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The mansion that fentanyl built
“A significant percentage of people selling drugs in San Francisco, perhaps as many as half, are from Honduras … we need to be mindful of the impact our interventions have. Some of them have family members in Honduras who have been or will be harmed if they don’t continue to pay off the traffickers who brought them here.”
— San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, speaking at a virtual town hall, July 25, 2020
In July of 2021, I wrote a column called “Two overdoses in 10 minutes,” about the brazen drug dealers in San Francisco’s troubled Tenderloin neighborhood, in which I called attention to a video of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Currently facing a recall election on June 7, Boudin told a stunned Zoom audience “we need to be mindful of the impact our interventions have…” He went on to say that half the dealers are from Honduras and have been trafficked here to sell drugs.
That seemed far-fetched to me, especially because Boudin hasn’t held a press conference to boast about prosecuting all those traffickers, so I reached out to some experts.
Lou Barberini, who spent more than a decade as an undercover narcotics officer for the San Francisco Police Department, said he never heard a single dealer claim to be there involuntarily. Four current Tenderloin narcotics officers, involved in more than 4,000 arrests collectively, responded that “they have never once heard a drug seller say he was trafficked.”
Thomas Ostly, one of seven seasoned litigators fired by Boudin when he took office, reviewed hundreds of narcotics sales cases and said he never saw any evidence of dealers being involuntarily trafficked. “I reviewed dealers’ social media, text messages, statements to law enforcement, and had countless conversations with affected community members. All evidence confirmed dealers were freely and enthusiastically engaging in the drug trade. One guy was making $20,000 a month and sending $6,000 home to Honduras,” Ostly said.
Boudin cites the law requiring him to consider a defendant’s immigration status, and Ostly says he’s right — to a point. “It is absolutely appropriate and required to consider immigration consequences. Padilla v. Kentucky says ‘consider’ immigration status. However, giving someone the same break over and over again while they reoffend is beyond comprehension. I gave immigration safe pleas if it was a misdemeanor — but I never gave them twice. The bar for that should be very high.”
PUBLIC DEFENDERS INTIMIDATE UNDOCUMENTED VICTIMS
When it comes to undocumented witnesses and victims of crime, Ostly says it’s important for them not to be fearful about coming forward. “If you allow immigration issues to deter cooperation it makes it very hard to get convictions. In my cases I had undocumented witnesses come forward and testify despite intimidation by the Public Defender’s office.”
That’s right: In perhaps the biggest hypocrisy of all, San Francisco public defenders regularly use immigration status to intimidate victims and witnesses. In a 2017 San Francisco Chronicle column by Heather Knight, an undocumented housekeeper from Honduras named Maria said she called police in May 2015 to report being sexually assaulted. During the investigation and subsequent trial of the suspect, she said late Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s office used tactics so aggressive toward her that it exacerbated her trauma. They even interviewed her landlord, who then told Maria she had to move. “Adachi’s office included her full name, date of birth and immigration status in public court records,” Knight writes. “And in court, an attorney from Adachi’s office insinuated she was testifying only to try to obtain a type of visa available to crime victims.”
Court records obtained of several cases tried in San Francisco during Adachi’s years showed attorneys “regularly quizzed immigrants living here illegally about a special visa available to crime victims, apparently to cast doubt on their credibility. The attorneys have pressed their questioning about the visas, regardless of whether the alleged victim had applied for the visa and even if the victim testified he or she didn’t know about the visa when reporting the crime.”
Knight also discovered Adachi’s tactics were unique to San Francisco: spokespeople for the district attorneys’ offices in Alameda County and Santa Clara County said “prosecutors couldn’t remember a case in which public defenders in those counties used such tactics,” and Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, said she had not heard of the practice, calling it “pretty sleazy.”
Adachi, who mentored Boudin and other public defenders now decrying the deportation of fentanyl dealers, was unapologetic about his tactics. “Part of what we do is investigate the motivations for a witness to make a claim,” he told Knight. “The idea that we’re somehow acting improperly in questioning witnesses about this is meritless … That’s doing our jobs as defense attorneys. It has nothing to do with my support of immigrant rights.”
