Vice President Mike Pence abruptly canceled a trip earlier this month to a New Hampshire drug treatment facility to avoid meeting an employee there who was under federal investigation for dealing fentanyl, according to a Politico report Monday.
That employee, former NFL offensive lineman Jeff Hatch, who had previously been candid about his own struggles with opioid addiction and substance abuse, pleaded guilty Friday to a lesser charge, court documents show.
Politico reported that "among the problems" preventing Pence from making the July 2 trip to the headquarters of Granite Recovery Centers "was a federal law enforcement probe involving individuals Pence would likely encounter, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the incident."
Pence, who had planned to visit the treatment center to discuss the opioid crisis, never left Washington, D.C., on Air Force Two as planned.
The White House offered virtually no explanation for weeks after the trip was canceled. "You'll know in about two weeks," Trump said at the time. "There was a very interesting problem that they had in New Hampshire."
The vice president's spokeswoman, Alyssa Farah, said at the time that there was "no cause for alarm," but offered no more detail other than to say that "something came up" and kept Pence in Washington.
Even on Monday, Pence was nondescript. "It was a circumstance on the ground in New Hampshire that made our — our trip there no longer appropriate," Pence reportedly told CBS.
Farah did not respond to CNBC's inquiries Monday about why Pence's trip was canceled.
"I am shocked, disappointed, and heartbroken," said Granite Recovery Centers CEO, Eric Spofford, in a statement to CNBC. "Neither me nor anyone at Granite Recovery Centers was aware of Jeff's actions. It was unfortunately a well kept secret."
"I don't condone what he did and I'm incredibly upset. He was terminated immediately," the statement said. "Granite Recovery Centers has over 200 of the most dedicated passionate people that go above and beyond to fight in the mission against addiction every single day. The actions of 1 do not discredit the amazing work they all do."
Hatch, 39, spent three seasons in the NFL between 2002 and 2005. The six-foot-six, 302-pound offensive tackle started in four games for the New York Giants, and was also on the roster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was the chief business development officer at Granite Recovery Centers before his firing.
His lawyer declined to comment.
Hatch acted as a drug courier for sources between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, according to his plea agreement. In July 2017, Hatch arranged via cell phone a pick-up of "approximately 1,500 grams of fentanyl" from a Massachusetts source, the documents show.
Hatch pleaded guilty to one count of using a phone to facilitate a fentanyl deal. He faces a maximum of four years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, according to his plea agreement.
Trafficking fentanyl, a Schedule II drug, in quantities over 400 grams holds a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison under federal law.
In 2017, Hatch discussed his past struggles with substance abuse as part of a panel with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
"I remember getting that bottle of pills and on that bottle it said you take one to two [every] four to six hours as needed for pain. And I remembered my experience with other drugs and realized that amount would cure my physical pain, a few more would kill the emotional pain," Hatch reportedly said at that event.
In a statement to CNBC, Shaheen said "Granite Staters seeking recovery from substance use disorders put their trust in Mr. Hatch and it's incredibly disappointing to see how badly that trust was betrayed. He needs to be held accountable."