanyl, acetaminophen and other chemicals.

The NCIS probe led to a man identified only as “SM” who is suspected of selling the counterfeit pills, known as “blues,” to the sailor, the complaint states. A search of the suspect’s home uncovered 337 similar pills in January.

Further text message and cellphone evidence led investigators to Robinson, who appeared to provide the pills to SM to sell to the sailor, according to the complaint.

The District Attorney’s Office is currently prosecuting SM on state charges.

The case against Robinson took a new turn in July when a confidential source told authorities that he had bought “blues” about 25 to 30 times from a Riverside man who was SM’s source.

An NCIS undercover agent made contact with Robinson and, after several text messages coordinating the sale of pills, the two met in San Diego.

After selling the agent 10 pills for $300, Robinson warned the undercover, “I don’t know how strong your tolerance is so start with half,” according to the complaint.

Other similar transactions followed.

In August, the agent introduced Robinson to a second undercover operative who was said to be looking for a new “blues” supplier for San Diego.

These sales were on a larger scale: 100 pills concealed in a false-bottom WD-40 can for $2,000.

Another 69 pills wrapped in black plastic were stamped with “A215.” Robinson explained those pills were a third of the strength of the blues, the complaint states.

Two days later, another delivery was made of 250 blues for $4,750. The pills were hidden again, this time in a vegetable can.

During this meeting, the undercover agent told Robinson that he/she worked as a U.S. Navy contractor and sold the drugs to service members.

Robinson then divulged that he used to be a nurse but now is a private stock investor, the complaint says. Robinson also admitted to buying the A215s on the dark web with help from another person, who had the pills shipped to Robinson’s house, the complaint states.

At the next handoff a week later, at a Riverside Starbucks parking lot, Robinson said he worked with “professionals” he believed to be cartel members who also sold guns, according to the complaint. Robinson added that he always kept a firearm in the middle console of his vehicle for protection. The undercover expressed interest and asked to buy a gun from Robinson, too.

Four days later, Robinson sold the agent a Springfield Armory Model 1911 Operator .45 caliber pistol for $800, along with 120 “blues” $2,200, the complaint says. Robinson had said earlier that he didn’t need the gun anymore and had “enough guns around.”

A search of a law enforcement database showed the gun had been stolen in Riverside County in 2014.

Many more undercover transactions followed, with the amount of pills continuing to grow and Robinson coaching the agent on how to launder the money and avoid suspicion from banks, the complaint states.

“I pretty much never run out,” Robinson was recorded telling the agent during one sale. “These dudes are pretty consistent. As long as I make a phone call, it’s pretty much there. Unless something hits the fan, And something did hit the fan last week … but these dudes have operations so there’s already another guy in place.”

The investigation also identified others suspected of selling the pills or transporting them over the border from Mexico.

Read the full story here.

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