ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – The Drug Enforcement Administration is giving an exclusive look into the biggest fentanyl bust in the history of the St. Louis division.
Gerald Hunter, a drug kingpin out of California, will be sentenced in March for running an elaborate smuggling operation through St. Louis, using an unsuspecting storage facility as the key transportation point for massive amounts of fentanyl.
In April 2017, the St. Louis DEA seized 27 kilos of fentanyl hidden inside a storage unit in the nearby suburb of Florissant. Agents said Hunter hid the fentanyl in secret compartments inside furniture. The shipping companies also had no idea they were transporting the drug-filled furniture from California to St Louis.
DEA officials said the fentanyl would have likely gone to a distributor before being broken down into smaller quantities and provided to local dealers.
Hunter fled before he could be apprehended. But the bust wasn’t about catching one person. The goal was to shut down the entire network, according to the DEA.
During the course of the investigation, agents seized guns, stacks of cash, and a hydraulic press used to make fake pills sold as Xanax, Adderall, and Percocet laced with deadly amounts of fentanyl.
Hunter, too, was eventually apprehended three years later in Los Angeles. In Oct. 2021, he was convicted of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and two counts of money laundering, per the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Missouri. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and possibly life behind bars.
“We know these drugs could have caused irreparable damage,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Colin Dickey, supervisor of DEA operations in Eastern Missouri, in a news release issued in October. “We also know this is the end of one drug trafficking organization that will no longer wreak havoc in our communities, and Hunter’s guilty verdict is vindication of the tireless efforts of DEA and its local and federal partners.”
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid developed as a pain-management treatment for cancer patients, is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Dealers may also mix fentanyl with heroin to improve its potency, or sell it as heroin to unsuspecting customers, resulting in the overdose deaths, according to the DEA.