The ongoing fentanyl crisis is one of the most serious drug epidemics in recent history and is one that continues to grip Long Island and the United States overall. The valuable and highly-toxic synthetic narcotic has become ubiquitous in certain communities and an ancillary substance to the existing drugs of choice. On top of its highly addictive nature, the drug is often selected by dealers for its high price tag and easier methods of smuggling. Fentanyl is also a prescribed painkiller that is one hundred times more potent than morphine and has contributed to over 100,000 overdose deaths per year.
For Suffolk County, the conversation has grown increasingly more concerned with fentanyl flooding suburban communities and has even landed unsuspecting first responders squarely in the possibility of an accidental overdose on emergency response calls.
But most people working relatively more innocuous jobs, such as lawyers or police clerks, would expect to be in the crossfire of such a dangerous battle. The Suffolk County Correctional Facility became a new battlefield this past August, Suffolk County District Attorney (R) and Sheriff Errol Toulon (D) revealed last Thursday at the county complex in Riverhead.
Drug smugglers and dealers have been getting more creative in their methods of shipping and disguising products, but Thursday’s press conference displayed a truly innovative and brazen method of sneaking fentanyl into the Suffolk County Correctional Facility. The report showed that inmates conspired with outside connections to smuggle fentanyl into the facility by spraying the liquid laced with the drug onto legal papers that were to be handled by an unsuspecting attorney.
The report states that Jyzir Hamilton, an inmate at the Suffolk County jail on a number of pending charges, including Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, had planned for his girlfriend, Janiah Williams, to deliver fentanyl-laced papers to him through his defense attorney, who was not aware of the plan. Hamilton then placed calls to Alyssa Brienza, whom he asked about obtaining the fentanyl. Brienza then spoke to Arnold Foster, an inmate at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville. At the time, Foster was serving a prison sentence for a conviction of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree.
Foster set the price of the fentanyl to be sold to Hamilton, who then allegedly spoke to Williams about delivery.
On August 19, Brienza allegedly delivered four blank pages to Williams that were sprayed with fentanyl-laced liquid. Legal writing was then superimposed on the paper to make it appear legitimate. Hamilton then allegedly instructed Williams to contact an attorney representing Eric Freeman, another inmate at the Suffolk County Jail on trial for Rape in the First Degree, who had then told his attorney that someone would be delivering legal documents to him. When Williams arrived at the courthouse with a manila envelope, she was arrested before the papers could enter the facility.
On October 3, Brienza was arrested and law enforcement allegedly found one-eighth ounce of cocaine, $1,130, and a scale inside her vehicle. Additionally, Brienza’s four-year-old child was also in the vehicle.
“This case demonstrates both the dangers of fentanyl and the extreme financial rewards of the distribution of fentanyl,” said District Attorney Tierney. “These papers cost $1,400 for each page and they can be sold for as much as $6,000 per page in the jail. More disturbing, however, is how these papers can be distributed within the jail. Our intelligence informs us that these papers are torn up and sold to the inmates. When the inmates put them in their mouth and once their saliva wets the paper, it activates the fentanyl in their systems. We learned that a torn piece of paper as little as a credit card that is infused with fentanyl can go for about $500 in the jail.”
While this form of smuggling is creative, Tierney said it’s unfortunately not completely original.
“This case is not the first of its kind and its ramifications are frightening,” he said. “This January, after investigating two separate non-fatal overdoses in the Suffolk County Jail, officers discovered a piece of paper in the cell of inmate Ronald Adam. That paper had also been infused with fentanyl. That case, this case, and many others like it highlight the extreme dangers the members of our Sheriff’s office face every day. Not only are those officers tasked with the inmates of SUffolk County safe and secure, but they must also protect themselves from poisons like fentanyl that they unknowingly come in contact with every day.”
Tierney also discussed just how toxic the drug is:
“Two milligrams of fentanyl are enough to kill you; that’s what a grain of rice weighs. If an officer or some unwitting third-party were to come in contact with this paper, even a very small amount could result in severe injury or death. In this case, fentanyl poisoning was posed to inmates, correction officers, deputy sheriffs, our court officers, our litigants, our judges, and anyone who works in the courthouse or maintains custody of inmates within the court building.”
Sheriff Errol Toulon (D) discussed the collaboration between several offices and bureaus to curb the ongoing problem, as well as what could possibly done to discourage the smuggling of drugs into the county jail.
“I am extremely proud that the District Attorney is vigorously going forward to prosecute this case. The men and women of the Suffolk County Sheriff office, more importantly, our Corrections Intelligence Center and our Criminal Intelligence Bureau, are the first hands on the ground working to make sure that our jails are protected,” said Toulon. “Make no mistake: fentanyl is twenty times more valuable inside a jail or prison than it is on the street. The problem of people smuggling it in using an attorney, who is unknowingly bringing the package in thinking they are legal documents to a client, is something we are working on.”
Toulon also said that mail in general appears to be routinely compromised, as the outside communities send in documents from illegitimate or “makeshift” law firms for the purpose of smuggling drugs into the jail.
“We are receiving mail inside our jail that is not from any reputable law firms. These are makeshift law firms that individuals in our community are utilizing to smuggle drugs inside our jails. As District Attorney Tierney said, they are going to find new and innovative ways to smuggle drugs inside our jails. Apart from what’s going on in our communities and the deaths that we’re seeing, we have to have some legislation that will harshly penalize individuals who are selling fentanyl within our communities.”
All four accomplices of the smuggling attempted have been indicted on their respective charges. Hamilton, 35, of Hauppauge, was indicted on six counts, four felonies and a misdemeanor. Brienza, 30, of Calverton, was indicted on eight counts, six felonies, and two misdemeanors. Williams, 24, of Central Islip, was indicted on five felonies. Freeman, 48, of Huntington Station, was indicted on one felony. Foster, 33, of Centereach, was indicted on one felony.