Dealer's conviction for deadly fentanyl dose highlights L.A.'s online drug sales problem

FILE - A bag of 4-fluoro isobutyryl fentanyl which was seized in a drug raid is displayed at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Testing and Research Laboratory in Sterling, Va., on Aug. 9, 2016. China on Friday, July 7, 2023, insisted it is up to the U.S. to "create necessary conditions" for anti-drugs cooperation, following complaints from Washington that Beijing has ignored its calls for a crackdown on precursor chemicals for the highly addictive painkiller fentanyl. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
A Drug Enforcement Administration official displays a bag containing fentanyl seized in a drug raid. (Cliff Owen / Associated Press)

A Hawaiian Gardens man was convicted of using the popular online marketplace OfferUp to sell a tar-like substance containing fentanyl to a teenager who later died of an overdose.

Gregory Hevener, 47, was found guilty in federal court Monday of one count each of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death and possession with intent to distribute heroin, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney’s office.

In November 2020, prosecutors said the 18-year-old victim responded to a post on OfferUp in which Hevener advertised “BLACK TAR ROOFING MATERIALS!!” for sale in Long Beach. Hevener and the victim, who was not named in Monday’s news release, communicated about the ad and then met in Hawaiian Gardens, where Hevener sold the victim what he claimed was heroin, authorities said.

The substance was in fact a “black, tar-like substance containing fentanyl and tramadol, a pain-relief medication,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.

“The victim then drove home and took the drugs, suffering a fatal overdose,” the statement said.

Read more: Boba Fett, blue fish, and fettuccine: How L.A. fentanyl sales boomed on Craigslist

As the Los Angeles Times reported this month, seemingly innocuous terms like “roofing tar,” “Roxy blue shorts” and “fettuccine” have been used for years to advertise illicit fentanyl on internet marketplaces. Until recently, local Craigslist posts featured a variety of tongue-in-cheek listings that drug experts said were covert ads for fentanyl.

A few years ago, OfferUp was “the spot” for such covert drug ads, Bill Bodner, former special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Los Angeles field division, told The Times this year. But he said that around 2021 the federal agency successfully urged the site to take steps to address the black market postings.

“We had a Zoom with OfferUp, and they kind of got on their people and tightened things up,” Bodner said.

An OfferUp spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the company “explicitly bans” the sale of illegal drugs, cannabis and prescription medications.

“We do our best to review posted content to ensure that transactions for buyers, sellers, job seekers, and employers are ethical, safe, and protected,” the statement said, adding that the company removes listings and takes “actions on accounts that violate our policies,” working with law enforcement and updating product features.

This year, Craigslist appeared to crack down as well, as suspicious ads became less prevalent after The Times began asking questions about the site’s efforts to address suspected drug sales on its platform.

Though Hevener’s legal trouble began just months before federal drug officials in Los Angeles started taking more interest in drug sales on OfferUp, Bodner said Monday that his case wasn’t what sparked the agency's interest in the platform.

"It was just that these ads were pretty prevalent then," Bodner said.

In July, October and December 2021, law enforcement conducted searches at and outside Hevener’s residence, seizing 245 grams of burned black tar heroin, 1.2 grams of fentanyl, a digital scale, pieces of aluminum foil with residue of fentanyl and tramadol, and other items, the statement from the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Hevener is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 16, and he faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum of life behind bars.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.