Hawaii Man Faces Life in Prison for Fentanyl Overdose of Marine in 2021

by Braxton Taylor

A 22-year-old Waikiki man facing life in prison in connection with the fatal fentanyl overdose of a U.S. Marine in November 2021 will be arraigned and enter a plea Thursday in federal court, accused of conducting numerous drug transactions with active duty military personnel.

Justin Hiroki Wu, 22, is charged with one count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death and one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

According to a Jan. 13 criminal complaint, federal investigators allegedly found “numerous messages with multiple individuals discussing drug transactions for cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy, and oxycodone.”

“A number of these individuals messaging Wu for drug transactions were active duty military personnel,” according to the complaint.

Investigators allege Wu used Cash App and Venmo to move money.

“Through multiple interviews of military personnel who purchased drugs from Wu, investigators believe that the transactions with memo line of ‘food’ were not for food but to disguise payments for drugs,” according to the complaint, that notes interviews with active-duty military members and at least one person expelled from the Marine Corps for testing positive for fentanyl.

Fentanyl overdose deaths in Hawaii hit a three-year high with 71 in 2022, according to the state Department of Health. That’s up from 47 in 2021, and 34 in 2020.

“Fatal drug poisonings are an ongoing concern among Hawaii residents. Most of [the] mortality is due to (presumed) methamphetamine-­related fatalities. While total opioid-related deaths have also increased over the last four years, that increase is limited to overdoses involving heroin and synthetic opioids, principally fentanyl,” said Shawn Hamamoto, a DOH spokesperson. “Deaths involving these two illicit opioids now far outnumber those related to more commonly prescribed opioids, suggesting prevention opportunities through harm reduction [including bystander naloxone] and law enforcement.”

A spokesperson for Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s Communication Strategy and Operations, 1st Lt. Erin Scudder, told the Star-­Advertiser in a statement the Marine who died Nov. 13, 2021, was Lance Cpl. Alexander Grafton, a Hawaii-­based Marine within the 3rd Marine Division.

“Our deepest condolences remain with the friends and family of the Marine as we continue to grieve the loss,” wrote Scudder.

The number of Kaneohe Marines who have overdosed or died of a drug overdose since 2020 was not immediately available.

Wu will be arraigned and enter a plea to the indictment at 10:30 a.m. Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth J. Mansfield.

His attorney, Caroline M. Elliot, and assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Albanese, who is prosecuting the case, declined comment.

According to the Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division, on Sept. 10, 2021, investigators responded to an overdose at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, where a lance corporal had been found unresponsive, given CPR, then transported to a medical center.

During a search of the victim’s barracks, Marine investigators found one blue pill stamped “M-30” and a second crushed-up blue pill in a transparent plastic bag that later tested positive as fentanyl, according to a Jan. 13 affidavit in support of a criminal complaint authorized by an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The victim allegedly told Marine authorities he bought the pills from “Mike” in Waikiki.

The victim’s medical records from Sept. 13, 2021, indicate he told Marine medical personnel he had an accidental overdose on Sept. 10, 2021, after buying two Percocet pills “off the street” and “snorted 1/2 tablet.” He allegedly told medical personnel the overdose was “unintentional” and that he was “just being careless and was trying to have fun.”

On Nov. 13, 2021, the lance corporal was found dead in his barracks on Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

An autopsy and toxicology report determined the cause of death was “fentanyl toxicity” and the autopsy indicated the date of death as “unknown,” according to the complaint.

At the scene, his cellphone and a small plastic bag containing a blue, crystalline substance that tested positive as fentanyl were recovered. Investigators with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service reviewed the lance corporal’s phone and interviewed his friends and associates.

NCIS determined that the lance corporal who died was last seen or heard from on the night of Nov. 10, 2021, which “is the date NCIS suspects” he overdosed, according to the complaint.

A review of his mobile phone revealed “multiple conversations with individuals on the social media application Snapchat” about buying and using cocaine, cannabis, oxycodone, Percocet and psilocybin mushrooms. The Snapchat conversations about the sale of illegal drugs continued up to Nov. 9, 2021, the day before he died of a fentanyl overdose.

On Nov. 5, 2021, the lance corporal’s communications with Snapchat user “jay_hnl” referenced the September 2021 overdose, “U should give me a small bag of blow cuz I died off ur perc (skull emojis),” and, “I just thought like I should get some exchange for literally dying off a half a perc (skull emojis).” Four days later, on Nov. 9, 2021, the lance corporal messaged with “jay_hnl” saying, “Yo can me and [Person-A ] r tryna cop 4 percs total.”

In response, “jay_hnl” wrote, “Okay.” The lance corporal died the next day.

“Based on the messages between ‘jay_hnl’ and (the victim ), the CID investigation, and the medical records,” the DEA agent wrote that both the overdose on Sept. 10, 2021, and the fatal overdose on Nov. 10, 2021, were the result of counterfeit Percocet, also known as oxycodone M-30 pills, bought from “jay_hnl,” according to the criminal complaint.

On March 30, 2022, NCIS and DEA agents interviewed another soldier acting as a NCIS confidential source who said he was with the lance corporal on Nov. 9, 2021, when he bought the Percocet from “jay_hnl.”

The source allegedly said they had met with “jay_hnl” for “drug transactions on multiple occasions in the past.” He told federal agents that he would drive to an address in Waikiki, later determined to be the location of Wu’s residence, where “jay_hnl” would leave his apartment complex and get into his car to complete the illegal drug transaction.

On June 27, 2022, DEA and NCIS agents interviewed another confidential source who said he bought illegal drugs from “Justin,” a civilian who lives at the apartment complex that is Wu’s residence. The second source allegedly bought cocaine and MDMA from “Justin” on multiple occasions since December 2021 and would purchase drugs from “Justin” for other individuals. The second source helped federal agents set up a drug buy from Wu on June 29, 2022, court records show.

Wu was arrested at about 2 :35 p.m. when he was seen getting into a car registered to his mother. A search of the car allegedly turned up a scale with suspected cocaine residue and about 188 grams of cocaine in the trunk. Plastic bags with suspected cocaine residue and suspected psilocybin mushrooms were also found in the driver’s center console, according to the complaint.

A search warrant was executed at Wu’s apartment and authorities seized suspected cannabis, multiple bottles of prescription codeine, suspected psilocybin mushrooms, and suspected cocaine. Within a safe in Wu’s room, federal agents found $34,248 in cash, bundled in rubber bands and in different denominations; and 780,000 in Japanese Yen, or about $5,228.

“On that same date, Wu provided consent for investigators to assume his online identity in Instagram, Snapchat, and iMessage accounts. Wu’s current Instagram account username is “jay_hnl,” the same account username which was in contact with (the lance corporal) on Snapchat, according to the complaint.

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