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Former UPS worker sentenced in scheme to ship more than 100 pounds of fentanyl, other drugs

Packages await delivery in the cab of a UPS truck.
Packages await delivery inside a UPS truck in this 2018 file photo.
(Associated Press)

A former UPS worker was sentenced to nearly six years in prison Wednesday for a scheme that involved shipping parcels of fentanyl and other drugs from Chula Vista, Calif., across the U.S., according to court records.

Ernesto Renteria, 45, had worked for UPS for 14 years and was on medical leave with herniated discs when he committed the crime, according to a sentencing memorandum by his defense attorney, Jan Ronis, and family letters submitted to the court.

In May, agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration were conducting surveillance on a suspected drug courier when they followed her to a home in the Eastlake neighborhood of Chula Vista, according to a complaint filed in San Diego federal court.

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Agents watched as the woman delivered a cardboard box and a backpack to Renteria, the complaint states. Renteria later drove to his own home nearby and loaded more boxes into his pickup. Agents then followed him as he drove to a driverless UPS truck parked in the area. He loaded six boxes into the truck.

Agents arrested Renteria as he began to drive away in his own pickup. An on-duty UPS driver climbed into the delivery truck and also was stopped.

According to his plea agreement, a search of the boxes turned up 35 pounds of fentanyl, 4 pounds of cocaine and 8 pounds of fentanyl analogue — a drug that closely resembles fentanyl but with a slightly altered chemical structure.

Agents then searched Renteria’s house and found in his garage more drugs: 73 pounds of fentanyl, 11 pounds of cocaine and 4 pounds of methamphetamine, along with packing supplies and GPS tracking devices, the plea states.

Renteria pleaded guilty in August to four counts of possession of drugs with intent to distribute.

In arguing for a lower sentence, Ronis said the health issues and the COVID-19 pandemic put Renteria under financial strain and contributed to “the terrible decision he made.”

The UPS driver, whose name was not released, was not arrested, according to the complaint.

“The quantity of fentanyl DEA agents seized from Ernesto Renteria is disturbing,” DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Shelly S. Howe said in a statement.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, is dominating the illicit opioid market and largely responsible for an increase in overdose deaths nationwide. It is preferred over heroin by drug cartels because it is cheap to manufacture and effective in very small doses.

The chemical structure of synthetic opioids is frequently redesigned to skirt being classified by illegal by various countries or to heighten its potency. Fentanyl analogues have been temporarily classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA since 2018, but that classification is set to expire in February, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The state’s four U.S. attorneys have called on Congress for a permanent classification to keep up with the quickly evolving nature of designer drugs.


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