Two federal prosecutors appointed to target opioid crisis in San Diego, Imperial counties

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego has named two prosecutors who will use criminal and civil law to help coordinate the fight against the opioid epidemic.

The appointments follow U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ directive for each U.S. attorney to assign an opioid coordinator role. In San Diego, Interim U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman assigned two.

“This multifaceted approach to enforcing our drug laws will save lives by keeping drugs off our streets and help prevent Americans from becoming addicted to prescription drugs,” Braverman said in a statement Thursday.

The prosecutors will be coordinating cases with law enforcement and other local, state and federal authorities in San Diego and Imperial counties. The office has already been working on the issue cooperatively as part of the Fentanyl Working Group since April.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Frakes — the third-highest ranking prosecutor in the office — will target criminal networks importing heroin and fentanyl into the U.S. through the border or the mail systems, as well as vendors who sell through the dark web. Cases will also target those who possess chemicals needed to manufacture fentanyl or those whose distribution of opioids has caused the death of another.

She was previously supervisor of the office’s Criminal Enterprises section, overseeing cases against cross-border criminal groups.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dylan Aste will coordinate civil prosecutions that target illegal prescribing and diversion of opioids. Aste, who specializes in trying cases of fraud against the United States, has already handled similar prosecutions.

Medical Center Pharmacy paid a $750,000 settlement in a case that involved allegations of illegally diverting oxycodone and hydrocodone and failing to maintain proper records and control its inventory. Sixth Avenue Pharmacy was accused of similar crimes and settled the case for $147,500.

The U.S.-Mexico border in California has become one of the main smuggling points for fentanyl. At ports of entry in the state, fentanyl seizures increased over the past year by 266 percent — from 260 kilograms in fiscal year 2016 to 952 kilograms the next year.

In San Diego, there were 239 deaths blamed on opioids in 2016, according to the California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard.

kristina.davis@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @kristinadavis

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