An April 2017 overdose death in an E John apartment brought down the man prosecutors say was the kingpin opioid dealer on Capitol Hill until his arrest, prosecution, and sentence this week to twelve years in prison.
Gregory Smith, 34, “was a primary—if not the principal—opioid dealer in Capitol Hill,” prosecutor write. “Beginning in mid-2016, Smith’s ability to source massive amounts of fentanyl analogues from China only further reinforced his status as the go-to dealer in this area of Seattle. His personal impact upon the opioid crisis in Seattle was substantial.”
“A sophisticated trafficker, trading in cryptocurrencies, working with overseas suppliers, knowing not to deposit large quantities of cash into financial institutions, and amassing an arsenal of weapons and a security system to protect his assets and supply,” Smith was sentenced this week to 12 years in jail in a plea deal following an investigation that traced more than 70 shipments of fentanyl analogues to the Des Moines Memorial Dr S dealer from China.
Smith’s co-defendant Kyle McClure was also convicted of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and sentenced to two years in jail, according to court records.
In late March 2017, CHS reported a double overdose at 11th Ave’s Purr that played out in front of a packed bar as emergency responders rushed to save the men’s lives. The incident gained added attention when one of the men involved in the overdose told CHS he believed he and his fiance had been intentionally targeted and drugged. Two weeks later, one of the two men who survived the OD at Purr would die in the E John incident. Police that night said they found white powder near the victim and “a bag of a white powdery substance was located in in plain view in the bedroom.” One of the responding officers said “he believed the white powdery substance was cocaine” that had been “possibly mixed with an opiate like fentanyl” and that one of the people also at the apartment was displaying pupil constriction and other signs associated with consuming “some form of opiate” along with cocaine. The person told police the drugs were obtained “from a known and reliable source,” according to the SPD report on the incident.
Prosecutors say the drugs came from McClure and Smith:
On the evening of March 25, 2017, co-defendant McClure was working at Purr Nightclub in Capitol Hill. Shortly after midnight, two of McClure’s acquaintances— A.R. and J.W.—overdosed on opioids. Fire and emergency personnel responded in time to administer Naloxone to both individuals, transporting them to the hospital, where they were ultimately released the following day. Tragically, a mere ten days later—on April 5, 2017—A.R. called 911 to report that J.W. had again overdosed. Id. at 015569–72. When fire and emergency personnel responded to their shared apartment they found J.W. on the floor unconscious and unresponsive. Id. Medical personnel attempted to resuscitate J.W. but were unable to do so. Id. A baggie containing a white substance, suspected to be the substance on which J.W. had overdosed, was found by Seattle Police officers responding to the scene. Id. at 015483- 92.
The drug baggie had what investigators described as “distinctive black spade-shaped markings.” It was the beginning of the end for Smith.
According to court documents, Homeland Security had identified Smith for investigation of importing the illegal drugs from Hong Kong. Four months after the fatal overdose, a postal investigation began that identified suspicious packages sent to Smith from Hong Kong and Shanghai.
During searches of Smith’s property and phone, investigators turned up a text message string that cast the April overdose death in an even more tragic light — the victim had unwittingly stolen the powerful drugs:
When law enforcement searched the south of Seattle home Smith shared with his wife and daughter they found fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, thousands of pills of oxycodone and sixteen firearms “strewn throughout the house.” His storage locker turned up more. In all, authorities recovered 33 packages of various fentanyl analogues, 500 grams of heroin, 500 grams of cocaine, and thousands of pills of methadone and oxycodone.
The list of seized drugs, firearms, gold bars, and jewelry is overwhelming:
According to prosecutors, Smith used bitcoin to pay for shipments of fentanyl from China that were delivered to his home or a post office box. “The toxic fentanyl was so powerful that the powder – that can be absorbed through the skin – could kill with a single touch,” they write.
But most clearly damning were the spade-marked baggies. “Baggies with identical spade-shaped markings—indistinguishable from those found at J.W.’s apartment—were located during the execution of a search warrant at Smith’s residence on August 14, 2017,” prosecutors say.
Investigators said the distinctive packaging and text messages from Smith’s phone showed that he “knew the drugs he provided were linked to the deadly overdose.” Investigators also found text messages documenting the drug dealer’s orders from his suppliers.
Police say Smith had long peddled drugs but his rise as a opioid dealer coincided with his connection with a new, powerful drug supplier in 2016. “Over the course of years, Smith was a prolific drug dealer, peddling significant amounts of virtually every controlled substance imaginable,” prosecutors write. “Smith dealt black heroin, white heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, and hydrocodone, distributing these substances to vulnerable addicts in exchange for cash.”
But investigators say his business “reached its apex” in the summer of 2016, when Smith “located a new supplier of opioids, clandestine laboratories in mainland China and Hong Kong, that provided him access to fentanyl analogues that were more powerful, and more fatal, than his existing menu of narcotics.”
Police say Smith continued to import and distribute drugs even after the April 2017 death. In addition to 33 packages of fentanyl recovered from his home, law enforcement seized more than $773,000 in cash and seized cryptocurrency worth $95,000. In all, law enforcement has seized more than $1 million from Smith in connection with his drug dealing.
In a letter to the U.S. District Court judge handling his sentencing, Smith expressed remorse and asked for leniency so he can return home for his daughter:
At this point I have a deep understanding of my faults and what has inevitably brought me to this point. Through this sentence I have but one thing to accomplish – coming to terms with whatever it is inside me that makes me an opioid addict, to do everything in my power to right this wrong, to take whatever programs I can inside and on the outside to ensure I never again step in any direction that will lead me to falter, to engage in any illegal activities for any reason. It is my true belief that you’ll never see me again, not on a violation and definitely not on new charges. The pain this has caused everyone is too great.
“Not only was this defendant a major dealer of fentanyl and other opioids on Capitol Hill, he kept selling even after learning his drugs had caused an overdose death,” U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes said in her announcement of the sentencing. “Fentanyl is a killer that regularly leaves misery in its wake. We will continue to seek long sentences for anyone who profits from selling this terrible drug in our western Washington communities.”
UPDATE 2/18/2019: Almost there! We have
700+ 783 subscribers. Help us get to 800! If you appreciate and value our coverage, please tell your friends and neighbors TODAY to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment. Why support CHS? More here.