Ex-Washington Commanders trainer Ryan Vermillion's illegal-drug-distribution charges could be dropped as part of agreement

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Former Washington Commanders head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion, who has been under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency for illegally distributing oxycodone to NFL players, agreed to deferred prosecution and the U.S. Attorney's office statement of facts Friday morning.

According to the government's criminal information filing, Vermillion is accused of unlawfully acquiring and obtaining possession of oxycodone "by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, and subterfuge."

Vermillion appeared in U.S. District Court Friday before Judge Claude M. Hilton, who asked the defendant if he had reviewed the deferred prosecution agreement and if he was in full agreement.

Vermillion, dressed in a dark sports jacket, a blue checkered shirt with a tie and gray slacks, answered affirmatively to both questions.

In its "Statement of Facts" presented to the court on Friday, federal prosecutors stated Vermillion only distributed medication to injured players in connection to football-related injuries and did not receive any financial kickbacks for his actions.

The Commanders have two physicians who have the ability to prescribe, dispense and distribute controlled substances, prosecutors explained. Vermillion, however, is not licensed to practice medicine and was not a DEA registrant, meaning he was not authorized to prescribe, dispense or distribute controlled substances.

The prosecutors allege that Vermillion was involved in decisions about storing and dispensing player medication, and "had custody of one of the team physicians' prescribing pads, which bore the name of each Commanders physician and their individual DEA registrant number."

During the 2020-2021 NFL season, Vermillion stored oxycodone and hydrocodone in a soft black bag that was transported across state lines to both home and away games, according to the prosecutors. He would then distribute the drugs -- often stored in small, white envelopes in a pocket labeled "pill envelopes" -- to players without relying on a physician authorized to prescribe drugs.

DEA agents seized the black travel bag with its loose prescription medications, as well as a variety of different prescription drugs, when they executed their search warrant, including multiple bottles of oxycodone bearing prescription labels with different players' names on them. Prosecutors stated at least one player interviewed did not recall ever being prescribed Oxycodone, even though his name was on a seized bottle containing the medication.

Vermillion is also accused of distributing leftover pills stored inside the training facility to players, even if the prescription had been written for a different player. Prosecutors wrote that Vermillion would then request and receive written prescriptions from the team physicians "to cover for the fact that he had provided substances to players without a legitimate prescription," but did not always give the backfilled prescriptions to players.

Prosecutors listed detailed examples of Vermillion distributing drugs to at least six different players on team flights, and at both home and away games.

As part of his plea agreement, Vermillion agreed to pay a $10,000 criminal fine and to undergo periodic drug testing. He may not leave North Carolina, where he currently resides, without permission from the court and is banned from possessing any controlled substances or firearms.

For the duration of the agreement, Vermillion agreed to not participate or list membership in activities sponsored by professional athletic trainers, including the Professional Football Trainers Society and the National Athletic Trainers Association. He also agreed to not seek employment as an athletic trainer "in relation to any sports team in any capacity."

If Vermillion complies with the conditions of the agreement over the next 12 months, the criminal charges will be dismissed. Meanwhile, the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.

As a trainer, and not a physician or nurse practitioner, Vermillion would not be allowed to give out prescription drugs according to federal law. Nor can a physician distribute them where they are unauthorized to practice.

Vermillion's attorney, Barry Coburn, declined comment, as did U.S. Attorney Katherine Elise Rumbaugh.

Vermillion exited the courtroom quietly with Coburn and fellow lead attorney Marc Jason Eisenstein. Another attorney sat in the courtroom for the proceeding on behalf of the NFL.

According to a joint statement by the NFL and NFL Players Association, Vermillion has been indefinitely suspended by the league but can apply for reinstatement after one year.

The statement also said the league and NFLPA also will initiate a joint investigation to determine whether the Commanders complied with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. It said the Commanders have "pledged their full support." The NFL also will require the Commanders' medical and training staff to attend additional training "regarding obligations under federal law and state law and the collective bargaining agreement."

