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June 23, 2005

Deaf man pleads guilty to drug charge; faces extradition

From: Mercury-Register - Oroville,CA,USA - Jun 23, 2005

By GREG WELTER /MediaNews Group

A deaf man's local legal entanglements ended this week when he pleaded no contest in Butte County Superior Court to one count of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

Fourteen other identical counts against Robert Lee Berry, 51, were dismissed.

Now Berry, who waived his right to an extradition hearing, will be returned to New York to face numerous similar drug charges there, as well as allegations he befriended and then defrauded up to 65 other deaf victims, particularly women.

Berry moved to Oroville early this year from south central New York and continued a pattern of using his disability to defraud local doctors and pharmacies. He successfully obtained bogus prescriptions from at least two Butte County pharmacies, targeting medications that contained morphine.

Whether Berry obtained the prescriptions with the intent of selling them isn't known. He allegedly had a serious drug habit and claimed to need them for the control of pain.

In New York, where authorities have reportedly sought Berry for years, several of his victims signed petitions demanding his extradition.

Attorneys in the Butte County case agreed to postpone extradition proceedings in connection with a New York warrant until local criminal charges were resolved.

While it isn't known if Berry had victims among Butte County's deaf population, it's alleged he had dozens in New York. He's being investigated for using Internet chat rooms for the deaf to establish relationships with women, then persuade them to pay for his drugs and expensive medical appointments.

In a well-documented incident in Rochester, N.Y., Brenda Palmagiano said she met Berry while teaching a defensive driving course for the deaf. He allegedly took her pain medications after she had surgery and used her money to purchase additional prescription drugs.

© 2005 Oroville Mercury-Register