North Shore pair face charges in massive fentanyl bust

Fentanyl pills allegedly disguised as Percocet (courtesy)

SALEM — Two North Shore men have been charged by federal prosecutors after an investigation turned up nearly 15 pounds of fentanyl pills disguised as Percocets and $150,000 in cash earlier this month following their arrests. 

Jose Esmerlin Diaz, 36, of Salem, and Manuel E. Tejeda, 39, of Peabody, were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate said to be up to 100 times more powerful than heroin.  Both are scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston on Friday

Diaz was arrested earlier this month after an undercover officer arranged for the purchase fentanyl, at $6 per pill, at a location in Woburn and police seized 13,800 suspected fentanyl pills weighing a total of 1.6 kilograms  (3.5 pounds), according to an affidavit filed in federal court. Later that day, Jan. 17, Diaz contacted his supplier, alleged to be Tejeda, who showed up with another 27,000 pills, weighing 3.1 kilograms (6.8 pounds) of pills, bringing the total to nearly 40,000 pills. 

All of the pills were disguised to look like 30 milligram Percocet tablets but, field testing showed, were actually fentanyl. Tejeda was also arrested, and police found a business card and key for a Public Storage facility in Salem. 

After getting a warrant, investigators went to the storage locker, rented in the name of Tejeda's mother-in-law, and found two more kilograms (4.4 pounds) of fentanyl pills, a pill press, and $150,000 in cash.

Unknown to the federal agent, state police on the North Shore were also looking into Tejeda, who they learned was living at 4 Berry St. in Peabody with his wife and two children. 

Those state police had seen Tejeda coming and going from a small shed-like structure on the property on the morning of the 17th, according to the affidavit. 

More details of the operation, which prosecutors say was likely generating hundreds of thousands of dollars at $6 per pill, could emerge during Friday's arraignment. 

Tejeda and Diaz are both facing mandatory minimum 10 year sentences if convicted as charged. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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