In the Gwinnett County Superior Court, Judge Kathryn Schrader sentenced 32-year-old Christopher Ramone West to 44 years in prison for pressing and distributing furanyl fentanyl pills. According to court documents, West had produced massive quantities of “oxycodone” pills that contained the fentanyl analogue furanyl fentanyl or the less potent opioid U-47700. The DEA found evidence that West sold the pills on the darknet, one agent told the court in his testimony. West’s financial records allegedly led back to Bitcoin transactions.
The Department of Homeland Security identified West in November 2016. They notified the Gwinnett Metro Task Force and made the task force aware of West’s activities. The Department of Homeland Security discovered that a Canadian company had been shipping massive amounts of pill binders and related material to a man in Gwinnett County, Georgia. They suspected that West had been using the materials—that served no purpose outside of pill production—to produce likely illegal pills. Given the evidence that virtually every clandestine laboratory that pumped out similar quantities of pills ended up producing counterfeit Xanax or oxycodone pills, Homeland Security likely suspected the obvious.
The Gwinnett Metro Task Force placed West under surveillance in early December 2016. Less than two months later, Gwinnett Metro Task Force agents raided West’s home in Norcross, Georgia. Likely to the surprise of the agents, the house contained very little useful evidence. During the raid, investigators “discovered evidence of the defendant being involved in the manufacture of pills but did not discover any pills or controlled substances at his apartment.” During a deeper search, investigators noticed keys to a U-Haul self storage facility on West’s keyring. They arrested West on January 27, 2017.
Agents traveled to a storage facility in Norcross and learned that West had rented a unit at the facility. Upon searching the unit, “agents discovered one large industrial pill press and two smaller pill presses capable of producing over 25,000 pills per hour.” They also found seven kilograms of a white powder later identified as furanyl fentanyl and a box containing $265,000. Agents wisely checked the mailbox at the man’s Norcross home and found packages that contained a total of three kilograms of U-47700. At the time, in Georgia, both furanyl fentanyl and U-47700 fell under the federal analogue law, but has no scheduling of their own. In less vague terms, no law explicitly forbid the possession of either drug.
DEA Special Agent J. Poole testified that evidence likely connected West to darknet drug trafficking. Evidence also indicated that West had used Bitcoin to either pay for the furanyl fentanyl powder or receive payment for the fake oxycodone pills. The evidence—based on the charges and conviction—clearly proved insufficient for distribution charges.
The conviction matched the lack of scheduling at the time of West’s pill production. Although West entered a plea of not guilty, Judge Kathryn Schrader found West guilty of numerous counts of assorted drug trafficking charges during a bench trial in February. She convicted West of two counts of manufacturing and of possession with intent to distribute a non-controlled substance, one count of the use of a facility in commission of a felony, and six counts of possession of tools in commission of a crime. She sentenced him to 40 years in prison. He will likely serve only 29 years in prison (the sentence for the production of the furanyl fentanyl pills).