Kelly Ludlow was a popular cheerleader and an honor student at Frontier High School. She was also a drug dealer.
Michael Kaminski was a solid student who wrestled and played football at Frontier. But when he went to college, police say, he also started abusing and selling prescription drugs.
Ludlow, 19, and Kaminski, 21, were two of the players in a prescription drug ring that has had tragic consequences for some young people in the Southtowns, police say.
On Thursday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced criminal charges against Kaminski and 15 other people accused of selling fentanyl, OxyContin, hydrocodone and other prescription drugs to young people, many of them high school students.
While Kaminski was appearing before a federal judge, a 16-year-old girl who had suffered a severe drug overdose in Kaminski's Lackawanna home a day earlier was fighting for her life in Women and Children's Hospital, police said.
"Prescription drug abuse is not an epidemic at high schools in the Southtowns, but is a serious, recurring problem," said Nancy M. Cote, agent in charge of the Buffalo DEA office.
According to DEA officials, investigators turned up evidence that drugs have been sold in or on the grounds of six area high schools -- Frontier, Hamburg, Lake Shore, Silver Creek, St. Francis and Fredonia.
"But most of the drugs in this case were not physically sold in the schools," Cote said. "The kids are usually exposed to the drugs at parties. Then, at school, they'll connect with others who are using them. They'll say things like, 'Hey, I did a bunch of Oxys,' or 'I smoked a patch of fentanyl last night.' "
According to police, most of the defendants arrested Thursday had ties to three young drug suppliers who were arrested last year -- Ludlow and Steven Podkulski Jr., both 19, of Hamburg, and Jessica Mann. Ludlow, Podkulski and Mann all took plea deals recently and are awaiting sentencing.
>Frontier singled out?
Prosecutors said Ludlow -- a cheerleader and honor student before she became addicted to drugs -- kept detailed notebooks, describing her use and dealings in narcotics dating to age 15. Federal agents seized the notebooks when they arrested her in January 2005.
Ludlow frequently used her mother's car to drive from her suburban home to Reed Street on Buffalo's East Side. There, she obtained fentanyl patches and OxyContin tablets she sold to Frontier students, the DEA said in court papers.
In interviews with The Buffalo News after Thursday's arrests, Frontier officials and students said their school has been wrongly singled out as a haven for drug activity.
Two years ago, school officials say, they became proactive when Hamburg police made them aware of a heroin problem in town. Principal Michael Baumann sent home letters to parents and arranged information sessions. The efforts helped raise awareness, he said, but also established an unwanted connotation.
"You say you go to Frontier, and people say, 'Oh, you go to Heroin High,' and they get that smug look," said Chrissy Ballesteros, 17, president of the student government. "Every school has drug problems."
Baumann noted that among those charged Thursday, only one is a student in the district. The principal acknowledged that a small group of students struggle with drug problems, but said the school has been working diligently to get those teens the help they need. He denied the DEA's suggestion that drugs are being exchanged at school.
"Deals might be brokered in the school, but actual deals aren't happening in the building," he said.
He and the principals of St. Francis and Lake Shore said they had never been contacted by the DEA. Frontier and St. Francis, which are in Hamburg, work closely with town police, the principals said, who did not indicate there was reason to suspect drug deals were taking place in the schools. Hamburg police agreed.
"I don't see that as a problem going on on the school grounds," said Assistant Chief Carmen Kesner.
Some students said Thursday that parents, more than the school, should be held accountable.
"It makes you wonder that these parents don't even know [their children] are doing heroin," said Alicia Peterson, 17, secretary of the senior class. "When these kids get caught with hard-core drugs, how do [their parents] not know their kids are doing that?"
Cote said authorities were following investigative leads and never intended to single out Frontier.
Linda Kaminski was among the heartbroken parents who watched their sons and daughters answer drug charges Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott.
Kaminski shuddered when a prosecutor said her son could face 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine if he is convicted.
"You look around this courtroom. Most of these parents are good parents, who care about their kids," Kaminski told a reporter. "All these kids need is one bad friend to take them down the wrong path. That's what happened to my son. Once he started using this stuff, he had no more interest in going to school."
She said that, in her opinion, the region desperately needs more drug treatment programs.
"Just putting people in jail isn't the answer," she said. "I've been trying to get Michael into a program for months. They all seem to have waiting lists a mile long."
A number of law enforcement agencies worked with the DEA in a two-year investigation, including the U.S. attorney's office, Hamburg and Evans police, the state Health Department's Narcotic Enforcement Bureau and the U.S. Veterans Administration inspector general's office.
Those arrested Thursday, charged with felony counts of conspiracy and distribution of controlled substances, were:
Hamburg residents Thomas Kozakiewicz, 20, of Caitlin Terrace; Christopher Banas, 20, of Clarice Drive; Edward Sowinski, 20, of Buffalo Avenue; Angela Livingston, 18, of Lakeshore Road; Patrick Slisz, 19, of Bristol Road; Rena Staffeldt, 19, of Morgan Parkway; and Stephen Dziwulski, 20, of Nash Road; Blasdell resident Ashley Glor, 19, of Miller Street; William Reinhardt, 20, of Allen Road, Concord; Adam Hibiczuk, 19, of Lake View; and Kaminski, of Teresa Drive, Lackawanna.
Also charged were Brian Mann, 41, and his wife, Tammie Mann, 39, of Geary Street in South Buffalo. Police said they allegedly used and sold drugs with their daughter, Jessica Mann, 19, who was arrested last year on felony drug charges.
Three others charged in the case had not been picked up as of late Thursday.
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