Justice Department Announces Results in Fight Against the Opioid Crisis Two Years after Launch of Operation S.O.S.

In July 2018, the Department of Justice announced the launch of Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (S.O.S), a program aimed at reducing the supply of synthetic opioids in 10 high impact areas and identifying wholesale distribution networks and international and domestic suppliers.

Two years ago, under Operation SOS, the U.S. Attorneys in 10 districts with some of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country each designated a county where they would focus on prosecuting every readily available case involving fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other synthetic opioids, regardless of the drug quantity.

Over these two years, Operation SOS has resulted in approximately 750 defendants being charged in federal court, with 384 of those defendants charged thus far in FY 20.  Most importantly, the districts participating in the program have seen a decline in opioid overdoses.  From 2017 to 2019, most SOS counties reported a decline of 14% to 24%.  One notable success was in the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the opioid overdose rates declined by nearly 45%.

“The Justice Department’s commitment to fighting the opioids epidemic is stronger than ever, and we are using every tool in our arsenal to disrupt the supply of these drugs on our streets,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen.  “Operation SOS has had a significant positive impact on the communities where it is being employed. The Department will continue to build on these successes and work to stop the drug traffickers who so callously wreck lives.”

The 10 participating districts and some of their successes are listed below:

  • The Eastern District of California has reported 60 active Operation S.O.S. investigations.  Recently, the USAO charged one sentence-enhanced “death resulting” prosecution.  In February 2020, another investigation resulted in the seizure of over 20,000 fentanyl-laced counterfeit oxycodone pills.
  • The Eastern District of Kentucky reported that an SOS investigation led to a residential search warrant and seizure of more than 1,300 grams of fentanyl, more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, $15,000 cash, two firearms, and paraphernalia used to traffic narcotics including a device for pressing fentanyl into a brick-like shape.
  • The District of Maine reported a July 2020 arrest of a defendant on charges of distributing counterfeit fentanyl pills marked as Percocet, in connection with a fatal fentanyl overdose that occurred in May 2020.  In addition, a Maine man was sentenced in February 2020 to five years in prison for two counts of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, in connection with an incident where the defendant was found in possession of fentanyl less than 24 hours after he was released on a state summons for possession of fentanyl.
  • The District of New Hampshire reported the October 2019 arrest of a man on a warrant for distributing fentanyl.  Manchester Police Detectives executed a search warrant on a local drug-house, where they located approximately 850 grams of methamphetamine and 56 grams of fentanyl, several assault-style rifles, a handgun, ammunition, scales, safes, cash, and cellphones.   
  • The Northern District of Ohio reported a 10-defendant wire case involving a drug trafficking organization (DTO) operating out of Elyria and Sandusky, Ohio.  The DTO purchased kilogram quantities of cocaine and oxycodone pills.  Co-conspirators would later cook the cocaine and sell it as crack to local dealers in Elyria.  During the conspiracy, agents seized approximately ½ kilo of cocaine, 100 grams of crack, oxycodone pills, and five firearms.
  • The Southern District of Ohio reported the arrest of an individual who had previously served a nine-year state prison sentence for drug trafficking. On Oct. 22, 2019, after law enforcement observed activity consistent with drug transactions, including the delivery of what appeared to be a kilogram of narcotics by a courier, members of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force executed a search warrant at a residence in Dayton, Ohio, where they located three firearms, 1,205 grams of methamphetamine, 1,716 grams of fentanyl, 305 grams of heroin, drug processing equipment, and 12 cellular telephones.  One of the recovered cellular telephones contained photographs of multiple kilograms of fentanyl and communications with a narcotics supplier.  Through subsequent investigation, law enforcement recovered an additional 19.5 kilograms of fentanyl/carfentanil.
  • The Western District of Pennsylvania prosecuted 98 SOS cases thus far in FY 2020.  Particularly noteworthy among them is the prosecution of Lynell Guyton.  Guyton was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of cyclopropyl fentanyl and other charges, including firearms and money laundering violations.  Guyton, who had been receiving shipments of fentanyl analogues from China, is both a Career Offender and an Armed Career Criminal.  The case gained media attention when, during the execution of a search warrant in connection with the charges, the conspirators tipped over a table, sending cyclopropyl fentanyl into the air, sickening several law enforcement officers on the scene.
  • The Eastern District of Tennessee reported multiple cases arising out of a single investigation involving a drug trafficking organization responsible for trafficking heroin and fentanyl from Michigan to various communities in the Eastern District of Tennessee.  29 defendants have been indicted on various charges, including drug trafficking conspiracy, overdose death enhancements, money-laundering conspiracy, and various firearms offenses.  More than 5.5 kilograms of heroin and/or fentanyl and 11 firearms were seized during the investigation. 
  • The Northern District of West Virginia reported a July 21, 2020, forty-four count indictment against 12 defendants.  During the nearly yearlong investigation, law enforcement officers seized more than 280 grams of cocaine base and more than 40 grams of fentanyl from one of the defendant’s residences in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  Throughout the investigation, officers seized more than 280 grams of fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl, and heroin; more than 350 grams of cocaine base; more than one kilogram of liquid PCP; various amounts of cocaine; five firearms; and over $28,000.
  • The Southern District of West Virginia reported that after a three-day trial, a jury in the convicted Steven McCallister of distribution of fentanyl, possession with the intent to distribute fentanyl, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.  Officers conducted a 50-gram purchase of heroin from McCallister, which then led to the execution of a search warrant at McCallister’s home.  Officers seized over one kilogram of fentanyl and a firearm. 

