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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, April 27, 2018

Plattsburgh Man Pleads Guilty in Connection with Fatal Overdose

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – Thomas A. Burnell, age 36, of Plattsburgh, New York, pled guilty today to selling heroin mixed with fentanyl that caused the death of a customer.  Burnell separately pled guilty today to possessing a weapon while incarcerated as a federal inmate at the Clinton County Jail.

The announcement was made by United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt of the New York Division.

United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith stated: “Today’s plea holds yet another heroin dealer accountable for a fatal overdose.  Dealers must know that when they sell heroin, they are playing Russian roulette with the lives of their customers and that our resolve to hold them accountable for deaths – regardless of the amount sold -- will not waver.  We will continue to investigate and prosecute overdose death cases, and other cases of illicit opioid trafficking, as part of our multi-pronged work with our law enforcement and community partners to prevent further tragedies through education, prevention, deterrence, and treatment.”

DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt stated: “Too many lives have been lost as a result of drug overdoses.  This investigation’s significance is that it brought a drug dealer to face the consequences of his actions and admit his guilt.  DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York will continue to investigate those responsible for trafficking drugs and those whose actions lead to death.”    

As part of his plea, Burnell admitted that on January 16, 2016, he went to the Plattsburgh apartment of a male customer, “J.G.” and gave J.G. two bags of what Burnell believed to contain heroin, for $70.  J.G. ingested the substances that Burnell sold to him, which was heroin mixed with fentanyl.  J.G. died that day due to opiate overdose. 

Burnell was a registered sex offender at the time of the crime, having been convicted in 2003 of sexual abuse in the first degree.  

In pleading guilty, Burnell also admitted that on March 30, 2017, while detained at the Clinton County Jail on the drug charge he pled guilty to today, he possessed a sharpened toothbrush as a weapon.  Officers found the weapon while conducting a random search of Burnell’s cell.

Senior United States District Judge Norman A. Mordue is scheduled to sentence Burnell on August 20, 2018.

Subject to Judge Mordue’s approval, Burnell’s plea agreement requires him to serve 18 years in prison for the drug offense.  On the weapon offense, Burnell faces up to 5 years in prison.  Burnell also faces a term of post-imprisonment supervised release of at least 3 years and up to life.  A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, and other factors. 

The drug overdose case was investigated by the DEA and the Plattsburgh Police Department.  The prison contraband case was investigated by the U.S. Marshals Service and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department.  The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Collyer.

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Opioids
Violent Crime
Updated April 28, 2018