Moments before being sentenced Monday to nine to 18 years in state prison for his role in the Poconos portion of a multi-million-dollar operation trafficking illegally prescribed painkillers in three states, John Romagnolo of Cresco told a judge his criminal actions stemmed from his addiction to painkillers needed for back pain and a subsequent foot amputation.
Several factors kept Romagnolo’s sentence from being more lenient.
One is Monroe County President Judge Margherita Patti Worthington agreeing with the prosecution’s view of Romagnolo as showing no remorse, accepting no responsibility and blaming others for contributing to the misery of many other hopelessly addicted people, who couldn’t afford or get legal prescriptions, and their loved ones suffering with them. Reaching a point where they were no longer able to afford these illegal painkillers, many of these addicts got hooked on heroin, which is cheaper and more available, risking fatal overdoses.
“The same thing happened to me,” Romagnolo told Worthington.
Worthington replied, “No, it is not the same thing. You had a better opportunity to get help for your addiction, but chose not to do so.”
It also didn’t help matters when Romagnolo at one point tested positive for cocaine, while awaiting his original July 2014 sentencing date, and then absconded, making police take two years to finally track him down and arrest him in New Jersey.
“I can’t comment on that,” defense attorney Michael Ventrella said when asked after the sentencing why Romagnolo absconded and where he had been for two years. “All I can say is that he tried, but just could not get off the drugs, and that addiction can affect someone’s ability to make the right decisions.”
“There are mitigating factors (explaining Romagnolo’s actions), but he doesn’t want those discussed on record in open court,” Ventrella told Worthington during the sentencing proceeding.
Between February 2011 and March 2013, a New York City doctor trafficked painkillers in New York and New Jersey while his office assistant and her husband supplied more of the drugs to two rings, both totaling about 50 members who themselves were addicts, in the Poconos. Romagnolo, 48, led one ring operating in the Pocono Mountain area while another man led one in the East Stroudsburg area.
Romagnolo admitted to sending his ring members with names and personal information to the doctor’s office assistant, who then used that information to write illegal, unapproved prescriptions and had her husband deliver those prescriptions to the Poconos. Pharmacies then filled those prescriptions, unaware they were illegal, after which Romagnolo and his ring members then sold the painkillers on the streets for profit.
“Mr. Romagnolo has been inaccurately and unfairly portrayed as the mastermind or kingpin behind his part of this operation because he allegedly at one point was heard referring to himself as ‘the script king,'” Ventrella told the court, on Romagnolo’s behalf, moments before sentencing. “Please keep in mind that he himself has been struggling with addiction as much as the other unfortunate people involved in this case.”
When given the chance to speak on his own behalf, Romagnolo said, “I apologize to my mother and brother, who are both here in court today, for the embarrassment I’ve caused our family. I was raised better than that. I’m sorry for the problems I’ve caused up here. I’m hoping Your Honor can please show some leniency (by imposing a county jail or shorter state prison sentence, as opposed to a longer state prison sentence) because I have three kids who still need their father.”
However, his remorse didn’t come across as genuine.
“There are people still suffering with addiction due to Mr. Romagnolo’s actions,” said Troy Serfass, who investigated this case for the state Attorney General’s Office. “And there likely would have been more suffering had it not been for a 17-year-old addict’s mother who, with nowhere else to turn, found the courage to report this to the authorities, which prompted the investigation that led to where we are today.”
Romagnolo is the last of the people involved to be sentenced.
“He claims he wasn’t the mastermind when his actions show he in fact was,” Attorney General’s Office representative Christie Bonesch told the court.
Romagnolo rudely interrupted Bonesch, asking, “Who got hooked?”
A sheriff’s deputy standing nearby told him to be quiet while Ventrella told Romagnolo to calm down and wait to request another chance to speak.
“You were the main liaison,” Worthington told Romagnolo, agreeing with the prosecution and noting his prior history of criminal mischief, theft and harassment arrests. “Your own documented statements, where you talk about this never having been about the money and thinking you were helping people, indicate your key role. You even used your own disability income toward these drugs.
“This community faces the plague of painkiller and heroin addiction, a plague which has been fueled in significant part by your actions,” Worthington said. “I believe (leniency) is inappropriate in this case.”