Prosecutors claimed during oral argument Tuesday that a former manager of a Newport Beach bar supplied fentanyl that left one person dead and three unconscious in 2016, but the defendant’s attorney noted that none of the opioids was in his possession and suggested that others might have sold the drugs. .
Sean Robert McLaughlin, 48, of Aliso Viejo, was the security manager of the now-closed business, American Junkie, early Friday, November 18, 2016. It was packed when, around 1 a.m., four people who later tested positive for furanylfentanyl collapsed in the nightclub.
Paramedics took three of them to hospital. One of them, Ahmed Said, then 25, died of acute furanylfentanyl poisoning, according to Orange County coroner officials.
McLaughlin was working at the time and was “there to keep everyone safe,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Rabbani told the jury and Judge David O. Carter on Tuesday. “But he was more focused on his side business, which was the resident drug dealer at American Junkie.”
Following the incident, patrons were kicked out of the bar, police questioned staff and searched for evidence. They found cocaine in a vacuum sealed pouch, amber glass vials and small bags decorated with scorpions stored in an employee locker. Other drugs were also found there, including pills that looked like Adderal but were actually methamphetamine.
Former employees testified that the defendant was seen using this locker, which was secured with its lock. Forensic experts said his DNA was also found inside.
However, no furanylfentanyl was discovered at the bar, nor during a search of McLaughlin’s home.
The accused was seen entering an area on the second floor of the bar while other staff spoke to police below. Prosecutors say he collected all the fentanyl that may have been stored at the business, then flushed it down the toilet or took it with him to dispose of it elsewhere. McLaughlin’s attorney, Dan Chambers, dismissed those suggestions as speculation.
United States attorneys also brought Derrek Elias, an American Junkie boss that night, to the witness stand. He said he heard McLaughlin ask someone “what did you give me?” during a phone call outside the bar as police investigated the scene. But the defendant’s attorney, Dan Chambers, said the conversation did not appear to be recorded in the call logs for that evening.
Prosecutors presented documents of numerous phone, text and social media exchanges in the days leading up to Said’s death, in which McLaughlin told people who appeared to be looking for drugs he could supply them. They also shared parts of his online browsing history, which included visits to sites on how to test and cut cocaine, as well as another that sells glass vials similar to those found containing cocaine. at American Junkie.
Rabbani, along with fellow assistant U.S. attorney Bradley Marrett, described McLaughlin as a rookie drug dealer. She said the accused “had very little idea what he was doing, and that’s why people got hurt that night. Because he was sloppy.
Jurors heard testimony from two people who were seen in surveillance footage with Said and who also suffered overdoses at the bar, Josh Selley and Daron Muratyan. They both said they bought what they thought was cocaine from McLaughlin and that he was the only person they bought drugs from that night.
Selley was seen in security footage handing cash to McLaughlin near an elevator on the building’s second floor at 12:28 a.m., about 25 minutes before he, Said and Muratyan lost consciousness. However, during his testimony, he claimed that the money he gave the defendant was payment for bottle service.
Chambers noted that Selley and Muratyan denied having a previous relationship with Said, although they “clearly talked and interacted that night”, and were seen entering and leaving the restrooms at American Junkie together.
He and prosecutors suggested that because there were no cameras present in the restrooms to record their movements, that’s likely where they chose to obtain and use the drugs later found in their systems.
Chambers said Selley, Muratyan, Adel Aziz and others lied on the witness stand. He went on to say Newport Beach police failed to identify several other people seen in the surveillance footage who may have been selling drugs to the victim, and said detectives didn’t even watch the video. before taking his client into custody.
Records indicate that Said messaged another person at the bar, Elias, asking if he would be able to buy a “white girl,” a slang name for cocaine. Chambers claimed Said was filmed exchanging money for drugs with Elias at 12:37 a.m., but prosecutors said it was not possible to tell from the footage if anything was between their hands at that time.
About 15 minutes later, Said, Selley and Muratyan passed out in the bar. That’s about the time it takes for people who snort furanylfentanyl to start showing the effects of the drug, according to toxicology experts.
Furanylfentanyl is a significantly more potent opioid than morphine that is essentially identical in structure to fentanyl. It’s a synthetic drug that had only recently appeared on the streets at the time of Said’s fatal overdose. But its use quickly spread, according to expert witness Kevin Shanks of Axis Fornesic Technology, one of the few labs able to screen for furanylfentanyl in 2016.
“It was getting so prevalent that we had to develop new tests for it,” he said.
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