On October 31, a Highland Heights darknet fentanyl dealer was sentenced to 12 years in a federal prison by U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr.
Alec Steinberger, 22, pleaded guilty during a detention hearing held on August 1, to three federal charges of drug trafficking and seven counts of using a phone to conduct a drug trafficking offense. One of the charges he pleaded guilty to was selling fentanyl to 19-year-old Laith Hudson who overdosed and died in February 2016.
Federal prosecutors told the court that Steinberger bought the fentanyl from the darknet and had it shipped to Northwest Ohio from China. A series of text messages the prosecution put in his indictment showed that Steinberger persistently texted Hudson to try the new, powerful drug that had just arrived in the mail and that Hudson had finally acquiesced. According to the messages Steinberger would dilute the fentanyl to sell on the street.
When issuing the sentence Judge Oliver noted that Steinberger himself was an addict. He accepted the agreement reached by the prosecution and Steinberger’s attorneys and sentenced him to 12 years. He told Steinberger that “the public does not need some protection from you right now’’ and that he does not believe Steinberger will offend again.
Oliver also ordered Steinberger to pay $10,548 in restitution to Hudson’s family which will cover the 19-year-old’s burial costs. He also recommended Steinberger participate in the most intensive drug-treatment program offered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
After the sentencing Steinberger said he would probably not have stopped had the federal agents not arrested him. He said he wants to finish college. His attorney Tom Shaugnessy said Steinberger has done some work with universities and hospitals to talk about his problem and deter others.
According to the prosecution the path from Hudson’s death to Steinberger’s plea took nearly a year and a half. Since after learning of Hudson’s death Steinberger panicked, flushed all but a small amount of fentanyl he had ordered from a supplier in China down the toilet and changed his phone number. He hoped the police wouldn’t link him to the death of the 19-year-old.When Cleveland police questioned him that day he lied and said that Hudson got the drugs from someone else. Eventually authorities traced the case back to him and he was later arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on April 12, where he had been in a rehabilitation facility addressing his own opioid addiction for six months.
The news release on the case has shown that Steinberger got furanyl-fentanyl and Xanax in the mailbox on Jan.30, 2016. He texted an associate on Feb. 23, 2016 to say he had just got a pack and then told others that he had drugs on sale among those who heard from Steinberger was Hudson.
The release further shows that on Feb.25, 2016, Steinberger texted Hudson; “find customers tell them you are the plug and I’ll get it you and then sell it and cut u in a tiny bit.’’
The Medical Examiner’s records listed Hudson’s cause of death as acute intoxication by furanyl-fentanyl and despropionyl fentanyl.
Steinberger’s sentence would have been of more than 12 years since his charges involved a death which carries a mandatory prison sentence of at least 20 years. The prosecution and his attorneys however agreed to seek a 12-year prison sentence which the judge agreed to.
Federal prosecutors have ramped up their efforts to charge those accused of selling heroin and fentanyl to those who later die of fatal overdoses. They have pushed for stiff penalties, threatening defendants with a minimum of 20 years in federal prison should they be found guilty at trial.
Their efforts come as fatal opioid overdoses hit an all-time high in Cuyahoga County. According to Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s report heroin and fentanyl resulted to 666 drug overdose deaths in 2016. Officials are predicting another spike to approximately 775 deaths in 2017.According to drug enforcement agency fentanyl is shipped into the US from China after dealers have ordered through the dark web.
Steinberger was in a list of suspected drug dealers that federal prosecutors in Northern Ohio have charged with selling fatal doses of opioids. The authorities are hoping the tactic will be effective in combating the tidal wave of opioid deaths.