Suspected California drug traffickers arrested with 150K fentanyl pills released by court commissioner

Suspected drug traffickers Jose Zendejas, 25, and Benito Madrigal, 19, were arrested Friday and released days later

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Tulare County Court Commissioner Mikki Verissimo of California signed an order to release two suspected drug traffickers recently arrested with 150,000 fentanyl pills in their possession, Fox News confirmed Tuesday.

Officials arrested Jose Zendejas, 25, and Benito Madrigal, 19, during a traffic stop on Friday and transported them to the Tulare County Pre-Trial Facility on charges of possession, transportation and selling of illegal drugs, but they were released over the weekend.

The Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward's office said in a statement to Fox News Digital that it was "not involved with or agree with the decision to release these individuals."


"The time in which they were released was after their arrest and prior to police reports being submitted to our office. Through a risk assessment by the county probation department, they were released by a judicial officer," Ward's office said.

Sheriff Mike Boudreaux also expressed concern with the suspects' release, telling Fox News' "The Story" on Tuesday that he only learned of an order to release Zendejas and Madrigal "until it was far too late."

"This assessment was done behind the scenes, basically without ever contacting me as the sheriff or even asking me what I believe the risk to our public safety would be," he said. "I could not believe that we had 150,000 fentanyl pills — one of the most dangerous epidemics that is facing our nation today — with people in custody, that we may potentially be able to impact the future of this type of drug trafficking organization and or cartels in California — in my county — and we let them go."


He continued: "California's system of justice is failing us all. … Law enforcement up and down the state of California is frustrated. We want to hold people to their justice and hold them accountable for the crimes that they commit. But Proposition 47 and 57 — through Governor Newsom and the legislators in California who are really soft on crime — allowing people like this to be released from our facilities, we have no control over that. And for law enforcement leaders in California, it's incredibly frustrating when we are responsible for public safety."

Bordeaux went on to say that the record-breaking flow of migrants coming into the United States through the southern boarder is part of the reason fentanyl is coming into the country and creating danger "to the quality of life."

"This drug is brought in from China. It's produced in Mexico and brought across our border. This has nothing to do with an immigration issue. This has to do with the security and protection of our country. And because this fentanyl is clearly coming across our open border, we need to secure those borders," he continued.


The Tulare County Probation Department said one of its "roles as law enforcement professionals of the Tulare County Probation Department is to provide services to the Court."

"In this capacity, our Pretrial Assessment Unit completes a validated risk assessment, the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) on individuals arrested," the department said. "The PSA does not provide a recommendation for pretrial release, it provides an assessment outcome. The Probation Department does not have the authority to order the release of inmates and we did not make a recommendation for release of these individuals. The assessment process is not done ‘behind the scenes,’ the development and implementation of Pretrial functions in Tulare County was a collaborative and transparent process involving representatives from our law enforcement partners."

The department continued: "Consistent with best practices and the law, the release decision rests with the Judicial Officer. The PSA provides judicial officers with research-based information that they weigh, along with other information, to make more informed pretrial decisions. The Tulare County Superior Court ultimately decides the release of individuals pertaining to all inmates booked with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office."

Investigators seized 150 packages with 1,000 fentanyl pills in each – enough to potentially kill several million people. Officials aid each pill sells for about $5 – meaning the bust netted about $750,000 worth of deadly drugs.

Fox News' Lawrence Richard contributed to this report.