A drug bust on the Pennsylvania Turnpike likely is the largest seizure of straight fentanyl ever in Western Pennsylvania, state police said.
Troopers said they discovered 3 pounds, 6 ounces of fentanyl hidden inside an SUV driven by Juan Junior Guzman, 41, of New York City, after they pulled over the 2019 Dodge Durango along the highway Monday in Mt. Pleasant Township. Police said the contraband was found in a secret compartment behind the radio.
The SUV’s owner, Hector B. Taveras, 40, also of New York City, was a passenger. They are both charged with two counts of manufacturing and delivery of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance and illegal possession of a controlled substance.
The men were held in the Westmoreland County Prison after failing to post $1 million bail each. Preliminary hearings are scheduled July 18.
The traffic stop occurred about 8 a.m., Trooper Zachary DelSordo said. The Durango failed to move to an adjoining traffic lane near a turnpike vehicle that was stopped along the berm with its emergency lights activated, DelSordo said.
“During a hand search of the vehicle, an after-market hidden compartment was located in the dashboard area. The compartment was opened and contained a large, vacuum-sealed bag containing (the fentanyl),” DelSordo wrote in court papers.
It was tested later and confirmed to be fentanyl, Trooper Stephen Limani said.
“We believe the fentanyl was headed to Pittsburgh. This was straight fentanyl. … Once it would be cut and distributed, the street value would be worth well over $1 million,” Limani said.
In July 2018, drug-sniffing dogs with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency discovered 110 pounds of fentanyl during a routine exam of a shipment in the Port of Philadelphia, customs officers said.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
According to the institute’s website, it is a prescription drug that is also made and used illegally. Like morphine, it is a medicine typically used to treat severe pain, especially after surgery.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are the most common drugs in overdose deaths in the United States. In 2017, 59% of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl compared to 14% in 2010, according to the institute.
Limani said straight fentanyl is so powerful it is usually only cut by dealers with filler items such as baking powder, sugar, talcum powder or powdered milk and then sold.