LAREDO, Texas (CN) – An Illinois man caught at a South Texas checkpoint with more than 11 kilograms of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid so strong that two milligrams can cause a fatal overdose, was sentenced Thursday to 14 years in federal prison.
Jeffrey Layne Parker, 58, of Belleville, Ill. pleaded guilty in August 2017 to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1 kilogram or more of heroin and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl.
“The fentanyl found in Parker’s car could have caused the deaths of up to 5.8 million people – more than the populations of Dallas, San Antonio and Houston combined,” Houston U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick’s office said in a statement.
To increase the potency of heroin, dealers mix in small amounts of fentanyl, which the Drug Enforcement Administration says is 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin, and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Police agencies across the United States are now carrying kits of Naloxone, a fast-acting medication administered with a nasal spray that blocks the effects of opioids and prevents fatal overdoses.
There have been numerous reports of officers suffering accidental overdoses after touching, or breathing in, small amounts of fentanyl, a white powder, while making arrests.
According to the case record, Parker pulled a black Chevy Impala into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint north of Laredo, Texas on March 7, 2017.
A drug-sniffing dog alerted to an odor coming from the car’s trunk in which Border Patrol agents found 13 packages of drugs wrapped in foil and cellophane.
Agents also found cellophane-wrapped bundles on the car’s front passenger seat and under the seat.
Parker initially told Border Patrol agents he did not know how the drugs got into his car, but after he was arrested, while law enforcement was driving him to the local county jail, he admitted the drugs were his.
“Due to his medical condition, the defendant was subsequently released from federal custody,” according to a statement supporting Parker’s plea deal, signed by a federal prosecutor and Parker’s public defender Arturo Villarreal.
Villarreal did not immediately respond Friday morning when asked about the nature of Parker’s medical condition that led to his release from custody.
Despite the apparent free pass from law enforcement, Parker continued to press his luck.
“Parker was arrested three months later on June 7, 2017. At that time, he approached the same checkpoint and agents found nine bundles containing 11.15 kilograms of heroin hidden behind the speakers in a Ford pickup truck he was driving,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
During an interview at the DEA office in Laredo, Parker told agents he was running drugs to pay off debts, according to court records.
Visiting from the Federal Circuit in Washington, U.S. Appellate Judge Kimberly Moore sentenced Parker to 168 months in federal prison Thursday and five years of supervised release after he serves his time.