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An Arizona man was sentenced Thursday in Little Rock to 11 years in federal prison for his October guilty plea to allegations that he had large quantities of fentanyl hidden in his car when he was pulled over in Russellville in late September of 2017.

Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. imposed the sentence on Herbierto Felix Ruiz, 48, who on Oct. 10 pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to possess fentanyl with intent to distribute.

Ruiz was a front-seat passenger in a silver Hyundai Santa Fe that police said was stopped on Interstate 40 after crossing the centerline. His name was on the rental-car agreement, and he admitted renting the vehicle two days earlier in California.

Police said he and the driver gave conflicting stories in response to an officer's questions, and Ruiz consented to a search.

According to U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland, the officer found six packages containing what turned out to be more than 15 pounds of fentanyl wrapped in duct tape and hidden in a spare tire. The 15-inch tire didn't match the vehicle's 17-inch tires, he noted.

Three months after Ruiz was indicted in November 2017 by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Arkansas, an auto salvage business contacted law enforcement officials to report finding a suspicious package in a vehicle the company had purchased at auction from a car-rental company, Hiland said. He said the car was the same one that Ruiz had been stopped in, and the package contained another 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of fentanyl.

Ruiz's charges were upgraded in April 2018 to reflect the additional amount of drugs found.

Hiland said that in imposing the sentence, Marshall cited the dangers of the synthetic opioid.

"Fentanyl is an incredibly dangerous drug, and our office remains focused on removing it from our streets," Hiland said in a prepared statement. "Today's lengthy sentence is an example of the continued pressure we will apply to drug traffickers, especially those who bring this deadly substance into our communities."

The DEA's Justin King, assistant special agent in charge, noted that fentanyl "is the greatest and most significant synthetic opioid threat to the United States, including here in Arkansas, where as little as two milligrams is a lethal dose."

Three "take-down operations" in October in the state's Eastern District led to criminal charges against 49 people and the seizure of more than 1,600 grams of the drug, a single dose of which can be a small as one-sixteenth of a gram.

The Ruiz investigation was conducted by the DEA, the Arkansas State Police and the 5th Judicial District Drug Task Force.

Metro on 05/22/2020

Print Headline: Fentanyl trafficker given 11 year-term

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