Tucson Man Heads Behind Bars After Attempting to Smuggle Fentanyl into Arizona

The Arizona District of the Department of Justice announced Tuesday that Tucson resident Jose Antonio Cota, 33, has been sentenced to jail time for attempting to smuggle fentanyl into the state.

“Cota pleaded guilty to one count of Possession with Intent to Distribute Fentanyl in April 2022,” according to the release from the DOJ. “In August 2020, Cota was a passenger in a commercial shuttle van when it stopped for a routine immigration inspection at a Border Patrol checkpoint near Amado, Arizona.”

Cota allegedly had bundles of fentanyl tapes to his body that were discovered by state border patrol agents during the stop. He will be in prison for the next six-and-a-half years, which will be followed by three years of supervision.

While one smuggler is now behind bars, plenty more are still being caught trying to bring fentanyl into the state. Recently, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS) caught and arrested Nelder Perez Gonzalez, 27, of Colorado, for possession of fentanyl.

According to the department’s report, a state trooper pulled Gonzalez over while driving near Camp Verde for a moving violation. Upon searching the suspect’s sedan, the officer discovered 24.5 pounds of fentanyl, two pounds of fentanyl powder, and 6.5 pounds of methamphetamine concealed inside. Gonzalez was booked into Yavapai County Jail on charges of transportation and possession of dangerous drugs.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), even small amounts of fentanyl can be deadly. For example, just two milligrams of the opioid can be a lethal dosage, and 42 percent of illicit pills tested by the DEA contain over this amount.

The average fentanyl pill weighs roughly one-tenth of a gram, meaning Gonzalez’s stash likely contained around 1,100 pills. Suppose this batch of pills is consistent with the DEA’s findings, and 42 percent of them contained over the lethal dose of fentanyl. In that case, this one batch of snatched pills could hypothetically have caused roughly 450 overdoses.

Moreover, in February, The Arizona Sun Times reported that the AZDPS seized enough fentanyl pills to kill nearly 800,000 people. Reportedly, the driver of a pickup truck lost control and rolled the car. When officials investigated the crash, they discovered 286 pounds of fentanyl stashed in the car.

Most fentanyl coming into the country is funneled through the southern border, and the Port of Nogales continues to see massive busts on a near-weekly basis. Most recently, on Wednesday, Nogales Port of Entry Director Michael Humphries said that his agents seized approximately 249,400 fentanyl pills concealed in the wall of a pickup truck, plus another 2,480 strapped to a traveler’s waist.

This seizure was just one of many to take place so far in March. On Friday, Nogales Border Patrol agents found 148,600 pills under the rear seat of a car. Another 219,000 pills were found hidden within the tires of a vehicle on March 7th. The day before that another vehicle was filled with over 340,000 fentanyl pills, over 100,000 of which were rainbow-colored. The first bust occurred on March 1st when officers found 280,600 tablets inside the floor of a car.

In total, Nogales officials have reported seizing 1,243,680 fentanyl pills so far in March.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].





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