SANTA ANA (CNS) — A 48-year-old security guard for a Newport Beach bar sold fentanyl to three patrons six years ago, resulting in one death and two other overdoses, a federal prosecutor told jurors Wednesday — while the defendant’s attorney said the real culprit was an unnamed “mystery man”.
Sean Robert McLaughlin, 48, is charged with one count of distributing furanyl fentanyl causing death and grievous bodily harm, one count of distributing cocaine and four counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and hydrocodone.
McLaughlin is accused of selling the lethal dose of fentanyl to Ahmed Said, 25, of Santa Ana on November 18, 2016.
“In November 2016, defendant Sean Robert McLaughlin worked at a Newport Beach bar known as American Junkie,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bradley Marrett told jurors in his opening statement. “He had two jobs – head of security…and he was also the bar’s resident drug dealer.”
McLaughlin kept his “stash” in a locker at the Newport Boulevard bar, Marrett said. When Newport Beach police issued a search warrant for the bar after the overdoses, “they found a drug store” in the locker McLaughlin allegedly used, Marrett said.
There were “bags of cocaine ready to be distributed to customers”, the prosecutor said.
The defendant also searched the internet for “how to cut cocaine,” which is done to “increase the strength of drugs,” Marrett said. Police also found he searched small glass vials such as those “laden with cocaine” that were found in his locker, the prosecutor said.
Investigators also recovered text messages from customers at McLaughlin, Marrett said. In one exchange, a customer allegedly messaged the accused, “need a bag,” and McLaughlin replied, “bathroom.”
The bathroom was the only place in the bar without surveillance cameras, Marrett said.
“It was the defendant’s favorite place to distribute drugs to his clients,” according to the prosecutor.
After seeing news reports about the overdoses, Mahtab Massoodnia came forward to investigators saying she had received an envelope from McLaughlin on September 18, 2016, which contained cocaine, Marrett said. Massoodnia is expected to testify at trial.
The prosecutor showed jurors American Junkie surveillance video from when the victims overdosed. The video was accompanied by audio of a 911 call in which a dispatcher attempts to train security guards to perform CPR on victims as paramedics rush to the scene.
In addition to Said, patrons Joshua Selley and Daron Muratyan overdosed but were revived on naloxone, a drug that can block opioids and save the lives of overdose victims, Marrett said. Another patron, Francisco Alvarado, also overdosed at the bar, but not from the drugs McLaughlin allegedly distributed, the prosecutor said.
“This is a second job…with tragic consequences,” Marrett said.
McLaughlin’s attorney, Dan Chambers, said evidence at trial would show a “mystery man” was the one who distributed the deadly fentanyl. Surveillance video shows the man entering the bathroom with the four overdose victims, Chambers said.
The unnamed suspect is also seen at the men’s tables, Chambers said. “The mystery man” is seen returning to the bathroom with the victims and when they leave, he returns to their table to resume the party, according to the defense attorney.
Alvarado was partying with another group of people, Chambers said.
Just before the men overdosed, “Who’s sneaking in? That’s right, mystery man,” Chambers said.
Chambers noted that police did not recover any fentanyl during their search of the bar’s lockers.
“There was no fentanyl in (McLaughlin’s) house,” Chambers said.
The lockers were also not assigned, the defense attorney said.
“The lockers didn’t belong to anyone. It was first come, first served,” Chambers said. “They were community lockers.”
The attorney also said the locker prosecutors allege McLaughlin used contained multiple DNA matches.
“There’s nothing with his name on it,” investigators say, in the locker McLaughlin used, Chambers said. “No personal items in there. And there’s multiple people’s DNA on that locker and the things in it.”
The day after the overdoses, Newport Beach police “upset American Junkie … and there’s no fentanyl anywhere,” Chambers said. “That fentanyl left that night with the mystery man.”