The band-aid that was covering up the Angels’ unhealed wound from 2019 was ripped off on Friday.
Eric Prescott Kay, 45, surrendered himself to arrest in Fort Worth, Texas and appeared for arraignment in US Federal Court. Kay was charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that investigators say killed Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs last July in a Southlake, Texas hotel room July 1, 2019.
Kay, who worked in the Angels public relations department for 24 years — most recently as the club’s executive Director of Communications, was released later Friday on his own recognizance.
Kay faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal custody if he is convicted.
The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a public criminal complaint in which the DEA alleges hat Kay had been supplying Skaggs and “others” with fentanyl since 2017.
US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox’s statement on the case highlighted the life-threatening dangers of opioids like fentanyl.
Said Cox’s statement: “Tyler Skaggs’ overdose — coming as it did in the midst of an ascendant baseball career — should be a wakeup call. No one is immune from this deadly drug, whether sold as a powder or hidden inside an innocuous-looking tablet.
“Supressing the spread of fentanyl is a priority for the Department of Justice.”
Skaggs was found dead on the afternoon of July 1 in his hotel room at the Southlake Hilton — fully clothed and unresponsive in his bed. A white substance and pills were found and after analysis were found to contain fentanyl.
Skaggs was 27 years old.
In an emotional first game at Angel Stadium 12 days after Skaggs’ death, Angel pitchers Taylor Cole and Felix Pena combined on a no-hitter in a game in which all Angels players wore Skaggs’ No. 45. They team made a makeshift memorial of the jerseys on the mound after the game.
The cause of death was aspiration — Skaggs choked to death on his own vomit after ingesting a deadly mixture of alcohol, oxycodone and fentanyl. The DEA said the primary cause of death was fentanyl.
One of the pills seized by authorities at the scene included a blue pill marked “M/30,” which looked like a legitimate prescription oxycodone tablet. DEA investigators detemined the pill was a counterfeit and was tested positive to contain fentanyl.
Eduardo A. Chavez, DEA Special Agent in Charge, said: “With the prevalence of fentanyl in many of the counterfeit prescription drugs sold on the streets, every pill taken could be your last.”
Similarly, “but for the fentanyl in T.S.’s system, T.S. would not have died,” the autopsy report from the Tarrant County medical examiner concluded.
The prosecutor said that it was likely that Skaggs believed he was only taking oxycodone with alcohol and not the lethal combination of fentanyl.
Federal investigators found text messages between Kay and Skaggs which discussed quantities of what were assumed to be narcotics to be supplied by Kay.
“Hoe [sic] many?” Kay had asked the night of June 30 in Texas. Skaggs replied: “Just a few like 5.”
Kay, the DEA said in an affidavit, “had a history of narcotic transactions, including several transactions wherein Kay acquired oxycodone pills for T.S. and others from Kay’s source(s) and distributed these pills to T.S. and others.”
The affidavit concluded that Kay had multiple contacts with his “sources” in the days leading up to Skaggs’ overdose and death.
The “others” referred to in the DEA affidavit could be troubling to the Angels organization as the case unfolds. Kay, in an earlier statement, said he had supplied narcotics to Skaggs and other former Angels players.
The club has denied knowledge of Skaggs’ history of drug abuse or Kay’s dealing — despite the fact that Kay said in an ESPN interview in October that Tim Mead, the Angels former Vice President of Communications, and traveling secretary Tom Taylor both knew.
The Angels, who conducted their own internal investigation, denied these allegations surrounding Mead — who left the club last summer to become President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY — and Taylor.
The Angels issued a statement Friday that said: “We learned that there was unacceptable behavior consistent with our code of contact and we took steps to address it. … No one in management was aware, or informed, or any employee providing opioids to any player, nor that Tyler was using opioids.”
In addition to the criminal allegations in Texas, Skaggs’ family has hired high-profile attorney Rusty Hardin to decide if they should pursue civil action. Hardin urged the team to publicly release the results of their internal investigation.
“The family is deeply heartbroken to learn that Tyler would be alive today were it not for a pill containing fentanyl that was provided by the Director of Communications of the Angels,” a statement from Hardin said.
Michael Molfetta, the attorney hired to represent Kay, released his own statement on Friday.
Kay, Molfetta’s statement said, will “wait for his opportunity to make his story known.”
Molfetta’s statement said: “We are disheartened by the actions of those who have elected to leak information and publicize documents. … The truth is the truth, and it does not serve to preserve the image of any one particular baseball team.”
The case is continuing.