Colorado man sold deadly fentanyl disguised as oxycodone

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Tablets believed to be laced with fentanyl are displayed at the Drug Enforcement Administration Northeast Regional Laboratory on October 8, 2019 in New York. – According to US government data, about 32,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2018. That accounts for 46 percent of all fatal overdoses. Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for a range of conditions, has been central to the American opioid crisis which began in the late 1990s. (Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)

DENVER (KDVR) — A Colorado man will face federal prison time for distributing thousands of counterfeit oxycodone pills that contained fentanyl.

Victor Manual Ortega-Ochoa, 47, was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison and two years of supervised release. He pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

“The tens of thousands of counterfeit oxycodone pills currently streaming into our state often contain fentanyl,” Matt Kirsch, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, said in a press release. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute people distributing these pills, which often cause fatal overdoses.”

Posters comparing lethal amounts of heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil, are on display during a news conference about the dangers of fentanyl, at DEA Headquarters in Arlington Va., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Oxycodone and fentanyl are both opioids, but fentanyl is strong — 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the DEA. Fentanyl is often mixed with drugs sold as powders and nasal sprays to make them more potent, and they’re increasingly being pressed into pills that look like legitimate prescription pills.

The plea agreement in the case offers details on one Colorado counterfeit pill operation.

Investigation starts on the Western Slope

The counterfeit pills looked like 30 mg oxycodone tablets, with a light blue-green color and imprinted with an “M” on one side — for manufacturer Mallinckrodt, Inc. — and a “30” on the other side. Investigators tested the pills and found they contained a mixture of fentanyl and acetaminophen.

Ortega-Ochoa distributed the pills from at least February 2019 to June 10, 2020, when he was arrested.

The investigation started around January 2018, when the Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating counterfeit pill distribution on the Western Slope. Through a confidential source, the DEA started buying counterfeit pills from a source in Mexico, who would soon connect them to a source in Denver — later identified as Ortega-Ochoa.

Ortega-Ochoa conspired with others to distribute the counterfeit pills and personally distributed 3,000 of them during undercover DEA buys. During those buys, he also quoted prices for pounds of methamphetamine and a kilogram of cocaine.

When Ortega-Ochoa was arrested on June 10, 2020, investigators found guns in his home. Ortega-Ochoa was living in the U.S. illegally after deportation and thus was prohibited from having guns.

Read the full plea agreement here.

U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello sentenced him on Nov. 2.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Chaffin and investigated by the DEA and IRS Criminal Investigation.

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