Third guilty plea expected in record-breaking fentanyl seizure in Lemon Grove

Two people have pleaded guilty and a third is expected to join them next week in connection with one of the largest seizures of fentanyl in the nation.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Ibarra pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court to possession of nearly 100 pounds of fentanyl with intent to distribute and aiding and abetting. He also pleaded guilty in an unrelated case of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

A co-defendant, Hector “Rapido” Fernando Garcia, pleaded guilty in mid-December to the same fentanyl charges, and a third co-defendant, Anna Baker, is expected to plead guilty in the case Tuesday, according to court documents.

Baker is the daughter of former Lemon Grove mayor Mary Sessom and unsuccessfully ran for a city council seat in 2014.

According to a search warrant affidavit, a long-term investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration revealed that the three discussed the transportation of an unknown drug. On Nov. 30, 2016, Ibarra received instructions to have Baker act as a courier and transport the drugs in three separate trips on consecutive days, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Garcia admitted in his plea agreement to helping count the drug packages to be delivered and to driving Baker to a rental car agency. Ibarra admitted in his plea to helping coordinate Baker’s receipt of the fentanyl so it could be distributed.

Agents conducted a traffic stop on Baker’s rental vehicle that day and discovered about 33 pounds of fentanyl inside. A search of her Lemon Grove home found an additional 64 pounds, according to prosecutors.

The 97 pounds total is the largest fentanyl seizure to be sent to a DEA lab in the nation, representing more than 14 million fatal doses, authorities said.

Fentanyl is extremely potent — up to 50 times stronger than heroin — and can be deadly in very small doses. It is often secretly mixed with other drugs such as counterfeit oxycodone tablets or methamphetamine. It is cheaper to manufacture than heroin and is being made in large quantities in Mexican cartel drug labs or being mailed from China to the U.S. in much smaller amounts.

Both Ibarra and Garcia face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison, according to their plea agreements.

kristina.davis@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @kristinadavis

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