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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

2 Accused of Selling Heroin Outside Clinic

Crime: Santa Paula man and a Van Nuys man, described as former patients of the veterans facility, are arrested.

August 11, 2000|LEE CONDON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Santa Paula resident and another man have been arrested by the FBI for allegedly posing as drug rehabilitation patients in order to sell heroin to addicts at a methadone clinic for veterans.

Luis Carrillo Rodriguez, 51, of Santa Paula and James Marshall Venti, 50, of Van Nuys were being held Thursday without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles. Both are accused of possession with intent to distribute heroin.

The sales allegedly occurred outside the chemical dependency treatment offices of a Veterans Affairs health center in the 16000 block of Plummer Street in North Hills.

"They were both patients there for several years," said Cheryl Mimura, spokeswoman for the FBI. "This crime is particularly heinous because they targeted such vulnerable victims who are trying to get off drugs."

The FBI has been investigating the pair since March.

"It's likely they have been doing this for several years," Mimura said.

The FBI investigated the case in cooperation with the inspector general's office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Beverly Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the VA's Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, said the agency has made helping veterans kick drugs a top priority.

"You are always disappointed that people would take advantage by trafficking drugs," Fitzgerald said. "It's certainly not something we want happening on our grounds."

Veterans get help at the methadone clinic on an outpatient basis. The clinic serves about 150 patients a day.

"They go there every day and get their dose of methadone," Fitzgerald said. The veterans are also given counseling as part of their treatment, she said.

The FBI investigation began at the request of the health center in North Hills, Mimura said.

"They noticed a significant heroin problem at their facility," Mimura said.

There also had been three heroin overdoses on Veterans Affairs properties in Westwood and North Hills, and in two of those overdoses the heroin users died, authorities said. All three of the veterans who overdosed were methadone clinic patients.

The FBI is investigating whether any of those overdoses can be linked to the arrests of Venti and Rodriguez, Mimura said.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit filed by the FBI, agents worked with an informant to obtain the evidence they needed to arrest Venti and Rodriguez. The informant allowed FBI agents to record his purchases of black tar heroin. The purchases allegedly took place both at the methadone clinic and at Venti's Van Nuys home.

Mimura said the suspects face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted.

According to the affidavit, Rodriguez has an "extensive criminal record dating from 1969 through 1995 for numerous burglary and controlled substance charges."

Venti's record includes three felony convictions for robbery and possession of heroin, according to the affidavit. The public defender representing Rodriguez declined comment. The court-appointed lawyer representing Venti could not be reached for comment.

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