Fentanyl drug trafficker living in Bellingham’s ‘Walmart encampment’ arrested

A 32-year-old man from Mexico pleaded guilty Wednesday to drug trafficking tens of thousands of fentanyl pills and selling them out of a prominent homeless encampment in Bellingham

According to the Washington State Department of Justice (DOJ), Rigoberto Vasquez-Martinez has been in custody since his arrest last August. He pleaded guilty to charges of delivering and distributing controlled substances and possessing firearms. Both the defense and prosecutors will recommend a 10-year prison sentence.

Last year, detectives began investigating Vasquez-Martinez after receiving information that he was a well-known drug dealer living in what authorities call the "Walmart encampment" in Bellingham. This homeless encampment stretches about a half-mile east of Walmart.

On Aug. 29, 2023, Vasquez-Martinez was stopped by police near Brownsville, Oregon while driving from California – where he had allegedly picked up a supply of drugs.  

When authorities searched his car, they recovered more than 65,000 fentanyl pills, $3,000 in cash and multiple cell phones.

He admitted to police that he was on his way back to Western Washington to distribute the pills. 

According to the DOJ, that same day, officers searched a storage locker in Lynnwood that was registered under his wife’s name.

Inside, police found three kilos of fentanyl powder, 300 grams of meth, 1.9 kilograms of heroin, a 9mm handgun and $46,000 in cash.

Vasquez-Martinez admitted that he used the handgun for drug trafficking.

On Aug. 31, 2023, police searched the Walmart Compound where Vasquez-Martinez had been staying. Police recovered more than $4,000 in cash, a sawed-off shotgun and an AR-15.

The DOJ says Vasquez-Martinez admitted that he had armed guards acting as security around the main structure where he stayed.

According to the DOJ, the firearm possession charges Vasquez-Martinez faces are punishable by a minimum of five years and up to 40 years in prison. Possession of a firearm in drug trafficking-related incidents carries a minimum sentence of five years.

Though prosecutors and the defense are recommending a 10-year prison sentence, the decision is ultimately up to U.S. District Judge Evanson.

Vasquez-Martinez will be sentenced on June 11, 2024.

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This is a developing story.