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Agent: North Knox Man Buying Deadly Fentanyl from China, Korea

Authorities say a North Knoxville man was buying cheap but deadly fentanyl – a synthetic opiate showing up with fatal consequences in heroin – from makers in China and Korea and doling it out to drug dealers in East Tennessee.

Kevin Mason was arraigned last week by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton on charges including conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.

Deadly mixer

Fentanyl is manufactured cheaply in countries such as China and Korea. Heroin dealers in the U.S. use it to lower the price of their more expensive product – which comes from drug cartels – by substituting some of the heroin for fentanyl.

Fentanyl mimics the effects of heroin but packs a much deadlier punch than heroin. If dealers don’t get the mix just right – and warn their customers – a fatal overdose is guaranteed, according to testimony from drug agents in state and federal courts.

Tennessee has one of the highest death rates via opiate overdoses in the country. With fentanyl now cropping up in heroin and being sold outright on the streets, that death rate is climbing.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Agent John Whitsell III detailed in a criminal complaint against Mason what law enforcers are now doing to try to curb the flow of fentanyl.

Profiling packages

Border agents profile packages arriving from such countries as China and Korea, looking for signs fentanyl might be inside. In January, agents were investigating two citizens of Shanghai, China – Wei Zhu and Yuguang Liu – and Shang Hai Yanbing of Korea after intercepting more than 100 packages shipped by the trio that were labeled as household goods or jewelry but instead were filled with fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.

Whitsell said agents discovered all three had shipped packages addressed to a “Kebin Mason” of Chickamauga Avenue in North Knoxville.

In April, the agents intercepted a package addressed to Mason. U.S. Postal Inspection Service Agent Wendy Boles posed as a delivery driver. Mason, Whitsell wrote, answered her knock and accepted the package. Agents, armed with a search warrant, swarmed inside.

Whitsell wrote agents found 50 more grams of fentanyl inside Mason’s apartment and a slew of the tools of the drug-dealing trade, including scales, cash, packaging material and a drug ledger. Mason told the agents he would cooperate for a break.

Suspicious agent

Whitsell wrote Mason offered up a name of a man he claimed was the real fentanyl supplier and insisted he only ordered the drugs and received the packages for some cash in return.

Whitsell wasn’t buying it.

“Mason seriously minimized his drug trafficking activities, in my opinion,” Whitsell wrote. “Mason’s explanation for possessing the cutting agents, scales, packaging materials and the like, was wholly unsatisfactory to me. I believe Mason was untruthful about not selling fentanyl.”

Guyton set a July 3 trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan.

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