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Secret deal by Patriot knocked

Defense lawyer questions role in OxyContin bust

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Shelley Murphy and John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / June 5, 2008

As the alleged drug dealer targeted by federal agents with the help of New England Patriots offensive lineman Nicholas Kaczur appeared in court for arraignment yesterday, his lawyer raised questions about the secret deal the government struck with the football player.

Kaczur, 28, was at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough yesterday, while Daniel Ekasala pleaded not guilty in US District Court in Boston to three counts of possession with intent to sell oxycodone.

"I'd be very interested to see what kind of deal Kaczur has gotten in the course of cooperating," said Boston lawyer Bernard M. Grossberg, who represents Ekasala. "What is the quid pro quo? And what was Kaczur facing in order for him to feel that it was in the best interest of him to cooperate?"

Ekasala, 35, is accused of making three sales in May to Kaczur, who was wearing a secret recording device and cooperating with the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to court records, Grossberg, and two sources briefed on the investigation. Ekasala remains free on bail.

The Globe reported yesterday that Kaczur's cooperation began after he was arrested April 27 by New York State Police, who stopped him for speeding on the Thruway and discovered OxyContin pills he had allegedly acquired without a prescription. He was charged with misdemeanor criminal possession of a controlled substance, according to New York State Police.

Grossberg added: "You would think there was more to this than the traffic stop. . . . What is he getting as a result of his cooperation?"

While Grossberg was publicly asking questions, others involved seemed bent on evading news media attention. The Patriots, Kaczur's lawyer, and federal authorities refused to talk about the latest controversy to haunt the Patriots, who saw their hopes for an unbeaten season die when they lost Super Bowl XLII in February. The team was also penalized in 2007 for illegally taping hand signals of opponents' defensive coaches. In addition, defensive star Rodney Harrison was suspended for four games last season for using human growth hormone.

Asked yesterday if the team had questioned Kaczur about his alleged purchase of illegally obtained prescription painkillers or offered him substance-abuse treatment, Patriots spokesman Stacey James said, "We will handle that internally."

James said that Kaczur remains on the team and that the Patriots would not comment on his situation because of the pending criminal case. "We are going to respect the process," he said.

Kaczur's attorney, Steven J. Comen of Boston, also refused to comment on whether Kaczur has a drug problem or on details of his apparent deal with the government. "Out of respect for the ongoing legal process, we cannot comment at this time," Comen said during a brief telephone interview.

The government's sting operation was detailed in a six-page affidavit filed by a DEA special agent in US District Court in Boston. The affidavit makes constant reference to an unnamed cooperating witness.

In DEA documents turned over to the defense, Kaczur said that he had begun buying OxyContin in November 2007 and purchased 100 pills every few days, paying tens of thousands of dollars over time. Kaczur is not named in court records in Ekasala's case, but has been identified as the cooperating witness by Grossberg and two sources briefed on the case.

Addiction treatment specialists said yesterday that they could not speak directly about Kaczur and whether his alleged use of OxyContin was the act of an addict or someone who has developed a tolerance for the pain medication, requiring an ever greater dosage for effective relief.

But they said that anyone using 100 pills of 80-milligram OxyContin over a seven-day period was consuming massive amounts of the drug. "That's a lot of drugs," said Jennifer S. Potter, a clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, where she researches opiate addiction and recovery.

"That's an awful lot of medication for a seven-day period," said Michael Levy, psychologist and director of clinical treatment at CAB Health and Recovery Services in Peabody. "If you are taking it as prescribed, that might be medically appropriate. For someone buying it on their own and taking it in a way that's not prescribed . . . that is suggestive of more of a problem . . . more of a sign of drug addiction."

They also said the fact that someone is illegally obtaining the powerful painkiller without a prescription, rather than the amount consumed, is the best indicator of a serious problem. "Unless there is a prescription on board, there is a problem," Potter said.

Potter said OxyContin is designed to provide a constant level of pain relief over a 12-hour period after it is swallowed. Addicts and drug abusers often chew the pills, triggering an instant, overwhelmingly powerful high, she said. "You go beyond the pain relief . . . and you enter a state of euphoria," Potter said.

Both said tests using blood, urine, hair, or fingernails can readily detect the presence of opiates such as OxyContin in a way broadly similar way to blood-alcohol tests.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.

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