A 29-year-old Van Nuys man who pleaded guilty to selling fentanyl to a 22-year-old man who overdosed and died was sentenced Monday to 15 years in federal prison.
James Dorion Rodriguez pleaded guilty in December to a count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death.
Investigators suspect Rodriguez meant to sell cocaine to his victim in March 2018, but accidentally gave him fentanyl, according to federal prosecutors. The man was found dead hours later in his car in a Sherman Oaks parking lot near the drug transaction, prosecutors said.
Investigators believe he died within 20 minutes of ingesting the drug. Rodriguez continued to sell fentanyl and other opioids after his victim died, prosecutors said.
Rodriguez apologized in a letter to U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney.
“I’d like to start off by saying sorry to the family of Romelo Rice,” Rodriguez wrote in the letter. “Romelo was one of my best friends.
“I was also friends with his sister… Romelo and I have known each other since high school. We used to go thrift store shopping together. And we used to dance together in a team.”
Rodriguez said he had “lost a dear friend to me due to my addiction and addictive ways.”
Rodriguez added, “I regret my lifestyle of chasing drugs to the next high… Now being sober for two years I see how drugs took over my life. My process was so clouded. I didn’t care for anything in life, not even myself. Addiction is a demon I wish nobody has to encounter.”
Rodriguez said his arrest likely “saved my life. It was only a matter of time that my drug use, homeless lifestyle and wrong path would have caused me to die myself; probably of an overdose.”
Rodriguez said he planned to get his high school degree and “study for drug counseling certification… I would like to work with kids to help them avoid the problems I have had.”
Rodriguez added, “I feel that its right for me to be punished for what I did. I promise to make something good out of my God-given life.”
Rodriguez’s cousin, DeQuan Hampton, who was a receiver for USC and the XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats, told Carney in a letter that he grew up with the defendant, who was “the big cousin that I followed and looked up to.”
“Everytime we would hang out it has always been great laughs and a lot of fun,” Hampton said. “Dorion has a huge personality that’s vibrant and that can bring you out of your shell if you’re a shy person. I can never really recall any dull moments.
“He’s very goofy and likes to make other people laugh. He has always been a great host to guest and family members, and he loves to dance… Your honor, please give him a second chance. I believe the man that he truly is, great character, well poised, and a gentleman doesn’t deserve hard time.”
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