An Essington man was sentenced to life in federal prison Tuesday for having a drug rival murdered to edge out competition in the region’s lucrative opioid market.
But neither the defendant, Anthony Vetri, nor his victim, Gbolahan “Bo” Olabode, were typical players in a routine drug world drama.
Both were self-made men and successful entrepreneurs — Vetri as a licensed electrician and house flipper, Olabode as a Nigerian immigrant who paid his way through Temple University to become a partner in a chain of local pharmacies. Both came from loving, relatively well-off suburban families.
But more than a decade after both became embroiled in an upscale pill mill operation run by a corrupt pharmacist, both have now lost their lives to drugs.
Their case highlights the predatory and profitable opportunities fueling the region’s opioid epidemic and the stiff competition to cash in. And as U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert said in imposing Vetri’s sentence Tuesday, it was the life advantages and business acumen that both men could have put to more legitimate use that made their fatal encounter so tragic.
Vetri’s “greed and his lust for money took over, and that led him to endanger the lives of people who bought what he was selling [and] to direct the brutal murder of another human being,” the judge said.
A federal jury convicted Vetri, 32, in December of plotting Olabode’s death in hope of muscling in on his colleague’s share of the hundreds of thousands of dollars both men were making selling oxycodone on the streets of Delaware County, beginning in 2008.
Both men secured their supplies from the same source — Mitesh Patel, a licensed pharmacist and Olabode’s business partner, who doled out the prescription opioids to them and other illicit street dealers by the crate.
Olabode, as an investor in Patel’s Dawa Pharmacy chain with storefronts in Lansdowne, Philadelphia, and Upper Darby, arguably held more of a claim on the pharmacist’s supply. But when drug companies became suspicious of the number of pills Patel was ordering each month and limited their shipments to him, Vetri and Olabode became competitors for the available supply.
In late 2011, Vetri drew up plans to eliminate his rival. He stalked Olabode, 45, for weeks gathering information on where he lived, what car he drove, and his exercise schedule at the gym where he trained as a competitive body builder. He recruited a group of lower-level dealers, including his codefendant, Michael Vandergrift, to carry out the hit.
And after those men gunned down Olabode on Jan. 4, 2012, hitting him 27 times outside his home on Owen Drive in Lansdowne, Vetri celebrated with the assassins, meeting up to share hugs, some of them testified at his trial
Even well after the murder, Vetri’s behavior was marked by a striking lack of remorse. At his trial, prosecutors played a cellphone video he shot of him asking his 3-year-old daughter, “What did the gangsters do to Bo?” and laughing as she replied, “Boom, boom, boom.”
And in court Tuesday, Vetri, who was indicted last year, maintained his innocence while saying that the trial only gave a small glimpse of who he was. He laughed quietly to himself and smirked as Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan B. Ortiz described him as “heartless, remorseless and violent.”
“This case was horrible. What he did was horrible,” Ortiz said. “He is and remains an unapologetic drug dealer and murderer who deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Still, Vetri’s family members pleaded with Pappert on Tuesday to see the man that they know – one who after dropping out of school in the ninth grade went on to become one of the youngest licensed electricians in the state and who quickly became financially independent from his family while caring for his aging grandparents. They urged the judge to give Vetri a chance at a life after prison and consider that he, too, had become addicted to prescription painkillers after a motorcycle accident in his 20s.
“I think a big part of the problem was addiction. Drugs change people,” his lawyer, Angela Halim, said. “It is grossly ironic that Mr. Vetri is a victim of the opioid epidemic and a perpetrator of the opioid epidemic.”
Their appeals seemed to affect the judge, who at points seemed to struggle with his decision. At one point, Pappert asked Vetri’s mother how he could reconcile her view of her son with the calculating killer he was shown to be at trial.
In the end, the judge cited Vetri’s own lack of remorse for Olabode and the hundreds of addicts his drug sales created in imposing the life term.
In addition to the prison sentence, Pappert ordered Vetri to pay a $20,000 fine. He is expected to sentence Vetri’s codefendants, including Patel and Vandergrift, in the coming months.