The walls that keep New York’s prison inmates from getting out have failed to keep the heroin and fentanyl epidemic from getting in.
Just three years go, three inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility died of heroin or fentanyl overdoses in a three-month period.
Now, two of the people prosecutors believe responsible are going to federal prison.
“Human lives have value,” U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo said. “The fact that you’re in prison doesn’t change that.”
Andres Martinez, 30, and Elizabeth Camue-Martinez, 35, the husband and wife from Buffalo charged in the case two years ago, admitted smuggling drugs into Attica but, from Day One, denied any connection to the overdoses. Prosecutors say Camue-Martinez smuggled drugs to her husband who was an inmate in Attica.
Vilardo sentenced Martinez to 45 months in prison this week. He gave Camue-Martinez 34 months in prison.
The sentencings are the latest development in a prosecution that began shortly after two Attica inmates - Saleem Ali, 51, and Glendon Jackson, 25 – died after taking what they thought was heroin but, in fact, was pure fentanyl.
Three months earlier, Avery Cureton, another Attica inmate, died of a heroin overdose.
Prosecutors argued that Martinez and Camue-Martinez smuggled in drugs that contributed to the three overdoses and pointed to the close proximity of the victims’ jail cells and Martinez’s cell.
Vilardo found the evidence insufficient to prove the government’s allegations, but he also found the defendants knew about Cureton’s overdose and, despite that, continued to smuggle drugs into Attica.
“Heroin laced with fentanyl is a deadly cocktail that is killing literally hundreds of people a year in our community,” U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said in a statement Friday. “These defendants knew that an inmate at the Attica Correctional Facility had died of an overdose and still continued to distribute this dangerous drug.”
Defense lawyers argued that Camue-Martinez’s visits to her husband in prison failed to coincide with the overdoses and that, given the large amount of drugs at Attica, it would be unfair to pin the blame on them.
“The evidence showed drugs are readily available in prison," said defense lawyer Patrick J. Brown.
On Friday, the sentencing of a third defendant, Jerome Tallington, was put off when Tallington’s lawyer raised questions about the evidence linking his client to the overdoses.
“There’s no evidence he knew it was going into the prison,” defense lawyer Michael D’Amico said of the drugs his client sold.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan A. Tokash said Tallington was well aware of where his drugs were going and admitted as much to a police investigator.
“He made an oral statement telling the investigator that he knew the drugs were going into a prison,” Tokash told Vilardo.
Tallington, who pleaded guilty to narcotics conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute heroin, admitted selling heroin to Camue Martinez, who then smuggled the drugs to her husband in prison, knowing he would sell them to other inmates.