A Perris man and woman caught holding a sizable quantity of manufactured drugs with a potency far greater than most opioids pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony charges.
Andres Jesus Morales, 31, and Alyssa Christine Ponce, 28, each admitted possession of controlled substances for sale, child endangerment and a sentence-enhancing allegation of being in possession of more than four kilograms of an illicit drug. In exchange for their admissions, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office indicated that it intends to drop six related felony counts filed against both defendants.
The plea agreement was announced during a status hearing Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Sean Crandell, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for July 28 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
The potential terms of imprisonment were not specified in court records.
Each defendant is being held without bail in county lockups.
The pair were arrested last September following an extensive Riverside Police Department investigation that led to the alleged discovery of 21 kilograms of carfentanil.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Riverside police had, since the start of 2021, been investigating a drug trafficking operation involving sales and distribution of fentanyl, cocaine and other illegal drugs.
Detectives in August served a search warrant at a property on Glimmer Way in Perris, where they seized the cache of carfentanil, along with four kilos of coke and one kilo of heroin, prosecutors said.
No one was arrested at the time, but the investigation soon pointed to the defendants as the alleged distributors, according to the DA’s Office.
The carfentanil find was a shock, the agency said, because it is not intended for human consumption and carries grave risks if consumed on even micro levels.
“It is more potent and potentially much more deadly than fentanyl,” prosecutors said in a statement in September. “Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It only takes about two milligrams of fentanyl to be fatal.
“Carfentanil is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. A lethal dose of carfentanil in humans would be at the nanogram level — much smaller than the two milligrams of fentanyl that can kill. If mixed in with other drugs, the 21 kilos of carfentanil seized could have been enough to potentially kill more than 50 million people.”
Prosecutors did not disclose where the substances may have been procured. However, it has been well established by public safety agencies that fentanyl is manufactured in overseas labs, many in China, and illegally channeled across the border with Mexico into the United States.
Sheriff Chad Bianco said there were about 500 fentanyl-induced deaths countywide last year, which represents a 250-fold increase from 2016, when only two such fatalities were documented.
According to statistics published in May by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were roughly 108,000 fatal drug overdoses in 2021, and fentanyl poisoning accounted for over 80,000 of them.