For the first time in Hillsborough County, a drug dealer will face murder charges after deputies said a man overdosed on an opioid that was sold to him.
Corey Damond Smith, Jr., 23, was arrested in November and indicted on Monday for the distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, authorities said.
"This is a groundbreaking case for Hillsborough County," said Danny Alvarez, spokesman for Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "We are tired of the fentanyl cases being something that end in such tragedy."
Getting a conviction will be challenging, Alvarez said, because prosecutors must prove that the drugs that were found in the victim were the same drugs that Smith sold to him.
Last year, the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office announced that a majority of the county's 197 fatal drug overdoses involved opioid use. In the first seven months of 2017, the county recorded 35 deaths associated with fentanyl.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and many times that of heroin.
Smith's indictment is historic to Hillsborough and is meant to send a strong message.
"This new action puts another tool in the quiver that should send a very strong message to drug dealers," Alvarez said. "This gentleman right now faces life in prison, in a federal prison, because he sold a drug, it went into the stream of commerce and he is now responsible for everything that happens after that drug left his hands and his money went into his pocket."
The 2018 Florida Statute defines the sale of several drugs as first-degree murder, when unlawfully distributed and cause death of the user. The list of drugs includes cocaine, methadone and fentanyl.
Smith could face life in prison if convicted, Maria Chapa Lopez, a federal prosecutor known for handling complex drug cases said in a release.
"This kind of case takes a prosecuting attorney like our U.S. Attorney right here," Alvarez said. "Mrs. Chapa Lopez has the gumption to say 'Look, I know this is tough to prove, but just because it's hard to do doesn't mean it's not worth taking on.'"
According to the release, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Palermo will be prosecuting Smith, along with two others arrested on separate drug charges.
Though it's first for Hillsborough, prosecutors in Clay County charged a drug dealer with muder in a 2016 overdose.
Trumaine Muller was indicted on murder charges after selling fentanyl-laced heroin to 18-year-old Ariell Jade Brundige, authorities said. Muller's murder charges were eventually dropped.
"Our goal is to keep Hillsborough County's streets safe and drug-free and that's what we're going to do," Alvarez said. "Gone are the days where you sell your illegal wares into the community and think 'Oh I washed my hands of whatever happens next.'"