Southampton Town Board member Brad Bender pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to conspiracy to illegally distribute oxycodone as part of a $1.8 million scheme involving a Riverhead physician assistant who had previously been arrested by federal agents.
Mr. Bender admitted in federal court that between July 2012 and June 2015, he received phony prescriptions for oxycodone from Riverhead physician assistant Michael Troyan and illegally exchanged the oxycodone pills for cash and steroids with another co-conspirator.
The oxycodone pills were then re-sold to drug abusers, authorities said. Prosecutors did not identify the other co-conspirator.
Mr. Bender now faces a maximum sentence of 20 years of imprisonment and a $1 million fine.
Mr. Bender had been interviewed by investigators earlier this month when Mr. Troyan was arrested and confessed, assistant district attorney Allen Bode said Tuesday. Mr. Bender resigned from his post on the Town Board Tuesday morning.
At his arraignment in Eastern District court, Mr. Bender said he’d be able to make his $100,000 bond. He will surrender his passport tomorrow and be limited to travel within the continental United States. He will also be subject to drug testing and treatment as part of his plea agreement.
Speaking with reporters outside the courtroom Tuesday Mr. Bender said Mr. Troyan has been his “longtime physician.” His attorney, Brian J. DeSesa, said Mr. Bender became addicted to prescription pills Mr. Troyan legally prescribed him following an injury four years ago.
“He got addicted like so many have,” said Mr. DeSesa, who added that his client is remorseful he let the addiction get the better of him.
Mr. Bender said he hopes the people of his community forgive him.
“I just hope that they would give me a blessing in my recovery,” he said. “That they would still expect to see me as a participant in my community, which I’m still dedicated to. Right now is time for my recovery and my family. I ask for your patience with that.
“I would say if you’re having an issue with prescription medications to seek out the help that you need and unfortunately my physician was not the correct one to help me with my issue. If you are having a problem please get some help.”
United States Attorney Robert Capers offered the following statement Tuesday: “Abuse of oxycodone on Long Island has reached epidemic proportions. Councilman Bender’s actions in this oxycodone distribution conspiracy victimized the very community he was entrusted to represent. Today’s guilty plea should serve as a reminder that no one is above the law, including those entrusted with passing our laws.”
Southampton Town Board members accepted Mr. Bender’s resignation in executive session at a special Town Board meeting on Tuesday.
“My hope would be that we could schedule it as soon as possible, which would be the end of January, so we can have a full board,” said Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. “In the meantime, I just want to assure people that we will be conducting business as a Town Board. This is a shock to all of us, but I want to make sure that we will continue to conduct business to the best of our abilities.”
The supervisor said the board plans to schedule a special election within 60 to 90 days.
Prior to his earning his seat on the Town Board in 2013, Mr. Bender served for years as the president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.
When Mr. Bender ran for office in 2011, FRNCA amended its bylaws to permit Vince Taldone — who lives in Riverhead but owns property in Riverside — to step up as president since nobody else volunteered for the post.
Mr. Taldone, who called himself a personal friend of Mr. Bender’s after working on community issues with him for so long, said he was “heartbroken and surprised as anyone else to hear this.”
“It’s also bizarre, particularly today,” he added. “We were going to go tonight [to a Town Board meeting] to demand more police protection against drug dealers, and our councilman gets arrested for dealing drugs.”
Mr. Taldone said the news was hard to accept not only as a friend but as a fellow volunteer in the community.
“I have such a good recollection of the work he’s done to support that community.”
The drug ring the councilman was involved in was allegedly led by Mr. Troyan, federal prosecutors have said. The scheme reportedly involved the sales of over 60,000 oxycodone pills that netted $1.8 million in street sales.
Mr. Troyan was released on bond earlier this month.
Photo credit: Joe Werkmeister
With Erin McKinley — The Southampton Press