Man accused of importing powerful opioid from China

Joseph Richard Caruso being held into Portland, linked to Chinese drug investigation

Joseph Richard Caruso shown in a jail booking photo released by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office.
Joseph Richard Caruso shown in a jail booking photo released by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Federal investigators have arrested an Oregon man who is now accused of importing cyclopropyl fentanyl from China.

Cyclopropyl fentanyl — an opioid — is a derivative of fentanyl and has been the cause of several recent overdose deaths in the Portland area, according to a federal complaint.

On Wednesday, Joseph Richard Caruso made his first court appearance in U.S. District Court. He is accused of unlawful importation of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and attempted possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported Caruso is also under investigation for his alleged ties to an overdose death in Wisconsin.

According to the federal complaint, Caruso came to the attention of investigators in mid-November when authorities came across a package that was being shipped from Shanghai, China to Caruso in the 100 block of Kerr Parkway in Lake Oswego.

The package was listed to include a “knitting needle,” according to the complaint. When investigators picked up the package, they determined the contents did not feel like a knitting needle. Instead, the package was described as having a powdery texture.

Investigators took the package to the Portland Police Bureau’s Drugs and Vice Division so it could be looked at in a secure and safe environment.

Cyclopropyl fentanyl can be absorbed through skin contact, inhalation, oral exposure, or ingestion, which may lead to an accidental drug poisoning. Law enforcement throughout the country has taken steps to ensure investigators don’t get inadvertently exposed.

Once the package was at PPB’s secure room, a federal investigator used a ventilated hood to open the heat-sealed Mylar bag and discovered it contained another heat-sealed Mylar bag. Once investigators found a white powdery substance inside, the package was transported to the Oregon State Police Crime Lab where the 27.1 grams of substance was confirmed as cyclopropyl fentanyl.

Because the cyclopropyl fentanyl contained in the package was in powder form, and very dangerous, the U.S. Attorney’s Office authorized the delivery of the package to the Lake Oswego address without the suspected drugs. It was replaced with an “inert powder and vacuum sealed inside the original envelope,” according to the federal complaint.

During the investigation, it was discovered that Caruso was identified by Chinese investigators as a suspect in a dismantled drug trafficking organization that was sending fentanyl to the United States from China. Investigators learned that as many as 6 packages had been sent to Caruso between October 2016 and October 2017.

Criminal defense attorney Conor Huseby has been appointed to represent Caruso. Huseby will have a chance to argue for release Monday in federal court.