CNN — Federal authorities have charged a New Jersey woman with concealing about 15,000 rainbow fentanyl pills in a Lego box as part of a drug-trafficking scheme, in what U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials said in a news release was the largest seizure of rainbow fentanyl in New York City history.
Latesha Bush, 48, pleaded not guilty last week at her trial in Manhattan Criminal Court, a prosecutor’s spokesman said. According to the criminal complaint, she was charged with one count of first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and one count of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Bush is expected to appear in court again on October 18, it said online court records.
The New York County Public Defender’s Office gave CNN “no comment” on behalf of Bush’s attorney.
“Using happy colors to make a deadly drug look fun and harmless is a new low, even for Mexican cartels,” NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said in a statement.
She said fentanyl is involved in more than 80% of the city’s overdose deaths.
“If you take any drug that is sold on the street or on the Internet, regardless of its medicinal properties or festive appearance, you are putting your life at risk,” she added.
Rainbow fentanyl comes in bright colors and can be used in pill or powder form that contain the powerful synthetic opioid, making it highly addictive and potentially fatal if someone overdoses.
DEA issued a warning in August advising the public about this “alarming emerging trend”. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram called rainbow fentanyl “a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to create addiction among children and youth.”
The news comes as Halloween approaches, a time when authorities often warn families to inspect candy before eating.
Federal and local drug enforcement officials arrested Bush, who is from Trenton, New Jersey, while conducting surveillance on Sept. 28 as part of an ongoing narcotics investigation, according to the complaint.
Bush was allegedly carrying a black bag wrapped around a large object as she entered the vehicle in Manhattan, according to the complaint.
When officers stopped the vehicle, the detective found Bush in the back seat with two black bags and a yellow Lego container that held “approximately 15,000 round multi-colored alleged fentanyl pills marked ‘M30,'” according to the complaint.
“Disguising fentanyl as candy — and hiding it in children’s toys — will never hide the fact that fentanyl is a deadly poison that harms our communities, our families and our city,” said New York Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell.
Investigators believe the pills originated in Mexico. They said the case highlights the tactics of two major cartels.
“The Sinaloa Cartel and the New Generation Jalisco Cartel mass-produce fentanyl pills in rainbow colors to not only brand their products but use colors and dyes to mimic candy and/or legitimate prescription drugs,” authorities said in a press release.
Rainbow fentanyl is attracting attention for the products’ bright colors, but the illicit fentanyl the products contain is a continuation of the ongoing opioid epidemic. The only difference between rainbow fentanyl and the fentanyl products of the past seems to be the color.
“The reason it’s colored is just to differentiate the products. If we had a regulated market, they would differ in different ways – we don’t. It has nothing to do with marketing to children, period, anything,” Maya Doe Simkins – Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network Co-Founder and Co-Director Remedy Alliancea collection of harm reduction groups working to make naloxone more affordable,” CNN said last month.
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. company. Discovery. All rights reserved.