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Northern Branch Jail Fentanyl Overdose Amongst Indictments by United States Attorney

Earlier today, Sheriff Brown joined federal authorities and law enforcement leaders at a news conference where officials announced a dozen new federal cases targeting fentanyl dealers who, in all but one case, allegedly sold fentanyl and fake pills containing fentanyl that directly resulted in the death of at least one victim. The announcement, made on Fentanyl Awareness Day, includes the indictment of Kaelen Wendel and Michael Villapania for distributing fentanyl that led to the death of one jail inmate and serious bodily injury to a second at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Northern Branch Jail on Thursday, October 20, 2022.

An intensive investigation was conducted by the Sheriff’s Office Special Investigation Bureau, with the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration, revealing that 31-year-old Kaelen Wendel of Lompoc, an inmate who had been arrested for outstanding property crime warrants, had smuggled fentanyl into the jail and into the housing unit where the overdose occurred. 35-year-old Michael Villapania of Santa Barbara, an inmate who had been arrested for an outstanding probation warrant, a property crime warrant, and a warrant for bringing narcotics into jail, conspired with Wendel to sell some of the Fentanyl in exchange for jail commissary items.

Sheriff Brown said, “Law enforcement agencies nationwide are working to combat the fentanyl crisis through various strategies, including increased border security, enhanced drug interdiction efforts, and targeted enforcement against drug traffickers. In response to this crisis, law enforcement agencies have also had to adapt their approach to protecting our communities from the scourge of fentanyl. We are working in partnership with public health officials and community members, leaders, and organizations to increase awareness and educate the public about the dangers of Fentanyl, and to make substance use treatment available to those who are addicted, and to adopt harm-reduction strategies including widespread distribution of Narcan, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. But prevention, treatment, and harm reduction effort alone are not going to solve the Fentanyl problem our nation grapples with today. We must also resolutely enforce the laws against those who cavalierly manufacture and distribute dangerous drugs like Fentanyl without any regard for the lethal consequences of their reckless actions.”

Sheriff Brown closed by thanking the United States Attorney’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration for their partnership and dedication to this investigation, which led to the indictment of Kaelen Wendel and Michael Villapania. He said, “Today we send a strong message to those in Santa Barbara County who sell or distribute this poison. It will not be tolerated. If you choose to sell Fentanyl in our communities, you do so at your own risk. The Sheriff’s Office and our federal partners will continue to investigate and prosecute those responsible for fentanyl-related overdose deaths, to the fullest extent of the law.”

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