3 Snohomish County men convicted in major fentanyl case

They got the drugs from China, made pills and distributed thousands. They now face prison.

SEATTLE — Three Snohomish County men were convicted in federal court Tuesday of leading a major fentanyl distribution ring in northwestern Washington.

Arlington’s Bradley Woolard, 42, was found guilty Tuesday by a jury in U.S. District Court of 28 counts including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, money laundering, illegal gun possession and possessing drugs with the intent to distribute them.

Anthony Pelayo, 34, of Marysville, was convicted of more than a dozen counts for his involvement in the drug distribution conspiracy and money laundering. Jerome Isham, a 40-year-old Everett man, was convicted of fewer charges but still found was guilty of possessing and distributing the drugs as well as illegally having a gun.

In 2018, officers from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force searched Woolard’s Arlington-area home, finding more than 12,000 fentanyl pills made to look like prescription oxycodone. The blue pills with an “M” on one side and “30” on the other tested positive for furanyl fentanyl, a combination of fentanyl and a controlled substance. Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic opioid whose rise has been attributed to a dramatic spike in overdoses both locally and nationally. There have been 62 overdose deaths involving fentanyl so far this year, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner. There were 124 in 2020.

The massive stockpile of pills in Woolard’s home weighed more than 4 pounds, according to court documents.

“For most people, two to three milligrams of fentanyl is capable of inducing respiratory depression, arrest and possibly death,” a DEA agent wrote in the 2018 charges. “Two to three milligrams of fentanyl is comparable in size to five to seven individual grains of table salt.”

In other searches of Woolard’s five-acre property, authorities found more than $1 million in cash and gold hidden along with 29 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition in a secret room.

The raid came about three years after Woolard began buying fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl powder from China, according to testimony during the trial. He researched how to do this on the dark web, a part of the internet designed to hide users’ activities.

In the house’s office trash can, federal authorities seized shipping labels marked “Lab Supplies.” One had been sent from an address in Nanjing, China, to a home near Verlot in Snohomish County.

Woolard taught himself how to make homemade pills. He bought a pill press and mixing materials online. His operation had the capacity to produce 2.5 million pills containing fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl, according to trial testimony. He regularly provided thousands of pills to other people to distribute.

Pelayo took over the pill-making operation in 2017. He continued Woolard’s work in rural Snohomish County while Woolard continued to order fentanyl from China and assist in the manufacturing and distribution of the pills.

At the same time, Woolard was going to Costa Rica and Mexico for treatment for his own drug addictions. This cost him between $30,000 and $50,000 per month, price tags he paid for with money made from the fentanyl operation.

Isham was one of the operation’s main distributors. He distributed nearly 100,000 illegal fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl pills between July 2017 and June 2018, according to evidence shown at trial. Isham also recruited people to receive the shipment of illicit materials from China.

Meanwhile, Woolard and Pelayo recruited other people to wire the money to China or pay with Bitcoin to get the drugs.

Woolard was arrested in September 2018 as he tried to cross the border into the United States from Mexico.

The trial lasted 10 days. The jury deliberated for two days.

The men are scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 16. They will likely face hefty prison sentences. Conspiracy and possession of fentanyl with the intent to distribute carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and up to life in prison. Possessing a firearm while a felon is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Money laundering could carry a sentence of up to 20 years.

Woolard had a previous felony conviction from 2004 in Island County, for using a building for unlawful drug activity.

The three men were not the only ones charged in the case. Eleven defendants in total were charged, with eight pleading guilty and two having already been sentenced.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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