On July 27, 2015, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of North Dakota announced the details of a fentanyl operation dubbed “Operation Denial.” The fentanyl overdoses of North Dakota teenagers pushed the operation into existence. The investigation first crossed North Dakota to Oregon. From Oregon, investigators traced fentanyl sources across international borders. Since 2015, the Department of Justice indicted dozens of suspects throughout the United States, Canada, and even China. In a recent set of indictments, the DoJ charged 10 suspects—three Americans, five Canadian citizens, and two suspects living in China.
The network itself, the investigation revealed, originated in China. Jian Zhang, the alleged organizer and leader of the drug trafficking organization, operated from “Zaron Bio-tech,” a company he had established in China. Certain North American co-conspirators arranged orders between other network members and Jian Zhang. Law enforcement had already caught many of these members of the distribution network, including Daniel Vivas Ceron and Brandon Corde Hubbard. Hubbard, a former vendor on the Evolution darknet market, was one of the first five named in a federal indictment.
Investigators hunted suspected co-conspirators living in the United States and Canada, often by following the fentanyl overdoses. In one Operation Denial indictment, law enforcement recorded overdoses connected to shipments—or shipments in general—in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, and South Carolina.
The media, following release of the most recent indictment, focused on one of the five suspects in Quebec, Jason Berry. The RCMP arrested Berry in 2013 after raiding his distribution center and “fentanyl lab.” In 2014, they sentenced him to five years in the Drummond Institution outside of Montreal. Coincidentally, he served time with a Colombian man, Daniel Vivas Ceron, that the US indicted in 2015 for his role in the fentanyl conspiracy. Ceran paroled out of the Canadian prison and the government deported him to Panama. Where, subsequently, he landed in jail and the authorities extradited him to North Dakota.
Berry, as uncovered by a joint US and RCMP investigation, continued to distribute fentanyl once in prison. (Not unlike Hubbard’s girlfriend.) While both men were still in the Drummond facility, US authorities discovered that Ceron arranged a massive number of fentanyl shipments from China to the United States. After the arrest of a co-conspirator in Florida who identified Ceron, the North Dakota prosecutors office indicted the man. They seemingly forgot about Berry.
In the latest indictment, the Justice Department called Berry and Ceron “the organizers and leaders of this criminal conspiracy in Canada.” It explained that they controlled the delivery of hundreds of fentanyl shipments from China to co-conspirators in next to a dozen states. In a previous indictment, only Ceron was named. The attorney’s office called him the “manager, supervisor, and leader” of the drug trafficking organization. The men used a cell phone to arrange deals and recorded them in a ledger—the ledger later led to the arrest of other co-conspirators, including individuals who bought fentanyl on the darknet.
A Correctional Service Canada spokesperson revealed that Berry is currently serving 12 years for drug charges in Canada. The CSC did not reveal whether or not Berry would be extradited to North Dakota.