A former UPS employee was sentenced to nearly six years in prison Wednesday for a scheme that involved shipping packages of fentanyl and other drugs from Chula Vista across the United States, according to court records.
Ernesto Renteria, 45, had worked for UPS for 14 years and was on medical leave for a herniated disc when he committed the crime, according to a sentencing memorandum drawn up by his defense attorney, Jan Ronis, and letters from the family submitted to the court.
In May, agents with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration were monitoring an alleged drug courier when they followed her to a home in the Eastlake neighborhood of Chula Vista, according to a complaint filed in federal court in Washington. San Diego.
The agents observed how the woman delivered a cardboard box and a backpack to Renteria, the complaint states. Later, Renteria drove home and loaded more boxes into her truck. Agents followed him to a driverless UPS truck parked in the area. He put six boxes on the truck.
Agents stopped Renteria as she began to drive away in her own truck. An on-duty UPS driver got on the delivery truck and was also detained.
According to his plea agreement, the search boxes found 35 pounds of fentanyl, 4 pounds of cocaine and 8 pounds of fentanyl analog, a drug very similar to fentanyl but with a slightly altered chemical structure.
Officers then searched Renteria’s home and found more drugs in his garage: 73 pounds of fentanyl, 11 pounds of cocaine and 4 pounds of methamphetamine, along with packaging material and GPS tracking devices, the statement said.
Renteria pleaded guilty in August to four counts of possession of drugs with intent to distribute.
Arguing for a lesser sentence, Ronis said health problems and the COVID-19 pandemic put Renteria under financial pressure and contributed to «the terrible decision she made.»
The UPS driver, whose name was not released, was not detained, according to the complaint.
«The amount of fentanyl that DEA agents seized from Ernesto Renteria is concerning,» DEA Acting Special Agent Shelly S. Howe said in a statement.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, is dominating the illicit opioid market and is largely responsible for the rise in overdose deaths across the country. Drug cartels prefer it to heroin because it is cheap to make and effective in very small doses.
The chemical structure of synthetic opioids is frequently redesigned to avoid their classification as illegal in various countries or to increase their potency. Fentanyl analogs have been temporarily classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA since 2018, but that classification is set to expire in February, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.
All four federal state attorneys have asked Congress for a permanent classification to keep up with the rapid evolution of designer drugs.