Police: Couple invented, cooked, marketed carfentanil, an opioid that ‘would pretty much kill you instantly’

OMAHA, Neb. — Carfentanil is an opioid that can be up to 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. Omaha police detectives started noticing the drug in the summer of 2017. Police said the product was found at the scene of countless overdoses.

“If you had a couple of grains of carfentanil on your skin, it would absorb and it would pretty much kill you instantly,” said an Omaha narcotics detective whose identity was protected for his safety.

The carfentanil officers were finding in Omaha was pastel-colored– a calling card of the mastermind who made it.

“I don’t know of any other drugs that have been invented in Omaha, Nebraska, and this one was,” said the narcotics detective.

Investigators said Ken Hechtman and his wife Wendy invented and cooked the drug. They also developed a sophisticated marketing system with a sales team of about 40 people.

“It just popped up here like a light switch. Overnight, all of a sudden, it was here,” said an Omaha police detective.

Detectives thought the drug was coming from Denver, Kansas City or Chicago. They did not imagine that it could have been produced in a Midtown, Omaha neighborhood less than two miles from Omaha Police Department headquarters.

A six-month investigation led officers to the rental property occupied by the Hechtmans near 27th Street and Leavenworth. Inside, they found a drug kitchen, a lab and mountains of books.

“He had hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of books,” an Omaha police detective said. “He was big on stone carving, history itself, world history, mathematics, politics.”

Investigators also found pounds of the pastel carfentanil.

Detectives described Ken Hechtman as cordial, quirky and extremely intelligent and said Wendy Hechtman was social. A Wikipedia page reveals Ken’s hard-to-believe story as a Canadian-born journalist who attended Columbia University but was kicked out. It also says he was captured by the Taliban. It sounds far-fetched, but detectives said they were able to verify most of it.

“I would put him probably up there, top five to 10 percent, with respect to intellectual ability and he had a very exciting life,” said Stu Dornan, Ken Hechtman’s defense attorney.

The drugs produced by the Hechtmans could have been sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but police said the couple likely didn’t make that much.

“Money is great, but I don’t think it was a big thing for him. It was more the recognition, like, ‘Good or bad, look what I created,'” said an investigator.

Instead of fulfilling their plan to run a nationwide drug ring, police ended their dreams and stopped a scourge on the streets of Omaha.

“People were dying. People were overdosing. Families were being destroyed on a daily basis, and then it stopped,” said an Omaha investigator.

The Hechtman case is the reason all Omaha police officers now carry naloxone (Narcan), the opioid antidote. It also changed fentanyl-handling procedures for law enforcement agencies around the country.

Ken and Wendy Hechtman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute fentanyl. Both were sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in December. Their location is unknown, but Dornan confirmed Ken Hechtman will likely request a transfer to a Minnesota prison. Dornan added that the pair will likely be released in less than 15 years.

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