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Candlelight Vigil Planned for Philip Seymour Hoffman as Police Seek Dealer

By  Danielle Tcholakian and Murray Weiss | February 4, 2014 8:38pm 

 The actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead on February 2, 2014.
The actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead on February 2, 2014.
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Larry Busacca/Getty Images

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Friends and family grieving the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman prepared memorial services for the Oscar-winning actor Tuesday as detectives pieced together his final days in an attempt to track down the source of the heroin that is believed to have killed him.

Mourners planned to gather Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Hoffman outside the LAByrinth Theater at 155 Bank Street, sources said. The Capote actor was one of the founders of the theater company; his long-time girlfriend Mimi O'Donnell was recently brought on as the company's artistic director.

Funeral arrangements for Hoffman have not been made public, but O'Donnell was photographed by paparazzi Tuesday morning entering the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home with Hoffman's assistant, Isabella Wing-Davey.

The funeral home said they could neither confirm nor deny reports that a private wake will take place there on Thursday for Hoffman's friends and family.

Wing-Davey was with Hoffman's friend of 25 years, David Bar Katz, Sunday morning when Katz found Hoffman's body in the bathroom of his Bethune Street apartment, police said. They were checking on him because he neglected to pick up his children at 9 a.m. as scheduled.

On Tuesday, police were still following leads and collecting surveillance video to determine the identities of the people Hoffman was last seen with the day before he died, including a man and two teenage boys he had brunch with at the Standard Grill Saturday morning, a law enforcement official said.

Surveillance video showed the four of them entering the Standard Hotel a little before 10 a.m. One man and one of the teens left about 10:36 a.m.; Hoffman and the other teen were seen on video leaving the hotel a little after 11 a.m., the official said.

A witness also told police he saw Hoffman with two men with messenger bags outside the D'Agostino's on Hoffman's corner at 790 Greenwich Ave. about 8 p.m. on Saturday. The official said Hoffman's debit card shows six separate transactions totaling $1,200 at the D'Agostino's ATM between 7:58 p.m. and 8:54 p.m.

The witness described Hoffman as disheveled and said he seemed high, the official said. He told police that the two men stood behind Hoffman while he was at the ATM, but he didn't see them exchange any cash.

Police also interviewed Katz and Wing-Davey again on Monday to try to learn more about Hoffman's drug use, the official said, but the new interviews did not add any useful information to the investigation.

Police were searching for the dealer who supplied Hoffman with the heroin, which the official said was a routine part of an investigation into any drug-related death.

Investigators unearthed more than 49 glassines of heroin in the apartment. Some of the empty bags of heroin found in Hoffman's apartment were branded "Ace of Spades" and "Ace of Hearts."

Authorities said that the baggies are usually stamped with a name but the brand isn't necessarily unique to one dealer. Investigators have pulled in a few dealers in the Hoffman investigation, sources said, but none with any connection to Hoffman yet.

The NYPD's Narcotics division is looking into all the recent drug cases involving "Ace of Spades"-branded heroin. That brand turned up in at least two major heroin busts in recent years.

The most recent involved a violent Jamaica, Queens, drug crew that employed an NYPD officer who checked license plates and gave advice to its ringleader, Guy Curtis, on how to remove gun residue after firing a weapon. Drug Enforcement Agents caught Curtis supplying a dealer in Wichita, Kansas with "Ace of Spades" heroin in 2011. He pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court and was sentenced to six and half years in prison.

In 2009, DEA agents working with the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office busted 13 members of an Elmhurst crew supplying "Ace of Spades"-branded smack to dealers in eastern Long Island.

According to Special Agent Erin Mulvey at the DEA, 95 percent of heroin in New York City comes from South America, and frequently from Colombia. There was a massive increase — 232 percent — in heroin seizures at the Southwest border between 2008 and 2012.

Heroin gets carted from the Mexican border in tractor trailers in bulk, much of it to New York City, where it gets dropped off at "heroin mills" where the heroin is processed and cut with other substances that dilute its potency. One such mill was recently busted in the Bronx.

Authorities said that heroin has become exponentially more potent than it was when Hoffman was using before this relapse. The potency in today's heroin market is estimated to be about 50 percent pure heroin; not too long ago, around the time Hoffman was using, authorities estimate the potency was about 3 or 4 percent.

At the mills, the heroin gets packaged and sent out to other organizations, similarly to how wholesalers sell goods. Each organization brands the heroin themselves, with things like Ace of Spades or Ace of Hearts.

The smaller organizations will also cut the heroin with other substances to make the drug more potent. Fentanyl, a painkiller that is 100 times more potent than morphine, is used increasingly often, Mulvey said. Fentanyl was identified in a recent spate of heroin-related deaths in the Northeast.

Preliminary testing of the heroin found in the actor's apartment found no Fentanyl, police said.

Authorities were considering the possibility that Hoffman purchased a particularly toxic batch of heroin, but it is also likely that Hoffman fell prey to a common trap for relapsed users recently out of rehab.

Authorities said they find that when people who have been in rehab start using again, they have a tendency to go back to using the drugs at the same amount they were previously. Their newly clean system doesn't have the same tolerance, however, and the high dosage causes the respiratory system to shut down quickly.

The Medical Examiner planned to conduct an autopsy Tuesday evening, and said Hoffman's cause of death would be determined after a toxicology report was returned.