Two men were indicted for manslaughter Monday for allegedly supplying heroin cut with fentanyl to a Riverhead man who fatally overdosed in September 2018, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini.
A third man also was indicted on charges including conspiracy, criminal possession of drugs and criminal sale of drugs. The indictment was handed by a Grand Jury on Feb. 22 and the suspects were arraigned Monday.
John Brophy, 49, of Riverhead and LaShawn Lawrence, 35, of Greenport, were both charged with second-degree manslaughter among other charges. The case is only the third time in Suffolk County history that manslaughter charges were brought against drug dealers in connection with a fatal overdose, Mr. Sini said.
On Sept. 19, 2018, the Riverhead Town Police Department responded to the scene of a fatal overdose on Sweezey Avenue in Riverhead. A preliminary investigation revealed that the victim, Lawrence Yaccarino, 50, overdosed on heroin or a mixture of heroin and other substances.
Mr. Yaccarino bought heroin from Mr. Brophy that was laced with fentanyl, officials said. Mr. Lawrence served as Mr. Brophy’s drug supplier, the DA said. Mr. Lawrence was arrested at his Greenport home Feb. 6, officials said.
Mr. Brophy was indicted on 10 counts, including on charges of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and criminal possession of drugs.
Mr. Sini said at a press conference that when he took office, “We made it clear that we were going to have a two-pronged approach” to drug crimes. For a non-violent offender with a drug problem, “we are going to use all the tools we have to get you in treatment,” he said.
“If you are a drug dealer pedaling poison in our communities and you are killing our residents, we are going to aggressively target you through a variety of investigative methods and, where appropriate, charge you with manslaughter to hold you accountable for the death that you cause,” Mr. Sini added.
The third man indicted, Brian Hale, 52, of Flanders allowed Mr. Brophy to sell drugs out of his auto repair shop on 500 Lincoln Ave. in Riverhead, the DA said. He was indicted on charges including fourth-degree conspiracy, first-degree criminal nuisance, third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and criminal possession of a controlled substance.
After the September overdose, the East End Drug Task Force began an investigation to determine who had supplied the victim with drugs. The Task Force, working with the East End police agencies and the DA’s Narcotics bureau, gained information from the cell phones of the suspects.
In one case, Mr. Brophy told Mr. Lawrence by text that “people r dropping I think it’s [fentanyl] we need to talk I don’t want anything to do with that.”
Mr. Lawrence responded, “My people ain’t playing like that.”
Mr. Brophy then wrote: “I just Narcaned a guy twice in my house and I have another guy” that had problems with the drugs.
“After this, these criminals continued to sell this poison in our community,” Mr. Sini said, adding that several of the supplies of heroin mixed with fentanyl the two men sold led to overdoses in which the user was revived by Narcan. The mixture was packaged in either purple or red waxed envelopes. One overdose allegedly tied to Mr. Brophy occurred Sept. 14, 2018 when a victim crashed his car into another vehicle on Main Street in Greenport and had to be revived by responding officers from the Southold Police Department.
On Monday, Suffolk County Court Judge Anthony Senft Jr. set bail for Mr. Brophy at $125,000 cash or $250,000 bond. Bail was set for Mr. Lawrence at $200,000 cash or $400,000 bond. Bail was set for Mr. Hale at $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond.
Colin Astarita, the attorney for Mr. Brophy, said his client is himself a drug user who did drugs with Mr. Yaccarino.
“There’s no evidence to support, other than some text messages,” that his client was involved in the sale of drugs to Mr. Yaccarino, the attorney said.
Mr. Hale’s attorney, Walter Zornes, said his client denies selling drugs. All three suspects entered pleas of not guilty.
On Oct. 5, 2018, the East End Drug Task Force executed a search warrant at the Riverhead shop and on Mr. Brophy’s vehicle. Mr. Brophy was found in possession of a quantity of the heroin-fentanyl mixture and Mr. Hale was found in possession of Oxycodone, officials said.
If convicted of the top count, Mr. Brophy and Mr. Lawrence face a maximum sentence of seven and one-half to 15 years in prison. Mr. Hale faces a maximum sentence of up to nine years in prison.
“Currently in New York State, we do not have specific legislation that establishes responsibility for drug dealers when they cause death, so prosecutors and investigators have to be creative,” Mr. Sini said. “While we will continue to be creative, we need better legislation, including a ‘death by dealer’ statute that holds drug dealers accountable when they kill people by selling.”
All three suspects are due back in court March 29.
Photo caption: Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, joined by members of the East End Drug Task Force, outlines the charges at a press conference Monday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)