NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—Heavy rain drops began to fall against a white truck marked “HAZMAT” parked at the end of the 100 block of Diamond Ave in the quaint Balboa Island neighborhood, surrounded by expensive yachts that line the Newport Beach Harbor.
Just 300 feet away in a home across the threshold of yellow police tape were the bodies of Andrew Adams, 43; Desiree Temple, 43, of Yorba Linda; and Samantha Haiman, 45, of Riverside.
Investigators with the Newport Beach Police Department at the scene in October suspected that illegal drug activity was involved in the deaths, with the possibility of fentanyl.
Though the investigation is still ongoing, the tragedy is a reminder that the affluence of Orange County’s wealthiest city does not exempt it from California’s drug crisis, which saw 5,502 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2020, a 126 percent increase from 2018, according to the California Department of Public Health.
“I would say there are over 100 drug dealers within Newport Beach right now,” former cocaine dealer and Newport Beach resident under the pseudonym of Raphael told The Epoch Times.
“Most of the coke dealers are people you would least expect.”
Raphael, who began his journey with drugs in 2009, said that a college-aged male who rented a Balboa Island home operated one of the pick-up locations of cocaine that he would use, sell, and share with friends within the Newport Beach party scene.
“A lot of people are using coke, and everyone and their mother is doing this in Newport,” said Raphael.
Cocaine is a stimulant manufactured from the coca plant and can cause serious bodily harm by disrupting the nervous system, altering moods, changing personalities, and causing heavy addiction.
Users ingest the drug in the form of water-soluble hydrochloride salt for snorting or injecting, or a water-insoluble cocaine base form for smoking. According to the DEA, the physical crash the body takes following a cocaine high is mental and physical exhaustion, sleep, and depression lasting several days.
Over time, the use of cocaine can lead to psychotic behavior, prolonged anxiety, tissue damage, high blood pressure, breathing issues, and heart attacks.
In the city of Newport Beach, a possession of cocaine charge is met with severe penalties which include hefty fines, prison or jail time, stiff penalties, parole or probation, drug rehabilitation, and community service.
Those deemed addicted to cocaine can also lose their driving privileges in the city.
“The cocaine scene in Newport is just kind of word of mouth. You’ve got to be totally introduced to the dealers,” Raphael said.
“That’s the only way I’ve ever met people who sell it.”
On Dec. 7, 2017, charges were brought against Sean Robert McLaughlin of Aliso Viejo for an eight-count indictment alleging the distribution of drugs.
McLaughlin, a security manager of the former American Junkie nightclub of Newport Beach, was listed by the Justice Department as distributing the drug throughout the club which later resulted in three overdoses—one of whom died after ingesting a lethal amount of fentanyl.
Further investigation by law enforcement also led to the accusation of McLaughlin of furnishing cocaine laced with fentanyl to four club patrons prior to Nov. 18, 2016.
“Lots of bouncers in Newport and Costa Mesa can hook you up with the drugs you want, but they can also kick you out for drugs as well,” Raphael said.
“But in this sense, most of the guys I knew were doing this more throughout the bars of Costa Mesa than in Newport.”
Raphael describes Newport Beach’s cocaine market as a three-tier system.
Local distributers within Newport’s social circles along with bar and nightclub bouncers purchase the drug from street gangs in the city of Santa Ana, who in turn have alliances with Mexican drug cartels. With the US/Mexico border less than 96 miles away from Newport Beach, cocaine is mostly transported through passenger vehicles and trucks to be stored in homes and storage bins by various gang members.
One of the most prominent dealers that came to Raphael’s mind was a single mother of two who lived in the high-end mansions of Newport Coast and drove a Mercedes to make cocaine deliveries to clients throughout the city.
“She was the beautiful and bubbly chick that took care of herself and brought the coke right to you,” Raphael said.
“Just imagine this blonde attractive blonde lady driving around a freaking Mercedes Benz in Newport Beach; there’s billions of them everywhere you look.”
Raphael said he was surprised how long she was able to evade law enforcement. The woman was rumored to have dealt directly with Mexican drug cartels and their allies within the gangs of Santa Ana.
