Federal authorities: Mahoning Valley men had enough fentanyl to kill “hundreds” shipped to Youngstown

« The Valley's Opioid Crisis

Staff report


Federal authorities announced Thursday the arrest of two Mahoning Valley men suspected of accepting a package from China containing enough of a powerful opioid drug to kill “hundreds of people.”

A package shipped by Wei Zhu of Shanghai, China, to 731 Judson Ave. caught the attention of Homeland Security Investigations special agents Nov. 20, according to a news release from the Northern District of Ohio U.S. Attorney’s Office. Citing court documents, the release said previous packages shipped by Zhu were found to have contained “large amounts of fentanyl seized in Seattle, New York and Detroit.”

Citing court documents throughout, the Northern District of Ohio U.S. Attorney’s Office detailed the events on Wednesday that led to the arrests of Michael B. Lawrence, 43, of Youngstown and Dainon L. Jones, 37, of Girard for attempted possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute.

“The amount of fentanyl these defendants are accused of bringing to downtown Youngstown from China could have killed hundreds of people,” said Justin E. Herdman, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “Aggressive enforcement, combined with increased prevention and education efforts, is our best chance to turn the tide on this epidemic.”

A package shipped to an Erik Fields on Judson Avenue was labeled as “pants zipper,” according to the release. Law enforcement officers who inspected the package, however, reported discovering a white powder substance that was determined to be 273 grams of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that is increasingly driving opioid overdose deaths in the U.S.

For reference, as little as 3 milligrams of fentanyl can be deadly.

Law enforcement officials discovered that no Erik Fields lived on Judson Avenue. Undercover agents then delivered the package Wednesday.

Jones arrived at the address “in a silver Mercedes, made contact with the resident, retrieved the package and drove away with it,” the news release stated.

Jones then drove to 3311 Idlewood Ave. and picked up Lawrence. The two then “drove to a nearby gas station, where Lawrence exited the Mercedes with the package,” according to the release.

Lawrence then took a bus to downtown Youngstown, where Jones again picked him up. From there, the pair drove to 57 E. Wilson Ave. in Girard and entered the building.

When law enforcement approached the house, Jones and Lawrence took off running but were eventually arrested, according to the release.

The case, which is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Toepfer, was investigated by HSI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force, the Trumbull Ashtabula Group Task Force, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“The opioid crisis touches almost every American community,” said Steve Francis, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations’ Detroit office. “HSI and our partners are proud to be at the tip of the spear, using our broad authorities to combat the groups and individuals allegedly involved in this deadly trade.”

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