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    The Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is in the midst of a long-term effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile and its supporting production infrastructure. NNSA's modernization plans and budgets are communicated to Congress on an annual basis primarily through two key documents—the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP) and DOE's budget justification—together referred to as NNSA's nuclear security budget materials. GAO reviewed four areas related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as described in these budget materials: Funding for nuclear modernization activities. Congress funds NNSA's nuclear modernization activities through the Weapons Activities appropriation account, which falls under the National Defense budget function along with other NNSA, DOE, and Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations related to the common defense and security of the United States. Discretionary defense spending for fiscal year 2021 may not exceed a certain statutory limit, or else a sequestration—a cancellation of budgetary resources—would be triggered. Therefore, a proposed increase for a given program under the National Defense budget function may need to be offset by reductions in other defense programs to keep the defense budget within statutory spending limits. Comparison of modernization activities in budget materials for fiscal year 2021 and earlier. The proposed funding in DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA's nuclear modernization activities for fiscal years 2021 through 2025 is about $81 billion, which is about $15 billion more (or about 23 percent greater) compared to NNSA's estimate for the same period in its fiscal year 2020 budget materials. The main factor contributing to this large increase in proposed funding for fiscal year 2021 was NNSA's reevaluation of the funding needed to meet existing requirements, rather than costs associated with new requirements outlined in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Affordability discussion in the Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP. The Fiscal Year 2020 SSMP included a new section entitled, "Affordability Analysis." NNSA added this section in response to GAO's April 2017 recommendation that the agency include an assessment of its portfolio of modernization programs in future versions of the SSMP. The recommendation addressed a shortfall between NNSA's projected budget needs to meet program requirements and projections of the President's budget, a condition that could recur in the future. GAO found that NNSA's new section on affordability does not fully respond to its recommendation because the section does not provide information about how potential misalignment between NNSA's estimates of future modernization funding needs and projections of the President's modernization budgets may be addressed, or about the potential impacts of adjusting program schedules or cost or schedule overruns. Implications of potential New START expiration for modernization activities. New START is a treaty between the United States and Russia for the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, and it will expire in February 2021 unless both parties agree to extend it for no more than 5 years. DOD is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure. NNSA similarly has not considered the implications of the potential expiration of New START on the assumptions underlying its overall program of record and future-years funding projections as described in the fiscal year 2021 budget justification. GAO was asked to review issues related to the affordability of NNSA's modernization activities as reflected in its nuclear security budget materials. DOE's fiscal year 2021 budget justification for NNSA includes a proposed $3.1 billion increase for nuclear modernization activities. The budget justification states that it supports the modernization efforts and the scientific tools necessary to execute the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Nuclear posture reviews are issued periodically to assess the global threat environment and establish policy on U.S. nuclear forces. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Settles Claims Against California Supermarket Chain and Affiliated Money Lender for Discriminating Against Asylee Worker
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced that it signed a settlement agreement with Northgate Gonzalez Markets Inc., a California-based supermarket chain, and Northgate Gonzalez Financial LLC d/b/a Prospera Gonzalez, an affiliated payday loan company (collectively, Northgate).
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  • Open Data: Agencies Need Guidance to Establish Comprehensive Data Inventories; Information on Their Progress is Limited
    In U.S GAO News
    The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act of 2018 (OPEN Government Data Act) codifies and expands open data policy and generally requires agencies to publish information as open data by default, as well as develop and maintain comprehensive data inventories. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not issued statutorily-required guidance for agencies to implement comprehensive data inventories, which could limit agencies' progress in implementing their requirements under the act. OMB also has not met requirements to publicly report on agencies' performance and compliance with the act. Access to this information could inform Congress and the public about agencies' open data progress and statutory compliance. Implementation Status of Selected OPEN Government Data Act Requirements   Assessment Federal data catalogue: By July 2019, the General Services Administration (GSA) must maintain a point of entry dedicated to sharing agency data assets with the public, known as the “Federal data catalogue”. