Lawmakers Propose ‘Death by Dealer’ Statute Following North Fork Fentanyl OD Arrests

Lavain Creighton (left) and Justin Smith accused of causing fatal OD with fentanyl-laced cocaine
Lavain Creighton (left) and Justin Smith
Courtesy Southold Police Department

“Our message is clear—if you are selling drugs in Suffolk County and you kill someone, we will hold you accountable.” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini did not mince words Thursday during a press conference to announce that two arrests had been made in connection with the fentanyl-laced cocaine that caused a rash of six fatal, and additional non-fatal, overdoses on the East End last week. At the same time, Sini and a gathering of local, state and police officials said lawmakers have penned a new “Death by Dealer” statute that would result in much stronger punishments for drug dealers whose product killed users.

According to Sini, swift action by a coalition of police from various municipalities, including Suffolk County and Southold police, the East End Drug Task Force and East End Heroin Task Force, among others, took the alleged dealer and his supplier off the street quickly. Sini alleged that 51-year-old Greenport resident, Lavain Creighton sold the lethal cocaine to two overdose victims, 40-year-old Shelter Island chef Swainson Brown (identified as “SB”) and an East Marion man identified only as “ML,” both of whom died on August 13.

He did not include the other four North Fork overdose deaths in the current charges.

Creighton’s alleged supplier, 46-year-old Justin Smith of Smithtown, was also arrested in possible connection with the case, for one count of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third-degree, one count of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh-degree and two counts of criminally using drug paraphernalia in the second degree. An investigation into his role in the deaths is ongoing, the DA said, but noted that Smith is a known repeat offender who was currently out on bail for a pending case where he was charged with six counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, along with lesser included offenses. In that case, Sini pointed out, a half-ounce of fentanyl, 638 milligrams of cocaine and more than $20,000 in cash were recovered, as well as a drug ledger.

Creighton was remanded without bail and faces a maximum sentence of 54 years in prison.

Smith, who received lesser charges, is a “discretionary persistent felony offender”—meaning someone who stands to be convicted of a felony who has already been convicted of two felonies—so he is facing a possible life sentence, Sini said, noting Smith’s bail was set at $200,000 cash, $500,000 bond or $2.5 million secured bond with a bail source hearing.

Significant evidence—including cellphone call and text records, geolocation data, matching drug packaging, ferry tickets and even video of one victim’s car heading toward Creighton’s apartment—was gathered to back up the arrests, Sini said, noting they are still investigating to potentially add or upgrade the charges.

“Creighton and Smith could have potentially sold drugs to numerous individuals on Long Island,” Sini said, displaying an image of the two alleged offenders. He asked that anyone who may have bought drugs from either of the men please call 631-852-NARC, an anonymous tips line. “This will help us recover lethal drugs from our community and help protect the community,” Sini added.

Suffolk County DA Timothy Sini and other officials at Thursday's press conference about the fentanyl-lace cocaine overdose arrests
Suffolk County DA Timothy Sini and other officials at Thursday’s press conferenceVideo screengrab from Steve Bellone’s live stream

Death by Dealer 

Following his announcement of the arrests, Sini and gathered the lawmakers laid out a plan to pass new bi-partisan legislation that would make it possible to charge drug dealers with felony homicide, in either the first or second degree, with a sentencing minimum of 15 years to life and a maximum of 25 years to life, if the drugs they sell cause people to die.

The bill, which was introduced by New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky and State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, gives police across the state the tools needed to bring appropriate justice to dealers whose wares kill people. “Law enforcement shouldn’t have to hold strategy meetings and brainstorming sessions about how to put murderers behind bars,” Sini said, noting that the county has been very creative over the years to put dealers away for overdose deaths, but the new law would make things much easier, and the charges would be much more significant.

“If we’re able to prove the case, you would think that the law would provide justice, and that’s what the Death by Dealer statute does,” Sini said. “It’s very simple—if you sell drugs and cause death, you’ll be held liable.”

Kaminsky said adding fentanyl to drugs should be treated by the law as an A-level homicide. “We should treat it exactly like pulling a trigger at someone, exactly like holding a dangerous weapon up to someone’s body, because that’s exactly what this is,” he said, adding, “It’s time the law catches up.”

State Senator Anthony H. Palumbo explained that under current law, manslaughter in the second degree is a Class-C non-violent felony, while selling cocaine or fentanyl is a Class-B non-violent felony, “so the top charge of selling drugs is actually worse than killing someone by selling drugs.” He said the new bill would fix this.

State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio called on the Senate and Assembly to convene session immediately and adopt this bill. “We cannot wait another day, we cannot lose any more lives,” she said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said prevention, education and treatment still remain critical to fighting the opioid epidemic, and more is needed, but law enforcement is also critical, and they need the tools to do their job. “There has been too much heartache, too much pain. We have been battling this epidemic for years now,” he said, adding, “New York must take a stand on this issue and pass this Death by Dealer statute.”

Watch the press conference here

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