Ex-Washington Commanders trainer Ryan Vermillion’s illegal-drug-distribution charges could be dropped as part of agreement

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Former Washington Commanders athletic coach Ryan Vermillion, who was under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency for illegally distributing oxycodone to NFL players, on Friday morning agreed to a deferred prosecution and the factual allegation by US attorneys.

According to the government’s criminal information file, Vermillion is accused of unlawfully acquiring and possessing oxycodone “through misrepresentation, fraud, counterfeiting, deception and subterfuge.”

Vermillion appeared in U.S. District Court on Friday before Judge Claude M. Hilton, who asked the defendant if he reviewed the deferred prosecution agreement and if he agreed to it.

Vermillion, dressed in a dark blazer, blue plaid shirt and tie, and gray pants, answered yes to both questions.

In their “statement of facts” submitted to the court on Friday, federal prosecutors said Vermillion only distributed drugs to injured players related to football-related injuries and received no financial kickbacks for its actions.

The commanders have two doctors who can prescribe, dispense and distribute controlled substances, prosecutors said. However, Vermillion is not licensed as a physician and was not a DEA registrant, meaning it was not authorized to prescribe, dispense, or distribute controlled substances.

Prosecutors allege that Vermillion was involved in decisions about the storage and dispensing of player medication and “had custody of one of the team doctors’ prescription pads, which bore the name of each commander’s doctor and his individual DEA registration number.”

During the 2020-2021 NFL season, Vermillion stored oxycodone and hydrocodone in a soft black bag that prosecutors said was transported across state lines to home and away games. He then distributed the drugs – often in small, white envelopes in a bag labeled “pill envelopes” – to the players without relying on a doctor who had the authority to prescribe drugs.

DEA agents, while executing their search warrant, seized the black holdall containing loose prescription drugs, as well as a variety of different prescription drugs, including several bottles of oxycodone with prescription labels bearing the names of various players on them. Prosecutors said at least one player interviewed could not remember ever being prescribed oxycodone, despite his name being on a confiscated bottle of the drug.

Vermillion is also accused of distributing leftover pills stored at the training facility to players, even if the prescription was written for another player. Prosecutors wrote that Vermillion would then request and receive written prescriptions from team doctors “to cover the fact that he had administered substances to players without a legitimate prescription,” but did not always give players the refilled prescriptions.

Prosecutors detailed examples in which Vermillion distributed drugs to at least six different players on team flights and at home and away games.

As part of his plea deal, Vermillion agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and undergo regular drug testing. He is not permitted to leave North Carolina, where he currently resides, without court approval and must not possess any controlled substances or firearms.

For the duration of the agreement, Vermillion agreed not to participate in or perform a membership in activities sponsored by professional athletic trainers, including the Professional Football Trainers Society and the National Athletic Trainers Association. He also agreed not to seek employment as an athletic coach “in relation to any sports team in any capacity.”

If Vermillion satisfies the terms of the agreement over the next 12 months, the criminal charges will be dismissed. The NFL has since suspended him indefinitely.

As a trainer, and not a doctor or nurse, Vermillion would not be permitted under federal law to dispense prescription drugs. Also, a doctor cannot distribute them where they are not allowed to practice.

Vermillion attorney Barry Coburn declined to comment, as did U.S. Attorney Katherine Elise Rumbaugh.

Vermillion quietly exited the courtroom with Coburn and fellow attorney Marc Jason Eisenstein. Another attorney was in the courtroom for the NFL’s trial.

According to a joint statement by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, Vermillion has been suspended indefinitely by the league but will be able to apply for reinstatement after a year.

The statement also said the league and NFLPA will launch a joint investigation to determine whether the commanders have complied with the prescription drug surveillance program. The commanders had “pledged their full support,” it said. The NFL will also require that commanders’ medical and training personnel receive additional training “regarding their obligations under federal and state law and the collective bargaining agreement.”

