A pharmacy student apparently was selling drugs from an ice cream truck he drove through Cheektowaga neighborhoods last summer, federal authorities told The Buffalo News on Thursday.
Abraham I. Reinhardt, a 23-year-old Clarence resident who attends St. John Fisher College in Rochester, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly selling prescription painkillers, hallucinogenic mushrooms and marijuana after a four-month investigation.
He became a high priority for U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents after they received information that he was dealing drugs from the ice cream truck.
“The minute we heard that he had access to children through his ice cream truck route, we accelerated our investigation of him,” said Dale M. Kasprzyk, resident agent in charge of the DEA’s Buffalo office.
Reinhardt, who works part time as a pharmacy technician at a Rite Aid in the Rochester suburbs, was arrested Wednesday afternoon following an undercover drug sale in the Buffalo area.
“He had 80 Opana pain pills on him that are highly addictive and, unfortunately, the drug of choice among many of the opiate addicts now,” Kasprzyk said.
That bust gave agents enough evidence to secure a federal search warrant for Reinhardt’s college apartment in Rochester where additional prescription pain medications were seized along with the marijuana and a substantial quantity of mushrooms. About $2,000 also was confiscated.
It is not determined at this point if Reinhardt stole drugs from Rite Aid.
But U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said Thursday the case serves as a warning to those with access to prescription medications through their employment that they will be pursued if they violate the law.
“What makes this case particularly troubling, if the allegations prove true, is a student with specialized training and access to prescription pills is apparently selling them on the streets of our community,” Hochul said. “That is something we obviously take very seriously and will continue to prosecute not only street-level dealers, but those whose employment provides them with access, whether it be at a pharmacy or as doctors. We are currently prosecuting two doctors.”
North Tonawanda Dr. Matthew A. Bennett, 46, is accused of illegally writing pain medication prescriptions, sometimes in exchange for items; in one instance, a gas grill was delivered to his Clarence home.
Dr. Pravinchandra V. Mehta, a former Niagara Falls physician, allegedly issued huge numbers of painkiller prescriptions without properly examining patients, in order to profit.
Though there is no evidence Reinhardt sold drugs to children who bought ice cream from him, law enforcement officials say the investigation into his customers is continuing.
Reinhardt appeared in handcuffs before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott late Thursday afternoon to answer a felony charge of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, which carries a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Reinhardt requested a court-appointed attorney, claiming he cannot afford to hire a lawyer on his $150-a-week salary at Rite Aid or from his Amazon Internet business, which brings in between $100 to $300 a week.
Reinhardt explained to the judge he rooms with another pharmacy student in a leased apartment and has no assets.
Scott, after repeatedly asking if he was certain he had no assets, appointed attorney Larry Desiderio to represent him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Alsup and federal probation officials asked that if Reinhardt was released on bail, he be required to receive counseling and a mental health assessment.
Scott allowed Reinhardt to be released on a $5,000 signature bond and ordered him to undergo the assessment and stay away from alcohol and drugs.
Indications that Reinhardt may have a substance abuse problem were discovered during the course of the probe, according to authorities.
How he obtained the prescription pain medications for illegal sales, officials said, remains under investigation.
“We will be working with management at the Rite Aid store to determine if there was any theft of pharmaceuticals from the store,” Kasprzyk said.
Hochul said that clamping down on abuse of prescription pain medicine is a huge challenge for area law enforcement as more and more people overdose on those medications.
“We see all sorts of statistics and real-life examples of people succumbing to prescription pill abuse and moreover, at the national level, overdoses on prescription pain pills have surpassed cocaine and heroin combined,” he said.
Outside the courtroom, Reinhardt was asked what type of Internet business he runs.
“I really have no comment,” he said.
He is due back in court Dec. 4.