Two alleged drug traffickers who were arrested during a traffic stop in California last month after they got busted with 150,000 pills of fentanyl failed to show up for court on Thursday, according to multiple reports.
Jose Zendejas, 25, and Benito Madrigal, 19, both from Washington, were arrested in Tulare County on June 24 with enough fentanyl to kill millions of people. The drugs they possessed had an estimated street value of $750,000.
Less than 24 hours after their arrest, the suspects were released from custody on cashless bail after a court assessment deemed both men “low risk,” releasing them “on their own recognizance.”
However, about one week after their arrest, the Tulare County District Attorney (TCDA) filed multiple felony drug trafficking charges against the two men and issued arrest warrants for them, setting bail at $2.15 million and a court appearance scheduled for July 21.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) and the district attorney’s office were not consulted regarding the duo’s release, the TCDA noted in a statement.
On July 21, Zendejas and Madrigal reportedly failed to show up in court, Fox News reported. After they failed to appear, the judge withdrew the $2.15 million bond and directed each to be held without bond if they show up.
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, who previously said he “strongly disagreed” with the court’s decision to release both men, told the network that he didn’t expect the defendants to show up on Thursday.
Boudreaux blamed California’s controversial criminal justice reform and “soft-on-crime” attitude for the failed prosecution of Zendejas and Madrigal, setting them free with nothing but a promise to show up in court.
Initially, the bail for both suspects was set at $1 million, which was based on the volume of illegal substances that were seized. Besides the massive fentanyl bust, authorities also found two kilograms of cocaine when searching the vehicle.
TCDA Tim Ward slammed the state’s judicial system for releasing the men on cashless bail, saying the case shows “once again” that the problem is the legislature “trying to go down some social experiment born on the back of law-abiding citizens.”
“I’ll go out on a limb and say that had these defendants been subject to the $1 million bail that was in place when they were arrested, and they made bail based on that amount, they would have some skin in the game, some financial obligation and motivation to return to court,” Ward told Fox News after both men failed to show in court.
Zendejas and Madrigal face up to 14 years in state prison if convicted on all counts.
The suspect’s charges include the sale, transportation, or offer to sell a controlled substance—fentanyl; the transport for sale to a non-contiguous county of cocaine with the special charge that the weight exceeded one kilogram; and false compartment activity.
On June 24, detectives with the Tulare County High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Unit (HIDTA) found 150 packages, each with 1,000 fentanyl pills, hidden inside the suspect’s vehicle. The confiscated drugs have a street value of around $750,000, as each pill sells for about $5.
According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, fentanyl, a deadly opioid 50–100 times stronger than morphine, was linked to the most overdose deaths in 2021, with 71,238. Fentanyl is increasingly cut into other drugs to cut costs.
Some experts have noted that drug overdoses have been steadily increasing every year. However, in recent years, fentanyl, much of which is brought into the country via Mexican cartels from China, has triggered the recent spike in deaths.
Earlier this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a warning about a surge of fentanyl overdoses and mass overdose events.