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Two drug dealers arraigned in connection with East End fatal overdoses

A text message sent to an East Marion man featured a dire warning: “I think there was fentanyl in that.”

Earlier on the night of Aug. 12, the man — referred to as M.L. — allegedly purchased cocaine from Lavain Creighton at his Greenport apartment. Cell phone records captured a text exchange between the two where the man inquired if Mr. Creighton was “around for a full,” and surveillance video showed the man driving in the vicinity of Mr. Creighton’s home.

The warning from another individual noting the cocaine could be laced with fentanyl presumably arrived too late.

“He was already dead,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said.

Southold police responded to a home on Rocky Point Road in East Marion at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 13 and found the victim, who has not been publicly identified, had died of the fatal overdose. It was one of six that occurred last week on the North Fork and Shelter Island, along with several other non-fatal overdoses all linked to fentanyl-laced cocaine.

Mr. Sini outlined that evidence against Mr. Creighton, which also showed numerous text messages between him and the East Marion victim between July 9 and Aug. 12. Police have now charged Mr. Creighton and a Smithtown man in connection to some of those fatal overdoses that stunned the community last week.

“Our message is clear, if you are selling drugs in Suffolk County and you kill someone, we will hold you accountable,” Mr. Sini said at a media briefing in Riverhead after both suspects had been arraigned earlier in the day.

Lavain Creighton, 51, is escorted into Southold Town Justice Court on Thursday morning. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

Mr. Sini listed charges against both Mr. Creighton and Justin Smith, 46, of Smithtown, who was an alleged supplier of drugs to Mr. Creighton. The DA said the investigation so far has connected Mr. Creighton to two of the fatal overdoses and the investigation is ongoing into his role in at least two additional fatal overdoses. Prosecutors and police have so far not specifically tied Mr. Smith to the fatal overdoses in terms of charges he’s facing, but Mr. Sini said that investigation is ongoing as well.

Mr. Sini credited the collaborative effort between multiple agencies to quickly make the two arrests and put together a case “in matter of days to take these two dangerous individuals off the street.”

“This is a public safety, public health threat that is extremely serious,” he added.

Southold Town police Chief Martin Flatley noted how the investigation can take a toll on everyone involved, from the dispatchers who handled 911 calls to the officers who responded to the different scenes.

“It’s been a very long two weeks for the residents of North Fork and Shelter Island,” he said. “It’s been an extremely long two weeks for the families of the deceased overdose subjects.”

Prosecutors have linked Mr. Creighton, 51, directly to death of Swainson Brown, the chef at the Pridwin Hotel on Shelter Island. Mr. Sini referred to him as S.B. during the media briefing and those initials were also used during Mr. Creighton’s arraignment at Southold Town Justice Court.

Cell phone records show Mr. Brown called Mr. Creighton between the hours of 8:58 p.m. and 10:11 p.m. Police also recovered ferry tickets that showed Mr. Brown traveled from Shelter Island to Greenport at 9:18 p.m. Two outgoing calls to Mr. Creighton were recorded at 9:35 p.m. Mr. Brown then returned to Shelter Island, with a ferry ticket confirmed at 10 p.m.

The next night, at 10:16 p.m., Shelter Island police responded to a fatal overdose on Shore Road where Mr. Brown was found.

Mr. Sini urged anyone who may have purchased drugs from either suspect to call an anonymous tip line: 631-852-NARC to help police recover any lethal drugs and to potentially assist in the investigation. The district attorney held up a poster showing mug shots of both suspects to help alert people.

“It is extremely important that we get the message out,” he said.

Mr. Creighton was charged with six felony counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance. He was remanded without bail by Southold Justice Daniel Ross. He faces a sentence of 54 years in jail if convicted on all charges.

Mr. Creighton, who has two prior felony drug convictions, was arrested Wednesday at 6:20 p.m. at his Main Street apartment.

Mr. Smith was arraigned in Suffolk County District Court in Central Islip later Thursday afternoon. He was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and criminal possession with intent to sell as well as two counts of criminal use of drug paraphernalia. He pleaded not guilty and was held on $200,000 cash bail or $500,000 bond by Judge John Andrews.

