Heroin bust aftermath: A victim's mother grieves; prosecutors face 'challenge'

Bucks County prosecutors filed charges against 13 people Wednesday in what they said was a heroin trafficking ring.

Tina Richartz has watched the video again and again. “Every day,” she said. “A hundred times a day.”

And a hundred times a day she rewinds the recording and skips to the spot where the district attorney says her son’s name.

On Wednesday, the Bucks County District Attorney's Office announced it had busted a 13-member heroin ring run by Quakertown brothers. Among those arrested was the person who, police had determined, had sold Richartz’s son, Sean Brzyski, the heroin he ingested on the day he died.

“I never thought the day would come,” Richartz told the Inquirer on Friday. “I never thought that they’d arrest them.”

When Brzyski died Dec. 6, 2014, at age 25, he had just purchased three unlabeled blue baggies of heroin, and used 1½, according to a grand jury report released Wednesday.

When Daniel Killion fatally overdosed in 2014, bags stamped “MIAMI” were found next to his body.

When Hillary Lauchmen flipped her car with a baby in the backseat while high on heroin in 2015, bags labeled "PANELA" were found strewn on the asphalt.

Meanwhile, Sheamus McCarthy, 27, and Casey McCarthy, 22, were raking in money, prosecutors say. A third brother, Thomas McCarthy, 25,  accused of running an independent operation, is said to have also helped his brothers' venture.

But the bags they trafficked, named with different "brands" of heroin, kept showing up around town: at the scenes of overdoses, deaths, and drug-dealer arrests.

Heroin surpassed alcohol as the primary drug used by residents in county-funded treatment five years ago, and today the majority of them report heroin as their drug of choice, said Diane Rosati, executive director of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission Inc.

Brzyski, Killion, and others are just some of the casualties of the country’s growing heroin epidemic, which has blazed in Bucks County in particular over the last few years.

In 2016, 185 people died from heroin overdoses in Bucks County -- up nearly 50 percent from the year before.

And the McCarthy brothers, police allege, were the sources of much of the heroin that ended up in the Upper Bucks County area. 

A nine-month grand jury investigation into the drug ring released Wednesday indicted the brothers and 10 associates, all but two of whom have been arrested.

“The people at the top of the pyramid made upward of $1 million a year in selling their heroin to the people of Bucks County,” District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said at the Wednesday news conference.

According to the grand jury presentment:

The brothers, who live at their parents’ East Cherry Road home in Quakertown, began dealing heroin in late 2013 or early 2014. After the leading heroin dealer in town was arrested, they took over and soon controlled all heroin in Quakertown. By September 2015, they were allegedly selling between 200 and 400 bundles of heroin a week.

Selling to dealers who then resold the bags, the McCarthys allegedly created an operation that authorities say led to “widespread addiction” among young people in the area and brought in about $1 million a year for the brothers, who are not heroin users themselves.

They threatened indebted dealers with violence, at times allowed or asked others to take the hit for drugs found by police, and changed brands of heroin when one started to cause overdoses.

They made about $4,000 in profit for every trip Casey McCarthy made from Quakertown to Philadelphia in his red Jeep. Behind him would be a decoy car whose driver was ready to drive recklessly to distract any police officers that might show up. McCarthy would bring back dozens, if not hundreds, of bundles with each trip.

The brothers had a large web of contacts, many of whom spoke to police or to the grand jury. They allegedly obtained the heroin from Antoine “Twan” Harris in Philadelphia. Harris is still at large.

Meanwhile,  Thomas McCarthy is accused of dealing heroin in Quakertown and Allentown; he and his brothers referred customers to each other, the grand jury report said.

The case relies heavily on the testimony of those who used and dealt with the McCarthy brothers rather than on physical evidence. Prosecutors have not been granted a search warrant for the McCarthy home.

“[We] didn’t have the pot of gold, so to speak,” Weintraub said. “That will present an issue and a challenge, certainly, at trial.”

Thomas McCarthy’s attorney, David Zellis, said the prosecutor’s case has “serious flaws” and is “built on the words of drug users.” Zellis said his client maintained his innocence.

“My client is a victim of the idea of hanging people out who allegedly are involved in heroin, hanging them out in the town square,” Zellis said, adding that he and the other defense attorneys are “representing people who are innocent until proven guilty, and I don’t think they can prove this case.”

Sheamus McCarthy, who has previous arrests, most recently on charges of receiving stolen property, is in prison on different charges and has not been arraigned. His two younger brothers are in jail. Bail for each was set at $15 million.  A call to Casey McCarthy’s attorney was not returned.

Tina Richartz is planning to attend every trial for every one of the people arrested, she said.

Richartz carries Brzyski’s ashes, contained in a cross, everywhere she goes. She is a member of Facebook heroin support groups, and makes herself available for people in crisis, tries to talk them out of using. She believes in what she calls little signs from heaven, like seeing a dragonfly.

Brzyski had two sons, both toddlers. He had gotten engaged days before his death. He had struggled with heroin for about three years but had recently been clean, his mother said. Richartz had moved back to Pennsylvania from Florida that October, and she thought everything was OK.

“He would walk into a room and smile and that would be it -- everybody would be in love with him,” she recalled of her son. “He was an amazing person. … Father, son. He was incredible.”

After watching the news conference, she posted a photo collage on her Facebook page that showed Brzyski as a child and a grown man. “They got them,” she wrote on it. “Rest in peace now baby.”

Two suspects, Antoine Harris and Ryan Mokrynchuk, remain at large. Anyone with information can contact the Quakertown Borough Police at 215-536-5002.

In Bucks County, substance-abuse help is available from the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission Inc. at 215-773-9313, and in Pennsylvania, residents can call 1-800-662-HELP.