Men flew into Midway with 44 pounds of fentanyl in their luggage, prosecutors say — enough to kill every Chicagoan 3½ times

CHICAGO — A federal law enforcement task force arrested two Michigan men at Midway Airport on Tuesday after they were allegedly caught carrying 44 pounds of fentanyl in their checked baggage—enough to kill every Chicago resident 3½ times. The contraband has a street value of $3.1 million.

Fentanyl, an opioid up to 50 times more potent than heroin, is frequently mixed into street drugs without the end user’s knowledge. With just two milligrams considered a lethal dose, fentanyl is widely considered the primary reason that opioid-related deaths increased nearly 750% from 2015 to 2021.

“This is so breathtakingly dangerous,” Judge Maryam Ahmad said of the allegations against the men during their bail hearing Tuesday. “Not only to them … but to the flight crew, their families, airport personnel.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration learned last month that Jamire Hollingshed, 26, and Robert Lewis, 24, may have been carrying narcotics as they flew together from Los Angeles to Midway on April 13, officials said. Investigators confirmed that the men made the trip and determined they would fly the same route on Tuesday.

After their flight landed around 6 p.m., officers assigned to a DEA task force took their checked bags to a controlled area where a canine indicated narcotics were present in both suitcases, Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Walker said during the bail hearing.

Other officers intercepted Lewis and Hollingshed at baggage claim. After confirming their identities, police delivered their checked bags. Walker said both men identified their luggage and gave police permission to search their bags.

Jamire Hollingshed (inset left) and Robert Lewis were arrested at Midway Airport’s baggage claim area. | Chicago Police Department

Both men had checked one suitcase, each of which contained 10 one-kilogram bricks of fentanyl wrapped in green plastic, Walker alleged. The bricks were stuffed into pant legs and within sweatshirts, she said.

After finding the contraband, investigators took the men to a security area, where both men denied knowing each other, denied that the bags were theirs, and denied knowing about the fentanyl, according to Walker.

Hollingshed allegedly told police that someone paid him to bring the suitcase to Chicago, but he didn’t know who gave it to him. He also didn’t know who was paying him to deliver the luggage or to whom he was supposed to give it in Chicago, Walker said.

Police allegedly found flight itineraries for both men on Hollingshed’s phone as well as a receipt for green plastic wrap.

Walker said neither man has a criminal background. Hollingshed works at an automotive factory, and Lewis is a nursing assistant, their public defender said.

They are charged with manufacture-delivery of more than 900 grams of fentanyl.

Judge Ahmad set bail for each man at $1,555,500, which is the street value of the drugs each is accused of transporting.

“Just so the record is clear,” said Ahmad, “that is one, comma, five five five, comma, five zero zero point zero zero.”

The men must post 10% of the bail amount to get out of jail and prove that the money did not come from illicit activities. Ahmad also refused to let the men return to Michigan to await trial.

A DEA spokesperson said the agency was assisted by the Chicago Police Department, Bartlett Police Department, Amtrak Police, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Police.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com