Two dozen DEA agents and Loudoun County police officers executed a search warrant against Vermillion’s home and team’s headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia, in October last year, prompting the commanders to place Vermillion on leave. Vermillion was the head athletic coach for the Carolina Panthers under head coach Ron Rivera’s tenure, and followed Rivera to Washington shortly after his hiring as head coach in 2020.

Vermillion was eventually fired by the commanders and replaced by Al Bellamy in April.

Rivera, who worked with Vermillion for nine seasons in Carolina and Washington, said in a statement the “situation was unfortunate and while it did not result in any criminal charges, it was necessary to go in a different direction.

“I would like to emphasize that the US government has confirmed from the outset that it regards the organization as a witness and not as a subject or target of the investigation. We have fully cooperated with federal investigators and will continue to cooperate with each supplemental league and NFLPA investigation. We remain committed to the health and safety of our players and Al Bellamy, his staff and our team doctors have been amazing. We’re concentrating on next season.”

In 2014, after a game, the DEA randomly screened several NFL medical workers at airports — Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Seattle — as part of an investigation into dispensing drugs without a prescription. The Transportation Security Administration was also involved in the search.

According to a report by the Associated Press at the time, the agents required the visiting team’s medical staff to provide records of controlled substances they were in possession of. They also wanted proof that doctors could practice medicine in the home team’s state.

That search stemmed from a lawsuit earlier this spring on behalf of ex-NFL players. The number of plaintiffs at the time was over 1,200, according to the AP.

Steven Silverman, one of the attorneys representing the players in the case, told ESPN Friday that if the allegations against Vermillion are true, “it is very disappointing as our plaintiffs have fought to eradicate these practices in the NFL .”

According to another lawsuit Silverman filed in 2016 by retired NFL players, the DEA began investigating league doctors and coaches in connection with the distribution of controlled substances in 2010 after a San Diego Chargers player found himself in possession of 100 Vicodin pills had been found.

Vermillion was the Panthers’ head athletic coach in 2010 and worked with Panthers team physician Patrick Connor, who was president of the NFL Physicians Society when the DEA investigation began. Court documents show that Dr. Connor, as President of the NFLPS, has been at the center of communications between the DEA and the NFL, including briefing meetings held in Washington, DC in 2010 and at the 2011 NFL Combine, where DEA representatives presented more than 75 slides for team doctors about the prescription and Narcotics Law.

The NFLPS has warned teams and coaches since the ’90s that coaches may not give or distribute controlled substances under the 2016 class action lawsuit. The NFLPS introduced reforms to how teams can prescribe and dispense medication to players in 2015 following the DEA investigation.

Additional court evidence from the class action lawsuit shows that Vermillion sent and received emails from fellow coaches and Connor while the NFLPS navigated the DEA’s investigation. No indictments or charges ever emerged from this investigation. A DEA spokesman stated in 2012 that the Chargers’ team physician had entered into drug-recording regulations governed by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

However, the 2016 class action lawsuit presented several examples of team doctors and coaches allegedly violating the CSA over the past two decades, including allegations by former Panthers linebacker Brad Jackson that Vermillion and another coach improperly used Toradol, Indocin, Percocet and Jackson , Vicodin and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Lawyers for the NFL and its clubs rejected the allegations in the court filings.

Vermillion is just one of dozens of coaches and team doctors alleged to have violated the CSA by plaintiffs in the 2016 class action lawsuit, a list that includes alleged violations of the CSA against every team in the league. As part of the allegations in the lawsuit against the Detroit Lions, former cornerback Eric King alleged that he received drugs including Toradol, Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin from team doctors and coaches, including head coach Al Bellamy, who replaced Vermillion as the commanders’ head athletic coach in April.

The case was eventually dismissed after a judge ruled that the players had not filed their case within the required statute of limitations. The attorneys who filed this case continue to pursue a similar class action lawsuit against the NFL that has been making its way through the federal court system since 2014.

https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34425255/ex-washington-commanders-trainer-ryan-vermillion-illegal-drug-distribution-charges-dropped-part-agreement Ex-Washington Commanders trainer Ryan Vermillion’s illegal-drug-distribution charges could be dropped as part of agreement

Emma Bowman

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