Five months after a day of opioid overdoses launched New Haven into a state of emergency, one of the main distributors of the tainted batch of cocaine has been sentenced to nearly seven years in prison.
On Nov. 29, Frank Pina, a 57-year-old New Haven man, was sentenced to 87 months in prison, followed by four years of supervised release, for distributing cocaine that led to multiple overdoses in New Haven on June 23, according to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut the day of Pina’s sentencing. The release added that 17 individuals in New Haven overdosed on narcotics, three of whom died. A Drug Enforcement Administration laboratory test later showed that the cocaine was laced with fentanyl, an opioid at least 50 times more powerful than heroin.
“The investigation revealed that Pina supplied drugs through various middlemen to several of the individuals who overdosed, including the three who died, on June 23, 2016,” the Nov. 29 press release stated. “The investigation further revealed that the day before the overdoses occurred, Pina was discharged from the hospital after having overdosed on the same drugs that he subsequently distributed.”
Pina was arrested by the New Haven Police Department on June 27 and pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute, and distribution of, controlled substances on Aug. 4.
“[Pina’s] crime is all the more shameful as he was fully aware of the acute danger of the cocaine he was peddling,” said Deirdre Daly, the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, in the press release. “His actions reflect a callous disregard for human life and were motivated solely by profit.”
Another New Haven man, Emeth Soloman, 43, who bought narcotics from Pina, pleaded guilty on the same charge, and awaits sentencing in January for a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.
According to an Oct. 6 press release from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, an NHPD and DEA investigation revealed that Soloman purchased fentanyl-laced cocaine from Pina, his supplier, and consumed some himself before selling the rest to his niece, who overdosed and died. Soloman “intentionally provided false information” to law enforcement officials regarding Pina’s drug trafficking activities, according to the release.
Jerome Clay Sr., 55, and Steven Whaley, 48, were also arrested on June 27 in connection to the opioid overdoses. Whaley, who “sometimes served as a middleman” for Pina, pleaded guilty to possession, intent to distribute and distribution of controlled substances in August, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut. Clay faced those same charges.
“[Those] responsible for distributing these lethal drugs to the citizens of New Haven need to be held accountable for their actions,” said Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration for New England Michael Ferguson in the press release. “In response to the ongoing opioid epidemic, DEA and its local, state and federal partners are committed to bringing to justice those that distribute this poison.”
In the months following the June overdoses, city officials have been considering ways to protect New Haven against future overdose incidents, both in terms of combating opioid distribution and increasing the prevalence of opioid overdose antidotes.
An ongoing investigation into local opioid distribution — part of a “statewide initiative targeting narcotics dealers” — is being conducted by the NHPD and the DEA’s New Haven Tactical Diversion Squad, which includes members from nearby police departments as well, according to the Nov. 29 press release.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that the June overdoses also prompted Mayor Toni Harp to work towards outfitting more emergency responders with Narcan, an opiate anti-overdose drug.
“As frightening as those circumstances were that evening, it brought into stark relief the serious nature of the matter, and as a result, the Mayor started working to get the Narcan antidote into the hands of more first responders, to include social workers and others who are on the frontlines,” he said.
He added that the state of Connecticut rushed additional supplies of Narcan to New Haven in the wake of the overdoses, which prevented the situation from becoming “all the more tragic.”