A Suffolk County heroin dealer accused of selling the drug that caused the overdose death of a former Kings Park High School wrestling champion is facing a three-count federal indictment, authorities said.
Richard Jacobellis, 23, of Ridge, was arrested Tuesday night after a joint investigation by Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Suffolk County police detectives, officials said.
Prosecutors said Jacobellis sold the $100 worth of heroin that resulted in the death of 20-year-old Nicholas Weber in May, and continued to peddle the drug afterward. The investigation began with an online tip to the DEA.
“The defendant is a drug dealer who for years peddled poisonous heroin to Long Islanders,” Eastern District U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in a statement. “The heroin epidemic on Long Island has cut short far too many young lives, like Nicholas’.”
Jacobellis pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Central Islip to conspiracy and distribution of heroin, and distribution of the controlled substance that caused Weber’s death.
If convicted, Jacobellis faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life. U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert ordered Jacobellis held without bail.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Caffarone states in court papers that Jacobellis has been selling heroin on Long Island since 2012. In March 2015, one of his customers, an unidentified 18-year-old, overdosed on heroin Jacobellis sold him. That victim was revived with Naloxone by Suffolk police.
Despite that incident — and the wrestler’s death — the prosecutor said Jacobellis continued to sell heroin, noting that he allegedly sold the drug last month to an undercover agent.
Weber considered himself a recreational heroin user, not an addict, sources said.
According to court papers, he asked a friend identified as a confidential source on May 16 if he “knew anyone who sold heroin.” The friend tried to discourage him, saying he could become addicted.
Weber “responded that he only used heroin occasionally and would never become addicted because of his busy schedule,” Caffarone wrote.
The friend contacted Jacobellis, who sold Weber the heroin on May 17. About a half-hour later, the friend arrived at Weber’s parents’ home and found him “unresponsive in the basement,” Caffarone stated.
The friend alerted Weber’s parents, who attempted CPR and called 911, the prosecutor said. An autopsy in the case concluded that the cause of death was “acute heroin intoxication.”
There was no indication that the drug Weber used was laced with the dangerously powerful narcotic fentanyl, as has become more common, or that it was otherwise unusually potent, sources said.
Jacobellis’ attorney, federal public defender Tracy Gaffey, declined to comment after the arraignment.
In high school, Weber was the Suffolk County wrestling champion in the 195-pound class. He originally attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, choosing it over the Naval Academy and other schools, officials said.
Weber went to Lehigh on a wrestling scholarship but dropped out after six months, the family said. He later enrolled at Suffolk County Community College and planned to study physics starting in fall 2016 at Stony Brook University.
Stephen Weber described his son as “a Triple-A threat in Art, Academics, and Athletics,” who could play a Mozart sonata on the piano, discuss the work of physicist Stephen Hawking and wrestle at a championship level.
Weber, who was in court with his wife, Karen, said the couple had no idea their son was using heroin. The death, he said, came as “a complete shock.”
But the father also said his son “wasn’t himself anymore” in recent months, hanging out with a new group of friends and keeping more to himself.
“Any time you hear of a good kid getting wrapped up in drugs your hearts breaks for him and the family,” said Mike Guercio, who had coached Weber on the Kings Park football team. “I was shocked when I heard the news of Nick’s death.”
Guercio said Weber decided to stop playing football to concentrate on wrestling, starting in 10th grade.
“He kept to himself and became a role model for the young wrestlers, doubling up his practices and training hard,” the coach said. “He was loved by everyone.”
With Gregg Sarra