Lompoc Man Found Guilty of Distributing Fentanyl that Resulted in Fatal Overdose of Fellow Jail Inmate

A Lompoc man was found guilty by a jury today of aiding and abetting the distribution of fentanyl that resulted in the death of a fellow inmate at a Santa Barbara County jail and in the serious bodily injury of another jail inmate.

Kaelen Jacobkeali Wendel, 32, was found guilty of one count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death and serious bodily injury, a felony that carries a 20-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a possible sentence of life imprisonment.

According to evidence presented at a five-day trial, in October 2022, Wendel smuggled fentanyl into a unit of the Santa Barbara County North Branch Jail. He packaged the powerful synthetic opioid in candy containers, according to court documents.

As the new inmate, Wendel handed some fentanyl to his co-defendant, Michael Villapania, 36, of Lompoc, in the expectation that he would receive jail commissary goods in exchange. Villapania then sold the drug to a victim identified in court documents as “J.V.” J.V. then shared the fentanyl with another victim, who is identified in court documents as “E.E.”

After ingesting the drug during the early morning hours of October 20, 2022, E.E. and J.V. overdosed. After an inmate alerted a custody deputy about the overdose, deputies and nurses administered multiple doses of Narcan – a life-saving medication used to reverse opioid overdoses – and performed CPR on both inmates. They revived J.V., but E.E. died.

United States District Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong scheduled a June 21 sentencing hearing for Wendel.

Villapania pleaded guilty on February 1 to one count of distribution of fentanyl. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 7, at which time he will face up to 20 years in federal prison.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office investigated this matter.

Assistant United States Attorney Suria M. Bahadue of the Criminal Appeals Section and Assistant United States Attorneys Alexandra Sloan Kelly and Kenneth R. Carbajal of the General Crimes Section are prosecuting this case.


Written by DOJ

Press releases written by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ)

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