Robert D. McNeese
Pills To Five Men
BY KEN LITTLE
A former Greeneville pharmacist who illegally distributed more than 20,000 oxycodone pills to five men while employed at a local pharmacy was sentenced Monday by a federal court judge to 63 months in prison.
Robert D. McNeese, 39, of Afton, entered a guilty plea in November 2012 to one count of conspiracy to distribute a quantity of oxycodone.
He was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer.
McNeese remains free on $20,000 bond until a location and an intake date are specified by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
He accepted responsibility in court for his actions, and told Judge Greer the oxycodone distribution scheme "mushroomed" out of control when it grew beyond the first man to receive the pills, Chucky Joe Copas.
In giving McNeese the sentence of more than five years, Greer elaborated on his decision to accept the plea agreement.
Lawyers for several other defendants in the case suggested when their clients were sentenced that McNeese was getting a "sweetheart" deal from the government, Greer said.
The five recipients of the pills have all been sentenced by Greer. All entered conspiracy pleas, and several received longer prison terms than McNeese.
The conspiracy conviction carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. McNeese's sentencing guideline range was between 87 to 108 months.
Assistant U.S. Attorney D. Wayne Taylor said the government's recommended downward departure to 63 months was primarily because McNeese cooperated with authorities.
It was McNeese who reported the pill distribution scheme.
He came forward in July 2011, after the demands of the other defendants increased, along with veiled threats against him and his family if he didn't comply.
McNeese began working as a pharmacist at Corley's Pharmacy in 1999 and became a co-owner of the business in 2004. He has no current association with Corley's Pharmacy.
Greer noted in court that McNeese no longer has a pharmacist license, and will likely never work again in that field.
SPONSORING A RODEO
According to versions of events provided by both the prosecution and defense, McNeese was first approached by Chucky Joe Copas.
Court documents state that Copas met McNeese "when he went to Corley's Pharmacy to solicit money to sponsor a rodeo."
McNeese agreed to provide cash to Copas for a sign advertising the pharmacy. He ultimately loaned Copas over $100,000 in addition to providing thousands of pills, according to Copas' plea agreement.
The five other defendants in the case were sentenced by Greer in the last few months.
Greer said he was concerned about the appearance of a "disparity" in their sentences.
Chucky Joe Copas was sentenced to 92 months in federal prison. His cousin, George Copas, received a 41-month prison sentence.
Terry Lee Scalf, who has a lengthy criminal record, was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Scottie Wayne Leach received a 30-month prison term. Jimmy Lee Hodges got 46 months.
All the men are from Washington County or have ties there.
'SPREAD LIKE WILDFIRE'
McNeese told Greer at sentencing that, as others learned of the arrangement between McNeese and Chucky Copas, they wanted in.
"It spread like wildfire," McNeese said.
Before Judge Greer accepted the plea agreement, he asked McNeese and defense lawyer John T. Milburn Rogers to explain how McNeese, a professional who was highly regarded in the community, became involved with five admitted drug addicts.
The judge did not get a direct answer.
Greer also questioned court documents mentioning threats made against McNeese.
"It was not Mr. Copas that directly threatened my family. It was the mushroom (effect) he represented," McNeese said. "I know how irrational (drug addicts) can be."
By pleading guilty, McNeese acknowledged "there were no implicit threats," Greer said.
"If you wallow in the mud, you're going to get mud on you," he said. "If you associate with these kinds of people, they will threaten you."
'A BIT CONFLICTED'
Greer signed off on the plea arrangement, but told McNeese he remained "a bit conflicted about this case because of some of the other information I have received."
McNeese assured Greer he accepted responsibility for his actions.
Greer received many letters of support asking for a lighter sentence for McNeese, but noted he also received letters asking that the sentence reflect the serious nature of McNeese's crime.
The judge said he received no letters urging him not to accept the plea agreement. Some letters said "there should in fact be consequences," Greer said.
Greer said he considered the large amount of pills involved, some of which were distributed on the street.
"Twenty-thousand pills is an exceptionally high number," he said. "Clearly, pharmacists know the dangers of drugs and the dangers of providing opiates to those who are addicted."
'DOESN'T MAKE SENSE'
Greer said the account of events provided by McNeese don't add up.
"Maybe I know the full story, maybe I don't, but it does not make sense to me," Greer said.
He wondered why McNeese would jeopardize his career and loan a large sum of money to a drug addict he did not know.
"You knew what you were doing the first time you distributed a pill without a prescription form," Greer said.
"My view is that those who portray you as someone who made a conscious decision as opposed to being victimized by others, in my opinion, is closer to the truth," the judge said.
McNeese, who had about 20 supporters in court, showed no emotion when he was sentenced by Greer.
He was embraced by family members after leaving the courtroom.
Greer ordered that McNeese be placed on three years of supervised probation when he is released from prison.
McNeese will serve virtually all of the 63-month prison term. There is no parole on federal prison sentences.