News / World

Dealer of drugs that killed 3 people gets 7 years in prison

HARTFORD, Conn. — A man who sold fentanyl-laced cocaine that killed three people and sent 14 others to the hospital after he overdosed on the same drugs himself was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison.

A federal judge in Hartford imposed the punishment on Frank Pina, a 57-year-old New Haven resident who pleaded guilty in August to possession and distribution of a substance containing cocaine.

Pina was among three men arrested on drug charges in connection with the 17 overdoses that occurred in New Haven in June. Authorities said the victims thought they were buying cocaine, but the drugs were laced with the powerful opioid fentanyl.

Prosecutors say Pina sold the drugs only days after overdosing himself.

"His crime is all the more shameful as he was fully aware of the acute danger of the cocaine he was peddling," U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly said in a statement after the sentencing. "His actions reflect a callous disregard for human life and were motivated solely by profit."

Pina's public defender, Tracy Hayes, declined to comment after the sentencing. Pina spoke at the hearing and became emotional while expressing remorse.

In the days leading up to the sentencing, Pina and federal prosecutors argued over how much prison time Pina should receive as a result of his guilty plea.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for a prison sentence of about four to five years, and Pina said he should receive a sentence at the bottom of that range. But prosecutors said the three deaths and Pina's "outrageous" conduct warranted a significant departure from the guidelines, and they called for an eight-year prison sentence.

Judges must consider sentencing guidelines, which take into account the crime, the defendant's past criminal history and other factors, but they are not bound by them. U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea departed from the guidelines in sentencing Pina.

The other two men arrested in the case — Jerome Clay Sr. and Steven Whaley — also pleaded guilty to possessing and selling a substance containing cocaine and await sentencing. Prosecutors said Clay and Whaley distributed fentanyl-laced cocaine they obtained from Pina.

Hayes wrote in court documents that Pina has been addicted to cocaine for years and realizes the consequences of his actions.

In a letter to the judge, Pina's son wrote that his father grew up in a poor neighbourhood .

"Living in the hood is no walk in the park, you have to fight to live, and that's exactly what my dad was doing," Tyler Pina wrote. "It's a hard place to live and an even harder place to get away from. My dad never grew up wanting to sell drugs, it's just what society made him think he was best at and where the most money is."