WOBURN - Regional narcotics detectives arrested an alleged drug dealer late last week during a sting operation on the West Side by the Reeves Elementary School.

Lawrence resident Joely Munoz, 23, was arrested for distribution of a Class A substance (fentanyl) last Thursday evening as a result of an investigation led by members of Woburn Police's Vice Unit and members the Southern Middlesex Regional Drug Task Force.

Munoz is also charged with possession with intent to distribute a Class A substance (fentanyl) and possession of a Class B substance (suboxone). Police believe the 23-year-old may be a street-level dealer for a larger Lawrence-based narcotics ring that controls much of the illegal drug trade in the greater Boston area.

According to Woburn Vice Unit Detective John Walsh, who also commands the regional Southern Middlesex Regional Drug Task Force, the Lawrence man was apprehended by the Four Corners KFC restaurant after two area drug users allegedly confessed to purchasing a small quantity of the deadly synthetic opioid by a residence at 213 Cambridge Rd.

Woburn Vice Unit/SMRDTF Detectives Angelo Piazza and David Ralli were also part of the surveillance operation, which began at approximately 4:30 p.m. last Thursday.

The occupant of the targeted Cambridge Road residence, who himself faces fentanyl distribution and destruction of evidence charges, has been identified as 31-year-old Jared Hicks. Hicks, who police say panicked and swallowed a portion of the fentanyl, is accused of arranging the illicit transaction with Munoz.

Hicks purportedly planned to sell some the just-acquired drugs to two other men as detectives watched from nearby surveillance points.

SMRDTF reports indicate the Cambridge Road man was able to complete one of those secondary transactions with 34-year-old North Reading resident Tyler Paonessa. The North Reading man faces drug possession charges.

Hicks' second customer, who police say was waiting inside a nearby church, does not face criminal charges, as the Cambridge Road man was stopped and detained by narcotics detectives before that pre-arranged delivery could be made.

According to police reports, last Thursday's sting stemmed from a tip from an anonymous source, who claimed the Lawrence man was about to make a delivery to Hicks' neighborhood.

Detectives reportedly spotted Paonessa pull a blue pick-up truck into a nearby parking lot in the neighborhood, which is situated a close distance from the Reeves Elementary School, at approximately 5:30 p.m.

Police say not long after the North Reading man's arrival, Hicks exited his home and walked to the passenger side of the truck, where he retrieved an item from the driver. The Cambridge Road man then immediately walked over to the church next door.

About a half-hour later, the surveillance team noticed a Honda CRV, being driven by Munoz, traveling to a parking lot by Hick's home. The Cambridge Road man purportedly again exited the home and interacted for about a minute with the suspected drug-dealer.

Both sides then parted ways, with Munoz' driving away towards the Four Corners and Hicks returning to his home, where he reportedly repackaged the purchased drugs.

The Woburn man was confronted by Walsh after he allegedly dropped off a small quantity of the fentanyl to the North Reading man. The narcotics detective reportedly demanded that Hicks stop as he was heading towards the church, but the suspect responded by placing something near his mouth.

He then reportedly yelled, 'It's too late. I swallowed it," as police tried to prevent him from ingesting the drug evidence, say police.

Meanwhile, the North Reading man similarly ignored police commands to stop upon being confronted by the SMRDTF team. He reportedly sped out of the parking lot, but was later pulled over on Cambridge Road near Surrey Road.

According to Walsh, Hicks later confessed to buying drugs from Munoz.

Insisting he was not a typical drug dealer, but instead sold drugs to other area users to support his own habit, the Cambridge Road man also allegedly admitted to arranging the secondary sales.

SMRDTF officers, though charging Hicks for attempting to destroy the drug evidence by swallowing it, subsequently allowed the Woburn man to return home with a criminal summons to court in hand.

Police reports note the North Reading man also tried to destroy the drug evidence, but ultimately ended-up spraying the fentanyl powder all over his clothing.

The detectives, after seizing that shirt as evidence, also opted to issue a criminal complaint to the 34-year-old in light of his subsequent cooperation with investigators.

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