A Riverside man has been arrested on suspicion of selling thousands of fentanyl-laced pills to undercover agents who were investigating the overdose death of a sailor two years ago, according to a complaint unsealed in San Diego federal court last week.
Marcell Travon Robinson III is charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs. He was arrested Thursday after a long undercover operation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The investigation began with the Aug. 8, 2017, death of a sailor in San Diego County. While toxicology tests found fentanyl, mitragynine, alprazolam, nordiazepam and ecstasy in his system, the medical examiner concluded that the level of fentanyl alone was enough to have killed him, according to the complaint. The name of the sailor, a petty officer second class, was not released.
At the scene of the overdose, investigators seized six blue pills that tests showed contained fentanyl.
The NCIS probe led to a man identified by authorities only as “SM” who was suspected of selling the pills, known as “blues,” to the sailor, the complaint states. A search of SM’s home in January uncovered 337 similar pills.
Text message and cellphone records led investigators to Robinson, who is believed to have been SM’s source for the pills, according to the complaint. The case took a new turn in July, when a confidential source told authorities that he had bought “blues” 25 to 30 times from a Riverside man who was SM’s source.
An NCIS undercover agent made contact with Robinson and, after several text messages coordinating the sale of pills, the two met in San Diego.
After selling the agent 10 pills for $300, Robinson warned the undercover agent, “I don’t know how strong your tolerance is so start with half,” according to the complaint.
Other similar transactions followed, with Robinson using a variety of unusual containers to transfer the drugs.
In August, the agent introduced Robinson to a second undercover operative who posed as a drug trafficker looking for a new blues supplier for San Diego.
These sales were on a larger scale: 100 pills concealed in a false-bottom WD-40 can for $2,000; another 69 pills wrapped in black plastic; 250 blues hidden in a vegetable can for $4,750.
During their interactions, Robinson divulged that he used to be a nurse and bought the pills on the dark web with help from another person, who had them shipped to Robinson’s house, the complaint states.
At one handoff, at a Riverside Starbucks parking lot, Robinson offered to obtain firearms for the undercover agent. The agent expressed interest and asked to buy a gun, too.
Four days later, Robinson sold the agent a .45-caliber pistol for $800 and 120 pills for $2,200, the complaint says.
A search of a law enforcement database showed the gun had been stolen in Riverside County in 2014.
Many more undercover transactions followed, with the amount of pills continuing to grow and Robinson coaching the agent on how to launder the money and avoid suspicion from banks, the complaint states.
“I pretty much never run out,” Robinson was recorded telling the agent during one sale. “These dudes are pretty consistent. As long as I make a phone call, it’s pretty much there. Unless something hits the fan, And something did hit the fan last week … but these dudes have operations so there’s already another guy in place.”
The investigation also identified others suspected of selling the pills or transporting them over the border from Mexico, authorities said.
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.