According to United States Attorney Scott W. Brady of the Western District of Pennsylvania, a new grand jury indictment charged a Pittsburgh man for ordering more than 1,000 grams of a fentanyl analogue from South Korea. James Folks, the alleged drug importer, had seven felony convictions prior to the arrest. And according to the U.S. Attorney, police officers caught Folks with a firearm—an illegal act for any convicted felon.
In Pennsylvania, darknet and other internet related crimes are nothing new to law enforcement. From the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office leading Operation Shrouded Horizon and taking down Darkode to the Philadelphia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force’s investigation into the Alphabay vendor Narcoboss, the Western District of Pennsylvania has seen it all. And because the state ranks high on the list of opioid arrests, Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies have used additional resources to target opioid trafficking—especially involving the postal system.
Fentanyl dealers like James Folks are high priority targets. A December 2017 Criminal Complaint details an investigation by the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations (ICE/HSI), ATF, and Pennsylvania police led to the arrest of an “Armed Career Criminal” who had imported a large pack of a fentanyl analogue from the Republic of Korea. According to the Complaint, Postal Inspection Service interdiction agents at a Pittsburgh mail center pulled a package from the mail stream in early December. ICE/HSI had likely flagged the package prior to the USPIS seizure; they frequently notify USPIS of suspicious international packages before the package enters the domestic mail stream.
Agents described the package as International Mail Express that originated from South Korea weighing more than two pounds. ICE/HSI scrutinizes packages from parts of countries known to export drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil. In most cases, the fentanyl derivatives come from China and enter the United States directly or through Canada (and Mexico). While cases likely go unreported, international drug trafficking cases infrequently involve South Korea.
After USPIS personnel set the package aside for inspection, Homeland Security agents opened it and inside was a so-called “controlled environment.” They reportedly found 1,058 grams of a “powdery substance.” A field test revealed that the package contained a fentanyl analogue and a later lab test pinpointed methoxyacetyl fentanyl. Pennsylvania police tailed Folks to his residence and arrested him after he had parked his car. He had the package with him during the arrest. Officers then searched the man’s house and discovered a loaded .40 caliber Smith and Wesson pistol, scales, an electronic money machine, and other drug trafficking paraphernalia.
The handgun and ammunition, in addition to violating laws pertaining to drug crimes with a firearm, added an infrequently seen charge to the indictment: firearm possession after seven felony convictions. Law forbid any felon that served more than one year on any felony conviction from owning a gun. Folks’ prior felonies stacked the deck in a way that the weapon charge automatically classified him as an Armed Career Criminal. And as an Armed Career Criminal, Folks faces a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison.