OK: 16 arrested in Tulsa for involvement with Mexican cartel

These individuals are buying directly from people tied to the cartels out of Mexico that are bringing raw fentanyl powder across the border, moving it up into the Tulsa area.

According to Mark Woodward, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN) spokesperson, multiple arrests have been made connected to a drug trafficking organization, with links to a cartel in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Woodward says that OBN has been working on an investigation for a couple of months.

“These individuals are buying directly from people tied to the cartels out of Mexico that are bringing raw fentanyl powder across the border, moving it up into the Tulsa area. But also, it’s impacting the distribution in places like Bartlesville, Collinsville, Chouteau,” said Woodward. “Today they’re using social media to arrange for the loads being brought from Mexico to Tulsa and then they were using social media to arrange for the pickup and distribution once it got to Tulsa and moving it to places like Collinsville and Bartlesville to support somebody’s opioid addiction. Just one of those dosage units, as we’ve seen, you know, unfortunately over the last several years, could be fatal because of just how powerful fentanyl can be.”

Those arrested in connection with the trafficking are:

  • Justin Daniel Smith
  • Erin Joy Zaremba
  • Kimberly Whisenhunt
  • Joseph Kristopher George
  • Dana Ryan-Tapp
  • Chad Bentley Dorst
  • John Frederick Carter
  • Victoria Stephanie Sumner (Hendertilo)
  • Brandon Dale Wilson

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, (OSDH), fentanyl is one of the leading substances involved in the drug overdose crisis in the state.

There were 300 drug overdose deaths in 2022 in Oklahoma, according to OBN.

Nearly 90% of drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma were unintentional. Meaning, they did not intend to kill themselves, according to OSDH.

Woodward says the drugs are not being sold in small quantities and not necessarily for personal use.

“In fact, people are ordering as much as one to two ounces of raw fentanyl powder. They can get about 250 doses out of it. So one ounce could supply enough 250 people to get a single use out of it,” said Woodward. “There are about three different groups of individuals that were all linked to the same distributors. And so we kind of merged these three investigations together because they were all tied to the same people bringing, the fentanyl from Mexico to Tulsa. Those shipments are broken up and taken to places like Jenks and Bixby and Bartlesville.”

According to court documents the investigation used Facebook Messenger search warrants, GPS trackers, visual and electronic surveillance and undercover operations to take down the drug organization.

Drug trafficking organizations operate as a dispatch system. The dispatcher will coordinate the deal by discussing money for an amount of narcotics. The dispatcher will then provide and address for the customer to go and meet the delivery driver (courier). If the customer does not have a vehicle, the courier may make home deliveries. There is not much interaction between the drivers and customers aside from the narcotics exchange,” described the undercover OBN agent in the court documents.

Through the investigation explained in the court documents, “agents discovered that many of the Facebook messages originated from Mexico.”

In late June of this year, OBN began monitoring data for the Facebook wire intercept, according to court documents.

The undercover OBN agent stated in the court documents, “I have been in extensive communications with the organization understanding the verbiage they use to attempt to disguise the illegal activities. The organization referred to the fentanyl as “tacos.” This never changed throughout the investigation.”

OBN agents began monitoring GPS trackers on the trafficking organization’s courier vehicles and capturing visual and electronic surveillance in person.

This resulted in traffic stops where fentanyl was found and seized and the individuals were identified released or taken into custody.

The identities of the customers arrested lined up with the evidence collected through the Facebook messages.

“We’ve identified a total of 23 people at this point and have been serving arrest warrants for them this week, including yesterday and today,” said Woodward, “Right now, we’ve got 16 in custody. We still have about several outstanding that we believe we’re going to be able to get into custody pretty soon that are looking at a variety of charges, including the trafficking of fentanyl.”

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