35-Year Sentence for Lexington Man in Major Fluorofentanyl Drug Conspiracy Case

LPD canine required veterinary care after being exposed to the deadly drug during investigation

Lexington, Ky.–Michael Byrd, a 34-year-old man from Lexington, was handed a 35-year prison sentence on Monday by Chief U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves. This sentence was imposed on him for his involvement in a conspiracy to distribute fluorofentanyl, as well as for possession with the intention of distributing more than 100 grams of fluorofentanyl and 10 grams or more of the same substance.

In January 2021, the Lexington Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) began an investigation into the distribution of a dangerous drug in Fayette County, Kentucky. The drug in question was fluorofentanyl, a powerful opioid analogue of fentanyl that had been linked to a number of fatal overdoses in the area.

The investigation was part of the Department of Justice’s “Project Safe Neighborhoods” Program, which aimed to decrease violent crime and improve public safety in communities across the country. The investigation was a comprehensive approach that included not just the prosecution of criminals, but also efforts to prevent crime and support reentry into society for those who had been involved in criminal activities.

The Lexington Police Department and the ATF worked together to gather intelligence and track down the individuals responsible for distributing the dangerous drug. Through their efforts, they were able to identify a group of individuals, including Michael Byrd, Je’Von Byrd, and Savannah Asberry, who were involved in the distribution of fluorofentanyl.

In May 2022, following an investigation, the police department and the ATF executed search warrants on a vehicle and a Lexington residence associated with the individuals. During the searches, large quantities of illegal drugs were seized, and a police canine was exposed to the drugs and needed veterinary care after overdosing.

In October 2022, Michael Byrd was charged in a second superseding indictment for conspiracy to distribute fluorofentanyl, possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of fluorofentanyl, and possession with intent to distribute 10 grams or more of fluorofentanyl. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced in February 2023 to 35 years in federal prison by Chief U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves. The Court determined that Byrd’s role in the conspiracy involved more than 4.6 kilograms of fluorofentanyl and that he had used a firearm in the commission of the crime.

In November 2022, Savannah Asberry pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 120 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. Je’Von Byrd has also pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on February 24, 2023.

Michael Byrd had a violent criminal history, having been convicted in Louisville in 2008 of first degree robbery, first degree burglary, kidnapping, wanton endangerment, and first degree fleeing or evading police. He was also convicted in 2017 of being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun. Under federal law, he must serve 85 percent of his 35-year sentence and will be under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office for 10 years after his release from prison.

The investigation was a joint effort between the Lexington Police Department and the ATF, and the United States was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cindy Rieker.

In a statement, Carlton S. Shier IV, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said, “In addition to his extensive and violent criminal history, the defendant was illegally dealing in massive amounts of fluorofentanyl, a powerful opioid analogue of fentanyl. This drug is particularly dangerous and frequently fatal – and he was responsible for more than four and half kilograms. In this case, a police canine was exposed to it, overdosed, and needed veterinary care. Clearly, the risk to the public from his conduct was enormous. His sentence is certainly warranted and would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of all our law enforcement partners.”

Fluorofentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is similar in structure and effect to the well-known drug, fentanyl. Both drugs are extremely potent and have a high potential for abuse and overdose. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid pain medication, which is often used medically in surgical settings and for the treatment of chronic pain. Fluorofentanyl is often used as a recreational drug and is frequently encountered as an illegal street drug. The main difference between the two is that fluorofentanyl is considered to be even more potent than fentanyl, meaning that it is capable of causing an overdose even with small amounts. This makes fluorofentanyl particularly dangerous, as it can cause respiratory failure and death even in individuals who have not been using opioids before. Due to its potency and high risk for overdose, fluorofentanyl is considered to be a significant public health concern and is subject to strict regulation by law enforcement agencies.