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Police: Suspect sold ‘bootleg’ pills to man who later died

Camacho faces felony charges for dealing suspected fentanyl pills

Jose Camacho (left) appears with Deputy Public Defender Ben Lowenthal for a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Wailuku District Court. Camacho was arrested last week when police reported seizing more than 400 pills suspected of containing the opioid fentanyl. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — A Makawao man who was arrested when police seized more than 400 suspected fentanyl pills told police he had sold some of the opioid pills to a man who died in August, an officer testified Wednesday.

Jose Camacho, 29, reported that a friend who knew about the death “thought it might have had something to do with the pills he sold him,” said police Crime Reduction Unit officer Erik Matsuo.

He spoke with Camacho after police arrested him Friday morning when he arranged a meeting to sell the “bootleg” pills that resemble oxycodone pills but tested positive for fentanyl in presumptive testing, witnesses said at a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Wailuku District Court.

“These are K9s. These are bootleg oxycodones that contain fentanyl . . . which is a very dangerous drug,” Deputy Prosecutor Tracy Jones said in arguing for bail to remain at $250,000 for Camacho.

Crime Reduction Unit Sgt. Grant Nakamura said police made contact with Camacho after receiving information from another man that Camacho was selling the pills Upcountry.

Using the other man’s phone, Nakamura sent a text message to Camacho on Friday morning to set up a meeting to buy 100 pills for $20 each. The amount was later changed to 50 pills, Nakamura said.

He said he exchanged texts with Camacho as officers headed to his address on Mahanani Place. There, Nakamura said he saw Camacho leaving the residence and walking down the street.

Officer Matsuo made contact with Camacho and detained him.

After being advised of his constitutional rights, Camacho agreed to let officers search him and his residence, Matsuo said. He said 53 blue round pills imprinted with “M30” were found in a pocket of Camacho’s shorts.

From a bedroom of the house, police recovered a quart-size bag containing 27.71 grams of crystal methamphetamine in a black leather backpack in a closet, as well as 323 pills similar to the ones in Camacho’s pocket and $1,165 in cash, Matsuo said.

He said 54 more pills were found in a purse along the bed. In another closet, there were five packets containing suspected cocaine residue, Matsuo said.

In an adjacent room, police recovered a rubber silicone container with suspected butane hashish oil and a butane can, Matsuo said.

During an interview later at the Wailuku Police Station, Camacho said the pills were from a man who was working with Camacho’s cousin on Lanai and would come to Maui to party on weekends, Matsuo said.

He said Camacho reported the other man asked if he knew anything about selling “M30” pills. Camacho said “he didn’t know much about the pills but was willing to sell them,” Matsuo said.

Camacho reported receiving 1,000 of the blue pills in a FedEx package a couple of months ago, Matsuo said. Camacho said he owed $15,000 for the pills and was selling them for $20 each, Matsuo said.

In August, Camacho said he sold about 10 pills for $200 to “Tyler,” whom he had met through a friend, Matsuo said.

The night before they were supposed to meet for the first sale, Tyler contacted Camacho to try to get the pills earlier, offering to pay more, Camacho told Matsuo.

He said Camacho said he declined and met Tyler the next day, selling five pills for $100.

Later, Camacho said “Tyler called him, said that he’s in the hospital but if he could meet him again for the sale of five more pills,” Matsuo said.

He said Camacho reported Tyler had a hospital band when they met.

A couple of days later, a friend told Camacho’s nephew that Tyler had committed suicide by a suspected heroin overdose, Matsuo said. He said Camacho called the friend, who said “he thought it might have had something to do with the pills he sold him.”

Matsuo said he confirmed the unattended death on Aug. 28 of a man with the name Tyler.

After selling pills to Tyler, Camacho said he hadn’t sold pills to anyone else because he didn’t know anyone to sell them to, Matsuo said.

Then a friend said he could help sell the pills, Camacho told the officer.

Camacho said he gave the friend about 200 pills in 100-pill increments, for which the friend owed Camacho $4,000, Matsuo said. He added that Camacho reported the friend asked for another 100 pills but still owed money for the first 200, so he gave Camacho the bag of crystal methamphetamine to hold as collateral in exchange for the additional 100 pills until the friend could pay off the debt.

The friend was being investigated by police when he provided information about Camacho, Sgt. Nakamura said. He added that no pills were recovered from the friend.

Nakamura said a presumptive test of one pill that was recovered showed fentanyl with no trace of oxycodone. He said he hadn’t recovered a pill like that before.

Asked why fentanyl would be put in bootleg pills, Nakamura said he believed it was cheaper than oxycodone.

Police had heard that “a lot of people were overdosing” on the counterfeit oxycodone pills, Nakamura said.

Maui Police Department criminalist Brandi Kaoni said the pills had an “M” in a square on one side and “30” on the other side, as 30-milligram oxycodone pharmaceutical pills do. But “they weren’t consistent from tablet to tablet,” she said.

Testing on a random sampling of the tablets resulted in presumptive positive results for fentanyl and no indication of oxycodone, she said.

Judge Kirstin Hamman ruled there was enough evidence to find probable cause for felony charges of two counts of attempted first-degree promotion of a dangerous drug, first-degree promotion of a dangerous drug, second-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and promoting a controlled substance near a school.

Camacho also is charged with three counts of possessing drug paraphernalia and fourth-degree promotion of a harmful drug.

Camacho asked to have his bail reduced or to be released on supervision.

He has a “minimal” prior record and a newborn at home, said Deputy Public Defender Ben Lowenthal.

Jones said the illegal pills that were seized pose a “risk of serious harm, including death, if ingested.”

“This defendant had basically 430 death sentences in his possession, and he met Sgt. Nakamura to sell them on the street near Makawao School,” she said.

Jones said Camacho continued distributing the pills after Tyler’s death.

“The game for him was money, so he’s willing to risk the safety of the community and the life of any person for a dollar,” she said. “That shows a depraved state of mind.”

In keeping bail at $250,000, Judge Hamman said she was concerned about the safety of the community.

Camacho is set to be arraigned Oct. 21 in 2nd Circuit Court.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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