A new book, "Pill City," claims to tell the real story of the 2015 pharmacy thefts, but officials aren't so sure. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
A New York newspaper said Wednesday it has been unable to locate more than 100 sources cited by a former crime reporter during a four-and-a-half-year span.
Kevin Deutsch, the former reporter at Newsday, is also the author of "Pill City," a book published in January and marketed as telling the untold story of the Baltimore riots.
In an editor's note Wednesday, Newsday said it began a four-month review of more than 600 stories by Deutsch after The Baltimore Sun published an article in February that called elements of "Pill City" into question.
In the book, Deutsch described how two honor roll teenagers masterminded the looting of pharmacies during the riots of April 2015 and built an Uber-like app to spread the drugs around the country with help from the Sinaloa cartel headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
But Baltimore police, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other health and law enforcement officials said they had no evidence to support the book's claims.
Deutsch told The Sun in February that the book was accurate. He said he had to change names and locations, physical descriptions and other details to protect his sources.
The Sun was unable to reach Deutsch for comment on Wednesday. He defended his work again in Newsday and on a personal website.
Newsday, based in Melville, N.Y., said it was unable to locate 109 sources in 77 stories Deutsch wrote for the newspaper between April 2012 and September 2016.
"The only conclusion we can reach is that we could not find 109 individuals," Newsday editor Deborah Henley said in a statement. "We cannot definitively say they do not exist."
Deutsch says in the Newsday editor's note that it was impossible for any reporter to know whether some sources were giving false names or nicknames. He said he gave the newspaper extensive notes documenting his interviews with the sources who couldn't be found.
On his personal website, Deutsch wrote that he had saved contact information for the sources who couldn't be found on his Newsday iPhone, which was erased when he left the paper last year.
"For me, journalistic ethics are sacrosanct," Deutsch wrote. "They've remained so throughout my fifteen-year criminal justice journalism career — a career I'm extremely proud of. I stand behind every word I've published."
Newsday said that the "main points of the stories were not affected" by the sources who could not be found, and that public officials whom Deutsch quoted did not have complaints about his work.
The newspaper said it would attach an editor's note to each story online that contains individuals it could not locate.
Newsday's review of sources focused on individuals who were not public officials or well known. The newspaper said it reviewed local and national public records, real estate, business and conviction records, social media sites and other news archives to locate the sources.
Indira Lakshmanan, the Newmark chair in journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, called 109 missing sources in four years of reporting "extremely unusual" and "a very high number," noting it was about 13 percent of all of his stories at the newspaper.
"There are police reporters all over the country who have managed to do police reporting for decades and decades who have managed to get great stories about victims and drug abusers," she said. "But to say that almost 13 percent of someone's articles contain sources that can't be located, where else have we seen that? That's highly irregular."
Henley said the newspaper has tightened its practices in the wake of the review, including having police reporters confirm sources in stories with a research check.
"We are reinforcing strong practices throughout the newsroom and a committee of reporters and editors will be looking at any additional steps we should take going forward," she said.
The New York Times also reviewed an article Deutsch wrote for that newspaper in December and said it was unable to locate two sources. The newspaper added an editor's note to that story.