Steve Lugo Leon, 24, of Phoenix, Arizona, has been sentenced to almost six years in prison after pleading guilty to intending to distribute an illicit substance containing fentanyl, according to a Thursday release from the Arizona District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office (District).

The incident occurred back in 2021 at the Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe. Leon had arranged to sell fentanyl pills and methamphetamine with a client, but when police showed up, the dealer attempted to flee in his vehicle. He also had an accomplice in the car, Rafael Ivan Valenzuela Chairez, 20, of Phoenix; however, in the ensuing chase, Leon hit another vehicle, causing his truck to flip on its side. Chairez attempted to flee on foot, but both dealers were apprehended by police. Officers then found 946 grams of fentanyl, around 9,000 pills, and 12.83 kilograms of methamphetamine.

Chairez was also sentenced for his involvement and intent to sell methamphetamine and received 18 months in jail with another three years of supervised release. As for Leon, he will be under supervision for five years.

As little as two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal, depending on the user’s tolerance and previous usage. According to recent research from the Drug Enforcement Administration, 60 percent of fentanyl pills tested in 2022 contained over this lethal limit.

In a worst-case scenario, just Leon’s stash of fentanyl had the potential to cause over 5,000 overdoses.

As reported by The Arizona Sun Times, over a ton of fentanyl was confiscated by the Department of Homeland Security and several other federal agencies over a two-month period along Arizona’s southern border. This massive amount of narcotics was found as a result of Project Blue Lotus, which aimed to crack down on fentanyl smuggling by providing ports of entry with more personnel, k9 units, and technology.

The flow of fentanyl coming across these ports continues. In Nogales, Port Director Michael Humphries announced Wednesday that between May 27th and 28th, his officers made four drug seizures. These busts resulted in the confiscation of 1,291,400 fentanyl pills, 4.75 pounds of fentanyl powder, and 4.8 pounds of heroin. The narcotics were concealed within car parts like a spare tire, rear panels, and roof. In May alone, the Port of Nogales prevented roughly 4,340,808 fentanyl pills from entering the country, based on Humphries’s public announcements.

The narcotics are not just coming through Nogales either. Tucson Sector Chief Border Patrol Agent John Modlin announced Thursday that his agents discovered 93 pounds of fentanyl (roughly 421,841 pills) in a car following a K9 search. Modlin said the driver was a U.S. Citizen and would face criminal charges.

The Arizona Department of Health Services shared that there have been 464 fatalities relating to fentanyl overdoses so far in 2023.

The District also announced that firearms smuggler Miguel Armada Castro of Phoenix has also been sentenced to jail. In 2022, Castro attempted to travel from the U.S. into Mexico, but when his vehicle was stopped for inspections by officers at the Mariposa Port of Entry, they discovered a loaded .22 caliber revolver and Glock firearm ammunition. Castro was sentenced to over four years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Fentanyl” by DEAPhoenix.