Federal agents made the first seizure of a synthetic heroin lab in San Diego County on Tuesday, when they raided a Fallbrook bungalow and arrested three men in connection with manufacturing the drug, the U.S. attorney's office announced Thursday.
Ricardo Valdez, 38, Hector Valdez, 37, and Robert Giebink, 32, were arrested Tuesday and charged with the possession and manufacture of fentanyl, a synthetic form of heroin, U.S. Atty. William Braniff said Thursday.
The three, who pleaded not guilty at arraignments Thursday, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted, Braniff said.
Fentanyl, which is legally used for its analgesic properties, is 60 times as potent as morphine, said a spokesman for the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. A pure pound of the drug could be worth as much as $100 million on the street, said Bobby Sheppard, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The drug is relatively obscure and takes a chemist to manufacture because of its sophisticated formula, he said.
Fentanyl can be inhaled or smoked rather than injected and might be more appealing to addicts who see needles as a health risk, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Laura J. Birkmeyer. She stressed, however, that such statistics are difficult to chart because of the varieties of heroin available.
The Fallbrook location is the ninth fentanyl lab to be discovered by authorities in the United States since 1973, said Braniff. Federal agents from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task force arrested Giebink at the mountainside bungalow where they found the lab equipment and chemicals used to produce the drug, said Braniff.
Ricardo and Hector Valdez, who are brothers, were arrested at other San Diego locations, he said.
The arrests came after Ricardo Valdez handed a pound of the drug to an undercover agent Tuesday, Braniff said.
The three had been under investigation since October, when Ricardo Valdez allegedly offered to manufacture the drug for an undercover officer from the agency, Braniff said.
The federal drug enforcement task force is made up of officers from several government agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the San Diego Police Department.