A California man admitted this week in federal court that he transported more than 30,000 heroin pills, disguised to resemble oxycodone, to Baton Rouge over a 14-month period beginning in early 2014.
Efrain Barajas, 27, of Hesperia, California, on Thursday became the seventh of 11 defendants indicted last fall in the major multistate heroin enterprise to plead guilty to federal drug charges, U.S. Attorney Walt Green said Friday.
Federal prosecutors have placed the value of each of the 35,000-plus heroin pills involved in the case at $30, meaning the pills Barajas told Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson he transported to Baton Rouge were worth a total of more than $900,000.
By disguising the heroin as oxycodone, the pills could be sold at a higher price because heroin costs less than oxycodone, the grand jury indictment alleged.
Stephen Azzam, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Orleans Field Division, said a pill form of heroin disguised as oxycodone is growing in popularity across the country.
“As a result, the number of overdoses from this deadly drug is growing nationally, too,” he said Friday, noting that heroin has become an epidemic in the Baton Rouge area. “Because of persistent and collaborative efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies in the area, a major supplier of heroin to this region of Louisiana is out of business.”
Barajas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin. He will be sentenced Oct. 13.
Others who have previously entered guilty pleas in the case include Justin Scott, 32, and Daryl Walker, 42, both of Baton Rouge; and Keenan Harris Jr., 35, and Christopher Dean, 35, Christian Becnel, 32, and Randall Pendarvis, 33, all of Denham Springs.
Walker admitted he possessed with the intent to distribute 6,000 heroin pills. He also pleaded guilty to possession of a sawed-off shotgun.
The remaining defendants are Aaron Lambert, 32, and Brian Keith Hano Jr., 32, both of Baton Rouge; Michael Almanza, 44, of Costa Mesa, California; and Logan Brannon, 30, of Newport Beach, California.
The drug trafficking operation sent heroin from Mexico to California, where it was pressed into pills and shipped to Baton Rouge, then distributed to midlevel drug dealers before being sold in East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes, federal authorities have said.