A WALK FOR JUSTICE

This fall, the drug dealer accused of the fatal poisoning of Alexandra Capelouto goes on trial. Alexandra’s father, Matt Capelouto, will walk from his home in Temecula to the Superior Courthouse in Riverside to witness the sentencing.

 

Brandon Michael McDowell, 22, is facing up to life in prison if convicted in the death of 20-year-old Alexandra Capelouto.

TEMECULA, CA — After a two-year battle, a Temecula family who lost their daughter to fentanyl poisoning saw the arrest of the man who allegedly sold the young woman counterfeit oxycodone laced with the deadly substance.

Brandon Michael McDowell, 22, of Riverside was taken into custody without incident following the investigation into the 2019 death of 20-year-old Alexandra Capelouto.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment Wednesday charging McDowell with one count of distributing fentanyl resulting in death, which carries a minimum 20-year sentence, up to life in prison without the possibility of parole, if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

McDowell is being held without bail and was slated to make his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Riverside Friday afternoon.

According to prosecutors, on Dec. 22, 2019, Capelouto, a student at Arizona State University, was home for the holidays and contacted the defendant via Snapchat to order oxycodone, a prescription medication generally provided for relief of chronic pain.

McDowell allegedly sold the victim an undisclosed quantity of “counterfeit oxycodone M30 pills,” according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office statement.

Investigators believe she ingested the powerful opioid in the pills and died, the agency stated.

Capelouto’s father, Matt Capelouto, has publicly stated his daughter did not realize she was ingesting fentanyl-laced pills.

“This is another incredibly sad case that demonstrates the deadly threat of fentanyl that is now seen in a wide array of drugs sold on the street,” U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Tracy Wilkison said. “My office and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate fatal overdose cases to identify and bring to justice every individual involved in the trafficking of fentanyl.”

The Capelouto case has generated wide publicity and prompted Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, earlier this year to introduce Senate Bill 350. The bill, which failed in committee, would have mandated that under state law, anyone convicted of dealing fentanyl or other potentially deadly drugs be issued a written warning that an overdose death resulting from providing such drugs in the future could result in the party being prosecuted for murder.

The intention was to facilitate prosecutors’ efforts to file murder charges against dealers. However, some county prosecutors, including Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, are pursuing second-degree murder charges against dealers who allegedly sell lethal doses of fentanyl anyway. Nearly a dozen individuals countywide have been charged with murder in connection with fentanyl-traced fatalities.

Last month, Matt Capelouto and Hestrin were on hand when Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer announced his office would pursue murder charges against drug dealers who peddle deadly substances that kill unsuspecting victims.

The McDowell case was investigated by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, along with Riverside County sheriff’s detectives and personnel from U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations.

Fentanyl is manufactured in China and smuggled across the Mexican border, according to Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco. It is known to be 80-100 times more potent than morphine and is a popular additive, seamlessly mixed into any number of narcotics, pharmaceuticals, or even mixed with filler.

Bianco and Hestrin announced earlier this year that they would be taking a hard line on fentanyl deaths, charging murder whenever circumstances warrant and the evidence is unmistakable.

Hestrin told the Board of Supervisors over the summer that the county was on pace to document 500 fentanyl deaths this year. The number of fatalities has doubled every year since 2015, and in that time, there has been an overall 800 percent rise in fentanyl-related overdose deaths, according to public safety officials.

The prosecutor handling the McDowell matter is a deputy district attorney for Riverside County, given special assignment as an assistant U.S. attorney.

Background information on the defendant was not available.

