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3 charged with drug offenses as part of Hoffman death investigation

 

Three of the four people arrested as a result of the investigation into the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman were charged with drug offenses Wednesday evening. 

Robert Vineberg, 57, was charged with felony drug possession with intent to sell in Manhattan Criminal Court. Max Rosenblum and Juliana Luchkiw, both 22, were charged with misdemeanor cocaine possession. Prosecutors declined to bring charges against the fourth person arrested, 48-year-old Thomas Kushman, citing lack of evidence. 

All four were arrested after NYPD officers raided three apartments at 302 Mott Street, in Manhattan's East Village. Investigators executed a search warrant after receiving a tip that the dealer who sold the Oscar-winning actor heroin was located at that address. Police reportedly found hundreds of glassine envelopes of heroin during the raid. In addition, the New York Post, citing law enforcement sources, reported that Hoffman's phone number was on at least three different cell phones taken from the apartment. 

Hoffman, who won an Academy Award for his performance as author Truman Capote in the 2005 film "Capote," was found dead by a screenwriter friend and the actor's personal assistant Sunday morning on the bathroom floor of his West Village apartment with a hypodermic needle in his arm. 

Lawyers for the three people charged vigorously denied their clients had any role in Hoffman's death and suggested they were being swept up in a maelstrom of attention surrounding the actor's demise.

"This case and the charges against Mr. Vineberg have absolutely nothing to do with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. ... We're hoping the (district attorney) will not use Mr. Vineberg as a scapegoat," said his lawyer, Edward Kratt, who declined to say whether Vineberg knew Hoffman.

A woman identifying herself as Vineberg's stepdaughter told the Post that her relative had dealt heroin since last November due to lack of work as a musician and had gotten to know Hoffman around the same time, but claimed that her stepfather "had nothing to do with what killed [the actor]."

Investigators have determined that Hoffman made six ATM transactions for a total of $1,200 inside a supermarket near his home the day before his death, law enforcement officials have said. Investigators are examining a computer and two iPads found at the scene for clues and recovered syringes, a charred spoon and various prescription medications, including a blood pressure drug and a muscle relaxant, law enforcement officials have said.

Some of the packets found in Hoffman's apartment were variously stamped with the ace of hearts and others with the ace of spades. Those found in the building where the arrests occurred had different brand names, including Black List and Panda, the officials said.

Police were waiting for a cause of death for the Oscar-winning actor from the medical examiner's office, which said on Wednesday that more tests were needed.

There was no timetable for Hoffman's autopsy to be finished, said medical examiner's office spokeswoman Julie Bolcer, who declined to discuss the pending tests. Toxicology and tissue tests are typically done in such cases.

Courts have found that under state law drug dealers can't be held liable for customers' deaths.

A 1972 state appellate division case found a dealer can't be found guilty of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide for selling heroin and syringes to a customer who later dies because, the court ruled, legislation enhancing punishment for drug crimes didn't redefine homicide to include the sale of an illicit drug that results in death.

And holding a drug dealer criminally liable for a customer's overdose death could prove difficult for the district attorney's office, said James Cohen, a Fordham University School of Law professor who runs a clinic that represents federal criminal defendants.

"It's not just enough that you know, if you will, theoretically or academically, that heroin could kill," he said.

Former police detective Scott Prendergast, who worked on the high-profile investigation into the 1996 heroin overdose death of Jonathan Melvoin, a keyboard player touring with the rock band Smashing Pumpkins, said it's not uncommon for investigators to track down dealers following suspected overdose deaths especially when the drugs are stamped with telling names.

A private funeral for relatives and close friends of Hoffman is set for Friday, and a larger memorial service will be held later this month, his publicist Karen Samfilippo said.

On Wednesday night, Broadway theaters dimmed their lights in memory of the Tony Award-nominated actor, and members of the theater community held a candlelight vigil for him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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