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The U.S. Attorney's Office of the Northern District of New York is involved in a number of programs and projects in our community. Below are some of the most recent events.
Washington County Sheriff Honored During Community Policing Week
On October 5, 2016, United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian honored Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey J. Murphy and his office for their achievements in community policing as part of the U.S. Justice Department's Community Policing Week, which took place October 3 through 7. Since taking office in 2012, Sheriff Murphy has emphasized community policing and related programs as essential to the public safety mission of his office and enhancing the bonds of trust with the people of Washington County. That emphasis can be seen on all of the Sheriff's Office patrol cars, which are emblazoned with the motto "Community First"; in the office’s public service approach to law enforcement; and in a robust use of social media and other online resources.
The ceremony at the Washington County Law Enforcement Building in Fort Edward, New York, included the presentation of a plaque and remarks by both the Sheriff and United States Attorney Hartunian, who said, "This department is cutting edge and I really commend the Sheriff for his good work and his vision, and the community for supporting him, because those things go hand in hand."
On September 8, 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York co-hosted a community event to increase awareness of opioid abuse.
The event, held at Massena High School, was the first in a series of community events the U.S. Attorney’s Office plans to hold throughout the Northern District of New York in order to generate greater community involvement in combating, preventing and treating opioid addiction, including addition to heroin and prescription painkillers.
U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian said: “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, eclipsing deaths from motor vehicle crashes and firearms. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to prosecute heroin dealers and pill pushers, and to collaborate with community leaders to help addicts receive treatment.”
The September 8 event began with a resource and information fair, with law enforcement agencies and treatment and service providers offering information on drug abuse, addiction, and recovery. Participants in the fair included the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the New York State Police, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Seaway Valley Prevention Council/Massena Drug-Free Community Coalition, Akwesasne Prevention Services, the Rose Hill Treatment Facility, Comrades of Hope, the 39 Serenity Place sober living facility, and Raiders Committed, a student group dedicated to sober lifestyles.
The event included a screening of Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict, an FBI- and DEA-produced documentary that profiles the stories of individuals who abused opiates or had family members become addicts. The film aims to teach teenagers, college students, and parents about the cycle of addiction and the tragic consequences associated with opioid abuse.
The documentary was introduced by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant C. Jaquith, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Southwick, Massena Schools Superintendent Patrick Brady, and Massena Police Chief Adam Love.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaquith told the group: “We aggressively prosecute pill mills, doctors who prescribe for black market profit rather than patient care, and heroin trafficking organizations and dealers whose poison kills, to reduce the flow of opioids for illicit use, deter prospective drug dealers who learn of the potential punishment, and spread information about the severe harm. We understand well that public health and safety requires a holistic approach to this epidemic, supporting education on the dangers of illicit drugs and the misuse of prescription drugs; physician education on the need for careful attention and active management in the prescription of opioids to preserve their availability to relieve suffering and diminish their abuse; and increasing the availability and accessibility of treatment. . . We want to tell anyone who is tempted to abuse an opioid, even once: ‘Don’t do it. If you have started, stop. Get the help that you need. You are worth it. You deserve to be healthy and happy.’”
Chief Love said: “This heroin epidemic cannot be solved by any one agency. We cannot arrest our way out of this. It is critical to have community involvement on the part of young people, parents, schools, treatment facilities, religious institutions, the media, and others. Being involved means knowing what this addiction is, being aware of warning signs, knowing what to do, who to call when you need help, and taking action when it is needed.”
The event concluded with a community response panel, moderated by Marilyn P. Morey, Community Outreach Coordinator for the United States Attorney’s Office. She led an in-depth look at all stages of the addiction journey, from the initial exposure to opioids to a person in recovery. Panelists provided their own experiences to assist the audience in grasping the need for various entities to be involved in dealing with an opiate addiction. Panelists included a mother of a recovering heroin addict; a representative from a sober living facility, a high school student who helped found a group committed to sober lifestyles; a high school guidance counselor; a recovery coach; a detoxification nurse; the director of a local treatment facility; and an emergency medical technician.
Massena Mayor Timmy J. Currier, who is also co-chairman of the Massena Drug-Free Community Coalition, concluded the event by saying: “If you have yet to be impacted by heroin, it is very likely that you will be in some manner. Many members of this community have joined our drug-free community coalition and are working hard to deal with this issue from every angle. However, real success will only be achieved when every citizen does their part and when we all work together, I am confident we will make great progress and save lives.”
