Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2019

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Woman to serve time for dealing fentanyl-laced pills that caused death

A Henderson woman will serve up to 15 years in federal prison for selling prescription-type pills mixed with fentanyl, which last year caused a fatal overdose of one of her buyers, according to the office of the U.S. attorney for the district of Nevada.

Donned in dark-green inmate scrubs Tuesday afternoon, Tianna Christina Cordova, 35, wiped away tears as she addressed U.S. District Judge Richard F. Boulware II.

As Boulware repeatedly asked Cordova if she understood what the agreement entailed — no less than five years in prison, and five years of subsequent supervised release, plus a $1 million fine — she quietly sobbed and softly responded with “yes, sir.”

Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 21.

Using ads with “coded language,” Cordova would promote her drug business online, according to the complaint.

In May, Cordova sold $600 worth of oxycodone and Adderall pills to a buyer, who turned out to be an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration source, in her apartment at 1480 Paseo Verde Parkway, which she shared with Robert James Thornburg, 36, according to a criminal complaint.

The pills were packaged in a prescription bottle, and the buyer noticed a gun sitting on a coffee table, the complaint said.

The next DEA visit at the location occurred weeks later when agents executed a search warrant on June 21 and found “various amounts” of oxycodone, hydrocodone, alprazolam, cash and four firearms, officials said.

Cordova and Thornburg were arrested that day, the complaint said. Waiving their Miranda rights, the suspects spoke to investigators.

Thornburg said he was “aware of Cordova’s drug-trafficking activities” and admitted to participating in several transactions, the complaint said.

The previous week, Thornburg said, Cordova had been fleeced by a dealer who’d sold her fake pills, the complaint said.

A vehicle chase ensued, and when Thornburg — who was riding with Cordova — and the unidentified person stopped, there was a standoff in which weapons were drawn by Thornburg and the other person, he said.

No shots were fired and each went their own way, he said.

Meanwhile, Cordova confessed to selling the drugs, according to the complaint. She further said that she sold pills believed to be oxycodone, but that had fentanyl in them.

A female buyer of hers, Cordova said, overdosed and died in 2017, according to the complaint. “That person ingested the pills which resulted in her death from multiple drug intoxication, namely from an overdose of fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl, and citalopram,” officials wrote in a news release.

“Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency, or be disguised as highly potent heroin,” officials said. “Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl.”

The case comes as the U.S. is trying to grapple an opioid epidemic in which the drug and its powerful synthetic iterations, such as fentanyl, is increasingly killing thousands of victims.

That number of total drug overdoses hiked from about 50,000 in 2015 to approximately 63,000 the following year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 72,000 were killed last year, including an estimated 30,000 people who died from synthetic opioids, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Tiny powdery particles of fentanyl, which is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine — 50 times stronger than heroin — can be fatal.

Numbers for 2018 are not yet available.

Thornburg’s prosecution on drug and weapon charges remains active, according to court logs.

After Judge Boulware accepted Cordova’s plea, U.S. Marshals ordered her to once again place her hands behind her back, walking her outside the wooded courtroom.