BURIEN, Wash. -- A King County man faces federal charges after allegedly buying hundreds of grams of the powerful opioid fentanyl from Hong Kong and China and shipping it to his home.
Gregory L. Smith was arrested early Monday morning at Sea-Tac while trying to catch a flight to Maui. He is charged in U.S. District Court with importing fentanyl.
The arrest comes as federal law enforcement agencies combat a flow of imported opioids that has increased steadily over the past five years, United States Postal Inspection Service spokesperson Adam Sale said.
"We've seen an uptick in the country over the past five years of the import of these dangerous chemicals into the country," Sale said. "Especially in the past two years."
An investigation by several state agencies found at least 70 people died from the synthetic opioid fentanyl in 2016.
According to charging papers, the USPIS and Homeland Security Investigations first intercepted a package sent to Smith from Hong Kong in March. The package, marked OP3, contained 63.9 grams of a substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl. In May, another package marked "toy" sent to Smith from China was found to contain 57.9 grams of a narcotic substance, documents show. The substance was also later found to contain fentanyl.
Further investigation found that from February to June, Smith received 21 packages from China and Hong Kong of similar weight.
Investigators put Smith under surveillance, and allegedly discovered he was exchanging drugs for "cryptocurrency," like Bitcoin. Smith allegedly sold pure and blended fentanyl.
Agents arrested Smith, and he allegedly admitted to getting drugs via USPS over the past six months. Agents also searched Smith's residence in the 10000 block of Des Moines Memorial Drive in Burien and found guns.
Postal Inspection Service spokesperson Sale could not comment on the multi-agency investigation, but said imported fentanyl has been a growing problem for all levels of law enforcement. Overseas dealers take synthetic opioids that have been banned as Schedule 1 drugs in the U.S., Sale said. They then change the chemical compound by one molecule to get past regulations.
"The DEA works very quickly to identify those compounds to get them scheduled as quickly as possible," Sale said.
All international shippers are seeing the problem, Sale said, and trying to combat importation.
"DHL, FedEx, all the international shippers suffer from this problem," Sale said.
Smith is expected to appear in court Friday.