Drug Enforcement Administration

New York

Acting Special Agent in Charge Keith Kruskall , Special Agent in Charge

August 20, 2018

Contact: Erin Mulvey

Phone Number: (212) 337-3900

Registered sex offender sentenced to 18 years on drug charges in connection with fatal overdose

SYRACUSE, NY –Thomas A. Burnell, age 36, of Plattsburgh, New York, was sentenced today to 18 years in prison for selling heroin mixed with fentanyl that caused the death of a customer.  Senior United States District Judge Norman A. Mordue also sentenced Burnell to 30 months in prison for possessing a weapon while detained on federal charges at the Clinton County Jail.

The announcement was made by United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt of the New York Division.

United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith stated: “The deadliest drug epidemic in history is fueled by dealers like Thomas Burnell, who distributed heroin mixed with fentanyl – describing his product as ‘killer’ and ‘fire’ – with a foreseeable consequence.  We are committed to vigorous enforcement against those whose poison kills, and to education and outreach with law enforcement and community partners so deterrence and treatment diminish the deaths and grief.  We commend the work of DEA and the Plattsburgh Police Department on this lethal overdose case, and the work of the U.S. Marshals Service and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department to maintain jail safety.”

DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt stated: “Today’s sentencing re-emphasizes the volatility of opioid abuse.  It is a fact that dealers are mixing their product with deadly analogues like fentanyl, only to put users at greater risk of death.  I commend the Northern District of New York and our law enforcement partners who worked on this grave investigation.”          

As part of his plea on April 27, 2018, Burnell admitted that on January 16, 2016, he went to the Plattsburgh apartment of a male customer, “J.G.” and gave J.G. two bags of what Burnell believed to contain heroin, for $70.  J.G. ingested the substances that Burnell sold to him, which was heroin mixed with fentanyl.  J.G. died that day due to overdose.

Burnell was a registered sex offender at the time of the crime, having been convicted in 2003 of sexual abuse in the first degree. 

In pleading guilty, Burnell also admitted that on March 30, 2017, while detained at the Clinton County Jail, he possessed a sharpened toothbrush as a weapon.  Officers found the weapon while conducting a random search of Burnell’s cell.

Judge Mordue ordered the 30-month prison contraband sentence to run concurrent with the 18-year drug sentence.  He also imposed a 5-year term of post-imprisonment supervised release.

The drug overdose case was investigated by the DEA’s Plattsburgh Resident Office and the Plattsburgh Police Department.  The prison contraband case was investigated by the U.S. Marshals Service and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department.  The cases were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Collyer.

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