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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.
On April 27, 2017, United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian received the Distinguished Alumnus in Government Award from Albany Law School, from which he graduated in 1986. He received the award at the Alumni in Government Awards Luncheon, held by Albany Law School to celebrate outstanding commitment, accomplishments, and contributions in government and public service.
“As I come to the end of my tenure as United States Attorney, I feel honored and privileged to have returned to the place where my legal career started, Albany Law School, and to have received this award alongside incredibly accomplished alumni such as former Agriculture Secretary and Governor Tom Vilsack. I cherish my and my office’s connections to Albany Law School. The school sends several smart and talented interns to the U.S. Attorney’s Office each semester, and there are many proud Albany Law alumni among our Assistant U.S. Attorneys. I look forward to maintaining a strong relationship with Albany Law in the years ahead.”
Other alumni who received awards on April 27 were Thomas J. Vilsack, former United States Secretary of Agriculture and Governor of Iowa; Renee Zirpolo Merges of the Albany County District Attorney’s Office; and Kendra Jenkins Rubin, Assistant Counsel to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The award recipients are pictured above, together with Alicia Ouellette, Albany Law School’s President & Dean.
On April 11, 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Oswego County Prevention Coalition hosted a community viewing of the documentary Chasing the Dragon: Life of an Opiate Addict followed by a community response panel. The event occurred at the Elks Lodge in Oswego, New York.
United States Attorney Richard Hartunian welcomed over 90 community members, saying, “The opioid drug epidemic has afflicted communities, families, and individuals throughout the 32 counties of the Northern District of New York and across the nation. My office will continue to work with local drug coalitions to bring Chasing the Dragon: the Life of an Opiate Addict and its powerful prevention message to a wide audience. Only by working together to prevent the tragedy of addiction and loss can we begin to overcome this grave threat to public health and safety.”
Chasing the Dragon is 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.
Assistant United States Attorney Richard Southwick introduced the documentary, making note of the widespread impact of heroin and opiate overdoses. More people now die of opiate-related overdoses than do of gun-related homicides. He encouraged people to share the documentary’s stories with family, friends and neighbors in order to build awareness of the dangers of addiction.
A discussion following the screening of the documentary included representatives of the Oswego County District Attorney’s Office, and the Oswego Police and Fire Departments, as well as the mother of a child in treatment for heroin addiction and a young man in recovery who is also a peer support counselor.
On October 25, 2016, U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian awarded the annual David M. Bent Award for Excellence in Administrative and Litigative Support to Vanessa M. Gambelunghe, a budget analyst in the Albany Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.
Gambelunghe received the award at a ceremony attended by co-workers, her family, and David Bent’s daughter, Christine Cullen. Gambelunghe started at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2000, as a college student intern; went on to be hired as a contractor in the Victim Witness Unit; and began working on budgeting and financial issues in 2009. U.S. Attorney Hartunian praised Gambelunghe for having an upbeat and energetic attitude while working on complex budgeting and financial assignments of high importance to the mission of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The award is giving annually in honor of David Bent, who was the Administrative Officer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office from 1983 until April 2001, when he suffered a sudden illness resulting in his death. He was a dedicated and diligent administrator who worked tirelessly to ensure that his diverse and demanding responsibilities were done well and on time. Each year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office honors his contributions and legacy by recognizing a staff member who performs at a similarly high level over a prolonged period of time.
On Friday October 7, 2016, the first annual National “Coffee with a Cop Day” was held at Albany Police Department Headquarters. Members of the City of Albany Police Department, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, the New York State Police and local residents enjoyed coffee and doughnuts together in bright sunshine and warm fall weather. The event was part of the Department of Justice “National Community Policing Week” (October 3 -7, 2016) and was designed to encourage community members and police to get to know one another in a relaxed setting in order to build relationships and trust.
Photo credit: Steve Smith, Albany Police Department
United States Attorney Community Outreach Coordinator Emily Gagnon attended the event on behalf of the United States Attorney’s Office.
The October 7th event was observed across the nation on the final day of Community Policing Week and some departments are already planning further meetings. In Ogdensburg, New York, Police Lt. Daniel Mousaw said the two-hour “Coffee with a Cop” gathering was so successful that his department is already considering future events at other locations in the city. “We not only had officers who attended that were on shift, but officers who voluntarily held over from their midnight shifts, as well as others who came in on their days off, to partake in our efforts to step up positive community policing and relationship building,” Lt. Mousaw said. “The event was a tremendous success, and we certainly expect to hold more ‘Coffee with a Cop’ events in the future.”
The next Coffee with a Cop event to be held in the Northern District of New York will take place on October 19th from 12:00-1:00 at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. This will be the first in a series of monthly “Coffee with a Cop” events in the city hosted by the Saratoga Springs Police Department.
For more information or to become involved, please visit http://coffeewithacop.com/.
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.