Pence had plans to participate in an event at a recovery center where he would have interacted with the accused fentanyl trafficker.
Vice President Mike Pence’s rare, last-minute decision to cancel his trip to a New Hampshire recovery center in early July puzzled journalists, spurring speculation that Pence was avoiding meeting an accused drug trafficker.
Jeff Hatch, a former NFL player and former chief business development officer of Granite Recovery Centers, pleaded guilty to fentanyl trafficking on Friday (July 19).
He is accused of transporting 1,500 grams of fentanyl from Lawrence, Massachusetts to Manchester, New Hampshire in July 2017.
CNN reported that Hatch is facing a lighter sentence of up to four years in prison in return for his cooperation with law enforcement to help bust others in the trafficking network.
New Hampshire has been among the top five states with the highest rate of opioid-involved deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The vice president’s plans to visit to Manchester in early July were abruptly canceled just as he was about to board Air Force Two—a rare move, as CNN noted. Pence was scheduled to attend “a roundtable discussion with former patients and alumni at the Granite Recovery Center headquarters” and speak on “the opioid crisis and illegal drug flow in New Hampshire,” Politico reported.
The vice president has not confirmed that avoiding Hatch was the reason behind his decision. However, the odd move invited speculation, further stoked by Trump, who told reporters, “You’ll know in about two weeks. There was a very interesting problem that they had in New Hampshire.”
Politico interviewed a “law enforcement official briefed on the incident” who said that one of the “problems” that Trump was referring to was that Hatch—then chief business development officer of the recovery center until his recent termination—was being investigated by federal law enforcement for drug activity.
Hatch’s NFL Career
Hatch, 39, played in the NFL for the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002 to 2005, until his career ended with a debilitating spinal injury. Hatch has been vocal about his battles with drug and alcohol use disorder.
Hatch described developing his dependence on pain medication after suffering a back injury in his rookie season. “It’s a slippery slope when you become addicted, but for me, it was a cliff,” he wrote in a 2012 essay, “Playing Through the Pain: My Battle with Addiction,” cited by Heavy.com. “For the rest of my career, I wasn’t only battling 300-pound defensive linemen, I was battling my addiction disease.”
He said he was able to find help and get sober after struggling for a time. “It was as if there was a zipper on me, and over time, with a lot of work, I was able to work that zipper all the way down, and step out of that skin. I was able to shed all the guilt and shame.”