PEABODY — One of two North Shore men charged with making a deal to sell more than 10 pounds of the synthetic opiate fentanyl disguised as Percocet pills pleaded guilty Tuesday to drug conspiracy charges.
Jose Esmerlin Diaz, 37, of Salem, is facing a mandatory minimum 10 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 9.
A co-defendant in the case, Peabody business owner Manuel Tejeda, 40, is due in court next week for a status hearing in his case.
The two men were charged back in January 2020 following an investigation that involved a cooperating witness.
Prosecutor Craig Estes told U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton that if the case went to trial, he would prove that Diaz, Tejeda and others discussed a deal to sell 4.6 kilograms — just over 10 pounds — of fentanyl that had been put into a pill press and made to look like 30 milligram Percocet pills.
That size of Percocet pill at the time would have been selling on the street for $6 each.
Police were watching as Diaz met with the cooperating witness in a Woburn parking lot on Jan. 17, 2020. He had some of the drugs. The rest were found in a pickup truck that showed up shortly afterward with Tejeda and a third man, who was not indicted. Estes said the total amount seized in Woburn that day was 4.6 kilograms.
More pills, cash and a pill press were found in a Public Storage storage locker in Salem, court papers say.
Estes told the judge that there was no formal plea agreement in place with Diaz.
Diaz's attorney, Murat Erkan, pointed out to the judge that numerous family members and friends were watching via Zoom during Diaz's plea hearing on Tuesday. Prior to the start of the pandemic, many had also attended proceedings in person.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.