A co-owner of a New Britain bodega where Oxycodone was regularly sold illegally was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday.
Raul Cabrera-Vasquez, 50, will also be subject to three years of supervised release, though federal officials during his sentencing -- which was conducted virtually over a zoom call -- said he could face deportation because of his conviction. The 50-year-old is not an American citizen, though he was in the country legally at the time of the allegations, officials said.
According to federal court documents, Cabrera-Vasquez in February agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the DEA New Haven Tactical Diversion Squad and police from New Britain in the summer of 2019 began investigating individuals who were selling oxycodone pills from Elzier Grocery, located at 1485 Corbin Ave., in New Britain.
Between July and December of that year, authorities say they made multiple controlled purchases of oxycodone pills from multiple people affiliated with the store, inside the business.
Federal officials during the sentencing Thursday described Cabrera-Vasquez as a co-owner of the business. They also said he permitted the drug sales to go on and, on more than one occasion, was witnessed selling pills himself.
At times, federal officials said, the store would see as many as 30 to 40 people an hour who were there to buy prescription pills illegally.
“That’s a lot of drugs,” U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall said.
The plea agreement reached by federal prosecutors and Cabrera-Vasquez’s attorney included a recommended guideline sentence of anywhere between 51 and 71 months in prison. Hall, whose sentence fell beneath that range, said Cabrera-Vasquez’s lack of a previous criminal history was among multiple factors that went into the sentence.
Hall ordered Cabrera-Vasquez to surrender himself in mid-July to begin serving his sentence, and she also recommended he be allowed to serve it at FCI Danbury at the request of his attorney.
During the sentencing, Cabrera-Vasquez, who spoke through a Spanish interpreter, apologized for his actions and vowed to work hard for forgiveness.
Also at the sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. Pierpont, Jr., highlighted the role of drug dealers like Cabrera-Vasquez and his co-defendants in the opioid crisis. Before users turn to heroin or Fentanyl, which are both very dangerous, they often look to purchase pharmaceutical drugs illegally. They otherwise would have been cut off by a doctor, but are able to continue to fuel their addiction because of the availability of drugs like Oxycodone on the black market, he said.
Pierpont added that, it isn’t usually until pharmaceutical drugs become too expensive that users turn to very deadly drugs like heroin or Fentanyl. The assistant U.S. attorney also said that, though the opioid crisis has fallen off a bit in regards to news coverage, it is very much still a major crisis. In New Britain alone, Pierpont said, 229 people have died of a drug overdose since 2015.
“This is not a victimless crime,” Pierpont said.
The prosecutor noted that Cabrera-Vasquez was not driven by a drug addiction or anything else aside from money.
Michael Dolan, Cabrera-Vasquez’s attorney, conceded that his client’s conduct was financially driven, but he added that he was a small business owner who was struggling to make ends meet.
Dolan also said that despite many people at sentencing saying they are sorry and promising not to break the law again, he’s confident that Cabrera-Vasquez is sincere in his apologies and will never go before a criminal court again.
“He’s never going to engage in this conduct again,” Dolan said.
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or email@example.com.