3 sentenced after running drug ring distributing thousands of fentanyl pills in Whatcom

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Three men were sentenced to prison recently in U.S. District Court in Seattle after they were convicted of multiple federal felonies for trafficking fentanyl disguised as thousands of oxycodone pills in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties between 2015 and 2018.

The leader of the drug ring, Bradley Woolard, 42 of Arlington, was convicted in August on 28 counts involving conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, illegal firearm possession and possession of drugs with the intent to distribute, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release Tuesday, Nov. 30.

He was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison, according to the release. Wollard was also ordered to pay a $250,000 fine and will have five years supervised release following his prison term.

“Mr. Woolard ignored the destruction his drug trafficking caused in our community, instead being driven by the enormous profits he could generate off the addiction and misery of others,” U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in the release. “Even after his arrest he tried to impose his will, threatening violence against others in the case, and acting as if he is above the law.”

Co-defendants Anthony Palayo, 34 of Marysville, and Jerome Isham, 40 of Everett, were each sentenced to 10 years in prison last week, after they were convicted in August of conspiracies related to drug distribution and illegal gun possession, the release stated, as the jury deliberated for two days following the 10-day trial.

“This complex investigation, which involved aspects of the mysterious dark web, is an example of the innovation and cooperative law enforcement effort necessary to effectively reduce violent crime and overdoses in our cities,” Special Agent-in-Charge DEA Seattle Field Division Frank A. Tarentino III said in the release. “This new digital age of trafficking fake pills, potentially laced with fentanyl, signals a renewed sense of urgency and analytical approach to bring to bear all the resources of government and community to tackle the scourge of drug trafficking and gun violence.”

According to testimony during the trial, the case began in 2018 when DEA officers and the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force got multiple search warrants for Woolard’s home, according to the release. On July 28, 2018, they found more than 12,000 fentanyl pills designed to look like 30 mg oxycodone prescription narcotics.

The pills, which were blue in color and had an “M” printed on one side and “30” on the other to make them look like prescription pills, tested positive for a furanyl fentanyl, a type of fentanyl, according to the release.

Other searches of Woolard’s five-acre compound uncovered $1 million in cash and gold, including cash hidden behind drywall, in ceilings and outbuildings and in a hole beneath the dishwasher, according to the release.

Investigators also found 29 firearms, ranging from handguns to rifles, and several thousand rounds of ammunition in a hidden room, the release states.

In 2015 and 2016, Woolard began buying fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl powder from China after researching how to do so on the dark web, according to the release. He also bought a pill press and mixing materials from online stores such as Amazon and eBay and taught himself how to make homemade pills.

Woolard was capable of producing more than 2.5 million fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl pills and regularly provided thousands of pills to others for distribution, according to the release.

In 2017, Woolard turned pill-producing duties over to Pelayo, who continued manufacturing them at the compound in rural Snohomish County, according to the release, while Woolard continued to order fentanyl from China and helped Pelayo make and distribute the pills.

Woolard continued to distribute pills while seeking treatment for his own drug addition at spa-like resorts in Costa Rica and Mexico that cost him between $30,000 and $50,000 per month, which he used sales from the drugs to pay for, according to the release.

Isham was one of the drug ring’s top distributors, the release states, as he re-distributed more than 100,000 illegal fentanyl pills between July 2017 and June 2018. He also recruited people to receive shipments of powdered fentanyl from China.

Woolard and Pelayo paid for the drugs by recruiting co-conspirators to pay for the shipments with Bitcoin.

The Whatcom County Drug and Gang Task Force contributed to the investigation, which resulted in a total of 11 people being charged. The other eight already have pleaded guilty, according to the release, and two of them have been sentenced.

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