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Suspect Charged in Fentanyl Overdoses of Santa Monica Girls

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By Jorge Casuso

May 9, 2023 -- A Los Angeles man has been charged with selling counterfeit pills containing fentanyl that led to the life-threatening overdoses of three 15-year-old girls in Santa Monica last May.

Adrian Benevides-Schorgi, 22, of LA's Jefferson Park neighborhood, is among 12 defendants charged in new federal cases targeting fentanyl dealers announced by federal drug enforcement officials Tuesday.

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In all but the Santa Monica case, the fentanyl overdoses "directly resulted in the death of at least one victim," according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials.

The three girls, who were local School District students, were found by Santa Monica Police and Firefighters on May 25 in an apartment on the 2000 block of 20th Street overdosed on fentanyl.

The girls -- who were "unconscious and having difficulty breathing" -- were treated by paramedics and rushed to the hospital, said Lt. Erika Aklufi, the Police Department spokesperson.

"All three girls were hospitalized with critical injuries consistent with an overdose," Aklufi said.

According to School District officials, the teens had snorted crushed-up blue circular tablets they believed to be ecstasy they had ordered from an online dealer ("School District Officials Issue Drug Warning," June 3, 2022).

DEA officials attribute the alarming rise in fentanyl deaths to the "deceptive marketing tactics" of the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels that sell the drugs online.

“The two main drivers that are causing fentanyl related deaths in our community and throughout the nation are accessibility and deception,” said Bill Bodner, the DEA's top investigator in LA.

“Social media platforms have made fentanyl widely available to anyone with a smartphone and made every neighborhood an open-air drug market," Bodner said.

The two Mexican cartels, he said, "have created a vast pool of victims who unknowingly ingested fentanyl and did not make a choice to be harmed or die."

The 12 cases announced Tuesday resulted from efforts by the DEA-led Overdose Justice Task Force in collaboration with local law enforcement agencies, including the Santa Monica Police Department.

Launched in 2018, the project is "designed to investigate fatal fentanyl poisonings and identify the individuals who provided the fentanyl that directly caused the deaths," DEA officials said.

The effort has led to cases filed by the U.S Attorney’s Office against 64 defendants, officials said.

The suspect in the Santa Monica case, Benevides-Schorgi, is in custody after he was arrested and charged on April 27 "with providing fentanyl and causing great bodily injury."

He was ordered held without bond at a hearing the following day, DEA officials said. His trial is set for June 20 in Federal Court, Central District of California.

"These cases that focus on fentanyl distribution resulting in death are the result of an unprecedented level of cooperation between federal agents and local authorities throughout our district,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada.

“Those who traffic in fentanyl should be on notice that our office will hold you accountable and the consequences will be severe," Estrada said.

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