A Van Nuys man is expected to face a federal judge Thursday on charges that he sold the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl to a 23-year-old victim, who then suffered a fatal overdose and crashed his car in a restaurant parking lot on Ventura Boulevard.
James Dorion Rodriguez, 27, was arrested Wednesday at a motel in Mission Hills in connection with the first indictment brought under a new state-federal task force created to investigate fatal opioid overdoses, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The indictment, returned by a Los Angeles federal grand jury on Sept. 28 and unsealed Thursday, charges Rodriguez with distributing the lethal dose of fentanyl.
Rodriguez had intended to sell cocaine to Romelo Rice, but accidentally gave him fentanyl instead, according to an affidavit filed in the case. The fatal overdose was the result of the North Hollywood man snorting, not injecting, the white powder.
Federal prosecutors contend that Rodriguez sold the fentanyl only one month after he was convicted on felony cocaine trafficking charges in Los Angeles Superior Court. When he was arrested on that state case in April 2017, Rodriguez was in possession of cocaine, various pharmaceutical narcotics and marijuana, prosecutors said.
Court papers describe an investigation begun after the overdose victim was found dead in his car in Sherman Oaks on March 18. Investigators used surveillance video, phone records and witness statements to determine that Rodriguez allegedly supplied the narcotics to the victim only hours before he died, documents show.
If convicted of the charge of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, Rodriguez would face a sentence between 20 years and life in federal prison, prosecutors noted.
The arrest of Rodriguez signals the first case brought under the new law enforcement partnership created to investigate opioid overdose deaths and prosecute the responsible dealers.
“With this state and federal partnership, we are going after drug dealers who leave a trail of death and misery in their wake,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. “Fentanyl is a highly dangerous synthetic drug that has caused countless overdose deaths in our community, and we will use every tool at our disposal to send the dealers to federal prison.”