Newsday, New York Times reviewing work of 'Pill City' author

"We are scrutinizing his work for any inconsistencies," Newsday managing editor says of its former reporter.

A New York newspaper is reviewing the work of one of its former reporters after his new book on Baltimore was widely questioned by police and other officials here.

Newsday managing editor Richard Rosen confirmed to The Baltimore Sun that the paper is reviewing the work of Kevin Deutsch, who worked for the paper from 2012 to 2016, following questions raised by law enforcement and health officials about his new book about Baltimore, Pill City.

"We are scrutinizing his work for any inconsistencies. If there are any, we will publish our findings," Rosen said.

The New York Times also said it is reviewing a freelance article written by Deutsch that was published in January about fentanyl overdoses.

"The Metro desk is in contact with him and is reviewing the story he did for The Times," editor Wendell Jamieson said.

Deutsch told The Sun on Thursday that he's assisting with the reviews.

"I'm eager to demonstrate all of my work is accurate and meets the highest standards of journalistic ethics. I stand by and am proud of all my journalism," he said.

Deutsch says Pill City is a true story about the looting of pharmacies in Baltimore during the riots of April 2015, and its explosive content required him to change names of everyone he interviewed and other details to protect sources.

He says two honor roll students from Freddie Gray's West Baltimore neighborhood masterminded the lootings in conjunction with the Black Guerrilla Family gang, and used new technology to spread the drugs throughout the country, leading to a rise in violence and drug overdoses.

While the book describes a criminal scheme that is said to be well-known on the streets as well as among doctors and law enforcement authorities in various cities, officials here and elsewhere told The Sun that they had never heard of it.

Deutsch worked at Newsday covering law enforcement, and his work took him to major news events in places such as Ferguson, Mo., Boston and Orlando. Rosen, the managing editor, noted "no previous complaints about his work from news subjects."

Deutsch was asked by The Sun last week to respond to questions about the book, and provide any supporting evidence for the scheme from thousands of records he said he reviewed.

Discussing the use of anonymity and changes to the accounts, Deutsch said he had to make "tough choices" to protect those he spoke with.

St. Martin's Press, which published the book, said last week it had "no reason to doubt" the veracity of the story. The publisher declined additional comment this week.

In the statement posted Wednesday night on the website Medium, Deutsch maintained that the story is authentic. He wrote he has been threatened by Baltimore gang members and contacted by law enforcement "asking me why I hadn't shared the information I'd gathered for my book with their respective agencies."

"People risked their lives, the safety of their families, and their careers to share their stories with me, and I'd done everything I could to maintain their anonymity," Deutsch wrote.

In the book, Deutsch writes that Baltimore Police were aware of the drug syndicate featured in the book and were working with the Drug Enforcement Administration and police in Chicago and Newark to discern their identities.

Police from those agencies say they have no such intelligence and have not worked together on such an investigation.

"We have information on a lot of drug traffickers and organizations operating throughout the city, but nothing regarding two teenagers going out and selling mass quantities of pills," said Don Hibbert, special agent in charge of the Baltimore DEA office.

The book also quotes doctors from various cities, such as New Orleans and Chicago, who speak about the role of the Baltimore-based Black Guerrilla Family gang's role in flooding their cities with opiates. Deutsch said their names were changed, as was the name of a doctor from St. Louis who is quoted speaking generally about addiction.

A scene set in the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center quotes a doctor explaining her knowledge of the impact of drugs and violence because her unit treats gunshot victims and overdoses patients side by side. The hospital said that is not how the facility operates: Overdose patients are sent to the emergency room; gunshot victims are taken to the separate trauma center. A spokeswoman for the hospital said other accounts "didn't ring true."

Health officials said they were also unaware of a storyline involving a group of volunteer "addiction interrupters" who are described in the book as walking the streets in 2015 to help addicts until their leader, a well-known street preacher, is gunned down by the BGF gang.

Following the preacher's death, the book says, his disciples used social media to start "addiction interrupter" efforts in Washington, New Jersey, New Orleans, St. Louis, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, South Florida and other areas.

The book also cites a powerful gang called the "Highlandtown Soldiers," a gang Deutsch also named when he visited Baltimore in April 2015 for Newsweek. Law enforcement officials say they know of no such gang.

Deutsch also writes that he was in a vehicle when a killing occurred nearby, and he was able to link drugs trafficked from Baltimore to hundreds of drug overdoses across the country.

"Let me be clear: My book is an authentic, nonfiction portrayal of what happened in Baltimore after Freddie Gray's death," Deutsch wrote Wednesday night. "Pill City is a true story told under extraordinary circumstances. I reported it aggressively and honestly, and stand behind every word."

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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