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Boulder women plead guilty in connection with fentanyl-related death after bringing pills to Colorado from Mexico

Two women from Boulder pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to import a controlled substance to the U.S. from Mexico. According to the plea agreement, Grace Kohler, 23, and Elizabeth Brown, 24 traveled to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico for vacation with another woman on Aug. 12, 2021.

While there, the women went to a pharmacy and Kohler and Brown exchanged text messages and calls with a mutual friend in Boulder whose initials are J.B., to see what specific drugs he wanted them to get for him from the pharmacy. After considering the drugs the pharmacy advertised, J.B. asked the women to get him oxycodone. Kohler paid the pharmacy $300 for 30 pills of supposed oxycodone, using her credit card. J.B. later sent Kohler $300 as reimbursement via Venmo. Brown translated from English to Spanish while the women communicated with the employee at the pharmacy. The women believed the pills they purchased contained oxycodone because that is what the pharmacy and the employee represented the pills to be.

Before returning to Colorado, the women put the controlled substances they purchased, including the supposed oxycodone for J.B. in other containers such as a multivitamin container and a container for cold and flu medicine. 

According to court documents, on Aug. 17, 2021 they flew back to Colorado on a United Airlines flight and landed at Denver International Airport. According to prosecutors, they did not declare the controlled substances they purchased in Mexico. They drove from DIA to J.B.'s place of employment in Boulder and met him in the parking lot. Brown handed J.B. the 30 tablets the women had obtained for him at the pharmacy in Mexico. J.B. put the pills in his shirt pocket and the women left.

A bag of evidence containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl disguised as Oxycodone shown in 2020.   Craig Kohlruss/Fresno Bee/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

One day later, on Aug. 18, 2021, Boulder police responded to J.B.'s residence because his roommate had found J.B. deceased in his bedroom. In that room, officers found a sandwich bag containing 29 pills with "M" and "30" stamped on them and looked like poorly pressed counterfeit oxycodone pills. Lab analysis revealed the pills in the bag contained fentanyl and not oxycodone. On Aug. 20, the Boulder County Coroner's Office conducted an autopsy and determined J.B. died of fentanyl intoxication. 

"This tragic death is only one example of the lethal epidemic of fentanyl overdoses," said U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan in a statement. "We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to raise public awareness and deter distribution of this deadly poison."

"The only safe and reliable place to get legitimate prescription medications is from a trusted and licensed pharmacist within the United States," said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge David Olesky of the Rocky Mountain Field Division in a statement. "The cartels are driving addiction across our country through the trafficking of fentanyl.  This is precisely why DEA launched its One Pill Can Kill Campaign in 2021. Today, 70% of the pills seized by DEA contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl.  We can't say it enough – don't purchase pills on social media or take a pill provided by a 'friend'."

Kohler is scheduled to be sentenced March 7 and Brown is scheduled to be sentenced on March 1. 

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