On October 6th, Massena High School hosted a follow-up event specifically geared toward high school freshmen. The U.S. Attorney’s Office participated. The event a featured another screening of Chasing the Dragon and a panel discussion moderated by Ms. Morey, followed by a question-and-answer session.
Additional community events are being planned in several cities across the 32 counties of the Northern District of New York. Events are scheduled in the Watertown, Syracuse, Utica, Plattsburgh and Albany areas. For more information, please contact Marilyn Morey or Emily Gagnon at 518-431-0247, or Marilyn.Morey@usdoj.gov and Emily.Gagnon@usdoj.gov.
On June 7, 2016, U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, at a hearing titled “Deadly Synthetic Drugs: The Need to Stay Ahead of Poison Peddlers.” Senators held the hearing as part of their consideration of additional tools for combatting the manufacture, distribution, and use of illicit synthetic drugs. Other witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing included Michael P. Botticelli, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Chuck Rosenberg, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; and Dr. Douglas C. Throckmorton, Deputy Director of the Food and Drug Administration.
U.S. Attorney Hartunian, who is the Vice Chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, testified on behalf of the Department of Justice. He highlighted the horrible human costs arising from the abuse of new psychoactive substances, the challenges associated with prosecuting cases under the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act, and some successful cases. U.S. Attorney Hartunian noted that:
Synthetic drugs are produced overseas by chemists who vary the formulas to stay ahead of the scheduling process; there are significant variations in the toxicity and potency of the unknown mixes of chemicals that pose a significant danger to users and result in delusional, irrational, and combative behavior.
Each prosecution must establish that an analogue was intended for human consumption, notwithstanding its labeling, and has a chemical structure and effect similar to that of a controlled substance, which requires extensive use of expert witnesses.
“Neither the legal challenges nor the evasive actions of synthetic drug manufacturers and distributors have deterred our efforts to protect the American public.” In Northern New York, the U.S. Attorney’s Office worked with the DEA to convict 20 defendants in a ring importing multi-kilogram quantities of “Molly” from China and distributing it in the Syracuse area, and to convict John Tebbetts, the owner of nine head shops in Central New York, which sold synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones (or bath salts). Other offices have achieved similar successes.
The punishment, deterrence, and increased awareness that result from aggressive enforcement are critically important; education, prevention, and rehabilitation also are essential components of a comprehensive solution.
U.S. Attorney Hartunian concluded that, “[O]ur resolve to hold poison peddlers accountable remains unwavering.”
On June 2, 2016, Michael P. Botticelli, the White House’s Director of National Drug Control Policy, visited Albany to join U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian at a community forum on solutions to the opioid epidemic. The forum was held at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and was livestreamed for national viewing.
Other speakers at the event included New York State Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul; Commissioner Arlene Gonzalez-Sánchez from the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS); Frances M. Harding, Director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention; Albany County Chief Deputy Sheriff Kerry Thompson; Davia Collington, Coordinator of the Troy Drug Free Community Coalition; Dr. Dolores Cimini, the director of a nationally recognized substance abuse prevention program at the University at Albany; a parent advocate with two children in recovery; and a young woman in recovery – proudly clean for two years after over six years in and out of treatment and rehabilitation programs. Many other federal, state, and local officials also participated.
ONDCP Director Botticelli, a native of Troy and Waterford and a Siena College graduate, described the magnitude of the epidemic. Deaths from drug overdoses reached 140 per day in 2015. He described the Administration’s balanced public health and public safety approach to move the country out of crisis and into recovery, including by ensuring that every American who needs treatment can get it, improving prescribing practices, and promoting prevention and greater understanding of addictive disorders.
U.S. Attorney Hartunian spoke about the multi-faceted role of the United States Attorney’s Office in combating the opioid abuse crisis by: 1) Aggressively prosecuting heroin trafficking organizations and dealers whose poison kills, as well as pill mills, illicit pain clinics, and doctors who prescribe for profit rather than patient care, as with Jeffrey Gundel, an orthopedic surgeon from Gansevoort who was sentenced in January to imprisonment for 78 months for prescribing nearly 60,000 oxycodone pills for kickbacks from black market sales; 2) Using civil penalties where that is the more appropriate sanction for a lapse that leads to the diversion of prescription drugs; 3) Supporting the education of parents, youth, and patients on the dangers of illicit drugs and the misuse of prescription drugs, and physician education on the need for careful attention to the prescription of opioids to preserve their availability to relieve suffering and diminish their abuse; and 4) Bringing together leaders and experts in public health, law enforcement, pharmaceuticals, health care, and education to develop strategies to address the problem, as we have done by convening an interdisciplinary summit and town hall meetings throughout the Northern District of New York.
