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Law enforcement officials: Suspect in NY drug case had actor Hoffman's cellphone number

People stop to look and take pictures of a makeshift memorial in front of the building where the body of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in New York. Hoffman, 46, was found dead Sunday in his apartment of a suspected drug overdose. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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People stop to look and take pictures of a makeshift memorial in front of the building where the body of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in New York. Hoffman, 46, was found dead Sunday in his apartment of a suspected drug overdose. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - At least one of four people arrested during an investigation of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's suspected fatal heroin overdose had the actor's cellphone number, two law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Investigators zeroed in on the four after a tipster, responding to publicity about Hoffman's death, told police he had seen Hoffman at the lower Manhattan apartment building where they were arrested on Tuesday and he believed that's where Hoffman got the heroin, the officials said. In searches of two apartments in the building, police found hundreds of packets of heroin in one of them, according to a criminal complaint.

But prosecutors declined to pursue charges against one of the four, saying there was no evidence that he had control of the drugs or the apartment in which they were found, and two of the others were charged only with a misdemeanour charge of possessing cocaine, not heroin. Only one, jazz musician Robert Vineberg, was facing a felony charge of heroin possession with intent to sell.

Lawyers for the three people charged vigorously denied their clients had any role in Hoffman's death and suggested they were being swept up in a maelstrom of attention surrounding the actor's demise.

"This case and the charges against Mr. Vineberg have absolutely nothing to do with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. ... We're hoping the (district attorney) will not use Mr. Vineberg as a scapegoat," said his lawyer, Edward Kratt, who declined to say whether Vineberg knew Hoffman.

The arrests came two days into the high-profile case, reflecting the attention and urgency it has attracted. All three of the people charged were indicted within a day after their arrests, a fairly unusual step, and were being held without bail. The two charged with cocaine possession, Juliana Luchkiw and Max Rosenblum, a couple who are neighbours of Vineberg's, were visibly dismayed when a judge denied them bail, though their lawyers hoped to revisit the issue Thursday.

"She's not a drug dealer. She's a college student," attending a design school, said Luchkiw's lawyer, Stephen Turano.

Rosenblum's lawyer, Daniel Hochheiser, said his client "has nothing to do with Philip Seymour Hoffman."

Luchkiw and Rosenbaum had two bags of cocaine, while investigators found about 300 packets of heroin, a bag of cocaine and about $1,200 in cash in Vineberg's apartment, according to criminal complaints.

Investigators have determined that the "Capote" star made six ATM transactions for a total of $1,200 inside a supermarket near his home the day before his death, law enforcement officials have said. Investigators are examining a computer and two iPads found at the scene for clues and recovered syringes, a charred spoon and various prescription medications, including a blood pressure drug and a muscle relaxant, law enforcement officials have said.

Police learned from phone records that one of the suspects had Hoffman's number, strengthening the theory that they may have supplied him with drugs, the law enforcement officials said. The officials, who weren't authorized to speak about evidence in the ongoing investigation of the death and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, didn't identify which of the suspects had the number.

Some of the packets found in Hoffman's apartment were variously stamped with the ace of hearts and others with the ace of spades. Those found in the building where the arrests occurred had different brand names, including Black List and Panda, the officials said.

Police were waiting for a cause of death for the Oscar-winning actor from the medical examiner's office, which said on Wednesday that more tests were needed.

There was no timetable for Hoffman's autopsy to be finished, said medical examiner's office spokeswoman Julie Bolcer, who declined to discuss the pending tests. Toxicology and tissue tests are typically done in such cases.

Hoffman, 46, was found dead Sunday with a needle in his arm, and tests found heroin in samples from at least 50 packets in his apartment in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, law enforcement officials have said.

Courts have found that under state law drug dealers can't be held liable for customers' deaths.

A 1972 state appellate division case found a dealer can't be found guilty of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide for selling heroin and syringes to a customer who later dies because, the court ruled, legislation enhancing punishment for drug crimes didn't redefine homicide to include the sale of an illicit drug that results in death.

And holding a drug dealer criminally liable for a customer's overdose death could prove difficult for the district attorney's office, said James Cohen, a Fordham University School of Law professor who runs a clinic that represents federal criminal defendants.

"It's not just enough that you know, if you will, theoretically or academically, that heroin could kill," he said.

Former police detective Scott Prendergast, who worked on the high-profile investigation into the 1996 heroin overdose death of Jonathan Melvoin, a keyboard player touring with the rock band Smashing Pumpkins, said it's not uncommon for investigators to track down dealers following suspected overdose deaths especially when the drugs are stamped with telling names.

A private funeral for relatives and close friends of Hoffman is set for Friday, and a larger memorial service will be held later this month, his publicist Karen Samfilippo said.

On Wednesday night, Broadway theatres dimmed their lights in memory of the Tony Award-nominated actor, and members of the theatre community held a candlelight vigil for him.

___

Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

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