SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — A Tenderloin fentanyl drug dealer who prosecutors say was responsible for multiple deadly overdoses was sentenced in a federal courtroom Wednesday.

Emil Arriola Melendez, 33, of South San Francisco, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney to service 46 months in prison.

Melendez, 33, pleaded guilty to selling large amounts of fentanyl in the drug-plagued neighborhood.

The investigation into Melendez began when three people in Trinity County died from fentanyl overdoses within a few days last summer. Investigators followed the drug trail back to San Francisco.

DEA investigators tracked down a drug dealer who sold the fentanyl to the overdose victims.

“That dealer identified Melendez as a source of fentanyl supply and said that he would drive to meet and buy fentanyl from Melendez in the San Francisco Bay Area and then return with the fentanyl to Trinity and Shasta Counties.  This information led to the undercover officer being introduced to Melendez,” federal prosecutors wrote.

In his plea agreement, Melendez admitted that in the fall of 2021 he exchanged numerous text messages with the undercover law enforcement officer who posed as buyer wanting fentanyl and heroin.  

On September 22, near Geary and Hyde streets in the Tenderloin, Melendez met and sold the undercover officer 110 grams of fentanyl for $3,000.  On October 27, he met with the undercover officer again near Geary and Hyde streets and sold the officer 227 grams of fentanyl and 56 grams of heroin in exchange for nearly $8,000.

Melendez was in custody at his sentencing hearing Friday and will begin serving his sentence immediately. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Tartakovsky prosecuted the case. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by DEA, the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office, and the Shasta Interagency Narcotics Task Force.

Fentanyl is the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The highly potent opioid can be diluted with cutting agents to create counterfeit pills. Small variations in the amount or quality of fentanyl can have significant effects on the potency of the counterfeit pills, drastically raising the danger of overdoses. 

Counterfeit fentanyl-laced pills are commonly shaped and colored to resemble Oxycodone pills. Counterfeit pills known as “M30s” are round tablets that are often light blue, but can vary in color, and have “M” and “30” imprinted on opposite sides of the pill, prosecutors said.