 

Tragedy Leads to Change: One Family’s Plea Transforms the Fentanyl Fight in Riverside County

NBC Los Angeles – Deaths from the illegal drug fentanyl happen nearly every day across Southern California. Once viewed as drug overdoses, many drug deaths and cases are now considered poisonings and even murder. It is about changing attitudes with police and prosecutors looking into these cases which hasn’t been easy. The NBC 4 I-Team found one father’s loss and persistence led to change in one the way law enforcement handles drug deaths in Riverside County. “She had a very deep soul, she loved to read and write and paint,” Matt Capelouto, from Temecula, California, said. Capelouto lost his daughter, Alexandra Capelouto in 2019. The 20-year old was attending Arizona State University on an academic scholarship. One of 4 sisters, she was home for the holidays in December 2019. Her dad believes she was looking for something to help with her anxiety. “She reached out to a drug dealer on social media, found a drug dealer who sold her what she thought was oxycodone and sometime before going to bed she took half of one of these pills and died,” Capelouto said. He later learned the pill she took was counterfeit, containing the illegal drug, Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s similar to morphine, and at least 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often smuggled in from Mexico, investigators say drug dealers will mix fentanyl in with other illegal drugs to increase their potency. “I knew nothing of fentanyl, nothing of these counterfeit pills going around,” he said. “My daughter did not make a wise choice,” he said, adding “but it certainly wasn’t a choice that was worth dying over.” Capelouto and his wife met with the Riverside County Sheriff and the Riverside County District Attorney soon after his daughter’s death. “I’m having to look at this grieving mother and the dad that’s pleading with me to do something about this,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, said. The parents say the meeting led to changes in the handling of drug deaths in Riverside County. “This is our number one issue,” Sheriff Bianco said. Four hundred four people in the county died from the effects of Fentanyl in 2021; the drug has been linked to 110 deaths in the first four months of 2022, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. “We’ve doubled every year for the last five years and we don’t we don’t see it stopping,” Sheriff Bianco said. The county now dedicates K9 officers trained to detect fentanyl and has added four seasoned investigators, specifically assigned to drug cases where someone has died. Sheriff Bianco says he keeps Alex’s picture with him as a daily reminder. “Some things, there aren’t words that can express how you feel and that’s one of them,” Capelouto said. “I’m proud to say that you know, we sparked something here,” he added. Nearly every single pill the Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents say they see now contains fentanyl masked as legitimate prescription drugs; the pills are often purchased by unsuspecting customers on social media. The DEA says 4 out of 10 counterfeit pills they tested in 2021 contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. “Ultimately what was my daughter trying to do? she was trying to feel better, right? and the person on the other side of that transaction was simply trying to peddle poison for profit,” Capelouto said. Riverside County prosecutors are now reviewing 800 cases involving drug deaths as potential homicides and have filed charges in 18 cases, according to Sheriff Bianco. Each county can handle drug death cases differently, sometimes coordinating with federal agents and coroners to evaluate cases. The ITeam was inside the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office when DEA Agent Bob Thomas and the Chief of the Forensic Sciences Laboratories Division for the LA County Coroner’s Office met to discuss recent drug deaths. “Without Fentanyl in this person’s system. would you expect to see them alive,” Agent Thomas asked. “Yes,” Dr. Ruby Javed, said. “So, it’s unintentional consumption of the drug that unfortunately is leading to these deaths,” Dr. Javed added. Working together, Thomas and Javed hope the evidence collected here helps prosecute the dealers who provide deadly drugs. Tougher enforcement is happening. In April, a man who helped supply the counterfeit pills with fentanyl that led to the overdose death of Rapper Mac Miller was sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison. Prosecutors allege Perry Edward Davis of San Diego provided drugs containing Fentanyl to three people, including 25-year-old Joshua Chambers who died. Davis was sentenced earlier this year to 20 years in prison for distributing fentanyl that resulted in death. The man who allegedly provided the pill with Fentanyl to Capelouto’s daughter faces trial in federal court this fall. “The law enforcement end of this is only one part. we need to step up our game,” he said. “Parents need to have these conversations with their kids,” he added. This grieving father is doing all he can to educate others, and to honor his daughter’s legacy. “She wanted to work in the foster care system and you know she’s just saving lives. in a different way,” Capelouto said. He now runs the non-profit organization Drug Induced Homicide.