YORK COUNTY, S.C. — On Oct. 24, 2022, the York County Sheriff's Office announced that a year-long investigation resulted in a major bust of a fentanyl production lab. At the time, Sheriff Kevin R. Tolson said six suspects had produced enough of the deadly drug to theoretically kill the entire county population.
"Did you hear what I said?" Sheriff Tolson asked. "What sits before you is enough fentanyl to kill the entire population of York County."
On Thursday, Nov. 11, two of the six suspects charged in the bust stood before a judge: Timario Gayton and Thomas Perry Jr. The duo reportedly were part of the operation in a house along Golden Pond Drive in the town of York, which was close to other homes and even a church and school. But aside from the operation, nobody was really home.
"There were no beds within this residence. No personal belongings, this was solely for the purpose of creating fentanyl pills, pressing fentanyl pills, distributing kilos of drugs," said York county prosecutor Marina Hamilton. "This was a lab.”
The drugs seized - which included cocaine, meth, and marijuana along with the fentanyl - are estimated by the prosecution to be worth millions of dollars in street value. That tracks with the scale of the operation as well; investigators believe the operation is tied to cartels in Mexico and along the Gulf Coast.
To further underscore the level of the alleged lab, law enforcement officers said 62 pounds total of fentanyl were seized, including about 200,000 pills.
"Officers did have knowledge that [the suspects] were some of the biggest producers within the Southeast," Hamilton noted.
Fentanyl itself has been proven to be a deadly drug; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports it's the top killer of adults aged 18 to 45 years old. But part of the operation included using pill-pressing machines, which law enforcement said were being used to mold potentially lethal doses to look like prescription oxycodone pills.
“You have these people who are not trained, who are creating these pills to look like valid prescription pills, and it’s Russian roulette when they get on the streets,” Hamilton said.
The bonds for both Gayton and Perry Jr. were denied Thursday. But the possible consequences they could face have been lambasted as not enough by Sheriff Tolson. In South Carolina, the strongest consequence for someone found guilty of trafficking fentanyl is a 15-year jail sentence. During the October news briefing, York County Solicitor Kevin Brackett echoed Tolson's sentiments.
“We’re hampered because we can’t get laws that will hold people accountable," Brackett said. "We’ve been trying for years to get a fentanyl trafficking statute."
At the federal level, the Drug Enforcement Administration reports fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II drug. Federal drug trafficking penalties range from five years to life imprisonment depending on how much fentanyl is seized and on how many prior offenses the guilty party has.