BOUDIN PROTECTS HONDURAN DRUG DEALERS
As I wrote in my July 2021 column, during the first five-and-one-half months of 2021 SFPD seized more than 19 kilos of narcotics in the Tenderloin alone. They also made 257 narcotics arrests from 2019 to the first quarter of 2021, where 89 drug dealers were apprehended between three and seven times for the same crime. Of those 89 most prolific dealers, only two were in custody at San Francisco County Jail at the time I wrote the column (both were released soon after). What does Boudin do with all those repeat offenders? He sends them to “Drug Court,” a diversion program meant for users, meaning taxpayers fund a system where dealers wait for their hearings right next to their customers. How does Boudin get away with this? The same way he does with virtually every felony case — by having defendants plead to a lesser charge.
A recent San Francisco Standard article confirmed this through court records showing Boudin’s office secured “just three total convictions for ‘possession with intent to sell’ drugs in 2021: two for methamphetamine and one for a case including heroin and cocaine.” Even Boudin’s progressive predecessor George Gascón (currently facing his own recall as Los Angeles district attorney) oversaw nearly 100 narcotics sales convictions just in 2018.
According to the Standard, 80% of cases where fentanyl dealing is charged conclude with defendants pleading guilty to “accessory after the fact,” which means they simply “helped” another person sell drugs. Boudin also has other ways of keeping dealers out of jail — in one case, a known dealer caught with “enough fentanyl to kill hundreds of people” pled guilty to misdemeanor loitering. Like most dealers, he headed right back to the same corner to resume selling drugs.
FENTANYL KILLED TWICE AS MANY PEOPLE AS FIREARMS
Another Boudin favorite is agreeing to release dealers on their own recognizance with a judge’s “stay away” order. It should come as no surprise that it doesn’t work.
In December 2020, nearly a year after Boudin took office, a dealer who repeatedly ignored a stay away order in the Tenderloin was arrested four times in 90 days. According to police, the defendant had three open cases and was caught with heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, meth, and cash. Even after the fourth arrest, they were released a short time later. While police didn’t mention a name, the person was one of seven prolific fentanyl dealers, all members or extended members of the same family. Earlier that same week David Anderson, then U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, announced charges against the seven, alleging that between July and December 2020, they routinely traveled to the Tenderloin from Oakland to sell fentanyl, heroin and other narcotics.
Emilson Jonathan Cruz Mayorquin, aka “Playboy” (Cruz), 23; Leydis Yaneth Cruz (Leydis), 42; Ivan Mauro Mayorquin, 35; Pamela Carrero aka “Nicole,” aka “Kendra,” 20; Ana Maldonado, 22; Adonis Torres, 33; and Mayer Benegas-Medina, 27, ran a successful family business, with Cruz and his mother, Leydis, as the kingpins. Cruz’s significant other (Maldonado); Cruz’s sister (Carrero) and her significant other (Torres); and another family member (Mayorquin) engaged in both street-level drug sales and sales to multiple resellers (an eighth defendant, Gustabo Ramos, was arrested for obtaining fentanyl from the family for resale).
The prosecution was part of the Federal Initiative in the Tenderloin, a response to fentanyl overdose deaths, which in 2021 killed more than twice as many people in the United States as firearms. In the two years since Boudin took office, more than 1,300 people have died of overdoses in San Francisco, mostly due to fentanyl. In April, 49 people died, bringing the total to 192 overdose deaths in the first four months of 2022.
“The Tenderloin drug trade is aided by the failure to prosecute drug crimes in the city,” Anderson said when he announced the arrests back in 2020, a clear shot at the district attorney’s office. Of course, Boudin criticized the program, which often results in dealers and their families “losing a path to citizenship” due to felony drug convictions or being deported.
