MISSOULA - A man was recently arrested in Flathead County on suspicion of trafficking fentanyl after thousands of pills were found inside a vehicle.
Cuauhtemoc Cervantes Samaniego — a 29-year-old Mexican citizen — was arrested in Kalispell after members of the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force (NWMDTF) seized approximately 12,000 fentanyl pills, a firearm and more than $62,000 cash from a vehicle in which he was a passenger.
Samaniego had an initial appearance on Oct. 6 in federal court in Missoula on a criminal complaint. He is accused of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, according to a news release.
Prosecutors say Samaniego was trafficking fentanyl in Flathead County from about May 2022 to October. If convicted of the most serious charge, Samaniego faces a mandatory minimum 10 years to life in prison, a $10 million fine and at least five years to life of supervised release.
During the first week of October, NWDTF agents learned of a possible sizable load of fentanyl that was going to be transported from San Diego to Kalispell for distribution from a person known as “Johnny.” A new release also states that agents further learned that “Johnny” was having large quantities of fentanyl transported to Kalispell for distribution.
Law enforcement received information on Oct. 4 that “Johnny” would be arriving in Kalispell to conduct a drug transaction. Officers located the vehicle, in which “Johnny” was identified as the passenger and later identified as Samaniego.
The driver, who owned the vehicle, consented to a search of the car and law enforcement found approximately 12,000 blue pills known to be fentanyl under the center console. Agents also found a semi-automatic pistol and seized more than $62,000 cash from the vehicle.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen L. DeSoto presided and Samaniego was detained pending further proceedings. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer S. Clark is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations.
Flathead County Sheriff’s Office Detective Commander Josh Buls told MTN News on Wednesday that fentanyl use and distribution has exploded in Flathead County over the last year, saying it’s now on par with meth as far as usage and distribution.
“With the fentanyl, it’s just something we can’t take lightly at all, it’s just extremely dangerous, and we’ve had numerous overdoses throughout the community over the last year that I know medical has responded to, a lot of overdoses with it as well,” Buls said.