RESUME RELEASE – May 23, 2023
SAN DIEGO – Law enforcement officials announced today that an unprecedented two-month surge in fentanyl along the Southwest border resulted in the seizure of approximately 4,721 pounds of fentanyl, 1,700 pounds of fentanyl precursors and more than 200 arrests of suspected smugglers, traffickers and dealers in South and Central counties. California.
The surge, dubbed Operation Blue Lotus, was launched by the Department of Homeland Security along the southwest border, including southern and central California and Arizona, from March 13 to May 10, 2023.
In San Diego County alone, the two-month surge led to a 300 percent year-over-year increase in fentanyl seizures, from 732 pounds in 2022 to 2,931 pounds in 2023, according to DHS. During the U.S. DHS surge, the Southern District of California saw a 30 percent increase in the number of defendants prosecuted for fentanyl-related crimes compared to the same period in 2022. These prosecutions follow a record fiscal year 2022, when we prosecuted 317 defendants for fentanyl-related crimes. (an increase of more than 1,800 percent over FY 2017).
The operation involved the deployment of an additional 85 Interior Department special agents and 35 Customs and Border Protection officers; much more targeted border checks; the use of advanced technologies in places along the border; and intensifying intelligence-gathering efforts to build criminal cases against transnational criminal organizations and distribution networks in the United States.
“We are the epicenter of fentanyl trafficking into the United States, and we know the enormous responsibility we have to address this crisis,” said US Attorney Randy Grossman. “We answer this call to action with hard work, goals and a plan. Every milligram of fentanyl we seize and every smuggler, dealer and trafficker we bring to justice means fewer lethal doses on the streets of San Diego and beyond.”
“As demonstrated by the results of Operation Blue Lotus, a Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), our partners at DHS, law enforcement agencies and departments in Southern California are deploying all federal and local law enforcement resources to combat this fentanyl crisis,” said Chad Plantz, Special Agent in Charge , in charge of HSI San Diego. “Not only do we seek to seize the deadly drugs of the Mexican cartel, but we also seek to remove their members and associates from our communities and prevent them from continuing their deadly criminal activities.”
“Operation Blue Lotus represents exceptional innovation and collaboration between law enforcement and prosecutors that can effectively impact the spread of deadly fentanyl and save lives,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. “I want to acknowledge the leadership of the US Attorney and other key partners in moving this operation forward. This operation produced an unusual result that directly affects public safety. The prosecutions resulting from this operation exemplify our continued commitment to bringing drug dealers and traffickers to justice.”
“This operation was a really great demonstration of our partnership approach here in San Diego in working together to combat the importation of fentanyl,” said Sidney C. Akey, director of field operations for the Customs and Border Protection San Diego Field Office. “CBP, along with our partner agencies, is committed to and will continue to protect our communities from this devastating impact.”
“In just a few months, Operation Blue Lotus has been successful in removing millions of potentially lethal doses of fentanyl from the streets,” said DEA Special Agent Shelley Howe. “But our work is not finished. Fentanyl and methamphetamine continue to find their way onto the streets of San Diego, fueling addiction and increasing deaths. Together with our federal, state and local partners, we will continue to bring to justice those who traffic drugs and threaten the safety of our community.”
“I am extremely proud of the work our investigators have done to stop the cross-border criminal organizations that continue to traffic deadly drugs in our communities and across the country. The long hours and cooperation between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement organizations is a testament to the dedication and commitment of all of us to keep our communities safe,” said San Diego County Sheriff Kelly Martinez.
Some examples of the results of Operation Blue Lotus include:
- seized fentanyl, which also tested positive for xylazine. The White House has called the combination of xylazine and fentanyl a new threat to the United States based on xylazine’s growing role in overdose deaths.
- Officials seized quantities of fentanyl precursors that could have been used to make more than 200 million fentanyl pills.
- A border inspection of the vehicle revealed 116 bags containing approximately 163 pounds of fentanyl hidden in the vehicle’s rear bumper, quarter panels, doors, seats, center console, gas tank and firewall. The driver was detained and charged.
In addition to the surge associated with Operation Blue Lotus, law enforcement officials here have attacked the fentanyl crisis through aggressive prosecutions at every level of the supply chain, from Sinaloa cartel leadership to cross-border human trafficking organizations to money launderers and street dealers. levels that sell drugs that lead to overdose deaths. These impressive cases are the result of close collaboration between the US Attorney’s Office and several multi-jurisdictional task forces focused on the fentanyl crisis, including the HSI-led Fentanyl Action Task Force (FAST), a joint federal, state and local task force a law enforcement task force targeting fentanyl distribution networks in the Southern District of California. The FAST mission complements the work of the DEA’s Overdose Response Team (formerly Team 10), which investigates fentanyl overdoses in the city of San Diego.