By HEATHER TOMLINSON
A Pulaski County man pleaded guilty to drug charges this week in connection with a man’s death in 2012 from a heroin overdose.
Anthony Lacortiglia, 29, of Burnside, pleaded guilty Wednesday evening to conspiring to distribute heroin and to distributing heroin that resulted in the death of another person. That guilty plea came after the first day of Lacortiglia’s trial.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice in the Eastern District of Kentucky, Lacortiglia “ ... admitted that he provided heroin to John Latham on May 4, 2012, and that Latham died as a result of using the heroin.”
Latham, 54, also of Pulaski County, passed away on May 4, 2012.
According to the press release, Lacortiglia also stated he conspired with others to distribute heroin within Pulaski County.
Lacortiglia has a history of arrests in Pulaski County. In June, he was arrested after a Pulaski County constable attempted to pull him over for a suspended license. It was during that stop that 11.6 grams of heroin were allegedly found with Lacortiglia, along with more than $2,000 in cash.
Lacortiglia’s case is evidence of a nation-wide trend by prosecutors to hit the growing heroin problem hard by handing dealers what was once a little-used charge — distributing a drug that results in a death — that requires a mandatory 20-year sentence upon conviction.
Federal prosecutors in Kentucky are also working to combat the rising use of heroin, which is a cheaper alternative now to prescription painkillers such as OxyContin.
OxyContin and other prescription painkillers are harder to obtain, distribute, and use after recent law changes.
“This case highlights the importance of cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement in fighting the growing epidemic of heroin overdose deaths,” said U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey in the press release. “A troubling increase in heroin abuse has been detected in the Eastern District of Kentucky.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of people who said they have used heroin in the past year increased 66 percent between 2007 and 2011. The number of people who died of overdoses and had heroin present in their system jumped 55 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are committed to using every available tool to combat this problem,” Harvey continued. “Drug dealers should be on notice that we intend to hold them responsible for the consequences of their criminal conduct.”
The terms of the plea agreement in Lacortiglia’s case require him to be imprisoned for 240 months, or 20 years.
But that plea deal is conditional and hinges on an expected U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a similar case, which could be handed down within the next year.
“The plea is conditional because the law governing the appropriate jury instruction is under review by the United States Supreme Court in another case,” said Lacortiglia’s attorney, Robert Norfleet, in an email.
The case, Burrage v. U.S., will determine whether the distribution of drugs causing a death is a strict liability crime — meaning charges can be pursued whether the drug dealer foresaw that death or not — or if such a charge requires that foreseeability or proximate cause requirement.
The Supreme Court is also expected to determine in the case whether a person can be convicted for distribution of heroin causing death using jury instructions which allow a conviction when the heroin that was distributed “contributed to,” death by “mixed drug intoxication,” but was not the sole cause of death of a person.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the Burrage case in November. Norfleet said the Supreme Court’s opinion should be released by spring or early summer of 2014.
“If the United States Supreme Court interprets the statute the way I and a majority of the rest of the legal community believes they will, the plea to the distribution resulting in the death of another charge will be set aside and the United States has agreed it will dismiss that count,” said Norfleet. “If that happens, which there is a strong possibility it will, Mr. Lacortiglia will be re-sentenced and his guideline range will only be 36 months — a majority of which has already been served.”
Norfleet said that, had Lacortiglia’s trial continued, and had he been convicted, he would have received a sentence of anywhere between 28 and 40 years in prison.