East Pittsburgh fentanyl vendor, 7-time felon will get 15 years in federal jail

An East Pittsburgh man with seven prior felony convictions will spend 15 years behind bars for using a gun while dealing large amounts of synthetic fentanyl he ordered by mail from South Korea.

James Folks, 47, who also has ties to Homestead, was sentenced in federal court in Pittsburgh for his latest round of drug and gun charges stemming from a bust spurred by Postal Inspection workers 3 ½ years ago, Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman said Tuesday.

On Dec. 6, 2017, Folks was caught picking up a package from a U.S. post office that contained a fentanyl analog that weighed 1,058 grams — or about 2.2 pounds, court records show.

Homeland Security officials had intercepted and opened the parcel the day before to find a powdery substance, and a field test confirmed that it contained a potentially lethal synthetic opioid painkiller called methoxyacetylfentanyl.

Law enforcement watched quietly as Folks retrieved the package, then followed him out of the post office’s parking lot to the front of his home, records show. Officers arrested Folks there, and a subsequent search turned up a Smith and Wesson .40-caliber pistol with a loaded magazine, along with an electronic money counter and other drug sales paraphernalia.

Federal law prohibits gun ownership or possession by felons convicted of a crime punishable by a year or more in prison. Folks had at least seven such convictions.

The 180-month prison sentence imposed by U.S. Judge Nora Barry Fischer is the minimum sentence that Folks could have faced as an “armed career criminal.”

Under the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984, a federal law requires sentences of at least 15 years in prison for those who commit crimes with guns if they have three or more prior convictions of violent felonies or serious drug offenses. He also could have faced a fine up to $20.5 million.

The judge further ordered Folks to spend 10 years on probation upon his release.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro credited collaboration between federal agents and state police with seizing a sum of the potentially lethal and highly addictive drug “that could have devastated this community.”

“We’re using every law enforcement tool at our disposal to fight this epidemic in Pennsylvania and get the people peddling these poisons out of our communities,” Shapiro said in a statement announcing the grand jury’s indictment of Folks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig W. Haller prosecuted the case.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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