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May 23, 2023San Diego, CA, United StatesNarcotics

HSI San Diego, partner law enforcement agencies announce results of fentanyl surge

Massive increase in seizures and arrests

SAN DIEGO — Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and leaders from federal, local and state law enforcement agencies announced an unprecedented two-month fentanyl enforcement surge along the Southwest Border. Authorities seized 4,721 pounds of fentanyl and 1,700 pounds of fentanyl precursors and arrested more than 200 alleged smugglers, traffickers and dealers with the Southern and Central Districts of California.

“As demonstrated by the results under Operation Blue Lotus, HSI, our DHS partners, law enforcement agencies, and departments throughout Southern California are bringing the full weight of combined federal and local law enforcement resources to combat this fentanyl crisis,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “We are not only seeking to seize the Mexican cartel’s deadly drugs, but to remove their members and their associates from our communities and deny their opportunities to continue their deadly criminal enterprises.”

The surge, labeled Operation Blue Lotus, was launched by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) along the Southwest Border, including the Southern and Central districts of California and the District of Arizona, from March 13 to May 10, 2023.

“We are an epicenter for fentanyl trafficking into the United States, and we know the immense responsibility that we bear to address this crisis,” said U.S Attorney Randy Grossman. “We are answering that call to action with hard work, a purpose and a plan. Every milligram of fentanyl that we seize, and every smuggler, trafficker and dealer we bring to justice means less fatal doses on the streets of San Diego and beyond.”

According to DHS, in San Diego County alone, the two-month surge has resulted in a 300% increase in fentanyl seizures versus the same period last year — from 732 pounds in 2022 to 2,931 pounds in 2023. During the DHS surge, the U.S. attorney’s office saw a 30% increase in defendants prosecuted for fentanyl-related crimes in the Southern District of California compared to the same period in 2022. And these prosecutions follow a record-setting fiscal year 2022, when the U.S. attorney’s office prosecuted 317 defendants for fentanyl offenses — more than an 1,800% increase compared to fiscal year 2017.

The operation involved the deployment of an extra 85 HSI special agents and 35 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, many more targeted inspections and the use of advanced technology at the border, and intensified efforts to gather intelligence to build criminal cases against transnational criminal organizations and U.S.-based distribution networks.

“This operation was truly an outstanding demonstration of our partnership approach here in San Diego in working together to combat the importation of fentanyl,” said Director of Field Operations for CBP’s San Diego Field Office Sidney K. Aki. “CBP, alongside our partner agencies, are committed and will continue to protect our communities from this devastating drug.”

“Operation Blue Lotus represents the kind of exceptional law enforcement and prosecution innovation and collaboration that can effectively impact deadly fentanyl distribution and save lives,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. “I want to recognize the leadership of the U.S. attorney and other key partners in bringing this operation forward. This operation yielded an extraordinary outcome that is having a direct impact on public safety. The prosecutions that resulted from this operation are an example of our ongoing commitment to holding dealers and traffickers accountable.”

“I'm extremely proud of the work our investigators have done to interdict and interrupt the cross-border criminal organizations who continue to traffic deadly drugs into our communities and across the nation. The long hours and collaboration across federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement organizations is a testament to the dedication and commitment all of us feel to keep our communities safe,” said San Diego County Sheriff Kelly Martinez.

Operation Blue Lotus yielded some of the following results:

  • Law enforcement seized fentanyl that also tested positive for xylazine. The White House has designated the combination of xylazine and fentanyl as an emerging threat to the United States based on xylazine’s growing role in overdose deaths.
  • Officials seized a quantity of fentanyl precursor drugs that could produce more than 200 million fentanyl pills.
  • A vehicle inspection at the border resulted in the discovery of 116 packages containing about 163 pounds of fentanyl concealed in the vehicle’s rear bumper, quarter panels, doors, seats, center console, gas tank and firewall. The driver was arrested and charged.

In addition to the surge associated with Operation Blue Lotus, law enforcement officials in San Diego have attacked the fentanyl crises through aggressive prosecutions at every level of the supply chain, including the Sinaloa Cartel’s leadership, cross-border trafficking organizations, money launderers, and street level dealers who sell drugs that result in overdose deaths. These impactful cases are the result of a close collaboration among the U.S. attorney’s office and several multijurisdictional task forces focused on combating the fentanyl crisis, including the HSI-led Fentanyl Abatement and Suppression Team (FAST), a joint federal, state and local law enforcement task force that targets fentanyl distribution networks in the Southern District of California. FAST’s mission complements the work of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Overdose Response Team (formerly Team 10), which investigates fentanyl overdoses in the city of San Diego.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.