Chicago — Prosecutors have charged a second man in connection with a large-scale operation that manufactured thousands of counterfeit prescription pills that actually contained fentanyl and methamphetamine.
In May, Allen Dean, 30, was charged with receiving an industrial-sized pill press from China that could form the fake drugs and possessing nearly $1.2 million worth of pills and drug powder that cops found inside an apartment in the 8000 block of South Union. Dean was also charged with stealing a car and driving it toward federal agents who tried to arrest him.
On Friday, prosecutors charged the man who allegedly owns the apartment, 31-year-old Lavonte Powell.
The investigation began in February after U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents intercepted a pill press and motor in separate shipments from China to a Chicago address. Officials believe the parts were shipped separately because a complete pill press must be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Agents attached GPS trackers to the two machine parts, which were addressed to Dean, and he later moved them to an apartment in the 8000 block of South Union that Powell owns, Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Walker said Saturday.
Walker described the press as a “substantial piece of machinery” that uses intense force to form powders into pills bearing unique codes associated with legitimate prescription medications.
Investigators put the apartment under surveillance and saw Dean and Powell enter or leave the apartment together at least twice in March, including once at 3:06 a.m., Walker alleged. Powell went to the apartment alone several times during March, she said.
Federal agents executed a search warrant at the apartment on March 30 after the second part of the pill press was delivered. Besides a mattress on the floor, the unit did not have any household furnishings, and it appeared to operate as a clandestine lab.
The DEA found both parts of the machine press along with a fully-functioning press inside the apartment with 5,460 tablets of fentanyl and methamphetamine that were imprinted with identifiers associated with the legitimate prescription drugs Percocet and oxycodone, officials said. Hazmat and chemical suits were also found in the unit.
Those pills and loose fentanyl and methamphetamine powder inside the apartment had a street value of $1,197,735, according to Walker.
“Counterfeit pills [are] a precursor to many of the overdoses that we’re seeing with fentanyl and driving the high rate of overdose deaths,” Walker told Judge Susana Ortiz during Powell’s bail hearing Friday.
Agents who executed a second search warrant at Powell’s home found a money counter and the deed to the unit where the lab was allegedly operating, Walker continued.
Powell’s attorney contacted the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to discuss arranging for Powell’s surrender, but Powell did not follow through, Walker said. He was arrested in Hammond last month and extradited to Chicago.
His attorney said on Friday that he works as a rehab contractor and volunteers for non-profit organizations, including one that works with Chicago’s youth. The lawyer argued that prosecutors presented no evidence that Powell received, possessed, communicated about, or moved the pill presses or drugs.
Judge Ortiz said Powell could go home on electronic monitoring by posting a $100,000 bail deposit.
He is charged with multiple counts of manufacture-delivery of fentanyl and methamphetamine and one count of permitting unlawful use of a building.