Police executed a search warrant at Mr. Smith’s house Wednesday and allegedly found cocaine, scales, five cell phones, a drug ledger and $2,980 in cash. A prosecutor said he has two prior felony convictions, one of which involved violence.

Mr. Smith was represented in court by attorney Anthony Scheller of Central Islip, who said his client was not involved in the fatal overdoses.

“My client adamantly denies any connection to that,” he told reporters outside the courtroom.

Mr. Scheller said Mr. Smith was in bed when police entered his home. He claimed in court that police didn’t find any drugs until after Mr. Smith was removed from the home.

“They search all over the place and they don’t find anything,” he told reporters. “They bring him out of the house and they bring him to Riverhead. And then this morning he comes to court and finds that he’s charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and criminal possession with intent to sell.”

Mr. Scheller said police only found 1/2 gram or less of cocaine.

“If you know anything about the drug business, drug dealers don’t make money selling less than 1/2 gram of cocaine,” he said.

Mr. Sini fired back to the allegations that police had acted improperly, saying: “It is unfortunate that anyone would launch baseless attacks against law enforcement, when in fact, law enforcement potentially just saved God knows how many lives.”

Mr. Scheller said he did not expect Mr. Smith to post bail.

Police and prosecutors anyone who may have purchased drugs from either suspect to contact the anonymous phone line: 631-852-NARC. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

At Mr. Creighton’s arraignment in Southold Town Justice Court, Assistant District Attorney Jake Kubetz described events in Southold, Greenport and Shelter Island where the area “was hit with a lethal batch of deadly drugs.” He said cocaine laced with fentanyl “spread over a number of hamlets in just a few hours. Evidence shows each strand leads back to the defendant… He was the final link in this drug chain.”

He said Mr. Creighton, whom he described as a long time drug dealer who grew up in Greenport, sold out of his apartment. He said undercover officers purchased drugs from him last November, and evidence collected in recent days shows cell phones collected from overdose victims include numbers that go back to him.

Mr. Kubetz said undercover officers made purchases from Mr. Creighton from last November to April of this year. He said the officer collected audio recordings of the transactions, which involved the sale of cocaine.

The prosecutor went through a lengthy accounting of Mr. Creighton’s arrest record for drug dealing, which goes back nearly 20 years. He said the case was to be presented to a grand jury Thursday afternoon and additional charges are likely. Mr. Sini said an additional charge of second-degree manslaughter could be brought against Mr. Creighton. That’s the highest charge a suspect can currently face in this type of case.

Mr. Sini also discussed a “Death-by-dealer” statute, bipartisan legislation that would allow someone to be held liable for murder in instances where someone sells drugs that lead to a fatal overdose. State Senator Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) introduced the bill in the Senate. State Senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow) both spoke in favor of the legislation.

Southold police Chief Martin Flatley. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

At one point during Mr. Creighton’s arraignment, a woman identified as his girlfriend stormed out of the courtroom, yelling something in the hallway. Several others sat together in the courtroom, some wiping tears from their eyes.

“There are additional overdoses under investigation,” the prosecutor said. He described the second defendant under arrest, Mr. Smith, as being Mr. Creighton’s supplier. The prosecutor described Mr. Smith as a “cocaine and fentanyl dealer.”

Citing two previous drug-related convictions, the prosecutor asked Judge Ross to remand him without bail. The judge did just that.

Previous arrests for Mr. Creighton include an East End Drug Task Force raid in 2013 and a 2015 incident in which children were in his home at the time of his arrest, leading to a child endangerment charge, according to reports at the time.

Mr. Smith is currently facing criminal proceedings related to a Feb. 19 arrest. He’s currently facing a top charge of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, one of several felony charges, could be indicted on a charge for repeat felons that may lead to a life sentence. Mr. Smith posted a $50,000 bond on those charges March 8 to be released. Mr. Scheller said in court that he expects a resolution soon on that case.

Five overdose deaths were reported in Southold Town last week with one more on Shelter Island, with police saying they believed the incidents were related and involved a “bad batch” of fentanyl-laced cocaine. The victims, five men and one woman, ranged in age from 25 to 40.