Pence canceled New Hampshire trip to avoid meeting a drug trafficker
Before Vice President Mike Pence cancelled his planned visit to Manchester, N.H. to speak at an addiction treatment center earlier this month, one of the people he was likely to encounter was under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency for trafficking fentanyl from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, Politico reported Monday.
That person, Jeff Hatch, agreed on Friday in federal court in New Hampshire to plead guilty to a charge in connection with the case and will face up to four years in prison, the website reported.
Hatch, a former player in the National Football League who battled addiction himself, was terminated Monday from his job at Granite Recovery Centers, CEO Eric Spofford said in a statement to the Globe Monday night.
Spofford said he was “shocked, disappointed, and heartbroken” to learn about Hatch, and said no one at GRC was aware of Hatch’s actions.
“Granite Recovery Centers has over 200 of the most dedicated passionate people that go above and beyond to fight in the mission against addiction every single day,” Spofford said. “The actions of one do not discredit the amazing work they all do.”
Spofford said he learned about the situation around 11 a.m. Monday, and fired Hatch immediately. Spofford called addiction insidious and said it affects people from all walks of life.
“This situation highlights why those of us on the front lines need to remain vigilant and must battle every day against addiction and the opioid epidemic,” he said.
On July 2, Pence had been scheduled to join a discussion at Granite Recovery Centers in Salem, N.H. and then give a speech about the “opioid crisis and illegal drug flow.”
Pence boarded a place at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington D.C., but the plane never took off and Pence returned to the White House.
Within days, President Trump began talking about an issue that came up in Pence’s aborted trip to New Hampshire.
“There was a very — a very interesting problem that they had in New Hampshire,” Trump said July 5. “And I can’t tell you about it. It was a very — but it had nothing to do with [the] White House.”
A spokesperson for Pence did not respond to a request for comment Monday night.
According to a 12-page plea agreement filed in federal court Friday, in the spring of 2017 local and state law enforcement began an investigation into a Manchester, N.H.-based fentanyl supplier who obtained large quantities of the drug from a source in Lawrence.
Investigators identified and arrested several of the couriers involved in the transactions.
“During the morning hours of July 25, 2017, the defendant utilized his cellular telephone to arrange with the MA Source to pick up approximately 1,500 grams of fentanyl for the NH Source,” according to the plea deal. “Shortly after, the defendant met the MA Source and obtained the NH Source’s fentanyl. The defendant brought the drugs back to his residence in New Hampshire.”
The “NH Source” obtained a portion of the fentanyl from Hatch’s home, and distributed nearly 200 grams of the drug to an undercover law enforcement officer in Manchester, the agreement stated. That person, who was not named, was arrested on a charge of drug trafficking.
A search of that person’s vehicle found more fentanyl and $7,500 in cash.
Hatch pleaded guilty to using a telephone to commit a crime, according to court filings.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Hatch faces up to four years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, plus a term of supervised release of no more than one year.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu criticized the plea agreement in a statement Monday.
“For someone to have potentially abused their position within the treatment, prevention, and recovery community is a grave breach of trust and morally abhorrent,” Sununu said. “If these reports are true, his cooperation in this investigation better have been sufficient enough to justify such a lenient plea agreement.”
A representative for the New Hampshire US Attorney’s office declined comment Monday night, as did Hatch’s attorney, Chuck Keefe.
Hatch played for the New York Giants in 2002 and 2003, and in 2005 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to NFL.com.
In an online biography, Hatch “battled addiction on and off the field” and retired from the NFL in 2006.
In a video posted to Granite Recovery Centers’ Facebook page in October 2018, Hatch, who is identified as the organization’s chief business development officer, talks about working toward sobriety through a 12-step program.
“Just be happy with the fact that God spared you to get to a place that you have an opportunity to be sober and in recovery and help somebody else along this journey,” Hatch said. “You’re a miracle. We all are.”