By Moira Muntz
AKRON/CINCINNATI – In a first-of-its kind judgment against an illicit fentanyl manufacturing and trafficking organization, a Summit County, Ohio, judge issued an $18 million judgment against the Zheng cartel, the maximum punitive damages allowed under Ohio law, in response to a lawsuit filed by James Rauh, Families Against Fentanyl founder, after the death of his son Tommy. Rauh, who is based in Akron, announced the ruling and additional details at an Aug. 9 event in Cincinnati that was led by Congressman Brad Wenstrup (OH-02).
“Our son, Tommy, was stolen from us. He never stood a chance against the incredibly potent poison provided by the Zhengs. All for what? The reckless and malicious greed of the Zheng cartel. To save American lives, we must stop the foreign manufacturers and traffickers of illegal fentanyl and hold them accountable. In Tom’s memory, our family is committed to doing our part,” said Rauh, whose nonprofit Families Against Fentanyl is a leading voice for fentanyl awareness.
Rauh’s son, Thomas “Tommy” Rauh, was prescribed opioids by a doctor after a rollerblading accident. Like so many other people in Ohio and across the country, Tommy became addicted to prescription opioids. He eventually moved to using heroin. As James Rauh testified in court proceedings, Tommy “battled his disease with the heart of a lion” and was proud to work with his father at the family business. Despite his best efforts to overcome addiction, Tommy died in 2015 while trying to take an injection that, unknown to him, contained acetyl fentanyl from China, produced and sold by the Zheng drug trafficking organization. The acetyl fentanyl in the injection was so potent that Thomas lost consciousness and died before even being able to complete the injection.
In 2020, James Rauh filed suit against the Zheng drug trafficking and manufacturing organization for its role in the death of his son from fentanyl poisoning, and in the enormous spike in fentanyl-related deaths in the United States. The lawsuit was filed following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found Tommy Rauh died as a result of being poisoned by illicit acetyl fentanyl produced and sold by the Zheng drug trafficking and manufacturing organization.
In recommending the $18 million in damages to the district judge, Summit County Magistrate Judge Kandi S. O’Connor wrote, “After a review of the testimony and evidence presented, this Court finds that defendants are responsible and liable for the wrongful death of Tommy Rauh. The Court further finds that the defendants acted with conscious disregard and malice for their actions in relation to the wrongful death of Rauh.”
O’Connor also noted in her decision that she would have awarded greater punitive damages if not limited by caps under Ohio law, writing that “this punitive damage award is inadequate.”
Rauh announced the $18 million judgment by Ohio Judge Kathryn Michael against the Zheng cartel at a roundtable event led by Congressman and physician Brad Wenstrup, featuring families and advocates in the region impacted by the illicit fentanyl crisis. The Rauh family was awarded $18 million plus attorneys’ fees, court costs and interest at the statutory rate.