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Fatal fentanyl overdose leads to indictment

There is almost always a drug dealer behind the deadly overdoses.

Sometimes, he’s an acquaintance, maybe even a fellow addict, his ties to the victim well known to friends and family.

And yet, it’s rare to see those dealers arrested, charged and held accountable for selling drugs that kill.

Prosecutors say Carlique DeBerry is the exception.

DeBerry, who already has a fraud conviction on his record, is only the second defendant in the region to face criminal charges that he sold fentanyl or heroin that killed someone. The victim, a Hamburg man identified in court papers as "R.G.," died in February.

DeBerry, 35, of Buffalo, is not the first alleged drug dealer to face federal charges tied to a fatal overdose, but it's rare for  investigators to find evidence linking a death to a specific dealer.

In this case, the evidence gathered by investigators at the Drug Enforcement Administration and Hamburg Police includes autopsy findings and a toxicology report.

DeBerry, who is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Wei Xiang, was arraigned Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer and ordered held without bail. He faces a maximum of life in prison.

Defense lawyer Emily Trott wouldn't comment on the charges against her client but said she welcomes the increased awareness about drug addiction and wonders why more money isn't spent on treatment and counseling instead of law enforcement.

"I'm glad the public is finally paying attention to a drug crisis that has plagued our community for years," Trott said. "However, I wish significant public dollars had been used to address the addiction problem, because the supply isn't going away."

DeBerry's prosecution follows the conviction of Peter N. Militello, a 35-year-old drug dealer from the Town of Tonawanda. Militello was the first defendant in Western New York to go to prison for selling fentanyl-laced heroin that killed someone.

Robert Runfola, the man who died,  had battled addiction for years and was found dead in his Buffalo home, the bags of fentanyl-laced heroin near his body.

Militello was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

It was just around the time of Runfola’s death in 2013 that the presence of heroin mixed with fentanyl, already popular with addicts in Chicago and Philadelphia, came to the attention of law enforcement here.

When Runfola died, the DEA and Buffalo Police embarked on an investigation that traced the drugs he took back to Militello, who subsequently pleaded guilty to distributing heroin and fentanyl.

The allegations that DeBerry caused the death of a Hamburg man follows his conviction two years ago in an unrelated check kiting scheme that resulted in a $367,000 loss for several local banks.

He was sentenced to six months in prison.

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