PLAYBOY’S MANSION IN HONDURAS
According to federal documents, Emilson Cruz-Mayorquin, or “Playboy” as he’s known on the streets, was the go-to person for fentanyl in the Tenderloin. Despite being a mid-level dealer, Emilson continued selling smaller amounts. On Oct. 29, 2020, he sold two ounces of fentanyl to a customer for $1,600. Later that day, agents intercepted a call to an unknown male about the sale, in which Emilson says he just finished a “two-ounce deal with a new dude,” and that the gram customers refer other customers who purchase larger amounts. In other words, the drug addicts of the Tenderloin became a referral service, and it was very profitable.
During a call intercepted over his mother Leydis’s phone line, she speaks with a family member about the house Emilson is constructing in Honduras. “Life is a little stressed because Emilson has a lot of customers,” Leydis says. “He’s removing the ceramic from the house, he’s going to put in porcelain — how can I say no to him … That house is not going to look like a house, it’s going to look like a mansion,” the relative responds. “My god, Emilson doesn’t stop spending, right?” Leydis asks rhetorically. “God permit … So there’s a mansion and a half.” Exhibit photos display Playboy’s mansion in Honduras, replete with marbled bathroom walls and a porch held up by Roman-style pillars.
In December 2021, four months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, Emilson “Playboy” Cruz-Mayorquin was sentenced to four years and three months in federal prison. In the sentencing memo, his public defender wrote that Emilson had “reflected on his conduct, noting how it was sad to see people on the street dealing with addiction.” After finishing his sentence, she said Emilson will face the “ultimate punishment of banishment” through deportation back to Honduras, where he plans to leave drug trafficking behind and work for his uncle as a roofer. Perhaps his uncle will help him finish that mansion.
‘THIS IS SO HARD FOR US’
When the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Jairo Noel Rodriguez in 2019, his girlfriend, Leydis Yaneth Cruz took over and became one the Bay Area’s leading fentanyl suppliers. Her son (the aforementioned Emilson), her daughter Pamela Carrero, and her brother Ivan Cruz Mayorquin helped her run a thriving family business. Not only did Leydis sell drugs to customers, but she also supplied her family members.
In an August 29, 2020 call, Emilson asks his mother if she can get him an ounce of azul (blue fentanyl), to which Leydis replies she could provide an ounce but was saving another ounce for a client in San Francisco. In another call, Leydis and her brother Ivan discuss the fact customers in the Tenderloin are asking for the blue fentanyl. Ivan says he could sell a single gram for $60. “Uh-huh, yea, because nobody has any, you can raise it up,” Leydis tells him.
On two occasions, Leydis and her daughter Pamela Carerro sold powder fentanyl and counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl to undercover agents in the Tenderloin, a total of 123 grams of fentanyl for which they charged $7,800. A few months later, Pamela sold 1,000 counterfeit pharmaceutical pills containing fentanyl to undercover officers. When officers asked for another 700 pills, Leydis arrived to make sure a courier was on the way. Shortly after the courier arrived, the mother-daughter duo sold the additional 700 pills to the undercover agent for $5,000.
When Leydis was arrested in December 2020, agents seized nearly 1,423 gross grams of fentanyl, 153 gross grams of cocaine, and 276.5 gross grams of methamphetamine from the Oakland apartment Leydis shared with her 4-year-old daughter, older daughter Pamela, and Pamela’s minor son.
On March 1, 2022, Pamela Carrero was sentenced to 19 months in federal prison. After serving her sentence, she will be deported.
A month later at Leydis’s sentencing, her attorneys provided a handwritten letter to the judge. “In the name of the Lord Jesus: to beg that you please forgive my huge mistake,” Leydis begins, pleading for another chance so she can “recover” her now 6-year-old daughter. Later she says the child “witnessed her arrest at the apartment and does not forget that awful experience.” After again asking to be released, Leydis says her health is deteriorating in jail: “At this time I have pre-diabetes and high cholesterol. The truth is I also feel very depressed,” she says. “This is all very hard for us.”
The judge wasn’t swayed, sentencing Leydis to three years and two months in prison, after which she will also be deported. If Boudin had his way, the entire family would still be selling drugs in the Tenderloin and adding final touches to that mansion in Honduras — all while on a path to United States citizenship.
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