Kennewick man stashes 53,000 fentanyl pills in car


KENNEWICK, Wash. – Local authorities teamed up with DEA agents to arrest a Kennewick man for possessing 53,000 fentanyl pills.

According to federal court documents, Michael Vantiger was under investigation for being a local distributor of fentanyl and poly-drugs. Through their investigation, Vantiger was found to have frequently traveled to California to pick up drug supplies.

He was also suspected of employing drivers to transport controlled substances on his behalf in exchange for money through Facebook, documents said.

During surveillance of Vantiger, investigators observed him put a large, black suitcase in the trunk of a car and got in the passenger seat.

Documents say the car was a rental and it was in “direct correlation to the Facebook posting mentioned earlier.”

Monitoring him through GPS, investigators found out that he was in the Los Angeles area. He allegedly used a less direct route back to the Tri-Cities. Investigators say drug traffickers travel with controlled substances, they travel on roads less frequented to avoid officers.

On their way back, detectives requested if they could do an investigative stop on the car.

On Feb. 10 around 3:00 p.m., the car was stopped at the intersection of I-82 northbound at exit 114 in Benton County. The driver was identified as Gloria Gomez. Vantiger was in the passenger seat.

The detective “utilized a ruse in explaining to the occupants why the vehicle was stopped,” documents said.

Documents state there were conflicting stories between Gomez and Vantiger as well as abnormal behavior.

The detective said Vantiger became “increasingly nervous.” Pasco Police K-9 Ezra, a drug-detection dog, alerted on the car.

Both of them were detained and sent to the Pasco Police Department.

A search warrant was granted for the car. Inside, investigators found 53,000 pills suspected to contain fentanyl, documents said. It was found in the trunk, underneath the carpet next to the spare tire.

Based on their investigation, the pills were consistent with the types of fentanyl tablets being seen in the Tri-Cities, federal documents stated.

However, the pills had a royal blue color and others were off-white. According to investigators and their experience, drug traffickers are expanding to produce more types of fake pills with fentanyl in them in addition to fake-looking Oxys.

Around the same time as the traffic stops, investigators searched Vantiger’s house. They found about 150 pills, suspected to have fentanyl in them, documents said.

Packaging materials, cell phones and an undetermined amount of cash in bundles were also found.

During Vantiger’s interrogation, he told police he was a load driver and that he had been traveling to California once a month. He also stated he was paid $5,000 per trip.

He also said he didn’t know the name of the suspect that he had picked up the package from, but knew it had illegal controlled substances in it.

In documents, Vantiger said the phone he was using to communicate with the suspect, who provided him with the package, was thrown away after the drugs were picked up.

Detectives were able to find the phone under the passenger front seat of the car he was in.

Vantiger was booked for the federal charge of possession with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of a mixture or substance contain a detectable amount of fentanyl.