A Riverhead man was sentenced to 4 to 6 years in prison on Thursday for selling a potent mix of heroin and fentanyl that authorities said led to the fatal overdose of a local man.
John Brophy, 50, was sentenced for his manslaughter conviction at a Suffolk County Court hearing before Judge Anthony Senft during which a relative of the victim called Brophy “a demon.”
The plea deal marked the third conviction in Suffolk County history of a drug dealer on a manslaughter charge for causing a fatal overdose, officials said.
“Part of our strategy in addressing the opioid epidemic is to target drug dealers who are causing fatal overdoses in our community and to treat them like murderers, because that is what they are,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said. “You are on notice, if you sell drugs in our community and you cause death, we will charge you with homicide.”
But he also said he wished the laws permitted a stiffer sentence than what is permitted by manslaughter in the second-degree charges in such cases. The victim’s relative called the punishment too light.
“It’s just four to six” years, Vincent Martinelli, a cousin of the overdose victim, Lawrence Yaccarino, told reporters. But “Hell is a very long time. That’s an eternity.”
In the courtroom during a victim’s statement, Martinelli said to Brophy, “You’re a demon. You have harmed so many families.“
Brophy showed no emotion as Martinelli spoke, or when the judge sentenced him. In a brief statement, he apologized to the family, and said he was selling drugs to support his own addiction.
Yaccarino, 50, of Riverhead, overdosed Sept. 19, 2018, on the mix of fentanyl and heroin, and died at Peconic Bay Medical Center, authorities said.
Brophy’s defense attorney said outside the courtroom that Brophy was using the same drugs he was selling, that he was unaware they contained fentanyl, and he never intended to kill anyone.
On one occasion when Yaccarino overdosed, Brophy saved his life by giving him Narcan, attorney Colin Astarita said.
“There is no difference between the two of them, “ Astarita said. “They were both engaging in drug use together. It could have happened to Mr. Brophy.”
He added that “we all know the opioid epidemic is massive … If you want to try to help the community, these people need help.”
Sini said that Brophy had been “put on notice a number of different times that his product was killing people.”
He said that several of Brophy‘s customers had to be “Narcanned.”
Brophy also pleaded guilty to criminal sale of a controlled substance, and was sentenced to 2 to 4 years on that charge. The sentence on the manslaughter charge was 3 to 6 years. The sentences are to run concurrently.
Sini called for lawmakers to pass a “death by dealer statue” that would increase penalties for drug dealers who cause people to die by overdose.
“Manslaughter in the second-degree is not sufficient,“ he said. Drug dealers “are damaging, they are destroying, ravaging our communities.“
Suffolk County authorities are making progress in reducing the number of overdoses due to opioids, Sini said, “but we are nowhere close to where we need to be.”
By Bart Jones