A federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday blasted pro sports leagues for their role in spreading addictive painkillers as she gave probation to Long Island hockey scion Jordan Hart in a drug possession case linked to New York Ranger enforcer Derek Boogaard’s overdose death.
“Both Mr. Boogaard and Mr. Hart were victims of organized sports which did not consider the consequence of supplying large quantities of addictive pain medications to their players,” said U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald.
The sentencing followed an emotional plea for leniency from Hart, 33, of Huntington, the son of one-time New York Islander stalwart Gerry Hart and himself a former minor league hockey player, who broke down as he apologized to the judge with his father looking on.
“I am not proud of what has taken place in the past,” he said, without mentioning Boogaard.
Hart was charged in 2014 with having sold painkillers to Boogaard for $4,000 in 2011, just two weeks before the Rangers fan favorite — who had suffered multiple concussions and become addicted to painkillers in the National Hockey League — died of an oxycodone-alcohol overdose.
The government never accused Hart of selling the fatal pill, but said he fed Boogaard’s cycle of addiction. Hart’s lawyers blamed his actions on his own addiction to painkillers after a shoulder injury. Prosecutors let him plead to misdemeanor drug possession, but wanted jail time.
Boogaard’s family, in letters to Buchwald publicly filed Thursday, fiercely opposed leniency. Father Len Boogaard questioned Hart’s claims of addiction and described him as nothing more than a “dealer” used by other athletes because he “could keep his mouth shut.”
“We are being victimized a second time,” he told the judge. “The wounds are being reopened, even with the writing of this statement. I cannot feel any sympathy for the Harts.”
During the sentencing, the exact nature of Hart’s role in Boogaard’s death remained in dispute. Hart’s lawyers say Boogaard died from Oxycontin, and contended that Hart only sold Vicodin and Percocet. Prosecutors said they couldn’t prove he did sell Oxycontin, but couldn’t be sure he didn’t.
That lack of clarity drew a sharp rebuke from Buchwald, who noted that Hart was not the only person who provided pills to Boogaard and cited a passage in the indictment that said Boogaard’s brother actually handed him the blue pill he took the night of his death.
“You don’t need to cause more pain here,” she admonished prosecutor Russell Capone, later adding, “Let’s not go there.”
In court filings, Hart said he had conquered his addiction before he was ever charged, and since he was accused in 2014 had lost his job and his wife and been portrayed in public as Boogaard’s murderer. Buchwald said enough was enough.
“His life is now on track and this court sees no reason to derail it,” she said, ordering Hart to do a year of community service educating the public about painkiller addiction.
Ex-Islander Gerry Hart, speaking to reporters after his son’s sentencing, called public education the only way to try to create something positive from the episode, and said his son and Boogaard were both victims of the pressure to play through pain in pro sports.
“If they don’t answer the bell, they lose their jobs,” he said. “It’s a money game.”
Boogaard’s father did not respond to a request for comment after the sentencing. Oscar Johnson, a physicians assistant charged in 2014 with giving Hart phony prescriptions, has agreed to plead to a felony but has not been sentenced.