Defendant fled to Mexico before being apprehended and returned to the United States
Date: January 24, 2020
SAN FRANCISCO — Kia Zolfaghari was sentenced today to 200 months in prison for conspiring to distribute fentanyl. The sentence was handed down by the Honorable Susan Illston, Senior United States District Judge.
Zolfaghari of San Francisco, pleaded guilty to the fentanyl conspiracy charge as well as weapons and money laundering charges on July 12, 2019. According to his plea agreement, Zolfaghari admitted that from May of 2014 until June of 2016 he agreed with others to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl.
Fentanyl, a Schedule II controlled substance, is a highly potent opiate that can be diluted with cutting agents to create counterfeit pills that attempt to mimic the effects of oxycodone. Typically, counterfeit pills made with fentanyl can be obtained at a lower cost than genuine oxycodone. However, small variations in the amount or quality of fentanyl can have significant effects on the potency of the counterfeit pills, raising the danger of overdoses. The San Francisco medical examiner's office recently reported a large spike in fentanyl-related deaths—in 2019, 234 deaths in San Francisco are estimated to have involved fentanyl, compared with 90 in 2018.
In this case, Zolfaghari admitted that his role in the conspiracy included buying a pill press, using it to manufacture pills, and selling the pills, principally online. Zolfaghari admitted he stamped the pills in a manner consistent with genuine oxycodone and advertised the pills as oxycodone, but that the pills did not contain oxycodone and instead contained fentanyl.
In his plea agreement, Zolfaghari also described the roles of two of his co-conspirators in the drug trafficking conspiracy. For example, Zolfaghari acknowledged that one of his co-conspirators assisted him in the operation by packaging and mailing pills as well as cleaning up after he manufactured the pills. Additionally, Zolfaghari explained that another co-conspirator assisted him by maintaining a post office box for the delivery of the fentanyl powder that he used to make pills and by delivering the powder that arrived in that post office box. Zolfaghari admitted that over the course of the conspiracy he made over $400,000 through his sales, and sold at least 13,000 fentanyl pills. As described below, Zolfaghari spent the proceeds of his drug trafficking enterprise on luxury goods.
Zolfaghari also pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder the proceeds of the drug trafficking operation. Specifically, Zolfaghari admitted that sometime before May 1, 2014, he agreed with others to engage in several financial transactions to conceal the source and ownership of the proceeds of his drug sales. For example, he arranged to be paid in the digital currency bitcoin; he used unlicensed bitcoin brokers to exchange the bitcoin for cash; and he directed a co-conspirator to purchase gift cards with the cash. Zolfaghari further admitted that these transactions were intended to conceal the source and ownership of the funds. Zolfaghari also admitted he used the proceeds from his drug trafficking operation to make a $40,000 down payment (and additional monthly payments) on a 2015 Audi RS5 Coupe, which retailed for close to $80,000; to make payments on an apartment in San Francisco; and to purchase luxury goods such as high-end watches, designer shoes, and jewelry.
Zolfaghari was arrested on June 10, 2016. At the time of his arrest, Zolfaghari was found in possession of a Smith & Wesson handgun and 500 pills containing fentanyl.
On November 29, 2016, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Zolfaghari, charging him with four counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); four counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute 40 grams or more of fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); four counts of engaging in money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957; and one count each of conspiracy to manufacture, to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; using, carrying, or possessing a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and conspiracy to launder drug proceeds, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). Also charged in the case were King Edward Harris, II, 37, of Oxnard, and Zolfaghari's wife, Candelaria Dagandan Vazquez, 44.
In April 2017, Zolfaghari and Vazquez jumped bail and failed to appear for hearings in this case. In February 2019, the United States Marshals Service and the Mexican Federal Police located Zolfaghari and Vazquez in Mexico and returned them to the United States.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Illston sentenced Zolfaghari to a five-year period of supervised release to follow his prison term, and ordered him to pay a $300 special assessment.
On February 9, 2018, Judge Illston sentenced Vazquez to 151 months imprisonment for her role in the conspiracy. On September 22, 2017, Judge Illston sentenced Harris to five years in prison for possession and distribution of 40 grams or more of fentanyl.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nikhil Bhagat is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Linda Love. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with assistance from the United States Marshals Service, the San Francisco Police Department, the San Francisco Fire Department, and the Mexican Federal Police. This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a focused multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force investigating and prosecuting the most significant drug trafficking organizations throughout the United States by leveraging the combined expertise of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.