EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Drug Enforcement Administration agents have taken down an alleged Phoenix-area drug distribution ring and seized 50,000 fentanyl pills in the process.

The Aug. 10 operation that resulted in the arrest of three men relied on information from a confidential source with extensive contacts in Mexico and Arizona who has helped the DEA on 50 previous occasions seize cocaine, heroin, meth, fentanyl and drug money, federal court records show. The confidential source is working for financial and immigration benefits, court records show.

The investigation began shortly after a Mexican drug supplier contacted the confidential source to offer the 50,000 fentanyl pills, according to court records. A man later identified as Edgar Loya Aranda allegedly used a social media app to show pre-packaged bundles of fentanyl pills to the source and proceeded to deliver the drugs in a white Chrysler 300 to a parking lot near North Central Avenue.

The men allegedly showed the would-be buyer the bundles they concealed in the trunk of the Chrysler. Uniformed law enforcement officers converged on the parking lot – vehicle lights flashing and sirens on – and arrested three men after a foot chase, court records show. The detainees were identified as Loya Aranda, Jose Carlos Perez Adolfo and Celso Fernandez. Two handguns were seized during the arrests.

In a post-arrest interview, Loya Aranda and Perez Adolfo allegedly told investigators they coordinated the 50,000-pill transaction and brought loaded handguns to the drop-off point “due to the dangers of participating in a drug deal.”

Investigators say Fernandez consented to a search of his cellphone, which contained multiple text messages related to the fentanyl pill transaction, according to court records.

The three have been charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a Schedule II controlled substance. Detention hearings are pending in U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah M. Fine in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

Fentanyl seizures in the United States over the past two years. (DEA graphic)

The investigation involved the Phoenix Group 16 Dealers task force, which is assigned to investigate large-scale drug trafficking.

The DEA office in Phoenix last fall said it had seized about 980 pounds of fentanyl powder and 10.2 million fentanyl pills during the May 23 to Sept. 8, 2022, “One pill can kill” initiative with law enforcement partners. It investigated 35 cases linking seizures of fentanyl or overdose cases linked directly to the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG)

Nationwide, the DEA last year seized 58.3 million fentanyl pills and 13,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. So far in 2023, the agency has taken 46.4 million fentanyl pills and 6,900 pounds of fentanyl powder off the streets.