11 Investigates: Deadly drugs in the mail

PITTSBURGH — The FBI in Pittsburgh is cautioning you about drugs in the mail.

Some of your neighbors could be receiving a deadly delivery-- illegal drugs being sent through the US Postal Service.

Under the cover of darkness, law enforcement suited up and armored vehicles rolled out.

SWAT with guns drawn approached a house in a rural area outside of Pittsburgh.  This was the end of a four-and-a-half-year investigation that used federal wiretaps, search warrants, and confidential informants.

Christopher Giordano, an Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the FBI was on that case.

“During that takedown, we seized more than 2 million fentanyl pills,” Giordano tells Channel 11.  “That’s unheard of.  That’s one of the largest fentanyl seizures in the history of the U.S. Government.”

Giordano says the street value was over $20 million.

“2 million pills coming into Western Pennsylvania is enough to wipe out every man, woman, and child in Western PA,” Giordano added.

The FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force, with the help of countless law enforcement agencies, dismantled a massive drug trafficking operation. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service was also involved because some of the drugs were shipped through the mail. Drugs including homemade pressed pills were literally packaged up and dropped off at a USPS facility.

“People can do this in their basement and that’s what’s terrifying,” Giordano added.  “These people aren’t chemists, this isn’t Pfizer. These are people mixing chemicals together that they don’t know.”

57 people were charged including 18 from our area. In addition to the 2 million pills seized, investigators also recovered:

  • 400 pounds of methamphetamine
  • $600,000
  • 9 vehicles
  • 47 guns

Giordano says these drugs, some of which are coming through the mail, are ravaging our communities and the death rate illustrates just how badly.

“It is a truly evil business model,” Giordano added.  “They value profit over human life.  I’ve been in law enforcement for 19 years and I’ve never seen it as bad as it is now.”

The Inspector in Charge of Contraband Interdiction and Investigations with the U.S. Postal Service, Daniel Adame, says the mail is one of many ways dealers are doling out their deadly doses.  From 2020-2022, 150-thousand packages were intercepted by the USPIS, stopping 150 tons of drugs from getting into communities around the U.S. Adame says drugs including fentanyl, meth, and cocaine are primarily being mailed into our communities from the southwest border, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and then Puerto Rico.

11 investigates scoured data from 2020 through 2022 and found that to be the case.  We also traced the communities in the Pittsburgh area where the packages with the largest weight of drugs were mailed to.

Over the three years from 2020-2022, more than six pounds of synthetic opioids like fentanyl were mailed to New Kensington.  Nearly 7 pounds of methamphetamine was mailed to Uniontown and over 17 pounds of cocaine was mailed to Beaver Falls

The FBI says there’s a reason these drugs are shipped to towns surrounding Pittsburgh.

“These drug dealers, these traffickers, they try to stay off the radar as much as possible,” Giordano said.  “So being in New Kensington, you’re a lot less likely to be found than if you’re in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has the DEA, FBI, and HSI.

Debbie Leyland Morabito knows this well.  She lives in New Kensington.  Her daughter Ashley died of fentanyl poisoning in 2018.

“Ashely was a dynamic woman,” her mom recalls.

Ashley was a cheerleader, swimmer, and lifeguard and was about to graduate with honors. She had just turned 24.

“We didn’t even get a chance to celebrate her birthday with her,” Leyland Morabito shared. “We had plans. I want people to know if it doesn’t affect you, heaven forbid it may.”

The loss of life is why law enforcement says taking down drug dealers is key.

“It’s tragic anytime somebody loses their life, especially a younger adult or someone that unwittingly took something marketed as something else,” Daniel Adame added.

In February, 25-year-old Coraopolis man, Jacob Blair was arrested by the FBI.  Blair is accused of running a counterfeit drug operation that sold fentanyl and methamphetamine disguised as Oxycontin, Xanax, and Adderall on the dark web.

“You’re able to peddle your deadly poisons to anyone who can get on the dark web,” Adame said.  “All it takes is one pill for someone to overdose on fentanyl.”

40 grams of a substance containing Fentanyl and 50 grams of a substance containing Methamphetamine were seized from a home on Whispering Woods Drive in Coraopolis. 400+ grams of a substance containing fentanyl was also seized from a storage unit along Furnace Street Extension in McKees Rocks. 7 guns and 1,237 rounds of ammunition were taken in that raid.

The FBI says when drugs are shipped in the mail, there is an inherent danger to everyone.

“From the postal carrier to the police that get called in, to the animals they use to sniff out the drugs,” Giordano said.  “God forbid a child gets into it. They’re not going to know what it is.  It’s going to look like powdered sugar - like candy.”

Debbie wants to educate others on the dangers of these drugs including fentanyl.

“As few as a few grains the size of a grain of table salt can be deadly to someone who ingests it,” Leyland Morabito said. “One pill can kill and please don’t ever say not my child or loved one.”

For law enforcement, their work never ends.

“You are spending every single moment living and breathing these investigations,” Giordano said. “We do not sleep.  We will continue to investigate, disrupt and dismantle these criminal organizations.”

Download the FREE WPXI News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Channel 11 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch WPXI NOW