At 9:26 p.m. on the night of Aug. 12, Lavain Creighton of Greenport allegedly received a text message from a buyer to whom he had just sold cocaine.
The buyer warned the cocaine appeared to be “cut with something weird.”
“Having trouble keeping my eyes from moving around, giving me the spins,” the text continued. “Just wanted to warn you.”
At 9:27 p.m., Mr. Creighton respond with one word: “OK.”
Prosecutors cited that text exchange as an example of Mr. Creighton having knowledge that the cocaine he was selling was laced with a potentially fatal substance, which a forensic analysis revealed to be fluorofentanyl, an analog of the fatal drug fentanyl. Mr. Creighton was arraigned in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead Friday on a 16-count indictment that includes two charges of second-degree manslaughter, both of which are tied to fatal overdoses that occurred after Mr. Creighton received that ominous text message.
“He was on notice at that point,” District Attorney Timothy Sini said. “Instead of warning his customers, he continued to sell his product. And that is the epitome of recklessness.”
Mr. Creighton, 51, is also facing an additional charge of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance that prosecutors say is tied to a third fatal overdose of the person who sent the text message warning Mr. Creighton. The investigation is continuing into Mr. Creighton’s role in the additional three fatal overdoses that occurred over a span of a few days in August.
Prosecutors outlined a more detailed timeline of the fateful night on Aug. 12 during the arraignment, during which Mr. Creighton pleaded not guilty to the upgraded charges. Just a few minutes after Mr. Creighton received the warning via text message, Swainson Brown, 40, of Shelter Island arrived at the Greenport apartment on Main Street to purchase cocaine, assistant district attorney Dana Gremaux said during the arraignment. Mr. Brown later died.
Mr. Creighton is facing one count of manslaughter in relation to Mr. Brown’s death, as well as one count for the death of Matthew Lapiana, according to the grand jury indictment.
Mr. Sini said additional charges could still be filed as the investigation remains ongoing.
Mr. Creighton appeared in court wearing a green jumpsuit and had several family members in attendance to support him. No family members of the victims attended the arraignment.
Judge John Collins ordered Mr. Creighton held on $500,000 cash bail or $5 million bond. A bail source hearing would be required if Mr. Creighton posted the funds, due to prosecutors alleging he could have access to money since his drug sales “did not operate in a vacuum.”
Lane Bubka of Riverhead, the attorney representing Mr. Creighton, said the bail was excessive “well beyond” what Mr. Creighton could afford and not commiserate with the law. He said he plans to appeal the bail in a higher court. He also said he had no knowledge of any “hidden funds” that were mentioned by the prosecutor.
“Their alleging of him being some mastermind criminal with regards to selling substantial narcotics I think is completely far-fetched,” Mr. Bubka said.
He said there’s no hard evidence that Mr. Creighton was in possession of a phone that prosecutors allege was used to set up the drug sales.
“They have an address and text messages on a phone that they believe to be connected with my client, but they have never recovered anything to establish that it was in fact my client who dealt them these drugs,” Mr. Bubka said.
He questioned why police did not arrest Mr. Creighton earlier when undercover officers purchased drugs from him on four occasions between November 2020 and April 2021.
“What were they waiting for?” he said.
Mr. Sini responded that the undercover sales were for a small amount of cocaine, which would have resulted in him being immediately released. The undercover sales were part of a larger investigation, he said.
Asked if law enforcement could have stopped or prevented the overdoses in August, Mr. Sini replied, “No.”
The DA spoke again about the need for the New York Legislature to pass the “death by dealer” legislation that would allow prosecutors to more easily charge someone who sold drugs in a fatal overdose case. Ray Tierney, a Republican running for district attorney, has criticized Mr. Sini for failing to act against Mr. Creighton.
“It’s time Mr. Sini actually did his job as a prosecutor, rather than covering his tracks with press conferences,” Mr. Tierney said in a statement Friday.
Mr. Bubka said the prosecutors’ timeline of events would not have allowed Mr. Creighton time to notify one of the overdose victims, even if Mr. Creighton had sold the drugs. Mr. Lapiana allegedly arrived at Mr. Creighton’s house at 9:23 p.m., three minutes prior to when he received the warning.
“They already admitted that basically one of their charges for manslaughter is completely insufficient,” Mr. Bubka said.
Ms. Gremaux, the ADA, said in court that Mr. Creighton destroyed a cell phone and at one point was tipped off that police were going to raid his apartment.
Mr. Creighton allegedly made statements about providing narcotics to some individuals, which were written down during a conversation by a Southold Town police detective. Mr. Bubka said he had called the department to notify them he would be representing Mr. Creighton at the time of the initial arrest but was told by a dispatcher that they would have to check to see whether Mr. Creighton was in custody. He said those were delay tactics to limit Mr. Creighton’s access to his attorney.
“Meanwhile the entire district attorney’s office was in that precinct with him when they made the arrest,” he said.
He said those statements were not signed by Mr. Creighton and he would seek to have the detectives notes tossed from the record.
Ms. Gremaux outlined Mr. Creighton’s extensive criminal history in court and noted that he has no employment history. Mr. Bubka said he’s not aware of Mr. Creighton’s employee history.
Justin Smith, 46, of Smithtown, the alleged supplier of drugs to Mr. Creighton, was indicted by a grand jury on three misdemeanors and one felony charge of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, for possession of cocaine with intent to sell. The other charges are seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and second-degree criminally using drug paraphernalia.
Mr. Creighton is due back in court Oct. 15.