By Kevin Deutsch
Police discovered crack cocaine laced with the dangerous opioid fentanyl during a recent traffic stop in Coral Springs—the latest indication of the drug’s impact in North Broward, police records show.
Vanessa Verdi, 23, of Coral Springs, was stopped by police while driving a dark gray Chevy Impala with only one working headlight on West Sample Road on Jan. 12, leading to the seizure of the fentanyl-laced coke, according to an arrest affidavit filed by Coral Springs Police.
When Verdi pulled the car over into the Coral Springs Diner parking lot, a police officer watched a large cloud of marijuana smoke waft from the Impala, in which Verdi’s 14-year-old sister was also riding, the records allege.
Inside the car, officers found a still-burning marijuana joint, a bag of marijuana, and, in the car’s center console, a bag containing one rock of crack cocaine, according to the documents.
Verdi allegedly told police the cocaine—which later tested positive for fentanyl—belonged to her ex-boyfriend, the records show.
Verdi had been driving with a suspended license due to her failure to pay traffic tickets, according to police. She is currently free on a $2,200 bond, records show.
Fentanyl has been showing up more frequently in local supplies of cocaine, heroin, and street pills, part of a national trend of illicit drug manufacturers and dealers lacing their product with the potentially lethal, synthetic opioid.
Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are two types of fentanyl: pharmaceutical fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Doctors prescribe pharmaceutical fentanyl to treat severe pain, especially after surgery and advanced-stage cancer.
However, according to the CDC, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose are linked to illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which is distributed through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often added to other drugs because of its extreme potency, making drugs cheaper, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous.
Those who peddle fentanyl in fatal overdose cases have been charged with murder in several instances across the U.S., including one in Coral Springs.
In May 2021, Salomon Jules Theoc, 26, was charged with first-degree murder in the September 2020 overdose death of Callie Harper in Coral Springs.
Theoc allegedly sold Harper fentanyl-laced heroin outside Walmart on Turtle Creek Drive on Sept. 16, and the drugs killed her, according to Coral Springs Police.
Theoc has pleaded not guilty. He is being held without bail while awaiting trial.
“This investigation sends a message to all drug dealers that overdose investigations in the City of Coral Springs will not be viewed simply as the death of a person but handled as a criminal investigation,” the police department said in a prepared statement after Theoc’s arrest. “In the event, Coral Springs detectives can identify dealers and link the distribution of the narcotics to the death of a person; we will work with the State Attorney’s Office with the intent of filing criminal charges.”
Guns, too, have played a role in local fentanyl cases, records show.
In September 2021, Michael Kareem Roberts, 33, was arrested for illegally carrying a gun in Coral Springs after police found he had an outstanding warrant for possessing fentanyl, according to court documents.
The warrant stemmed from an incident in Tamarac in which Roberts allegedly sold several pills of the opioid Percocet to an undercover Broward Sheriff’s Office detective in the 5300 block of North State Road 7, the records allege. Testing later detected the presence of fentanyl in the drugs, authorities said.
Roberts has pleaded not guilty to a charge of fentanyl possession and is free on a $1,000 bond, records show.
In October 2021, another fentanyl-related investigation led to the arrest of Frederick Bienaime, 42, in Tamarac, on charges stemming from a warrant for trafficking fentanyl from a residence in Lauderhill, court records show.
Bienaime, currently free on bond, faces several other drug charges, including delivery of fentanyl and heroin, trafficking heroin and oxycodone, and possession of methamphetamine and cocaine, records show. He has pleaded not guilty.
In his January message to residents, Coral Springs Police Chief Clyde Parry highlighted the national scourge of fentanyl overdose deaths.
“Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 45, according to an analysis of U.S. government data,” Parry wrote. “There were 64,178 Fentanyl overdoses fatalities between April 2019 and April 2021. More adults between 18 and 45 died of fentanyl overdoses in 2020 than any other leading cause of death, including COVID-19, motor vehicle accidents, cancer, and suicide.”
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