Feds indict Central Coast men for selling fentanyl that caused jailhouse death

May 10, 2023

Santa Barbara County Northern Branch Jail


Federal officials on Tuesday announced the indictments of two inmates at the Santa Barbara County Northern Branch Jail for allegedly causing the death of one inmate and serious injury to another through fentanyl.

In the span of a few hours on Oct.19 and Oct. 20, custody deputies found three unconscious inmates in the jail located near Santa Maria. Jail staff and paramedics administered naloxone on each of the inmates. One of the inmates quickly entered recovery, one of them died and the third was hospitalized.

On Tuesday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown held a joint news conference with federal officials in which authorities announced a dozen new federal cases targeting fentanyl dealers. In all but one case, the dealers allegedly sold fentanyl and fake pills containing fentanyl that directly resulted in the death of at least one victim.

Two of the defendants indicted, Kaelen Wendel and Michael Villapania,sold the fentanyl that led to the overdoses last year at the Santa Barbara County Northern Branch Jail, according to the sheriff’s office. 

Wendel, a 31-year-old Lompoc resident, smuggled fentanyl into the jail after being arrested for outstanding property crime warrants. Wendel brought the fentanyl into the housing unit where the overdose occurred.

Villapania, a 35-year-old Santa Barbara resident and also an inmate, conspired with Wendel to sell some of the fentanyl in exchange for jail commissary items. At the time, Villapania was being held on charges related to have an outstanding probation warrant, a property crime warrant and a warrant for bringing narcotics into jail. 

Officials announced the indictments on Fentanyl Awareness Day.

“Today we send a strong message to those in Santa Barbara County who sell or distribute this poison. It will not be tolerated,” Sheriff Brown said in a statement. “If you choose to sell fentanyl in our communities, you do so at your own risk. The sheriff’s office and our federal partners will continue to investigate and prosecute those responsible for fentanyl-related overdose deaths, to the fullest extent of the law.”

Last year, at least six inmates overdosed at the Santa Barbara County Northern Branch Jail. In addition to the October death, another inmate died of a suspected opioid overdose on Dec. 28.

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A former coworker who was a former Deputy Sheriff in Alameda County said that there were more illegal drugs in the Alameda County Jail than on the streets.