Police

Document reveals how investigators built cases against five individuals charged in fatal overdoses, including DNA evidence

A discovery memo filed in federal court in Central Islip last week sheds new light on the investigation into a series of overdose deaths on the East End last August, including the revelation that the DNA of the Greenport man accused of selling the drugs was detected on packaging at the scene of one of the fatalities.

The document, filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Maffei, reveals that federal investigators believe one fatal overdose victim purchased drugs from at least one other person in addition to suspect Lavain Creighton in the day leading up to his death, but that a mix of genetic materials found on packaging at one scene was matched to Mr. Creighton using the FBI’s DNA database.

The letter, sent to the attorney for Marquis Douglas of Riverhead, details in brief the current evidence prosecutors would introduce at his trial. Mr. Douglas, 36, was indicted along with fellow Riverhead resident Jesse Pace, 38, in May in connection with four cocaine and fentanyl overdose deaths reported in Southold and Shelter Island towns on Aug. 13, 2021. The victims in those four tragedies include Matthew Lapiana of East Marion and Swainson Brown of Shelter Island, the two men whose deaths Mr. Creighton, 52, had been publicly implicated in. The memo names the other two victims as Seth Tramontana of Greenport and Seyed Ahmadzadeh of Southold, and shows that Mr. Ahmadzadeh had also texted with Mr. Creighton prior to his death.

Mr. Maffei wrote that prosecutors would present as evidence drugs recovered from two of the overdose scenes, drugs seized at the time of Mr. Douglas’ arrest and drugs possessed by a co-conspirator charged in Oklahoma last December.

A review of federal court records in Oklahoma shows that two Middle Island women were arrested in Canadian County, Okla. on the same December date listed in Mr. Maffei’s letter. Court records show Kiera McPherson, 30, formerly of Calverton and Mone McKay, 31, have both returned to New York since their arrests last winter.

A crowd gathered in Mitchell Park last August to honor those who suffered opioid deaths last week. (Credit: Jeremy Garretson)

While some of the evidence detailed in the document had been publicly disclosed by prosecutors in Suffolk County, it puts the breadth of the investigation into new context by showing how investigators used technology to build the case against the five individuals now charged in federal court. Not only did they use DNA, phone and bank records to connect Mr. Creighton and others to the deceased, but also surveillance video footage, police cameras and cell tower data. Calls Mr. Creighton made from jail have been turned over to prosecutors along with police interviews with at least seven other individuals. The discovery package in the state case against Mr. Creighton, which has been dropped in favor of the federal case, contained more than 1,900 files, the memo shows.

Mr. Creighton is facing a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison under the federal indictment against him, his attorney, Lane Bubka of Riverhead, told The Suffolk Times earlier this month. The indictment has not been made public and it is unclear specifically what charges he faces. A spokesperson for the Eastern District Court of New York has declined comment on the case.

Mr. Douglas and Mr. Pace are both due to appear before Senior U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert in the Eastern District Court of New York Sept. 23, court records show. Mr. Pace, who pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in June, is scheduled for a plea hearing at that time. The seven-count indictment against the two men accuses them of engaging in a conspiracy to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine, one kilogram of heroin, 280 grams of crack cocaine, 40 grams of fentanyl and a quantity of a fentanyl analogue over a seven-year period. The men are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and other similar charges, including four related specifically to each of the overdose deaths. They, too, face a minimum of 20 years in prison if convicted due to a federal statute mandating such a penalty for drug cases involving a fatality.

The four overdose deaths were among six in one week on the East End last August, all involving cocaine mixed with fentanyl, police said at the time. Mr. Creighton was arrested by Southold Town police just days later.

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