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United States District Judge John A. Kronstadt sentenced a 33-year-old Riverside man to 312 months in federal prison for trafficking acetyl fentanyl. Because the drug operation led to at least one fatal overdose, the defendant faced a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 20 years. The charges only involved a single fatal overdose, but investigators connected several more deaths to the man’s acetyl fentanyl. The prison sentence of 26 years likely involved the consideration of the additional overdoses mentioned by the prosecution.
In November 2017, Adam Scott Caward pleaded guilty to distributing acetyl fentanyl that resulted in death, and possession with intent to distribute acetyl fentanyl. Although the charges and later conviction involved only acetyl fentanyl, the investigation began with a seized package of 4-Fluorobutyrfentanyl (4-FIBF). U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in June 2017, intercepted a package of the then-legal butyrfentanyl, 4-Fluorobutyrfentanyl, and headed towards Caward’s Riverside home.
“Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl from China, are extremely dangerous and this sentence should send a message to drug dealers that we will seek to hold them responsible for the deaths caused by their criminal behavior,” the prosecutor said.
Customs then handed the information over to U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The two federal agencies, in conjunction with the Riverside Police Department, opened an investigation into Caward’s drug-related activities. A judge then signed a search warrant for Caward’s house. There, authorities discovered numerous controlled substances and evidence that linked Caward to drug distribution at his former address.
After seizing Caward’s electronic devices, investigators determined that Caward had been ordering fentanyl analogues from vendors on the darknet since 2015 and redistributing them throughout the Riverside area. On a seized phone, the police found text messages between Caward and an acquaintance who had overdosed on a fentanyl analogue in November 2016. In the text messages, the dealer and now-deceased buyer arranged purchases of acetyl fentanyl. The man overused not long after he had purchased the “purple powder” from Caward.
Evidence revealed that the fatal overdose had no impact on Caward’s activities. In the announcement, United States Attorney Nick Hanna said, “Cawardo regard for human life and his conduct caused misery and death.” He continued to buy fentanyl analogues from darknet vendors after the overdose. During the hearing, the prosecutors pointed out the acetyl fentanyl had killed several other drug users in the area. It was not immediately evident why they are not charged him in connection to the additional overdoses.
Khaldoun Shobaki, the Assistant United States Attorney of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section, spoke to the court about the lack of care Caward had for human life in regard to the body count he amassed. This led Judge Kronstadt to sentence the dealer to 26 years in prison—six years longer than the mandatory minimum prison sentence for distributing an illegal substance resulting in death.