BANNING (CNS) - A sheriff's correctional deputy who was allegedly caught carrying over 100 pounds of fentanyl on Interstate 10 was charged Monday with transportation of drugs for sale and other felonies.
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Jorge Alberto Oceguera Rocha, 25, of Banning was charged in state court after federal prosecutors declined last week to seek an indictment against him, resulting in his flash release from jail and immediate re-arrest.
Along with the transportation count, Rocha is charged with possession of controlled substances for sale, along with sentence-enhancing allegations of perpetrating a drug-related offense while armed.
The defendant is being held in lieu of $5 million bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta and was slated to make his initial court appearance Monday afternoon at the Banning Justice Center.
He resigned his position with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department immediately after he was arrested the first time, sheriff's officials said.
Early last week, detectives submitted their case against Rocha to the U.S. Attorney's Office, but federal prosecutors declined to seek an indictment, according to sheriff's Capt. Rob Roggeveen. U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Thom Mrozek declined to comment on the matter.
Because Rocha's guaranteed speedy arraignment window closed on Wednesday, he was flash-released from jail but immediately re-arrested on essentially the same allegations as before. Roggeveen said detectives then took their case to the District Attorney's Office and received confirmation a criminal complaint would be filed.
Prosecutors forwarded the complaint to the Superior Court late Monday morning.
"Bail was set at $5 million based on the weight amount (of the fentanyl), danger to the public and potential for Rocha to flee from prosecution," Roggeveen said.
The prior surety had been $1 million.
Sheriff's officials said Rocha was driving in the area of I-10 and County Line Road in Calimesa when he was stopped by law enforcement in the predawn hours of Sept. 17.
"After a K9 alerted to the presence of narcotics within the vehicle, a search was conducted," Roggeveen said. "Located in the vehicle was (104) pounds of packaged fentanyl pills -- M30s. Also located in the vehicle was a loaded handgun."
Rocha was taken into custody without incident.
The sheriff's captain did not say how long the Special Investigations Bureau had been conducting surveillance on the defendant, or what evidence prompted the investigation into his alleged narcotics dealing, which did not include "smuggling narcotics into the Riverside County jail system."
"The Sheriff's Department condemns any form of illegal activity and remains resolute in its commitment to deterring and preventing such behavior," Roggeveen said, adding that the agency "will employ all necessary measures to ensure the highest standards of integrity and professionalism among its personnel."
Rocha was hired by the department in April 2019 and was assigned to the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
According to public safety officials, there were 503 confirmed fentanyl-related fatalities countywide last year, compared to just under 400 in 2021, a 200-fold increase from 2016, when there were only two.
Fentanyl is manufactured in overseas labs, principally in China, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which says the substance is smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border by cartels. Fentanyl is 80-100 times more potent than morphine and can be mixed into any number of street narcotics and prescription drugs, without a user knowing what he or she is consuming. Ingestion of only two milligrams can be fatal.
Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans between 18 and 45 years old.