NEWARK — Two men who police say are responsible for attempting to bring in more than half a million pills of the potentially lethal drug fentanyl to the state are now in custody.

The undercover investigation leading to the arrest of Andrew Tablack, 26, of Beverly Hills, California, and Stephan Durham, 43, of Altadena, California, started in August, according to Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick. At that time, a search warrant was executed at a home in Monmouth County where Drug Enforcement Agency agents found a variety of drugs including close to 300,000 cyclopropyl fentanyl pills that Tablack had shipped to New Jersey.

Fentanyl has been shown to be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and is now at the heart of New Jersey's opioid overdose epidemic. While it can be laced with heroin, it is becoming more common as a standalone drug.

Tablack, according to Fitzpatrick, arranged the distribution of the drugs over the so-called Dark Web to locations all over the country. He also took payments for the drugs with bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that Fitzpatrick said is becoming more common in drug deals.

In addition to the pills found at the home in Monmouth County, Fitzpatrick said a package sent by Tablack was intercepted in September. Agents said it contained 226,520 pills, or more than 40 pounds of the drug.

Fitzpatrick said Tablack also had a pill production facility, using drugs he had shipped in from a lab in China that disguised the delivery as food and beauty products.

Tablack and Durham have both been charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of cyclopropyl fentanyl. Tablack is also charged with distribution of 400 grams or more of the drug. The charges carry a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, with a maximum sentence of life in prison and a fine of $10 million.

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