US charges stem from drug sales in Boogaard death

AP News
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Posted: Sep 09, 2014 8:06 PM
US charges stem from drug sales in Boogaard death

NEW YORK (AP) — A former minor league hockey player was arrested Tuesday on charges he sold illegally obtained prescription painkillers to former hockey player Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers and the Minnesota Wild before Boogaard died in 2011 of an accidental overdose.

Jordan Hart, 31, of Huntington, New York, was arrested on charges contained in a federal indictment unsealed in New York. Also arrested was a physician's assistant, Oscar Johnson, 59, whose Utah-based employer provided medical services to hockey players.

Johnson was released on his own recognizance after appearing in a Salt Lake City court room before U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse. He did not enter a plea. His Utah attorney, former federal judge Samuel Alba, had no comment.

If convicted, Johnson faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine on each of 26 counts of illegally providing oxycodone, as well as five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on one count of lying to a federal drug enforcement agent, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lund said.

Hart, charged with a single count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute oxycodone, was released on $500,000 bond after pleading not guilty in New York.

Hart's attorney, Robert LaRusso, said his client was "emotionally surprised" he was charged, although he knew an investigation was underway.

"There's a lot more to this case than what you heard in the indictment," LaRusso said.

He said the inclusion of Boogaard's death in papers prepared by the government was "irrelevant, prejudicial, inappropriate" to a conspiracy drug distribution charge.

"I'm surprised," LaRusso said. "If you're not charging him with a homicide, an accidental death, why are you putting that in there?"

Prosecutors said Hart sold at least some of the nearly 3,000 Percocet pills he obtained to the Rangers enforcer, who regularly traveled to Hart's Huntington home to buy pills.

Known as "The Boogeyman," Boogaard was one of the most feared fighters in hockey. The 6-foot-7-inch, 265-pound forward waited out 589 penalty minutes in 277 career games. After leaving the Wild for a four-year deal with the Rangers, he scored one goal in 22 games before his season ended with a concussion five months before his death.

James J. Hunt, acting special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency, called Boogaard's death a "sad story of lost potential."

"Let this be another warning to the athletes across America about the fatal dangers of prescription drug abuse and a warning to those who distribute diverted prescription medication throughout our communities — law enforcement will track you down," he said in a Tuesday news release.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Johnson casually provided Percocet prescriptions to Hart for more than two years without once treating or examining him. He said Hart then filled those prescriptions and sold the drugs to Boogaard, "feeding Boogaard's growing, debilitating addiction."

"Ultimately, that addiction, fueled at least in part by the drugs that Johnson illegally prescribed, and Hart peddled for cash, culminated in Boogaard's tragic overdose death," Bharara said.

"We have seen far too many tragedies from prescription drug overdoses," Bharara said. "The sports world is not exempt from federal narcotics law and should not expect to be."

According to the indictment, Johnson wrote medically unnecessary Percocet prescriptions for Hart on a monthly basis from June 2009 through July 2011 and Hart sold some of the oxycodone to Boogaard from December 2010 through April 2011.

New York Police Department Commissioner William J. Bratton said investigators in the case shut down the illegal supply of prescription drugs "before it could destroy another life."

Two weeks after his last purchase of drugs from Hart in New York and shortly after attending a rehabilitation facility in California, Boogaard died on May 13, 2011, from an overdose of oxycodone and alcohol after a late night of drinking with friends at bars in downtown Minneapolis.

Boogaard's brother was once charged with a felony in the death after telling police he gave his brother an oxycodone pill, but a Minnesota judge later tossed the charge, saying Derek Boogaard had acquired the drugs and merely asked his brother to hold them for him.

Authorities said Hart and Johnson met while Hart played minor league hockey and Johnson was on the medical staff for the Salt Lake Grizzlies from 2007 to 2009, when Hart's hockey career ended. Hart's father, Gerry, retired from the NHL in 1982 after 16 seasons that included stints with the New York Islanders, the Detroit Red Wings, the Quebec Nordiques and the St. Louis Blues.

The father's $1 million Huntington home was being posted to support the bond.

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Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.