BRATTLEBORO -- A man who admitted to conspiring to distribute tablets containing hydrocodone could spend up to five years in jail and be ordered to compensate a local pharmacy for the thousands of tablets he allegedly stole.
During a plea agreement hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro, Joshua Bozetarnik, 29, who is now living in southern California, admitted that between December 2006 and September 2007 he mailed the tablets to a woman in Arizona who handed them off to a third party for illegal sale.
On Thursday, Michael Drescher, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont told Judge J. Garvan Murtha that two audits of Hotel Pharmacy’s records conducted in 2007 by the Drug Enforcement Agency revealed nearly 80,000 tablets containing hydrocodone couldn’t be accounted for.
Bozetarnik’s attorney, Elizabeth Mann, of Tepper Dardeck Levins & Gatos, in Rutland, disputed the quantity of tablets he was alleged to have stolen, saying it was less than 10,000, but said she wouldn’t question the government’s number during the hearing.
Bozetarnik, who worked as a pharmacy technician at Hotel Pharmacy on Elliot Street in Brattleboro between December 2006 and September 2007 was accused of conspiring with persons "known and unknown" during that period in the distribution of the tablets.
According to a victim impact statement written by Monica Garry, the sister of Mary Giamartino,
"Kids who had grown up with my sister’s sons, had always been welcome in their home and treated like members of their family, started stealing from their business," wrote Garry.
When contacted after the hearing, Drescher refused to comment on the allegations in Garry’s statement.
Giamartino confirmed her sister’s claims.
"During a witness interview, the DEA was told that there were at least four more employees involved in this situation," she said. The four are no longer employed at Hotel Pharmacy, said Giamartino.
It is unclear if any charges will be forthcoming on a local level, even though an ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Brattleboro Police Department.
"I am pleased that a major step has been taken in seeking justice for a tragedy that befell the Hotel Pharmacy and other innocent victims," said Giamartino. "I am extremely grateful to the DEA, the federal attorney, and both the Vermont State Police and the Brattleboro Police Department."
Bozetarnik had been a friend of the family since he was a kid, wrote Garry.
"He had keys to my sister’s home, drove their cars, went on family trips to ball games and barbecues and worked in their business," wrote Garry.
The thefts began shortly after Mary’s husband, Frank, died of injuries sustained during an accident on Route 30 in June of 2006.
According to Drescher, Bozetarnik contacted a friend in Arizona, Kimberly Deyo, formerly of Brattleboro, and enlisted her in a scheme to mail the tablets to her and sell them to a "re-distributor" for $2. At first, Bozetarnik and Deyo shared evenly in the profits until Bozetarnik changed the deal to 75 percent for himself and 25 percent for Deyo, Drescher told the judge.
They agreed to say the packages he was sending to her contained stuffed animals, T-shirts and chocolate, but not drugs, he said.
In a "test" shipment, said Drescher, Bozetarnik sent Deyo a number of Xanax pills, and when that shipment was received without suspicion, he began sending her the hydrocodone tablets, up to 5,000 at a time. He also continued to send Deyo Xanax, said Drescher.
Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, which is used to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorder. It is in a class of medications called benzodiazepines. Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from either of two naturally occurring opiates -- codeine and thebaine.
Jim Godfrey, who has been the staff pharmacist at Hotel Pharmacy for 30 years, said Giamartino expended "a monumental effort" in combing through many months of records to get to the bottom of the conspiracy. He said the pharmacy could ill afford the loss in revenue linked to both the theft of the tablets and Giamartino’s time spent researching invoices.
"When you lose $20,000 in acquisition costs with the small profit margins on prescription drugs, you might have to sell a lot more than $20,000 to generate enough profit to replace the loss," said Godfrey, who added he was particularly disturbed when he learned who was involved in the scheme.
"It was very shocking to have this happen involving people we trusted," he said.
As a result, said Godfrey, the pharmacy’s drug control procedures have been revised and are much more stringent than are required under state or federal law.
"That stringent recordkeeping serves to avoid a repeat of something like this in the future as well as protecting the employees here," he said.
That it began so soon after Frank Giamartino’s death "added insult to injury," said Godfrey.
In her victim impact statement, Garry wrote that Bozetarnik was "trusted, encouraged and supported" by Mary and Frank Giamartino.
"He attended family events and parties, including weddings and the funeral of (Frank) even though at the time of Frank’s death, Josh and others had recently started robbing from his business," she wrote.
When Mary Giamartino realized drugs were being stolen from the store, wrote Garry, she notified police and then spent the next five years of her life assisting in the investigation, often working 20-hour days.
"My sister really suffered emotionally and socially from this whole ordeal," wrote Garry. "She felt alone facing an unimaginable situation ... My sister not only had to deal with the loss of her husband but possibly lose the business they had created, her professional standing and her life in a community she has been a part of for over 30 years."
Mary Giamartino also came under suspicion during the investigation, wrote Garry, which was "profoundly unsettling and led to feelings of paranoia, tension and anxiety." Bozetarnik went as far as blaming Giamartino, wrote Garry, deciding early on "to blame the victim and run."
Bozetarnik’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2013, at 10 a.m. in federal court in Brattleboro. A pre-sentencing report was ordered to help inform the judge in his decision on how long, if at all, Bozetarnik should spend in prison.
He could be sentenced to up to five years in jail and spend the rest of his life on supervised release. The mandatory minimum sentence is two years on supervised release. The judge could also order him to pay restitution to Mary Giamartino.