BRATTLEBORO -- A former Hotel Pharmacy employee will serve time in federal prison for stealing tens of thousands of prescription-painkiller tablets and then shipping the pills across the country for resale.
Moments before he was sentenced to spend a year and a day behind bars and to pay $8,500 in restitution, Joshua Bozetarnik apologized for what the Elliot Street pharmacy's owner had described as "devastating" thefts.
"I'm truly sorry for what I did to all of you," Bozetarnik said. "I broke your trust. I wish I could take it back."
Bozetarnik, 29, last year pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro to conspiracy to distribute hydrocodone. The crimes happened in 2006 and 2007 while Bozetarnik had been working as a pharmacy technician at Hotel Pharmacy.
Prosecutors said Bozetarnik stole the painkillers from his employer and sent them to a woman in Arizona. Both then profited from the pills' illegal resale.
The extent of Bozetarnik's thefts remains unclear, with previous estimates having ranged from 10,000 to 80,000 pills. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Drescher said Monday's court sentencing was based on a quantity of 20,000 to 40,000 pills.
"This man had easy access to controlled substances that are highly addictive," Drescher said. "He abused that easy access."
He added that the thefts had a "significant" effect on the community.
Appearing in court to detail that impact was Hotel Pharmacy owner Mary Giamartino, who called Bozetarnik's crime "a betrayal of his employer, fellow employees, my family, friends, the people of Brattleboro and the state of Vermont."
She said Bozetarnik showed "no sign of conscience or moral compass" when he initially denied any role in the thefts, standing by while she and others were questioned about the large quantities of missing drugs.
"The effect on my family was devastating," she said.
Giamartino also pointed out that the thefts began just months after the June 2006 death of her husband. And she said the sense of betrayal was exacerbated by the fact that Bozetarnik had a close relationship with the Giamartinos.
"Mr. Bozetarnik was not just an employee. He was treated like a family member," she said.
Giamartino said she had been advised to file for bankruptcy due to financial pressures caused by the thefts. But she said she has "chosen a different path" to keep her business afloat: Giamartino said she sold a vacation home and takes no salary as the shop's pharmacist in charge, and she credited her staff members for their commitment to the pharmacy.
"If it wasn't for the dedication of the employees who sacrificed and worked so hard, it might not exist," she said.
Bozetarnik apologized not only to those employees but also to his family. And he declared himself a changed man.
"These actions from many years ago are not who I am today," he said, adding that "these are huge mistakes, and I'll never make them again."
Drescher noted in court that Bozetarnik previously had "no criminal history of significance to speak of." And Bozetarnik's attorney, Rutland-based Elizabeth Mann, said her client "has maintained a positive, fully law-abiding life" since the thefts ended around September 2007.
She argued that Bozetarnik, who relocated to southern California, should stay out of jail so that he could begin making restitution payments and perform community service.
"Mr. Bozetarnik is already very active in his community," Mann said. "And I think that society, generally, would benefit from more of this interaction."
But Drescher argued for jail time, and Giamartino told District Judge J. Garvan Murtha that Bozetarnik's lack of a criminal record "does not decrease or lessen the magnitude of this crime."
In spite of Bozetarnik's guilty plea and apology, Murtha said he was concerned that the defendant has not taken full responsibility for his actions.
The judge cited Bozetarnik's contention, in a letter submitted to the court, that he initially believed he was "doing a good deed" by helping the Arizona woman to whom he was sending the stolen pills.
"That's kind of incredible to me," Murtha said.
Following a sentencing guideline of 12 to 18 months, Murtha said he settled on a year and a day as an "appropriate" punishment in this case. Bozetarnik is scheduled to report to prison June 4, and Murtha -- acting on a request from Mann -- recommended that Bozetarnik serve his sentence as close to Vermont as possible.
"How much time you actually serve depends on your behavior," Murtha said.
Murtha also ordered Bozetarnik to serve three years of supervised probation upon his release and to dedicate at least 10 percent of his monthly income to restitution payments to Hotel Pharmacy.
The $8,500 restitution figure was a compromise reached by the prosecuting and defense attorneys. Murtha said he would consider decreasing the time Bozetarnik spends on probation if he makes full restitution.
The prison sentence could have been longer, as the prosecution had argued for an "enhancement" based on the fact that U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigators found a loaded handgun in Bozetarnik's apartment in late 2007.
Mann argued that the gun was found after the drug thefts had ceased, and she said there was "absolutely nothing establishing a connection" between the drugs and the weapon.
Murtha opted to not impose the gun enhancement but said he could have done so given the facts of the case.
"I don't know whether a court of appeals would agree with me, and I'd like to eliminate that possibility," Murtha said.
The Arizona woman who allegedly had received the stolen pills -- identified previously as a former Brattleboro resident named Kimberly Deyo -- has not been charged.
And while there have been claims that other former pharmacy employees were involved in the conspiracy, Drescher said no one else has been charged at this point.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.