BY KEN LITTLE
The central figure in a drug distribution organization responsible for channeling substantial quantities of pills, cocaine and marijuana into the area was sentenced here Wednesday to a 16-year federal prison term.
Prior to sentencing by U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer, 30-year-old Frankie L. Crum apologized for his actions and said he wanted to turn his life around.
Greer was skeptical, but followed the recommendation of prosecutors and sentenced Crum in the lower range of possible prison time, in part because of Crum's cooperation with federal authorities on other criminal cases.
Crum, of Greeneville, was indicted in June 2011. In March of this year, he entered guilty pleas to four felonies:
* conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine;
* conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of (marijuana);
* conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of oxycodone; and
* conspiracy to conduct and attempt to conduct a financial transaction affecting interstate commerce.
In his plea agreement, Crum admitted that between August 2005 and October 2011, he conspired with others to distribute more than 20 kilograms of cocaine, nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana, and more than 20,000 oxycodone pills.
"This involved a significant number of people in an organization you organized and led," Greer said at sentencing in U.S. District Court.
HEAD OF 'ORGANIZATION'
The overall criminal conspiracy that included Crum operated between 2005 and 2012 and involved 13 indicted individuals, federal authorities have said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Taylor suggested that a sentence in the range of 188 to 235 months would be "appropriate," based on Crum's cooperation with authorities in other investigations.
The case also involved allegations of money-laundering, leading to Crum's guilty plea on the fourth count.
Prior to sentencing, prosecutors asked Judge Greer to consider Crum's "leadership role" in the drug distribution network and the "quantities" of drugs involved.
"Your honor, we do feel a significant sentence is necessary here," Taylor said.
Defense lawyer Edward L. Holt asked Judge Greer to consider Crum's "substantial assistance" to the government by imposing a sentence of no more than 131 months, or about 11 years.
Family members and friends of Crum wrote letters to the judge, several of them describing his difficult upbringing in a fatherless home, exposure to illegal drugs at an early age, and ongoing substance abuse problems.
"He had a hard road row to hoe from early on in his life," Holt said.
Crum also made a statement to Greer before sentencing.
Shackled and dressed in the gray-striped smock and pants of a Greene County jail inmate, Crum addressed the judge.
"I made a lot of bad choices, and I'd love to take them back, but unfortunately I can't," Crum said. "Now I want to put the past behind me."
In the time he has been behind bars, Crum said he has had ample time to reflect on his actions.
"I put drugs on the street," he told the judge.
"I've made a lot of mistakes, but I'm only human," Crum said. "I know I've done wrong, and I accept full responsibility."
Several of those who wrote letters to Judge Greer asked for a "second chance" for Crum.
"If I didn't think you deserve a second chance, I would impose a lifetime in prison," Greer later said.
Crum's actions constitute "a very serious offense," the judge said.
"I don't have to tell you about the harm the drugs you distributed did to the community," he added.
Greer presided at a recent trial of a co-defendant in which Crum testified for the prosecution. He questioned Crum's credibility, based on that testimony.
The judge also discounted using Crum's upbringing as an excuse for his criminal behavior.
"This was not activity you just fell into," he said. "At some point you made a conscious decision to become a drug dealer."
Holt said earlier that Crum had no previous criminal record.
"Since August 2005, you've been engaged in continuous criminal activity," Greer told Crum.
In determining the length of Crum's sentence, the judge said he considered the need for an "adequate deterrent" to discourage others from dealing drugs.
A sentence of 131 months "would largely diminish the seriousness of this event," Greer said.
"This particular conspiracy was one of the largest this court has seen," he continued. "If one envisions this conspiracy, you're at the top of it. You are the organizer and leader."
About 60 percent of the criminal cases before Greer in recent years involve drugs and firearms.
SIMILAR CASES INCREASE
"The volume of these cases has grown and grown and grown over the last 10 years," the judge said.
As part of his sentence, Crum will be subject to five years of supervised release after serving his prison sentence.
Greer also recommended 500 hours of substance abuse treatment for Crum while he is incarcerated, and suggested that he take advantage of all educational opportunities available to him in prison.
There were about 10 Crum family members and friends in court when the sentence was read.
When Greer told Crum he would be going to prison for 192 months, one woman began sobbing and left the courtroom. Crum showed no emotion at sentencing.
Other co-defendants in the case have already been sentenced.
In November, Frankie D. Crum, 35, Frankie L. Crum's cousin, was sentenced by Greer to 100 months in prison for his role in the conspiracy.
Frankie D. Crum, also of Greeneville, and Frankie L. Crum "participated in a large number of organized trips to various pain clinics with other co-conspirators across the Southeast region of the United States to illegally obtain oxycodone pills," a U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman said at the time of Frankie D. Crum's sentencing.
In August, 35-year-old Billy Gene Taylor was sentenced by Greer to 12 years in prison for his role "in a vast drug organization responsible for the distribution of large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and oxycodone in East Tennessee," William C. Killian, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, said in a news release.
Prosecutors said Taylor also assisted Frankie L. Crum by laundering money on several occasions.
In May 2010, the news release said, Taylor and another co-defendant were observed on videotape surveillance at a credit union in Kingsport with $30,000 in cash acquired through drug sales.
They purchased a BMW for co-defendant Frankie L. Crum, and had the title placed in someone else's name, the news release said.
SEARCH WARRANT SERVED
A search warrant was executed in February 2011 at a house on Shallow Creek Lane occupied by Taylor and Frankie L. Crum.
During the search, officers located cocaine, marijuana, pills, scales, drug ledgers, a handgun, ammunition and more than $45,800 in cash, according to prosecutors.
Law enforcement agencies participating in the investigation which led to the indictment and subsequent conviction of Crum and others in the conspiracy include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshals Office, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Third Judicial District Drug Task Force, Greene County Sheriff's Department, Washington County Sheriff's Office and Morristown Police Department.
The case is part of two U.S. Department of Justice programs: the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program.