WILKES-BARRE — A federal jury deliberated for 11 hours Tuesday before finding a former Wyoming County dentist guilty of illegally prescribing controlled substances to a woman who later died from an unrelated drug overdose.
Christopher Bereznak, 50, Clarks Green, was convicted on eight of nine counts of unlawful distribution and dispensing of a controlled substance for writing prescriptions for carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant, and two other controlled substances for Ashley Gammon. The 25-year-old from Olyphant died of a heroin overdose in July 2016.
He was not charged with Gammon’s death because the drugs he prescribed did not contribute to it.
Jurors began deliberating around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. They reported they were deadlocked at 3:30 p.m. Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo sent them back to continue deliberating. They reached a verdict around 8:30 p.m.
After the verdict was read, the former dentist was immediately taken into custody. A sentencing hearing is set for Nov. 25.
Bereznak had a dental office in Tunkhannock. He met Gammon on a social media site in 2016.
During the six-day trial, Bereznak portrayed himself as Gammon’s “sugar daddy,” a term commonly used to describe an older man who has a relationship with a younger woman seeking financial security. He admitted prescribing carisoprodol, Percocet and Valium for Gammon, but insisted the drugs were medically necessary to treat her for temporomandibular joint syndrome, a jaw disorder, a broken tooth and dental anxiety.
In an impassioned, hour-long closing argument Monday, Bereznak’s attorney, Larry Kansky, implored jurors to find him not guilty. The fact Bereznak was in a relationship with Gammon, by itself, does not mean he was not legitimately treating her for dental problems.
“He cared for her,” Kansky said. “Maybe he was an idiot ...(but) he is not a criminal.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Olshefski and Assistant U.S. Attorney Fran Sempa said evidence, particularly text messages between Gammon and Bereznak, told a different story. After her death, authorities recovered 1,000 texts between the pair from Gammon’s phone.
In his closing, Sempa pointed to texts in which Bereznak coaches Gammon on what to say to a pharmacist if she is questioned about the prescriptions. He also pointed to testimony of one of Bereznak’s employees, who confronted him about the prescriptions after a pharmacy called and raised concerns.
“If I don’t prescribe drugs for her, she stops talking to me,” Sempa quoted Bereznak as saying.
Late Tuesday, Kansky said he was disappointed in the verdict.
“I really felt we put up a good defense and the government didn’t meet its burden of proof,” he said. “The jury felt otherwise.”
Gammon’s mother, Kelly Gammon, attended all seven days of Bereznak’s trial and felt that the former dentist took advantage of her daughter, who she called vulnerable.
“We’re definitely happy someone was held accountable,” she said. “He didn’t cause her death but he contributed to it.”