By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
A Greybull man accused of being an overdose victim’s drug dealer was transferred Wednesday to a higher court for felony-level prosecution.
Anthony Micheal Fuentes’ various admissions of selling fentanyl, coupled with other evidence, gave Basin Circuit Court Judge Ed Luhm probable cause to send the case to Big Horn District Court, Luhm said during the Wednesday hearing.
Fuentes faces four felony charges of fentanyl delivery and intent to deliver, and a misdemeanor charge of drug possession.
The investigation began Jan. 2 when Cody-based Jonathan Shane Reece, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation special agent, was marveling with another agent that despite an influx of fentanyl in the area, they hadn’t seen any related deaths.
Moments later, the agents were called to the suspected fentanyl death of 25-year-old Jordan Jackson of Cody, Reece testified in court.
Jackson’s employer originally found him dead in his apartment after Jackson did not show up to work, Reece testified, adding that the employer immediately called law enforcement.
When Reece arrived on the scene, he saw Jackson deceased, lying on his bed in the one-room apartment with a phone lying on the bed with him and two burnt pieces of aluminum foil – one containing half of a blue pill – on his nightstand.
Jackson’s body since has been sent to Billings for an autopsy. Toxicology from that procedure are pending, but Reece said a preliminary urinalysis indicated presumptive fentanyl and cocaine presence.
But Is It Actually?
Citing 15 years of investigating drug trades, Reece said the half-pill resembled oxycodone, but due to recent area drug activity he believed it was laced with fentanyl.
Fuentes’ defense attorney Christina Cherni later disputed this conclusion, arguing that the court did not have probable cause to advance the case because the pill had not yet been confirmed as fentanyl in lab testing.
Reece said agents try to avoid field-testing suspected fentanyl because breaking it can release airborne toxins and inhaling the drug is dangerous.
“It’s not uncommon at the preliminary hearing (to not) have a lab test back,” said Luhm before making the probable-cause finding. “We’ve had a well-trained, articulate agent testify as to what he believes the substance was and the reasons therefore.”
The evidentiary threshold for finding probable cause is much lower than what’s required to convict someone of a crime.
Reece said agents got someone who knew Jackson to reveal the passcode to Jackson’s cellphone.
Reece opened the phone and couldn’t find “dirty” conversations except for a reference about six months earlier to a friend who had overdosed on “blues.”
But he did find the Signal app, an encrypted messaging service that Reece said drug dealers often use, though he clarified during the cross-examination that anyone can use Signal.
The one contact in Signal, “pop tart” was associated with Fuentes’ phone number, which a DCI-utilized database linked with other drug trafficking cases.
In The Dually
Reece started texting “pop tart” on the Signal app from Jackson’s phone to set up a drug buy, presumably to catch Fuentes in the act of delivering drugs.
The contact texted back, and the two arranged a dead drop, or exchange where a dealer leaves drugs in a location and expects the user to leave money, in Greybull.
Reece testified that dead drops often suggest the dealer and user are familiar with each other and have established trust between them.
But it was tricky for Reece to arrange the drop since he didn’t know where Fuentes was or where the pair usually met. Eventually, the contact suggested to Reece, who was posing as Jackson, to visit his dually truck, Reece testified.
The truck wasn’t at Fuentes’ place of work at the Family Dollar in Greybull, Reece said, so he and another agent checked for it at Fuentes’ home, which they discovered by communicating with the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office.
Prior to Jackson’s death, the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office suspected Fuentes had been dealing drugs, Reece said.
In the dually truck outside Fuentes’ home, agents found two pills of suspected fentanyl-laced oxycodone, wrapped in foil.
DCI agents also surveilled the Family Dollar and the Fuentes home.
A woman holding one child and walking with another emerged from the home, got into a different truck, picked up Fuentes at the store and brought him back to the home, Reece said.
That was when Reece and the other agent emerged from their truck, identified themselves as law enforcement, arrested Fuentes, Mirandized him and interviewed him.
‘We Can All Assume It Was Your Wife’
Reece asked if Fuentes put drugs in the car for the dead drop or who put them in the car for him, he testified.
“I stated some version of, ‘We can all assume it was your wife, but we’re not going to go there,’” he said.
Cherni later said this could have been a way of applying duress, and implied Fuentes’ confession that he had marijuana in his home, and his later confessions that he’d sold drugs to Jackson and others, could have been given out of fear for his wife’s wellbeing.
Fuentes was taken to the Big Horn County Detention Center.
The DCI is running a download on his phone, Reece said, and also has obtained video surveillance of two vehicles believed to belong to Fuentes and Jackson, meeting briefly at the Greybull Family Dollar on Jan. 2, hours before Jackson’s death.
The video surveillance, physical evidence and confessions, said Big Horn County Attorney Marcia Bean, were enough to send Fuentes’ case to the district court.
Cherni disputed that, saying the video doesn’t explicitly reveal a drug exchange, Fuentes’ confession circumstances were dubious and Jackson’s phone, when found, contained no exchange evidence.
Luhm said the evidence available was enough to establish probable cause.
‘Tragic And Sad’
Luhm also kept Fuentes’ bond at $100,000 cash-only, though Cherni asked for a reduction to $20,000 with a surety option.
Cherni said that if Fuentes is stuck in jail, his family could lose their home since he was the breadwinner and worked three jobs, including being the manager at the Family Dollar, a laborer with a local business and “self-employed” as a taco vendor.
“We are only dealing with controlled substance counts and not a manslaughter, there’s no murder charge – nothing of that sort,” said Cherni, adding that the presence of cocaine indicated from Jackson’s urinalysis weakens the conclusion that the alleged fentanyl caused his death.
“Though it is tragic and it is sad, I don’t believe it has its place in a $100,000 cash-only bond,” said Cherni.
Cherni said Fuentes’ flight risk is “minimal” because his jobs, partner and children are all in Greybull.
Bean disputed this, saying Fuentes’ family could easily flee with him, and he is originally from Colorado and has connections in Denver.
Fuentes had reportedly told DCI agents he got 40 fentanyl pills in Denver and had sold all but about 15 of them when arrested.
“The state’s position is $100,000 is appropriate in this case,” said Bean.
She said fentanyl is especially dangerous and can be deadly, which should cause concern for the community’s safety upon his release.
“There is no way for this community to be safe with somebody who has easy access to it,” said Bean. “It’s so deadly, your honor, it’s not even field tested.”
Bean said the proximity of Jackson’s death to the time of Fuentes’ alleged fentanyl delivery Jan. 2 is further evidence of danger to the community.