LEXINGTON – As part of a comprehensive approach to combatting the opioid epidemic facing the Commonwealth, in early 2015 the United States Attorney’s Office established an Overdose Prosecution Initiative, which has become an important tool in the battle against illegal drug trafficking in Kentucky.
Under federal law, defendants convicted of drug trafficking involving a Schedule I or Schedule II drug, that results in a death or serious bodily injury (i.e., an overdose), are subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty years or, if they have a qualifying prior conviction, a mandatory term of life imprisonment. This significant penalty has two practical effects on many drug dealers: it gives them an enormous incentive to assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of others, and it represents a potentially enormous deterrent to dealing drugs.
Relying on this impactful sentencing provision, the United States Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration, developed a considered plan to increase the use of this penalty provision, to increase the cooperation between federal and state law enforcement and community partners, to train state and local partners on building effective cases for prosecution, and to enhance the law enforcement response to this growing epidemic.
On Monday, three important convictions were obtained in local overdose cases, evidencing the effectiveness of this valuable law enforcement tool. Each of the cases highlights an important aspect of the prosecution initiative and the critical nature of the opioid epidemic.
First, in a case from Woodford County, the initiative resulted in the conviction of both Luis Aguirre-Jerardo and Gill Dewayne Garrett. These men admitted that, in July 2015, they distributed a counterfeit pain pill to a Woodford County woman, who consumed the pill and subsequently died of an overdose. The pill, made to look like Oxycodone, instead contained fentanyl, a powerful opioid as much as 100 times more potent than morphine. The investigation established that Aguirre-Jerardo was a major distributor of these deadly counterfeit pills in Central Kentucky. This case, one of the first to arise from the training provided under the initiative, represents the first time the office has prosecuted not only the street-level dealer, but also his up-the-chain source of supply, for the same overdose. Both men now face more than twenty years in federal prison.
Next, the initiative has now produced the conviction of several members of an organization responsible for trafficking in large amounts of heroin and fentanyl in Madison County. Two of these defendants, Navarius Westberry and Benjamin Fredrick Charles Robinson, both from Michigan, were convicted of distributing drugs that resulted in an overdose – in Westberry’s case, a fatal overdose. Collectively, this organization was responsible for distributing between 750 and 1,000 grams of heroin and 50 grams of fentanyl in Madison County. The investigation revealed that Westberry and Robinson relocated to Kentucky for the sole purpose of establishing a heroin distribution network. Both also face at least 20 years in federal prison.
The Detroit area is a significant source of supply for the growing amounts of heroin, fentanyl, and other narcotics being distributed throughout the Eastern District of Kentucky. This Madison County case marks the first time the office has applied the federal overdose provisions to Michigan defendants who distributed drugs in Kentucky causing an overdose. This case represents an important success in the effort to disrupt the pipeline of illicit drugs that flows from Detroit, into Kentucky.
Finally, in a case from Lexington/Fayette County, the initiative produced the conviction of Fred Rebmann. Rebmann admitted that he distributed fentanyl to a Lexington woman, who was several months pregnant at the time, causing her death. This case places the tragic scope of this epidemic in clear focus and underscores the critical need to continue efforts to educate the public and enhance law enforcement efforts to battle this growing problem.
“We are committed to using every tool available in combatting this terrible epidemic,” said Kerry B. Harvey, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “We employ the tough federal law regarding overdoses advisedly, in order to prosecute those who engage in truly predatory behavior, with tragic results. Our initiative is succeeding because of the skill and dedication of our local law enforcement partners, county coroners, and the DEA.”
Since its inception, the Overdose Prosecution Initiative has been the direct source of several important prosecutions and has led to convictions against numerous drug traffickers who, collectively, are responsible for enormous quantities of very dangerous drugs and many overdose deaths in our community. Convictions have been won in every case prosecuted under the initiative that has reached a conclusion. These most recent successes evidence the scope of this growing problem, the effectiveness of the Overdose Prosecution Initiative, and the need for a comprehensive approach to combatting this serious opioid epidemic.