A top official at one of California’s largest police unions was charged this week with importing fentanyl, muscle relaxers, and other drugs through the mail. She also allegedly attempted to blame her housekeeper after federal agents started asking questions about the illegal operation.
Prosecutors have accused 64-year-old Joanne Segovia, executive director of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, of running “a scheme to bring synthetic opioids into the country and distribute them throughout the United States.”
Segovia, according to a criminal complaint filed March 27, received at least 61 suspected drug shipments over the last seven years, with packages coming from around the world disguised as “Wedding Party Favors,” “Gift Makeup,” and “Chocolate and Sweets.” Earlier this month, investigators discovered a package containing a clock shipped from China destined for Segovia’s address with fentanyl and another opioid hidden inside on adhesive stickers.
Segovia is due to make her first court appearance Friday afternoon in San Jose and has not yet entered a plea in response to the charges. Federal court records did not list an attorney, and she did not respond to a phone call and email from VICE News requesting comment.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco, which is prosecuting the case, said Segovia is not being detained in federal custody ahead of her arraignment.
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A civilian employee of the San Jose police union since 2003, Segovia has been described as “the grandma” of the organization, which represents rank and file staff at a department with more than 1,000 officers. The union has lobbied for tougher laws against fentanyl in California, even as evidence appears to show Segovia using her office to conduct drug deals, ordering thousands of pills from her suppliers abroad, primarily suspected to be in India. Photos included in charging documents show Segovia used police union shipping labels after repackaging the prescription medications, which included various types of sedatives and painkillers.
Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers Association, told VICE News that Segovia has been placed on leave and that the organization “has been fully and completely cooperating with the federal authorities as they continue their investigation.”
“No additional individual at the POA is involved or had prior knowledge of the alleged acts,” Saggau said. “The Board of Directors is saddened and disappointed at hearing this news and we have pledged to provide our full support to the investigative authorities.”
Investigators with the Department of Homeland Security began looking into Segovia in late 2022 after her name and address turned up while searching through messages on the phone of suspected member of “a network that ships Indian-produced controlled substances” to customers across the United States. Messages on the phone showed Segovia making an apparent order for Soma, the brand name of a popular muscle relaxer.
When the feds dug deeper, they found that Segovia’s home address had been the intended destination of five mail-order drug shipments that had been opened and seized by federal investigators, including one that contained around 4,000 pills of the sedative Zolpidem and another with more than three pounds of the painkiller Tramadol. Records showed Segovia receiving packages from Canada, China, Spain, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, and Singapore, some marked as supplements and health products.
The agents also found Segovia’s address listed under the “contact us” section of a website that offered “[c]heap” prices and “[o]vernight shipping” on various prescription medications and pills. The same website, according to court records, was linked to a fatal overdose that occurred in Alabama in 2022, although Segovia is not charged in connection with that case.
When first approached by Homeland Security agents in early February, Segovia tried to claim she worked for the San Jose Police Department and insisted she only shopped online for “supplements” and “nothing out of the ordinary.” But just over a month later, she reached back out to the investigators to say she’d found a suspect: “a family friend and housekeeper,” who was responsible for ordering the suspicious packages.
Segovia told the agents that she didn’t want to “throw [this woman] to the wolves,” but that she had to be “honest” with them.
“It all leads to her,” Segovia said, according to court documents. Segovia had been thinking about the case and told investigators the housekeeper’s role had come to her “like a light bulb.” She accused the woman of impersonating her on WhatsApp, which she claimed was possible because “she knows so much about me.”
When they searched her WhatsApp account, agents found that Segovia had been corresponding for more than three years with a person with an Indian phone number, sending “hundreds of messages” about Soma and other drugs. In one of the messages, Segovia shared a photo of a PayPal receipt on her computer screen with her business card and a sheet with a list of police union codes visible in the frame.
Segovia even shared details about police union business with her drug contacts, charging documents show. She wrote in one message dated June 14, 2021: “Sorry, i had 50 new officers starting today so if I’ve been tied up all morning. I’ll be back on the office within an hour and I’ll take care of all of it! Any news on the soma??”
In another message from May 2, 2022, Segovia wrote: “Im so sorry, im on a business trip because we had 2 officers that got shot! I should be home tomorrow night so ill get them shipped as soon as i can.”
Although prosecutors appear to have evidence that Segovia was operating as part of a larger drug trafficking network, she is not charged with conspiracy and it’s unclear whether anyone else higher up in the supply chain is being targeted. The alleged suppliers in India are not named in Segovia’s court documents, but the country has a massive pharmaceutical industry and has been identified as a growing source of illicit drugs, including precursor chemicals by cartels in Mexico used to make fentanyl in clandestine laboratories.
After she faced questions about her India contacts in February, Segovia allegedly switched suppliers. Investigators wrote in court documents that on March 13, they seized a package in Kentucky that was en route to Segovia from an address in China. The shipper had declared the contents as “CLOCK,” and inside the agents found “a disassembled clock kit containing square and round white adhesive stickers or patches.” Subsequent testing revealed that the stickers contained a variety of fentanyl along with oxycodone, another opioid.
“I have not seen drugs sent in this form before,” wrote David Vargas, the Homeland Security special agent who investigated the case.
San Jose’s police department faced a reckoning with fentanyl even before federal prosecutors revealed the charges against Segovia. Last year, a 24-year-old rookie cop and former star running back at San Jose State University died from a fentanyl overdose.
Follow Keegan Hamilton: @keegan_hamilton