According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliot Morrison, an Akron, Ohio, man was sentenced to life in federal prison in a Cleveland courtroom for fentanyl distribution that resulted in at least one fatal overdose. The man, Ryan “TJ” Sumlin, had connections to both a massive research chemical supplier in China and another fentanyl dealer from Akron previously covered in DeepDotWeb.
Sumlin was found guilty of three drug trafficking crimes by a jury in April, 2018. The charges included enhancements from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that ensured Sumlin faced mandatory minimums for the “reckless” behavior and criminal activity that led to the fatal overdose of Carrie Dobbins, a former Akron resident, in 2015. The prosecution used many pieces of evidence to prove not only the defendant’s guilt, but also his blatant disregard for human life and genuine danger to the community.
“This defendant is responsible for the death of a young woman in Akron after he sold her fentanyl that came from China,” U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman said. “We will prosecute cases that target this epidemic from all fronts, whether [it are the] doctors irresponsibly overprescribing, dealers profiting off the misery of their neighbors, or suppliers shipping drugs around the globe.”
Sumlin had purchased fentanyl from recently indicted suppliers in China. Sumlin’s case was one of the cases used in the indictment against the Zheng Drug Trafficking Organization. The Zheng DTO supplied a drug for dealers and drug users with an effectively unlimited supply of any research chemical China had not yet banned. All this according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and an indictment released also after Sessions’ announcement.
Dealers, both on the dark web and in the streets, reached out to Fujing Zheng, 35, and his father, Guanghua Zheng, 62, over Protonmail and requested various Controlled Substance Analogues. In many emails between undercover federal agents and the Zheng DTO, the Zheng father or son would refuse to sell substances China had controlled. This included fentanyl. And in the 43-count indictment that charges the Zheng father or son with everything from drug manufacturing to continuing a criminal enterprise, charges connected directly to fentanyl do not exist. However, the indictment included several counts of Manufacture and Distribution of Acetyl Fentanyl, an analogue of fentanyl.
The Zheng DTO allegedly provided Sumlin with fentanyl (or perhaps a fentanyl analogue) and Sumlin resold the drug on the streets of Akron, Ohio. However, like many of the dark web vendors despised by most drug users, Sumlin told his customers he sold heroin. In reality, the 29-year-old man sold heroin laced with fentanyl. This was one of the points the prosecution raised when speaking to Sumlin’s reckless behavior and the danger he posed to the community in Ohio.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliot Morrison said that Sumlin’s behavior showed that Sumlin was “unrepentant.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Morrison added that Senior U.S District Judge Donald Nugent—the sentencing judge—ought to sentence Sumlin to as many life sentences as the law (or sentencing guidelines) permitted.
Sumlin sold his fake heroin in 2015 even after his arrest, the prosecution said. In 2015, authorities arrested Sumlin, Leroy Steele, and Sabrina Robinson for drug trafficking conspiracy. They had planned the order from the Zheng DTO together and resold the drugs in Akron. Robinson, specifically, had placed Dobbins in touch with Sumlin. After getting released on bond, Sumlin continued to sell the lethal mix to the same buyers he sold prior to his arrest. He knew that his fentanyl had killed Dobbins at the time, too. The defense argued that Dobbins could have overdosed from fentanyl provided by any number of the drug dealers Dobbins had contacted the same day she contacted Sumlin, but the prosecutors made it clear that Sumlin’s fentanyl had killed Dobbins. She had alprazolam in her system, though. And Sumlin never provided Dobbins with alprazolam. This mattered very little to the jury.
U.S. District Judge Donald C. Nugent sentenced Sumlin to two life sentences and one 30-year prison sentence. He also ordered that Sumlin pay a restitution of $4,639.85 to cover Dobbins’ funeral expenses.