Two men enter pleas in Fresno court after being caught on I-5 with 15 pounds of fentanyl

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Two men from Washington who were caught Monday with nearly 15 pounds of fentanyl pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of transporting the highly-addictive drug.

Brian Rangel, 21, of Everett and Martin Velazquez, 29, of Lynnwood were denied bail by Fresno County Superior Court Judge David Gottlieb.

Prosecutor John Tully advised Gottlieb both Rangel and Velazquez are felons with previous convictions in Washington state. Velazquez has also been charged with assault and evading police.

Gottlieb said the two defendants pose too high a risk to be released on bail. “They have little to no concern about the public,” the judge said. “To ensure public safety the court is going to deny bail.”

A Fresno County Sheriff’s deputy stopped the two men Monday near Interstate 5 and Russell Avenue in Firebaugh. A search of the vehicle uncovered two firearms, one of which had been reported stolen. The deputy also found three altered fire extinguishers in the vehicle that were filled with varying amounts of fentanyl-laced pills that weighed more than 15 pounds.

The two men are charged with several crimes including transportation of fentanyl for the purpose of selling across non-contiguous counties; possessing more than 4 kilograms the drug; being armed with a firearm and possession of fentanyl with a firearm.

If a jury finds them guilty on all charges and enhancements, they both would face up to 20 years in prison.

The two men are scheduled to return to court for a pre-preliminary hearing on Aug. 24 in Dept. 20 and Aug. 31 for a preliminary hearing.

Local and federal law enforcement agencies in the central San Joaquin Valley have been extra vigilant in trying to catch suspected drug traffickers. The Valley, like the rest of the nation, has seen an increase in the number of overdoses and deaths related to fentanyl.

Earlier this summer, a multi-agency task force brought down a criminal network that was supplying thousands of fake oxycontin pills laced with fentanyl.

A total of 18 people were arrested as part of the operation dubbed “Operation Killer High.”

Police seized 55,000 pills, 4.4 pounds of fentanyl powder, a pill press, one pound of cocaine and 10 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and 12 guns, half of which were ghost guns.