Two dozen DEA agents and Loudoun County law enforcement officials executed a search warrant on Vermillion's home and the team's Ashburn, Virginia, headquarters in October of last year, after which the Commanders put Vermillion on administrative leave. Vermillion was the head athletic trainer for the Carolina Panthers under the tenure of head coach Ron Rivera and followed Rivera to Washington shortly after he was hired as head coach in 2020.

Vermillion was eventually fired by the Commanders and, in April, replaced by Al Bellamy.

Rivera, who worked with Vermillion for nine seasons in Carolina and Washington, said in a statement the "situation is unfortunate and although it resulted in no criminal charges, it was necessary to move forward in a different direction.

"I want to emphasize that the U.S. Government confirmed from the outset that it viewed the organization as a witness, and not as a subject or target of the investigation. We cooperated fully with federal investigators, and we will continue to cooperate with any supplemental League and NFLPA inquiry. We continue to be committed to the health and safety of our players, and Al Bellamy, his staff, and our team doctors have been tremendous. We're focused on the season ahead."

In 2014, the DEA randomly checked several NFL medical staffs at airports following a game -- Tampa Bay, San Francisco and Seattle -- as part of an investigation surrounding drug distribution without prescriptions. The Transportation Security Administration also was part of the search.

According to an Associated Press report at the time, agents requested documentation from the visiting teams' medical staffs for controlled substances they possessed. They also wanted proof that doctors could practice medicine in the home team's state.

That search stemmed from a lawsuit earlier that spring on behalf of ex-NFL players. The number of plaintiffs at that time, according to the AP, was more than 1,200.

Steven Silverman, one of the attorneys representing the players in that case, told ESPN on Friday that if the allegations against Vermillion are true, "It is very disappointing as our plaintiffs have fought to eliminate these practices in the NFL."

According to another lawsuit filed by Silverman in 2016 by retired NFL players, the DEA started investigating league doctors and trainers linked to the distribution of controlled substances in 2010, after a San Diego Chargers player was found with 100 Vicodin pills in his possession.

Vermillion was the head athletic trainer for the Panthers in 2010, and worked in tandem with Panthers' team doctor Patrick Connor, who was the president of the NFL Physicians Society during the early part of the DEA investigation. As the NFLPS president, court documents show Dr. Connor was at the center of communications between the DEA and the NFL, including informational meetings that took place in 2010 in Washington, D.C., and at the 2011 NFL combine, where DEA representatives presented more than 75 slides to team doctors about the laws governing prescriptions and controlled substances.

The NFLPS has warned teams and trainers since the '90s that trainers may not dispense or distribute controlled substances, according to the 2016 class-action lawsuit. The NFLPS instituted reforms on how teams can prescribe and distribute medications to players in 2015 following the DEA investigation.

Additional court exhibits from the class-action lawsuit show Vermillion sent and received emails from other trainers and Connor as the NFLPS navigated the DEA's investigation. No charges or indictments ever came from that investigation, with a DEA spokesperson stating in 2012 that the Chargers' team doctor had entered into compliance for record-keeping drugs regulated by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

The 2016 class-action lawsuit, however, presented multiple examples of team doctors and trainers allegedly violating the CSA over the past two decades, including allegations by former Panthers linebacker Brad Jackson that Vermillion and another trainer inappropriately provided Jackson with Toradol, Indocin, Percocet, Vicodin and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Lawyers for the NFL and its clubs denied the allegations in the court filings.

Vermillion is just one of dozens of trainers and team doctors alleged to have violated the CSA by the plaintiffs of 2016 class-action suit, a list that includes alleged violations of the CSA against every team in the league. As part of the suit's allegations against the Detroit Lions, former cornerback Eric King claimed he received drugs like Toradol, Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin from team doctors and trainers, including head trainer Al Bellamy, who replaced Vermillion as head athletic trainer for the Commanders in April.

The case was eventually dismissed after a judge ruled the players had not filed their case within the required statute of limitations. The lawyers who brought that case continue to pursue a similar class-action suit against the NFL that has been making its way through the federal court system since 2014.