Last week Jeff Ostfeld told his mother he’d return home to Las Vegas in four days. The 32-year-old was going on a quick trip, the first he’d ever taken by himself, and he didn’t say where.
On Monday, when he was arrested at a bridge that connects the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas with Mexico, Ostfeld explained to authorities that he was smuggling animal tranquilizers from Mexico into the United States to help people commit suicide, according to court records.
Police south of the border, meanwhile, allege Ostfeld provided that kind of assistance in Mexico. They had asked their U.S. counterparts to stop Ostfeld because a 32-year-old woman from the United States died in a hotel room he was seen leaving, according to the Associated Press.
Jennifer Malone was found next to an empty bottle of pentobarbital, the drug Ostfeld had on him when was arrested. Mexican officials say she overdosed on the tranquilizer, according to the McAllen Monitor, a south Texas newspaper. Investigators also reportedly found books about depression in the hotel room, an empty bottle of anti-anxiety medicine and Malone’s credit cards, cut up and discarded in a garbage can. Police were called to the hotel after employees reportedly saw Ostfeld leave the room with Malone’s purse. He then left the hotel without paying his bill, they complained.
When a bellboy discovered Malone’s body, Mexican officials contacted customs agents who stopped Ostfeld as he tried to walk back into the United States. He was carrying a drug used by vets to euthanize animals and by physicians in places where assisted suicide is legal.
U.S. investigators said Ostfeld told them he had flown from Las Vegas to McAllen, Texas, on May 15 with the intention of buying the drugs in Mexico, and he came prepared with special containers to conceal them.
Although Carol Ostfeld was aware her son had been arrested, she thought he had been released. She was trying to get in touch with him Wednesday when she learned from a Sun reporter that he was facing federal drug trafficking charges.
She said her son, who will be 33 next month, suffers from severe anxiety and depression — conditions for which he has received medication in the past.
“He gets influenced a lot. He just freezes up and can’t really concentrate. I am sure he is depressed and in way over his head,” she said. “He’s a good kid. He’s quiet. He doesn’t have any money and I am really worried.”
Ostfeld has never had his own credit cards, has done mostly manual labor when he could find work and has always lived with her, she said. According to Clark County assessor records online, Carol Ostfeld has owned her 1,200-square-foot Spring Valley town house since 1996.
Her son had never gone on a trip alone, but she did not push for answers when he wouldn’t reveal where he was headed, she said. He told her he had to check on something and would be back soon.
Ostfeld spent a lot of time online chatting to people and was secretive about what he was doing on the computer, his mother said.
In February a person posting under the name “Jeff Ostfeld” in a forum to discuss articles posted on a news Web site wrote: “I’m unemployed, have personal disability issues (for many years, in fact) and my life has not only not improved over the years, but I don’t expect it to either ... I take Klonopin without a prescription because of debilitating anxiety which I’ve had my entire life. I’m highly dependent on it due to my circumstances, but I’m certainly not addicted to it.”
After he left home, his mother found a ripped-up piece of paper indicating Ostfeld was headed to Texas. She said she surmised he might go to Mexico to get a bargain price on medicine to help him deal with this anxiety and depression.
Ostfeld told U.S. federal agents that the tranquilizers he bought over the counter in Mexico for $20 to $40 a bottle would sell for thousands in the U.S., according to the criminal complaint filed in Texas on Monday — the day his mother expected her son to return home.
She was told he was being held in “medical isolation” in a federal prison. He is set to appear in federal court in Texas today.
Mexican police, meanwhile, have been quoted saying they are investigating the woman’s death as a homicide and have at least enough evidence to charge Ostfeld with assisting a suicide, a crime punishable in Mexico by several years behind bars.
Malone has been described as a resident of Roseburg, Ore., in multiple news accounts, though colleagues at a real estate agency in Roseburg where one Jennifer Malone worked said she had left the state about a year ago to stay with her parents in Florida. Her boyfriend told the McAllen Monitor that Malone had struggled with chronic depression, tried to commit suicide on prior occasions, and had recently been caught researching euthanasia on the Internet.