MINNEAPOLIS — A single traffic stop last month of a man suspected of trafficking massive quantities of fentanyl pills from California to Minnesota yielded enough pills to produce more than 2 million possible lethal doses, according to new federal charges unsealed this week.
State troopers arrested Cortez Ananias Williams at the Minnesota-Iowa border on Feb. 13 after a task force that had been investigating him for a year used an informant and cellphone location data to track his latest cross-country trip to allegedly bring fentanyl pills into the state.
According to a federal criminal complaint first filed on Feb. 17 and unsealed this week, law enforcement recovered about 4.4 kilograms of pills that field-tested positive for fentanyl and 994 grams of cocaine from the rental car Williams and another man, who has not been charged, was in.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers 1 kilogram of fentanyl to contain 500,000 potentially deadly doses. That would place the number of possibly lethal doses allegedly seized from Williams at about 2.2 million.
Williams made his first court appearance on Tuesday in Minneapolis, during which a federal magistrate judge temporarily ordered him to remain detained before a full detention/preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday.
A message was left seeking comment from the federal defender listed as representing Williams.
According to criminal charges filed against Williams, which relied on an affidavit from a federal agent assigned to the Hennepin County Violent Offender Task Force, Williams had been under investigation for drug trafficking and firearm possession for about a year. Confidential informants allegedly described Williams as selling fentanyl pills in and around Minneapolis and St. Paul and said that he made regular trips to California to bring back between 50,000 to 150,000 pills each time.
One informant told police in January that Williams repackaged the drugs he brought back and broke them down into smaller quantities to sell while at the Minneapolis home of the mother of his child. Williams was in California at the time of that interview, which law enforcement said was corroborated by cellphone location data tracked via a state warrant.
Law enforcement tried to stop Williams at the airport on Jan. 25 but he had returned on a flight earlier than expected. Investigators used phone location data to determine that Williams soon made another trip, this time by car, to California on Feb. 10.
After law enforcement concluded that he was likely returning with a large amount of fentanyl, they assembled a plan to intercept him on Feb. 13. Once stopped by state troopers, Williams allegedly provided vague answers about his travel, initially saying he had been in Arizona to watch the Super Bowl.
Williams did not consent to having the vehicle searched. But troopers searched the vehicle after a K-9 certified to detect controlled substances made multiple alerts on a sweep outside. Along with the drugs, charges state that law enforcement seized five cellphones and clothing that Williams appeared to have worn on his January return flight from California.