“A lot of the kids buying the coke come from money,” Raphael said. “But also, a lot of their parents are selling it … lots of people’s [expletive] parents.”
But like most dealers who Raphael encountered, it was only a matter of time until their business would come to a sudden halt.
“One day, she just got into it too deep,” he said.
“Something happened between her and her dealers, and she had to leave the country with her two kids overnight. I have no idea what her situation is now.”
But in Newport Beach, offenders dealing and transporting the drug appear to be on the rise.
“California state laws now carry light punishment for drug offenders and for people selling narcotics,” Heather Rangel of the Newport Beach Police Department told The Epoch Times.
“What were once felony crimes are now considered misdemeanor crimes with much lower sentences. These lessor sentences mean more people on the street that are willing to buy and sell narcotics.”
The transportation of illicit drugs from the Mexican border to Orange County limits has not gone unnoticed. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials noted that after travel restrictions were in place to curb the spread of the pandemic, American citizens were caught trafficking drugs more than six times as often as native Mexicans, from October 2020 to April 2021.
“Narcotics such as cocaine and fentanyl are typically moved into the US and the SoCal region by drug cartels from Mexico and then distributed by local drug dealers,” Rangel continued.
“Arrests for Cocaine and fentanyl are frequently made. This is due to the quantity of cocaine and fentanyl in circulation and the proactivity of officers within the police department. Many of those investigations are still ongoing.”
Cocaine overdoses in Orange County are often due to dealers cutting the drug and mixing it with fentanyl, an opiate 50 times more potent than heroin.
The Orange County Coroner’s Office reported that over the first quarter of 2021, there was a 77 percent rise in accidental overdose deaths. Deaths involving fentanyl overdoses were up 177 percent.
As the trend is expected to continue, Newport Beach Police officers move forward in keeping themselves equipped to combat the drug.
“Based on the potency of fentanyl, we are seeing greater amounts of overdoses. Officers are now better equipped with department issued Narcan nasal sprays to neutralize fentanyl,” Rangel said.
“(But) education is another piece to the puzzle of combatting these drugs. Helping people understand the drugs such as fentanyl are being added to other drugs making other drug use even more deadly.”
Last month in neighboring Huntington Beach, two men were arrested after a month-long investigation, seizing about $1 million worth of drugs being distributed through Orange and Los Angeles county’s.
The drug cache was suspected of having 17 kilograms of cocaine and fentanyl.
“Fentanyl is highly addictive which’s leads to a greater demand,” Rangel said.
“With little to no fear of punishment for possessing or selling narcotics, the supply continues to increase.”
Though fentanyl is responsible for most of Orange County’s drug overdoses, Raphael notes that there are some in his former crowd that specifically purchase the drug despite knowing the dangers of it.
“People like it, it’s becoming a choice drug in the area,” Raphael said.
“Again, a lot of these guys have the money to buy the stuff, but personally, I have lost 14 people at this point to drugs and had to leave it all behind.”
A further addiction to other substances lead Raphael to what he describes as a “rock bottom” moment in his life where certain family and friends stepped in to help him start a new path away from Newport’s abundant cocaine market.
“(The addiction) was getting so hard, and it was like if it wasn’t that particular person coming to help, I don’t know how I would have reacted to someone else. Sometimes the closest people to you are the people that you push away,” Raphael shared.
“You’re so vulnerable from all those years of blocking God with the drugging and the boozing. I just finally gave up and accepted the way out. God is so awesome like that.”
After years of immersing himself in drugs, Raphael looks forward to his years ahead in encouraging other people to stay away from these habits, which includes sharing the harsh realities of dealing drugs.
“Most of them get arrested, so it’s like gambling. You can be on the run for so long, because the majority of them end up getting caught,” he said.
“And then people forget about you and go on to the next guy, then the next guy, and so on.”
In moving forward, Raphael remains grateful that he survived so many near death experiences and arrests due to a former life of drug involvement.
“I still am a dork and have a lot of fun. I’m not like a puppet anymore. I’m no longer controlled by a substance,” Raphael said.
“I’ve given this control over to God, and for this first time I feel like I can actually do anything now.”