Prior to the community forum, Director Botticelli met with U.S. Attorney Hartunian and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant C. Jaquith to discuss problems specific to the Northern District of New York and initiatives to address the issue.
From left to right, Gordon Jaquith, Monty Wilkinson, Grant Jaquith, and Richard Hartunian
On June 1, 2016, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant C. Jaquith received the Department of Justice Director’s Award for Executive Achievement at the annual Director’s Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. in recognition of his work as a prosecutor and supervisor during his 27-year career at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York. Mr. Jaquith received his award from Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and Monty Wilkinson, Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, during a ceremony in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice building. He was one of only two people to receive the Executive Achievement Award, and among 160 Director’s Award recipients from U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. Mr. Jaquith, who has been the First Assistant U.S. Attorney since 2010, oversees all aspects of the operation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian, who attended the Director’s Awards ceremony with First Assistant Jaquith and his family, stated: “Grant is the epitome of the ideal Department of Justice executive who does his work in an exceptionally outstanding matter, never seeking credit and always considering the best interests of the Office and the Department. Not only is he relentless in his pursuit of justice, but he consistently supports everyone in the office with his unwavering good cheer and encouragement. His is a career of consistent and continuing excellence, and he is an example to us all at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I am very pleased that his work has been recognized.”
ABC News Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis interviews U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian for an upcoming Nightline story
On April 14, 2016, ABC News visited the U.S. Attorney’s Office to interview U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian about his office’s prosecution of disability fraud cases. The interview was for an upcoming Nightline story. U.S. Attorney Hartunian and ABC News Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis discussed the prosecution of John W. Caltabiano, Jr., a Catskill, New York, man who was sentenced to serve 57 months in prison after a jury found him guilty in October 2015 of fraudulently obtaining federal and state disability benefits. Caltabiano had claimed to federal and state officials that an on-the-job accident had left him almost completely blind. In fact, as demonstrated in videos taken during the investigation and presented at trial, he was able to drive, shop, go to the gym, and otherwise move about without the assistance that a blind person would need.
U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian speaks at the news conference held on April 11, 2016 at the New York State Police Troop D Headquarters in Oneida. Also pictured (from left to right) are Major Francis Coots, Troop Commander, New York State Police Troop D; Major David Krause, Detail Commander, New York State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team; and Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick.
On April 11, 2016, U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian joined federal, state and local officials at the New York State Police Troop D Headquarters in Oneida to announce the results of a Central New York operation that targeted controlled substances, guns and other contraband sent unlawfully through the U.S. Mail and express parcel services.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys worked with U.S. Postal Inspectors to obtain search warrants to open several dozen U.S. Mail packages, which also led to searches of 8 residences pursuant to search warrants. As a result of these searches, officials made 22 arrests and seized approximately $159,000 in U.S. currency, along with approximately 73.5 pounds of marijuana, 306 grams of hallucinogenic mushrooms, 980 tablets of Xanax, and 20 grams of heroin, as well as other controlled substances. Officials also seized 5 firearms, including 3 semi-automatic rifles. Additionally, searches of international shipments yielded approximately 8,340 pills and doses of illegally imported pharmaceuticals and narcotics, and 2 kilograms of synthetic controlled substances.
Among the agencies participating in the operation were the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the New York State Police, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office, and other county prosecutors’ offices.
On March 16, 2016, President Obama invited the nation's 93 United States Attorneys to the White House to thank them for their efforts in securing justice for the American people. Citing the Department's positive efforts in addressing violent crime and building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve, the President expressed pride in the work of the United States Attorneys in fighting terrorism and violent crime while furthering the principles of DOJ's "Smart on Crime" philosophy, which emphasizes focusing law enforcement resources on threats posed by high level narcotics dealers, violent criminals, child predators, and fraudsters while also prioritizing prevention programs and rehabilitation efforts.