Investigators with the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) joined forces with local and federal law enforcement agencies to take down a ring of drug dealers in San Diego in an investigation dubbed "Operation Purple Haze."
"Operation Purple Haze" targeted a group of 19 to 24-year-olds suspected of forging and filling prescriptions that were stolen from a doctor’s office to obtain promethazine with codeine cough syrup for distribution. Promethazine with codeine cough syrup is a Schedule V controlled pharmaceutical drug and is often misused by young people who mix it with soft drinks to make "sizzurp" or "drank." The cough syrup acts as a depressant and when misused can result in respiratory failure and death.
Law enforcement officers arrested 20 of the 21 suspects. Eighteen defendants have already pleaded guilty to various charges including prescription fraud and burglary. One suspect remains at large.
"This investigation involved law enforcement officers on the local, state and federal level, including our investigators at the Department of Health Care Services," said Alan Barcelona, president of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) which represents DHCS investigators, along with nearly 7,000 other law enforcement, public safety and consumer protection professionals who work for the State of California. "Prescription drug abuse in a growing problem and leads to dangerous situations in our neighborhoods, our workplaces and in our communities."
“We hope that operations like this one will increase awareness that prescription drug abuse continues to rise at an alarming rate with devastating effects to our community,” said DA Dumanis. “This operation also highlights the cooperation between Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies to investigate the organized, illegal misuse of controlled pharmaceutical drugs.”
“Operation Purple Haze” was a joint investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, California Department of Health Care Services, National City Police Department, and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
Agents tracked down more than 50 stolen prescriptions which were filled at commercial pharmacies in the San Diego area. Most of the prescriptions were filled by young people ranging in age from 18 to 24-years old. The “takedown” of this organization began on March 13, 2013, when 16 of the defendants surrendered themselves at National City Police Department for arrest and booking.
One target of this operation, defendant Barwar Barwari, 19, was also a suspect in a fatal hit and run incident that killed pedestrian Christopher Dano Ringor in National City on February 10, 2014. Barwari was convicted of hit and run causing death and prescription fraud charges. Barwari is expected to be sentenced to two years and eight months in state prison.
The following people were also convicted of prescription fraud and burglary related charges: Melissa Swycaffer, 18; Sarah Alvarado, 27; Avraz Barwari, 20; Mario Lopez, 21; Isabel Lopez, 18; Kyram Estrada, 18; Lorenzo Luna, 21; Damian Juarez, 19; Giordani Canale, 19; Lailani Rivera, 19; Cesar Fimbres, 20; Zoltano Estello, 20; Jazzmyn Robinson, 21; Anyelivett Jazmin, 24; Lakeisha Haynes, 22; Enisha Brown, 19; and Labrone Harris, 23.
Court proceedings are ongoing for defendants James Smith, 18 and Alaeante Eason, 23, and an arrest warrant has been issued for defendant Tanesha Brown, 23.