BY KEN LITTLE
Scottie Wayne Leach was the last defendant in the Robert D. McNeese pill conspiracy case to be taken into custody and the first to enter into a plea agreement with the government.
Leach, 40, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Greeneville to serve 30 months in prison.
With credit for time already served, Leach's prison term could amount to the shortest sentence of any of the six defendants in the case.
Leach entered a guilty plea last year to a felony count of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, and possession with intent to distribute the drug.
He and five others received the pills from former Greeneville pharmacist Robert D. McNeese, who came forward in July 2011 and told law enforcement about the distribution of more than 15,000 of the narcotic pills to Leach and five other defendants.
Leach learned in 2011 that co-defendant Chucky Joe Copas and others were receiving pills from McNeese.
Court documents state that he and co-defendant Jimmy Lee Hodges approached McNeese out of concern for Copas, who was addicted to the pills.
But Leach, who admitted his own drug addiction in court, came away from the meeting with McNeese supplied with pills for his personal use.
SUPPLIED WITH PILLS
"They were aware that (Copas) was receiving large quantities of pills from Robert McNeese," Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Taylor said. "At that point, (McNeese) started supplying them with pills so they would not go to the police."
Leach likely would have testified at the trial of McNeese, had the former pharmacist not entered a guilty plea last year to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone.
McNeese and Hodges will both be sentenced in May. Leach is the fourth defendant sentenced in the case by U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer.
Terry Lee Scalf, 41, was sentenced Monday to a 13-year prison term on a conviction of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, and possession with intent to distribute the drug. Scalf's prison sentence was lengthier than other defendants because of his extensive criminal record.
Chucky Joe Copas, who made the initial contact with McNeese and received the majority of pills from him, was sentenced on April 1 by Greer to 92 months in prison. His cousin, George Copas, received a 41-month prison sentence on April 15.
Because of Leach's cooperation with the government and other factors including a relatively clean criminal record, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Taylor filed a motion approved by Greer recommending a downward departure in the recommended sentence range from 30 to 37 months.
Leach's decision to enter into a plea agreement with the government may have influenced the other defendants to do so, Taylor said.
Defense lawyer Casey A. Sears III set aside his motion for a downward variance in the sentence when the government recommended reduced prison time for Leach.
Credit for time served awaiting sentencing may make Leach ineligible to spend enough time in federal custody to complete a comprehensive drug addiction treatment program offered by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, Greer said.
NOT A 'BAD PERSON'
Before sentencing, Leach apologized to his family and the court for his actions.
"I hope the court will see I'm not a bad person," he said.
Greer asked Leach to detail his drug abuse history. Leach responded that he became addicted to pain pills about 10 years ago after car and motorcycle accidents.
"They got out of control," he said.
Leach also admitted using marijuana and other drugs.
Greer said Leach needed to be honest about his addiction, and stands little chance of staying out of jail upon release unless he addresses the problem.
"The first thing you have got to do is admit it," he said. "You can't deal with it by minimizing, and you can't deal with it by shifting responsibility."
The case is unusual for several reasons, Greer told Leach, including the fact there "was not a significant disagreement between the government and your counsel" about length of sentence.
Greer told Leach he has a "stark choice to make" if he wants to turn his life around.
"It's time to mature. It's time to grow up," he said.
Leach will be placed on three years' supervised release when his prison sentence is done.
Court documents state that, from the start of 2010 through July 28, 2011, McNeese conspired with other defendants to distribute at least 14,000 30-milligram oxycodone pills and 1,850 15-milligram oxycodone pills. Both are Schedule II controlled substances.
McNeese, 39, who was a supervisory pharmacist at Corley's Pharmacy, "illegally distributed these pills to other individuals," court documents state.
He is no longer associated with the pharmacy.
QUESTIONS ABOUT CASE
Speculation remains about how the pill distribution conspiracy started, and why McNeese began providing pills and cash loans to Chucky Copas.
Leach and the other defendants eventually learned about the arrangement and demanded pills from McNeese, threatening to go to authorities if he did not comply.
The defendants became more persistent, and McNeese eventually went to authorities at the end of July 2011 and told them about the conspiracy.
Greer told Leach the facts of the case don't add up.
"You and Mr. Hodges went down there (and) you were concerned Mr. McNeese was providing drugs to (Chucky Copas) and you left with drugs," he said.
Greer reiterated what he has said at the sentencing of other defendants.
"I don't know what all of the facts are in this case," he said.
"It bothers me [that] at least someone in this case is not speaking the truth. What's been said does not make a lot of sense to me."