NEWARK, NJ — The arrest this week of two California men for their alleged roles in a massive opioid distribution conspiracy is the result of an investigation that began this summer in Monmouth County.

Andrew Tablack, 26, of Beverly Hills, Calif., and Stephan Durham, 43, of Altadena, Calif., were charged on December 20 in connection with the trafficking of at least 500,000 fentanyl pills into New Jersey, according to Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick.

After launching an investigation in August into the distribution of fentanyl in Monmouth County, Drug Enforcement Administration agents executed a search warrant at an unidentified Monmouth County residence where a substantial quantity of controlled substances was seized, including some 300,000 cyclopropyl fentanyl pills that allegedly had been shipped by Tablack to New Jersey, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey.

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Tablack and his customers across the United States, including New Jersey, allegedly used the Dark Web — a part of the internet that is not accessible without specific software — to arrange shipments of quantities of cyclopropyl fentanyl to various places throughout the country. Tablack also used end-to-end encrypted communication applications to take orders for fentanyl from customers in New Jersey, the complaint stated.

The New Jersey customers allegedly provided Tablack with residential addresses in Monmouth County to which the packages of fentanyl could be mailed and arranged to intercept the packages before they were delivered. Customers paid Tablack with Bitcoin, a form of cryptocurrency that is increasingly common in the narcotics trade due to its relative anonymity, according to the complaint.

One such set of packages, mailed by Tablack in September 2017, was intercepted by law enforcement when it reached New Jersey. When the packages were opened, agents found that they contained 226,520 cyclopropyl fentanyl pills that weighed nearly 20 kilograms.

Tablack allegedly maintained a pill production facility in California. Shipping records revealed that Tablack had purchased at least nine pill press machines that were shipped to an industrial building in California. Records showed that a company ostensibly run by Durham was registered as the lessee of that industrial property, the complaint continued.

Tablack allegedly purchased quantities of fentanyl from a laboratory in China that shipped the packages disguised as food and beauty products. Law enforcement officers in California were able to intercept several additional packages sent from various parts of Asia bound for properties controlled by Tablack and Durham, including fentanyl and dies used to mark illicitly manufactured pills.

Both men have been charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of cyclopropyl fentanyl. Tablack is also charged with distribution of 400 grams or more of cyclopropyl fentanyl

The charges carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, a potential maximum penalty of life in prison, and a $10 million fine.

Although neither the U.S. Attorney’s Office nor the complaint specified the actual locations in Monmouth County where the drugs were seized, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office has reported the seizure of cyclopropyl fentanyl — a fatally-potent synthetic drug — three times this year.

During an investigation at the Crystal Inn, the Neptune Township Police Department seized 30 pills suspected to be Oxycodone, but were later found to contain cyclopropyl fentanyl. The prosecutor’s office also announced the seizure of similar drugs in separate police investigations in Long Branch and Holmdel.

Those deadly synthetic drugs were illicitly manufactured into pill form and imprinted with markings A/215, simulating legitimate Oxycodone tablets — adding to the dangers associated with buying these lethal drugs on the black market, according to Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni

“No one should be buying drugs in an illicit manner, but it’s important to know how to distinguish the deadly phony drugs from the real thing. These pills look and feel only slightly smaller and the coloring is off by just a shade. It bears repeating: If you are buying these pills on the street, you are playing a deadly version of Russian roulette,” Gramiccioni said at the time of the announcement.

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