GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — A U.S. District judge has sentenced a Grand Junction man to life in federal prison for several drug charges including some related to fentanyl. It’s the largest sentence ever given for a fentanyl-related death in a Colorado case.

A federal jury convicted 57-year-old Bruce Holder of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and counterfeit substances, distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, distribution of fentanyl and distribution of a counterfeit substance after an 11-day trial in April of 2021.

Facts presented at the trial proved Holder worked with several co-conspirators including his wife, children and other family members to distribute fentanyl. These pills were disguised as legitimate 30mg Oxycodone pills, but in truth were fentanyl-spiked counterfeit pills.

A U.S. Attorney’s office press release details that between 2017 and 2018, Holder smuggled tens of thousands of these fentanyl-laced pills from Mexico to Western Colorado. Holder and his co-conspirators distributed these pills to the Western Slope, raking in large profits.

In 2017 a young man died after taking one of the counterfeit pills, believing it to be oxycodone. Evidence presented in court established the man died because of the fentanyl in the pills sold to him by Holder and his co-conspirators.

Holder and his co-conspirators knew of this death, but they chose to continue importing and distributing the pills. Even after Holder’s arrest in 2018, Holder’s co-conspirators continued operations.

Evidence at trial also showed after being arrested, Holder and his co-conspirators discussed plans to murder a cooperating witness and destroy incriminating evidence.

U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello sentenced Holder on January 11.

It has taken more than five years to get justice for the victims’ families. We hope this brings them some amount of peace. We could not have gotten to this point without the hard work and dedication from our law enforcement partners at the DEA, the FBI, Homeland Security, the Grand Junction Police Department, and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office. We hope this sentence sends a strong message to fentanyl dealers that we will hold you accountable to the fullest extent of the law if your illicit drugs kill people in our state.

United States Attorney Cole Finegan

According to the Denver Gazette, a 30-year-old Aspen marijuana dispensary worker and hotel bellman, Jonathan Ellington, was the victim. He died December 28th of 2018. His roommate found him with a syringe stuck in his leg.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver says bringing Holder to justice was a serious team effort.

The Rocky Mountain Division of the Drug Enforcement Division (DEA) conducted the investigation with assistance from the FBI, ATF, HSI, USMS, Western Colorado Drug Task Force, Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team (“TRIDENT”), Carbondale Police Department, Fruita Police Department, Grand Junction Police Department, and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.

Special Assistant United States Attorney Jamie Pena and former assistant United States Attorney Jeremy Chaffin handled the prosecution of the case.

First and foremost, I want to thank the investigators and prosecutors who tirelessly worked on this case for years with tenacity and compassion. It was their relentless determination that made it possible for us to see justice for these families There is no outcome that will bring back loved ones; but we do hope today is a small step forward for the families, and a stark reminder that DEA’s work to protect our communities from dangerous and greedy fentanyl distributors continues this very hour and we will not stop.

DEA Rocky Mountain Special Agent in Charge Brian Besser