Behind Pence’s Air Force Two cancellation: A drug dealer – POLITICO
Vice President Mike Pence was one short plane ride away from shaking hands with an alleged interstate drug dealer.
Pence abruptly canceled his trip to Manchester, N.H., earlier this month but never said why he was pulled from Air Force Two at the last minute.
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The vice president’s aides and even President Donald Trump himself kept up the suspense. “You’ll know in about two weeks,” Trump told reporters at the time. “There was a very interesting problem that they had in New Hampshire.”
Among the problems was a federal law enforcement probe involving individuals Pence would likely encounter, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the incident. If Pence stepped off the vice presidential aircraft, one of the people he would have seen on the ground was under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration for moving more than $100,000 of fentanyl from Massachusetts to New Hampshire.
Jeff Hatch, who agreed in federal court Friday to plead guilty and will face up to four years in prison, works for an opioid addiction treatment center in southern New Hampshire that Pence was set to visit. A former New York Giants player, he has spoken publicly for years about his own challenge with drug and alcohol addiction, which ended his football career.
He has been on stage with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and is known throughout the state for warning students about the dangers of using drugs. “He has been beaten down in the past, but now stands tall in front of audiences to personally share his compelling story,” says a listing offering him to speak to groups.
The vice president’s office declined to comment, and Pence has declined to discuss the incident. The early July event had been billed by his office as “a roundtable discussion with former patients and alumni at the Granite Recovery Center headquarters” followed by remarks from Pence “on the opioid crisis and illegal drug flow in New Hampshire.” The vice president’s aides have said they would reschedule his trip to New Hampshire.
Federal court documents released Friday said Hatch was caught in 2017 with 1,500 grams of fentanyl. A baggie of the drug sold on the streets of New Hampshire is usually about one-tenth of a gram.
Earlier that year, federal, state and local police began an investigation into a supplier of drugs flowing into Manchester, N.H, an area hit hard by the opioid epidemic. More than 500 people a year have been dying in New Hampshire for the last several years and the crisis does not appear to be abating.
Federal authorities focused on Hatch. In court documents, they allege Hatch made a call in the early morning hours of July 25, 2017, to arrange a pickup of drugs from a supplier in Lawrence, Mass.
He allegedly brought the drugs back to his home in New Hampshire, later distributing smaller amounts to couriers.
A law enforcement official said Hatch agreed to help authorities arrest other dealers higher in the food chain in exchange for a more lenient sentence.
He was charged with a single count of using a telephone to help commit a crime, according to court records.
He agreed to be sentenced to up to four years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Scott Murray, the U.S. attorney for the state, did not return a call about the leniency of the charges.
Hatch did not return a message left on his cell phone. Hatch until Monday was the chief business development officer for Granite Recovery Centers, which provides treatment for substance abuse.
After this story first published, Granite Recovery Centers CEO Eric Spofford said in a statement: “I am shocked and disappointed to learn today that Jeff Hatch has pled guilty to a drug offense. Granite Recovery Centers terminated Jeff’s employment today immediately upon learning about this matter.”
Two months before federal authorities allege he made the drug pickup, Hatch stood with Sen. Shaheen to warn students about drug use, using his personal story.
According to WMUR-TV, Hatch told the students he began taking opioids after a back injury in his 20s.
“For me, that worked, but then I made the realization that if I were able to take a couple more, it would cure emotional pain, along with the physical pain,” he said. “If you suffer from it, talk about it. Let it be known, because that is why we are all here helping. We know it exists, we know it’s real, and you are not less-than because we have it.”
At the time, Shaheen said she wanted more funding for programs to help student athletes fight addiction issues.
Shaheen said in a statement Monday: “Granite Staters seeking recovery from substance use disorders put their trust in Mr. Hatch and it’s incredibly disappointing to see how badly that trust was betrayed. He needs to be held accountable.”
Less than a month ago, Hatch took part in a roundtable with retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, who may face a three-way primary to take on Shaheen. He told the group he has been in recovery for 13 years. The campaign said he did not meet one-on-one with Bolduc.
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