Two men accused of trafficking a massive amount of fentanyl pills were a no-show for their California court date after they were released on cashless bail last month.
On June 24, California Highway Patrol officers pulled over a vehicle in Tulare County. The Tulare County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Unit (HIDTA) assisted in the traffic stop since the drugs were reportedly concealed in a hidden compartment. Authorities found 151,000 fentanyl pills in the vehicle as well as two kilograms of cocaine. Authorities estimate that the fentanyl pills have a street value of approximately $750,000.
Jose Zendejas, 25, and Benito Madrigal, 19, were arrested as suspects in the drug trafficking scheme.
Their bail was initially set at $1 million each. However, less than 24 hours after their arrest for the deadly drugs, a judge ruled that the suspects were to be released from custody on cashless bail. After pressure from the county's probation department, the judge deemed that the suspects – both from Washington state – were "low risk" and should be released "on their own recognizance."
The Tulare County district attorney's office and the Tulare County sheriff’s office said they were not consulted regarding the release of the suspects.
The fentanyl-trafficking suspects failed to show up for their court date on Thursday. They skipped their arraignments at the Tulare County Courthouse in central California.
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux told Fox News, "I didn't learn about the order until it was far too late. I couldn't believe we had 150,000 fentanyl pills — one of the most dangerous epidemics facing our nation today — with people in custody that we may potentially be able to impact the future of this type of drug trafficking organization… and we let them go."
Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward told Fox News, "Although there is a need for a pre-trial release program, to do it covertly in the middle of the night in a very nontransparent matter is extremely dangerous. What we discovered here was that it was occurring based on a decision without any foundation of the facts of the case. And I think going forward, I think everyone is realizing that’s a mistake and should not continue."
"The problem is once again the legislature and the state of California are trying to go down some social experiment born on the back of law-abiding citizens," Ward added. "I go out on a limb and say that had these defendants been subject to the 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."
On June 30, Tulare County Superior Court Judge Nathan Leedy rescinded the suspect's release order and issued arrest warrants for the men. The judge also set bail at $2.15 million.
Zendejas and Madrigal were charged with 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.
The suspects both face up to 14 years in state prison if convicted on all charges.