CT: Man, 50, gets four years for dealing illegal painkillers from New Britain bodega

Courant News –

Citing the 229 people who’ve died of drug overdoses in New Britain since 2015, a federal judge on Thursday sentenced the former co-owner of a Corbin Avenue bodega to four years in prison for selling oxycodone pills to customers.

Raul Cabrera-Vasquez used Elzier Grocery as a front for a busy drug market, prosecutors said.

Noting that Cabrera, 50, had kept a spotless record until his arrest early last year, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall said she found it hard to balance that against a pattern of drug dealing in recent years.

“I see this offense as extremely serious,” Hall told Cabrera during a hearing on Zoom. “On the other hand I have a person who appears to have lived a good life, had a loving family, has absolutely no criminal history.”

Cabrera-Vasquez was one of three men charged after a lengthy investigation into reports of drug dealing at the small bodega at 1485 Corbin Ave. All were charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled drug.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration and local police used informants to make several illegal purchases of oxycodone, and concluded after surveillance that the store was a significant source of illegal drugs, Detective Chad Nelson of the city police said in a warrant affidavit.

Cabrera and codefendants Jose Lugo and Eliezer Perez were illegally distributing “large quantities” of authentic oxycodone pills in central Connecticut, Nelson wrote.

“For years, Elzier Grocery was a bodega in New Britain where pharmaceutical grade oxycodone pills could simply be purchased. No doctors, no prescriptions, and no questions asked,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pierpont Jr. said in a memo to Hall.

“The bodega received ‘heavy foot traffic’ – sometimes between 30 to 40 people within an hour, yet the vast majority of people who subsequently exited the store carried no visible products, despite the bodega being stocked with food and beverage items,” Pierpont wrote.

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Police said Cabrera personally conducted several of the drug deals that they did through informants, walking to the basement of the bodega to get the pills — sometimes dozens at a time. They sold for $15 to $35 each depending on potency.

Pierpont called Cabrera part of the reason people get addicted to drugs including heroin. They start with a legitimate need for oxycodone as a pain killer, then turn to illegal sources when the medical profession won’t prescribe more.

“As their tolerance and dependence go up, more and more pills need to be purchased just to get by, to avoid withdrawal — at $30 to $37 a pill,” he told Hall. “What ends up happening is their addiction gets out ahead of them — it’s then that people turn to heroin and fentanyl. It’s the reason so man people have lost their lives.”

Pierpont called the opioid epidemic a continuing problem in Hartford and New Britain.

“Forty to 42 people a year in New Britain are dying at the current rate due to the opioid crisis. This is not a victimless crime,” he said. “The cause of this crisis is complex and it goes all the way to the manufacturers of these pills … Mr. Cabrera is in that chain.”

Defense attorney Michael Dolan sought leniency, emphasizing that Cabrera has no criminal record. Cabrera, a Dominican Republic citizen who was working in the United States legally, will probably be deported after his sentence ends, Dolan told Hall.

Cabrera “is neither a career criminal nor a serial drug-dealer, but rather someone who took what at the time looked like the easy path to try to keep his grocery store afloat,” Dolan said in a memo to Hall.

“He is ashamed of his decision which has resulted in severe consequences and has brought on his arrest, conviction, and likely incarceration and deportation,” Dolan wrote.

Cabrera has been free on bond since his arrest, and has been working at Trader Joe’s since then.

“In the more than one year since his arrest, he has made significant progress. His current employment and his pride in that employment indicate significant rehabilitation,” Dolan said.

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