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and GSA must ensure agencies can publish data assets or links on the website. ✓ Online repository: By July 2019, OMB, GSA, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) must collaborate to develop and maintain an online repository of tools, best practices, and schema standards to facilitate the adoption of open data practices across the federal government. ✓ Implementation guidance: By July 2019, OMB must issue guidance for agencies to implement comprehensive inventories. ✖ Biennial report: By January 2020, and biennially thereafter, OMB must electronically publish a report on agency performance and compliance with this act. ✖ Legend: ✓Requirement fully met I ✖ Requirement not met Source: GAO analysis of Pub. L. No. 115-435, 132 Stat. 5529(Jan. 14, 2019), resources.data.gov, www.data.gov , and an interview with OMB staff. | GAO-21-29. GAO found that all 24 Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies display their data inventories on their websites, as well as on an online catalogue of federal data assets. Agencies took a variety of approaches to providing public access to individual data assets such as using Data.gov as the human-readable public interface, hosting searchable inventories on their own agency websites and providing lists of data or downloadable files on their websites. Information on the extent to which agencies regularly update their data inventories is limited. OMB and GSA do not have a policy to ensure the routine identification and correction of errors in electronically published information. The absence of such a policy limits publicly available information on agency progress. As of September 2020, seven of the 24 CFO Act agencies had also publicly released COVID-19 related datasets or linked to related information from their open data web pages as required by the Federal Data Strategy. These datasets provide data on a range of COVID-19 related topics including data on disease transmission and loans provided to businesses. Federal agencies create and collect large amounts of data in support of fulfilling their missions. Public access to open data—data that are free to use, modify, and share—holds great promise for promoting government transparency and engendering public trust. Access to open data is particularly important in the current pandemic environment as government agencies, scientists, and the public work to understand and respond to COVID-19 using data-focused approaches. The OPEN Government Data Act includes a provision for GAO to report on federal agencies' comprehensive data inventories. This report examines the extent to which 1) OMB, GSA, and NARA met their statutory requirements to facilitate the establishment of federal agencies' comprehensive data inventories; and 2) CFO Act agencies developed data inventories in accordance with OMB guidance. GAO reviewed agencies' websites and related documentation, and interviewed OMB staff and GSA and NARA officials. GAO is making two recommendations to OMB to issue required implementation guidance and report on agency performance. GAO also recommends that OMB and GSA establish policy to ensure the routine identification and correction of errors in agency data. GSA concurred with GAO's recommendation and OMB did not comment on the report. For more information, contact Michelle Sager at (202) 512-6806 or SagerM@gao.gov.
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  • ‘All too frequent tragedies demand action to improve judicial security,’ Judge tells Judicial Conference
    In U.S Courts
    “Four federal judges and three family members have been killed since 1979. These horrific tragedies must stop,” Judge David W. McKeague told the Judicial Conference of the United States today.
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  • Federal Court Enjoins Tuscon Area Tax Preparer From Preparing Tax Returns
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that a federal court in Arizona permanently enjoined a Tucson area tax return preparer from preparing federal income tax returns for others.
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  • Portland Resident Indicted for Providing Material Support to ISIS
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury in Portland returned a five count indictment against Portland resident Hawazen Sameer Mothafar, 31, charging two counts of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization and one count of providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339B(a)(1). In addition, the indictment charges Mothafar with one count of false statements in an immigration application in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1546(a) and one count of false statement to a government agency in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2).
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  • Promoting and Protecting Human Rights: A Re-Dedication to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Travel
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  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Barzani
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Riverside, California Man Who Admitted Planning Mass Casualty Attacks and Purchasing Firearms Later Used in 2015 Terrorist Attack in San Bernardino Ordered to Serve 20-Year Federal Prison Sentence
    In Crime News
    A Riverside man was sentenced today to 20 years in federal prison for conspiring to commit terrorist attacks in the Inland Empire and for providing assault rifles later used in the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack that killed 14 people.
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  • Justice Department Sues To Block Geisinger Health’s Transaction With Evangelical Community Hospital
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Department of Justice sued today to block Geisinger Health’s partial acquisition of its close rival, Evangelical Community Hospital. The complaint alleges that the agreement fundamentally alters the relationship between the parties, raising the likelihood of coordination and reducing Defendants’ incentives to compete aggressively against each other. As a result, the transaction is likely to lead to higher prices, lower quality, and reduced access to high-quality inpatient hospital services for patients in central Pennsylvania. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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  • Three Individuals Charged for Alleged Roles in Twitter Hack
    In Crime News
    Three individuals have been charged today for their alleged roles in the Twitter hack that occurred on July 15, 2020.
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