Two alleged fentanyl traffickers — a California man and a Mexican national — nabbed in Queens with two kilos (4.49 pounds) of the deadly drug wound up being sprung from jail without any bail.
Queens Criminal Court Judge Karen Gopee made that decision at the Dec. 3 arraignment of Navarro Gonzalez, 26, of Bell Garden, Calif., and Juan Esquer, 48, of Jalisco, Mexico. They were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and other crimes after they were pulled over during a Dec. 2 traffic stop in Bayside and police found two kilos of fentanyl allegedly in the vehicle.
Despite their heavy, lethal load — fentanyl is one of the deadliest of synthetic opioids — Gonzalez and Esquer were ordered by Gopee to be released under supervision and ordered to return to court on Feb. 1, 2022.
The office of Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz had requested $50,000 cash bail for each defendant. But a spokesperson said the judge apparently used her own discretion in setting the two suspects free.
“Fentanyl is a lethal drug and two kilos is a significant amount. We asked for $50,000 bail in this case because we believe it was necessary in order to ensure that these defendants, who have no ties to New York City, return to court. The supervised release was ordered by the arraigning Court, using her discretion,” said Chris Policano, the chief public information officer for the Queens District Attorney’s Office.
According to the state Department of Health, nearly half of all overdose deaths in New York State now involve fentanyl. Street dealers are known to cut heroin and cocaine with the drug, and most recently officials have warned of fentanyl-laced marijuana.
According to Katz, on Dec. 2, cops observed Gonzalez driving a silver Ford Escape near Northern Boulevard and 204th Street in Bayside. Esquer was seated in the front passenger seat. The driver allegedly made a right turn without signaling which resulted in a car stop by police.
According to the charges, police executed a Court-authorized search warrant for the interior of the vehicle and recovered the fentanyl in packages enfolded in green saran wrap bricks and hidden in the passenger’s side air bag. A police lab confirmed the substance recovered was the synthetic drug fentanyl.
Among the agencies involved in the bust – along with the NYPD – were members of the U.S. Department of Justice Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Strike Force Initiative in connection with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s Long Island Division Office.
New York Regional DEA spokesperson Michelle O’Toole said because this is an ongoing investigation, the agency cannot comment further.
“We refer you to the Queens DA’s office for any additional information that they might be able to share at this time,” said O’Toole in an email.
Katz’ office refused any further comment on the case or investigation, but noted the importance of clamping down on the drug.
“Fentanyl has played a key role in the dramatic increase we’ve seen in fatal drug overdoses in Queens. It is a dangerous drug that must be kept off our streets,” said Katz.
Additional reporting by Bill Parry and Robert Pozarycki