Two alleged drug traffickers arrested in a California traffic stop failed to appear for their first court date after being granted cashless bail and released on their own recognizance.
The arrests on June 24 were considered a major drug bust for law enforcement as Jose Zendejas, 25, and Benito Madrigal, 19, were caught trying to smuggle over 150,000 fentanyl pills with an estimated street value of $750,000.
The defendants were booked into the Tulare County Jail on charges of possession, transportation, and selling illegal drugs. At the time each man was ordered to be held on a $1 million bail.
However, both were released from custody around 18 hours after being booked when they were given a pretrial risk assessment. Both defendants were classified as “low risk” and released.
They were ordered at the time of their release to appear at the Tulare County Courthouse on Thursday for their initial appearance but did not appear.
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux told reporters that it was easy to predict that the pair would not show up for court after being released with no bail or conditions. He said that the state’s soft approach to hard drug crimes is making things much worse with the continuing surge of deadly fentanyl streaming into the country from Mexico.
The sheriff said he did not learn the pair of defendants had been released “until it was too late.” He said that he could not believe that the county had people in custody that clearly have the potential to “impact the future of this type of drug trafficking organization and we let them go.”
Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said that the “lack of transparency with the defendants’ release was extremely dangerous.”
Neither Boudreaux nor Ward were advised that the defendants were being released until after they were freed.
After learning of the release, Ward filed a new four-county criminal complaint against both defendants. Their bail was reset at that time at $2.15 million and the judge issued an order for their re-arrest.
After their failure to appear on Thursday, the judge revoked bond and ordered both men to be held without bond if they are captured.
There are no public reports regarding the prospects of apprehending the two fugitives.
The L.A. office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has recently announced that it has seized over one million doses of fentanyl and believes that the largest source of the drug is the notorious Mexican Sinaloa Cartel.