Ex-Angels employee sentenced to 22 years in prison in Tyler Skaggs overdose death
Former Angels communications director Eric Kay was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison Tuesday after being convicted of providing counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl that led to the overdose death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs.
The investigation and trial brought Major League Baseball face to face with the country’s opioid epidemic and led to the wood-paneled courtroom filled with anger, sadness and occasional sobs.
Prosecutors alleged Kay provided opioids to Skaggs and at least five other professional baseball players since 2017. Several players testified during the trial about obtaining and using illicit oxycodone pills, called “blues” or “blue boys” because of their color.
U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means said he had been “dreading this day” because he felt the mandatory minimum of 20 years in federal prison Kay faced was excessive. But the judge added two years to the total because of several disparaging phone calls and emails by Kay that authorities intercepted after his conviction in February.
Clad in a baggy orange jumpsuit with his hands cuffed and chained around his waist, Kay, 48, didn’t appear to react as Means cited his “callousness” and “refusal to accept responsibility.”
“He facilitated this too,” Means said of Skaggs. “He paid the ultimate price for that.”
In one call with his mother, Kay called Skaggs a “piece of s—” and said, “Well, he’s dead, so f— ’em.” He called the Skaggs family “dumb” and “white trash” and said of them: “All they see are dollar signs. They may get more money with him dead than he was playing because he sucked.”
Kay, who has been incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth since being convicted, insulted Skaggs’ mother and prosecutors in other communications in addition to repeatedly attacking the jurors who heard his case. He referred to them in one email as “fat, sloppy, toothless and unemployed.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. Errin Martin told the court the words “are the real Eric Kay” and he is “incapable of taking responsibility for his own actions and likely has been for his entire life.”
During brief remarks frequently interrupted by deep breaths and sobs, Kay apologized to his family for the “disgrace and embarrassment” he had caused, attributed his crass phone calls and emails to frustration and selfishness, and called Skaggs a “sweetheart” and “so special.”
“We had our own darkness to deal with,” Kay added, referring to both men’s opioid use.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, Skaggs’ mother, Debbie Hetman, described “an emptiness that will haunt me every day for the rest of my life” after her son’s death and said “he’d never knowingly take a pill laced with fentanyl.”
Another statement, read on behalf of Skaggs’ father, Darrell, said he now suffers from crippling depression and isn’t able to get out of bed some days.
Carli Skaggs, who had been married to Tyler Skaggs less than a year when he died, called him her “best friend and protector” and broke down in tears when describing his outgoing personality lighting up a room. She recalled kissing his cold lips on a gurney after he died and how she has died in a way too, no longer wanting to celebrate special occasions and feeling guilty for laughing.
“The person I once was left with him,” she said.
Kay watched each speaker intently, head cocked to the side, but didn’t appear to react to the words. Two U.S. marshals behind him watched each move.
Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room in Southlake, Texas, on July 1, 2019, before the Angels were scheduled to start a series against the Texas Rangers. Kay told police he hadn’t seen Skaggs since the team checked into the hotel the night before and didn’t know if the 27-year-old used drugs other than marijuana.
But text messages between Skaggs and Kay hours before the pitcher died told a different story.
“Hoe [sic] many?” Kay texted Skaggs on June 30, 2019.
“Just a few like 5,” Skaggs responded.
After the Angels arrived in Texas, Skaggs texted Kay his room number and “Come by.”
“K,” Kay responded.
Geoffrey Lindenberg, the Drug Enforcement Administration special agent who signed the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Kay, wrote, “I believe [Skaggs] and Kay were discussing drugs, specifically in this case, blue 30-milligram oxycodone pills.”
Lindenberg added: “It was later determined that but for the fentanyl in [Skaggs’] system, [Skaggs] would not have died.”
The autopsy found Skaggs died from “alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone intoxication” leading to choking on his own vomit.
Kay, who had worked for the Angels since 1996, was arrested and charged in August 2020.
Though Kay didn’t take the stand during his trial in February, others discussed his years-long struggle with opioid use, including allegedly attempting to obtain pills through an online auction site 10 days after Skaggs died.
Hetman testified that her son admitted to an “issue” with using the opioid Percocet in 2013.
The jury debated less than an hour and a half before finding Kay guilty of giving Skaggs the counterfeit oxycodone pills that resulted in his death and conspiring “to possess with the intent to distribute” oxycodone and fentanyl.
Kay’s sentencing was originally scheduled for June 28 but was delayed after his Texas-based attorney, William Reagan Wynn, was suspended from practicing law in connection with an unrelated case and his other attorney, Michael Molfetta of Newport Beach, abruptly withdrew.
A joint motion filed in May referred to a “claim made by defendant’s mother to probation related to her recording of Mr. Molfetta.” During a hearing that month, Molfetta said the recording was made illegally but didn’t offer further details and hasn’t commented.
Kay’s new attorney, Cody Cofer, told the court Tuesday that plea discussions between prosecutors and the old defense team before the trial had been for 60 to 120 months in prison, a significant departure from the eventual sentence.
Cofer also referred to the power dynamic Kay faced working in a big-league clubhouse: “Your survival in the organization depends on your ability to keep these stars happy.”
The legal fallout from Skaggs’ overdose includes wrongful death lawsuits filed by the pitcher’s family in Texas and California that have been consolidated in Orange County Superior Court.
No one else is known to have been charged in connection with Skaggs’ death. During the trial, prosecutors repeatedly referred to an Orange County woman with a lengthy criminal record, who allegedly sold Kay the pills that killed Skaggs, and Hector Vazquez, a former low-level Angels employee, who they said connected Kay to the woman.
When the hearing ended Tuesday, Kay smiled and managed an awkward wave at family members through his handcuffs. The marshals led him down a deserted hallway in the courthouse as he chatted them up. His voice echoed off the walls. It almost sounded upbeat.
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