A drug dealer who was convicted of being the source of fentanyl that killed a man in 2017 was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday at the urging of the government and parents of overdose victims.

Prosecutors said Bruce Holder was responsible for bringing tens of thousands of pills spiked with fentanyl to western Colorado.

Holder, 57, was convicted in 2021 of distribution of fentanyl resulting in the death of John Ellington, 30, of Carbondale, as well as conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and counterfeit substances, distribution of fentanyl and distribution of a counterfeit substance.

U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello handed down the life sentence for Holder after concluding the government also had proved other conduct by Holder of which he was not convicted, factors which lengthened his possible punishment.

Those factors included possessing guns, allegedly using bribes to help secure the pills on frequent trips to Mexico, being the leader of a criminal enterprise of five or more people and recruiting his teen son to sell pills to help pay for shoes and equipment he needed to play sports.

Holder’s wife and daughter also were previously prosecuted and sentenced for their role in the operation.

Arguello also considered evidence that the pills Holder obtained, which were made to look like oxycodone but instead contained fentanyl, caused or contributed to the deaths of two other people, including Ashley Romero.

Romero’s mother, Andrea Thomas, recalled how her own mother collapsed after they learned Romero died in June 2018 at the same time Holder and his family was vacationing in Mexico.

“While you were sipping tequila on the beach, we were choosing whether we would cremate my daughter in a pine box or a cardboard box,” Thomas said as Romero’s son held a portrait of his late mother in the courtroom gallery behind her.

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Holder, from Grand Junction, became frustrated during the sentencing hearing, at one point heading toward a courtroom door before being blocked by U.S. Marshals.

When it came time to address his sentence, Holder repeatedly tried to talk about how he was being wrongly accused despite being urged by Arguello to stick to his punishment. Sometimes his attorneys pulled him aside, temporarily cutting him off.

“I am asking for less because there is so much you don’t know or don’t want to consider,” he said.

U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan, standing with Thomas and her grandson and investigators outside court, said the sentence was the longest ever handed down in Colorado federal court for such a case. But he noted it was a bittersweet ending.

“While justice has arrived, there is no joy,” Finegan said.

The Associated Press

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