Prosecutors, Dentist Continue To Dispute Seizure Of Evidence
The attorney for a Wyoming County dentist charged with improperly prescribing medications to a woman who fatally overdosed on heroin says his client is a scapegoat for police who failed to get enough evidence to charge another man.
Attorney Lawrence Kansky contends authorities wrongly targeted Dr. Christopher Bereznak, despite knowing another man admitted driving the victim, Ashley Gammon, to Hazleton to purchase the heroin that killed her.
“It’s already stated by detectives my client had nothing to do with the death,” Kansky said in a recent interview. “Why didn’t they go after the person who may have had a hand in causing her death? Instead of looking for him, they are coming after my dentist ... because they want someone to pay.”
Gammon, 25, of Olyphant, was found dead in her home July 20, 2016, from an overdose of fentanyl and heroin, according to court records.
Gammon’s parents, Kelly Gammon and Joseph Skrutski Jr., of Scott Twp., said they believe Bereznak is partly to blame for their daughter’s death. However, they also question why the man who supplied her the drugs was not charged, they said.
Under state and federal law, a person who provides drugs that result in another
person’s death can be charged with drug delivery resulting in death. Gammon, 44, and Skrutski, 48, said they felt there was strong evidence to file that charge in this case.
The couple said text messages between their daughter and the other man, a convicted drug dealer, show he drove her to obtain the drugs from a supplier. They said friends of the man also told them he admitted he was with her when she died, and that he returned to her home the next day to destroy evidence that would link him to the death.
“We have people who said (he) admitted he was there and admitted he left her,” Kelly Gammon said. “He admitted he went back the next day to wipe his fingerprints off everything because he knew he was going to be in trouble. ... Why he wasn’t ever charged I will never know.”
The Times-Tribune is not naming the man because he has not been charged in this case.
Lackawanna County District Attorney Mark Powell said the case was investigated under his predecessor, Shane Scanlon. Powell said he spoke to investigators who handled the case and they determined there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone other than Bereznak. He declined further comment.
Attempts to reach Scanlon were unsuccessful.
Lackawanna County detectives initially charged Bereznak, 48, of Clarks Green, in August 2017, after police found text messages between him and Gammon on her phone. He is accused of illegally prescribing carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant, that prosecutors allege was not medically necessary. He is not charged with killing Gammon because authorities determined the carisoprodol did not cause her death.
The case was later transferred to the U.S. attorneys office, which obtained an indictment in February, charging Bereznak with nine counts of unlawful distribution and dispensing of a controlled substance.
Prosecutors allege Bereznak prescribed the drugs because he wanted to have a romantic relationship with Ashley Gammon, whom he met through Craigslist. Bereznak maintains the medications were medically necessary to treat Gammon for temporomandibular joint disorder, a painful jaw condition. He acknowledged he was friends with Gammon, but denies he had a sexual relationship with her.
In pre-trial court documents, Kansky alleges prosecutors charged Bereznak to appease Gammon’s parents. The couple denied the allegation. While they believe Bereznak should face charges, they said they did not advocate for them. They left that decision to police.
“The bottom line is he did prescribe her drugs,” Skrutski said. “He very well knew what he was doing and what she wanted it for.”
Kelly Gammon said she repeatedly contacted Lackawanna County detectives before the case was transferred to federal court. She was assured they were continuing to investigate whether anyone could be charged with causing her daughter’s death, but she said no one ever got back to her.
It’s not clear if federal authorities are considering other charges. Dawn Mayko, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney’s office, declined comment on the case.
Bereznak’s case is pending in federal court. Kansky recently filed several pre-trial motions seeking to dismiss the charges or, in the alternative, to suppress certain evidence, including text messages Bereznak exchanged with Gammon.
Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo is reviewing the motions and will issue a ruling at a later date.
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