Amid the national opioid epidemic, two foreign nationals are facing federal charges in southern Georgia in connection with an alleged fentanyl conspiracy. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.

File photo of several dozen pills containing fentanyl. They are circular and blue, with one side showing a capital letter M and the other side showing the number 30.

File photo of pills containing fentanyl

Credit: Drug Enforcement Administration

Two men from Canada and the United Kingdom face federal charges in connection with what prosecutors have called an international conspiracy to ship synthetic opioids to the U.S., resulting in the overdose deaths of two Navy petty officers in Southeast Georgia's Camden County.

Thomas Michael Federuik of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Paul Anthony Nicholls of Surrey, England, have each been indicted on drug and money laundering charges, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Georgia announced Wednesday.

The indictment alleges that between April 2017 and February 2018, Federuik and Nicholls imported synthetic opioids from China and Hungary to Canada, before exporting them to Georgia and elsewhere in the U.S. The shipments included fentanyl and another synthetic opioid sometimes referred to as “pink heroin” or “pinky.”

Prosecutors say that the drugs resulted in the October 2017 overdose deaths of two Navy petty officers in Kingsland, Georgia, who are referred to as “B.T.J.” and “T.L.B.” in the indictment.

“This poison ultimately led to the deaths of two servicemembers and destroyed the lives of countless others,” Department of Homeland Security investigator Katrina Berger said in a statement.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, opioid-related overdose deaths in the state increased by 207% from 2010 to 2020. Two-thirds of Georgia's drug overdose deaths in 2020 were related to opioids.

Federuik and Nicholls have not entered pleas, and are awaiting extradition to the Southern District of Georgia, where they would likely appear in the Brunswick federal courthouse.

“The number of deaths from drug overdoses, particularly fentanyl and its analogues, has reached a record high in the United States and every citizen of this country should be alarmed,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia David Estes said in a statement. “The prevalence of this drug is, in large part, fueled by an illicit pipeline of illegally imported drugs. This investigation sought to trace that pipeline to its source to cut off its flow to our country in an effort to protect our citizens from harm.”

The indictment alleges that the men used the dark web to sell the drugs, including on the now-defunct “Dream Market” exchange. Prosecutors say that the men used cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin, in addition to U.S. and Canadian currency.

The charges were initially filed in February 2019, but remained under seal until late May 2022. The case had been put on hold several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.