Ohio man to admit using elephant tranquilizer in Huntington ODs

Federal prosecutors asked Monday that a “guilty plea hearing” be set for an Ohio man accused of selling a batch of heroin that contained a synthetic opioid 10,000 times more powerful than morphine in Huntington on Aug. 15 — the day emergency responders in that city responded to more than 24 overdoses within four hours.

For the first time since his arrest on Aug. 26, federal prosecutors on Monday accused Bruce Lamar Griggs, 22, of Akron, of distributing carfentanil, the extremely powerful drug used as an elephant tranquilizer.

Griggs, also known as “Benz,” according to federal prosecutors, was charged Monday with “knowingly and intentionally” distributing on Aug. 15 in Huntington a quantity of heroin, a schedule I controlled substance, carfentanil and fentanyl, which are both Schedule II controlled substances. Carfentanil is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, another synthetic opioid, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin, according to the DEA.

In September, the DEA issued a public warning about the health and safety risks of carfentanil.

“DEA, local law enforcement and first responders have recently seen the presence of carfentanil, which has been linked to a significant number of overdose deaths in various parts of the country,” the DEA’s release stated. “Improper handling of carfentanil, as well as fentanyl and other fentanyl-related compounds, has deadly consequences.”

The charge Monday was filed against Griggs in the form of an information, which is similar to an indictment but can’t be filed without a defendant’s consent and typically signals that a defendant is cooperating with prosecutors.

In September, a federal grand jury in Huntington returned a single-count indictment charging Griggs with distributing heroin and fentanyl in Huntington on Aug. 15 and that “serious bodily injury resulted from the use of such substances.” Federal prosecutors Monday asked that Chief U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers delay that case against Griggs, as “a proposed plea agreement has been entered into by the United States and by the defendant.”

“A condition of the proposed plea agreement in the information case is that the United States will dismiss this action if the plea is accepted and judgment is entered in the information case. Accordingly, the United States moved to continue this matter until final judgment has been entered in the information case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg McVey wrote in a motion Monday.

Earlier this month, Griggs’ trial on the charge he was indicted on was pushed back until January.

Multiple people who overdosed Aug. 15 told police they purchased the drug that day from a man named “Ben” and/or “Benz,” who law enforcement officials say is Griggs. All of the drug sales took place around St. Louis Avenue and Marcum Terrace, police wrote in an affidavit unsealed after Griggs was indicted.

Police were told that Griggs was driving a white Chevrolet Cruze on Aug. 15 and surveillance footage reportedly shows Griggs arriving that day in the vehicle at Marcum Terrace between about 2 and 3 p.m. The footage shows Griggs meeting with multiple people and engaging in drug transactions, according to court documents.

Griggs was arrested about a week later by the Tallmadge, Ohio, police department and waived extradition to West Virginia. Hurricane lawyer Carl Hostler, who has been appointed to represent Griggs, was not in his office Monday for comment.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.

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