The first of three charged defendants in a Newport Beach-based conspiracy to illegally manufacture and distribute fentanyl throughout the United States on the dark web and by the U.S. Postal Service has been sentenced to federal prison for 87 months.
In a wild case steeped in secrecy, U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna considered Duc Cao’s assertions of remorse and hopes for leniency but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) case argued by federal prosecutor Brett A. Sagel was strong enough to win a pre-trial guilty plea.
According to a DEA report, confidential informants with criminal records alerted law enforcement officers about the narcotics activities of Cao, who was born in 1997, as well as Wyatt Pasek and Isaiah Suarez (a.k.a. “Slabs”) in early 2017.
Undercover agents placed GPS tracking devises on the suspects’ vehicles, conducted extensive clandestine surveillance and eventually posed as fentanyl customers to unravel the highly profitable operation.
Cases against Suarez and Pasek—who drove luxury cars like a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, rented a $6,000-a-month penthouse apartment and posed for Instagram photos and Youtube videos openly celebrating his fast lifestyle—await final resolution.
A native of Vietnam who immigrated to the U.S. in 2012, Cao is a gifted musician who attend Christian high schools in Huntington Beach and Anaheim. The son of a real estate developer told Selna that addictions to marijuana and cocaine plus a craving for quick, easy income led him astray. He worries he will be deported to his communist homeland after he serves his prison sentence.
The Costa Mesa Police Department assisted the DEA in the case involving the synthetic opioid that is about 100 times stronger than morphine.
Sagel was a leading member of a Department of Justice team that brought down corrupt Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona in 2009.