Derek Boogaard’s shocking death came with a great deal of mystery.
A 6-foot-7 hockey tough guy, Boogaard was a fan favorite with the Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers before he died at age 28 from an overdose of alcohol and illegally obtained drugs.
Now, more than three years later, there are some answers about how he obtained a steady supply of those drugs.
On Tuesday, a former small-time hockey player and a health professional with access to narcotics were indicted in federal court in New York in connection with Boogaard’s death.
Jordan Hart of Huntington, N.Y., obtained doses of painkillers by the thousands from Oscar Johnson, a Salt Lake City physician assistant who was on the medical staff of a team Hart played for years ago, the indictment alleges. Hart allegedly sold painkillers to Boogaard shortly before his death.
Boogaard’s father, Len Boogaard, released this statement: “Every effort to hold accountable those that contributed to my son’s addiction and death is commendable. My family and I appreciate the tireless and persistent work of the [investigators]. It is our hope that their hard work will save other families from the heartbreak we endure.”
Boogaard died on May 13, 2011, in his downtown Minneapolis residence after an overdose of oxycodone and alcohol within two weeks of his last purchase from Hart, according to the indictment. Boogaard recently had been excused from a rehabilitation center in California, and flew to New York to pay Hart with a personal check. Len Boogaard discovered the check after the death of his son, leading to the investigation.
Johnson, 59, and Hart, 31, were arrested Tuesday and remain in federal custody. Hart is charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone. Johnson faces 26 counts of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute oxycodone and one count of making a false statement.
Hart, son of former New York Islanders player Gerry Hart, played minor league hockey for the Utah Grizzlies from 2007-09. Johnson prescribed Hart nearly 3,000 pills of Percocet from 2009 to 2011, the indictment says, though Hart was no longer with the team and was living in New York.
“Oscar Johnson casually provided Percocet prescriptions [to Hart] without once treating or examining that player during that period,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Tuesday.
Hart then filled those prescriptions and sold the drugs to Boogaard, feeding the NHLer’s “growing, debilitating addiction,” Bharara continued. “Ultimately, that addiction, fueled at least in part by the drugs that Johnson illegally prescribed, and Hart peddled for cash, culminated in Boogaard’s tragic overdose death.”
William Gibbs of Corby and Demetrio, a law firm that represents the estate of Boogaard in unresolved litigation against the NHL, said: “There is a level of relief from the Boogaards that other families won’t be having their kids sold this stuff by these guys in this fashion.”
Boogaard played for the Wild for five seasons (2005-10) and scored three goals and amassed more than 500 penalty minutes during his six-year career. The forward joined the New York Rangers as a free agent in 2010 and played 22 games until a fight-related concussion that December ended his season.
Hart befriended Boogaard in late 2010, the New York Times reported. Boogaard occasionally stopped at automated teller machines on the way to Long Island to withdraw thousands of dollars to make his purchases from Hart. The indictment charges that in “many instances” the drugs sold to Boogaard came from prescriptions written by Johnson and mailed to Hart. At least once, Boogaard chewed the pills while driving home, according to the indictment.
On March 28, 2011, for example, Hart went to a Huntington pharmacy to fill a March 23 prescription from Johnson for 120 Percocet pills; three hours later Boogaard bought the pills from Hart, the indictment said. About a week later Boogaard, practicing with the Rangers, repeatedly fell down on the ice. He was soon sent to rehabilitation in Southern California.
Until this indictment, only Derek Boogaard’s younger brother, Aaron, had been charged in the death. Aaron Boogaard admitted in Hennepin County District Court that he flushed pills down a toilet soon after his brother died following a night out partying in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District. Aaron Boogaard received a stayed sentence just shy of six months, along with probation and community service. He said he got rid of the pills to keep them from police.
Aaron Boogaard said he gave his brother one or two pills before he went out with friends and drank at several bars on the evening of May 12. The pills were shipped from all over the country, Aaron Boogaard told police, as well as coming from a friend in Minneapolis.
John Lundquist, Aaron Boogaard’s attorney in the Minnesota case, said he has “been aware of the investigation” against Hart and Johnson, and is “confident Aaron will not be indicted.”
After his death, an examination of his brain found Derek Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head.
The New York Times and staff writer Michael Russo contributed to this report.