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Public Notices

April 17, 2014

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First Defendant In Pharmacist Pill Case Is Sentenced

Originally published: 2013-04-02 10:38:42
Last modified: 2013-04-02 10:40:24
 


BY KEN LITTLE

STAFF WRITER

The first defendant in a federal case involving the distribution of presciption narcotics by a former Greeneville pharmacist was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court.

Chucky Joe Copas was sentenced to 92 months in federal prison by U.S. District Court Judge J. Ronnie Greer, on a conviction of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, and possession with the intent to distribute that drug.

Copas received the drugs from former Greeneville pharmacist Robert D. McNeese, who worked at Corley's Pharmacy until his arrest in July 2011.

McNeese, 39, of Afton, entered a guilty plea in November 2012 in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to distribute a quantity of oxycodone.

McNeese will be sentenced on May 13.

He is no longer associated with Corley's Pharmacy.

Sentencing dates for case co-defendants Jimmy Lee Hodges, Terry Lee Scalf, Scottie Wayne Leach and George Copas are all scheduled later this month and in early May.

The three-hour sentencing hearing included a tearful apology to the judge from Copas, emotional outbursts from his family members, and arguments by defense lawyer Guy Blackwell and prosecuting Assistant U.S. Attorney D. Wayne Taylor concerning whether Copas should receive more prison time.

CREDIBILTY QUESTIONED

Greer said several times during the three-hour sentencing hearing that one element lacking during the proceedings was a truthful account of what prompted McNeese to risk jail time and his professional reputation to illegally provide narcotic drugs to Copas, along with loans totaling between $40,000 and more than $100,000, according to different accounts.

"Common sense" suggests that there must be other reasons to explain how a convicted felon such as Copas was able "to walk into a pharmacy and develop that kind of relationship with a pharmacist," Greer said before sentencing.

"I just don't find that explanations of what happened were credible," he said.

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.

"Over the course of time, McNeese loaned substantial other amounts of cash to the defendant for a variety of supposed legitimate reasons which the defendant used to purchase pain medications," the plea agreement states.

Copas and the other defendants were arrested on July 28, 2011, after McNeese came forward and told authorities about the drug distribution activities.

APOLOGY TO JUDGE

Before sentencing, Copas, his voice breaking at times, offered an emotional apology and said he takes responsibility for his actions.

"Nobody made me do that," he said. "I hurt a lot of people ... I done it on my own, and I have a problem."

Copas described his addiction to narcotic pills and crack cocaine.

"It's horrible being an addict," he said. "What we go through is a terrible thing. I would not wish it on anybody."

Copas said he had already spent nearly two years in jail awaiting sentencing.

"I ask the court for another chance. You can't believe how sorry I am," he said. "I want [others] to see that there's life without pills ... I ask this court to please have mercy on me."

Copas's nearly eight-year sentence will include time already served. Greer recommended Copas participate in a drug addiction treatment program while serving his time in federal prison.

LEVEL OF ADDICTION

Blackwell told Greer that Copas had an active addiction when he first met McNeese, but the number of pills he was taking daily went up drastically after he started receiving them from the pharmacist, Blackwell said.

Dr. Glen E. Farr, a pharmacist who is a professor and associate dean for continuing education at the University of Tennessee Life Sciences Center, testified as an expert witness for the defense on the subject of addiction.

The amount of pills Copas was taking, along with his use of crack cocaine, meant "a decreased ability to deal with addiction and dependency," Farr testified. "I don't think you could self-manage that."

Greer said later in the hearing that Copas's level of addiction was not relevant to the sentence he would impose.

"Drug addiction is not a basis for a variance in sentence," the judge said.

The prosecution and defense argued other legal points favoring more or less time for Copas, including a suggestion of an "unwarranted sentence disparity" by former federal prosecutor Blackwell.

He suggested that his client is not being treated on the same basis as McNeese, who may receive less prison time than Copas.

Greer said that each case must be judged on its own merits.

Copas, wearing a lime-green jail smock and pants, sat next to Blackwell and listened intently during the hearing.

COPAS'S CLAIMS

Copas's version of events leading up to his arrest is included in the plea agreement.

It states that he conspired with the other co-defendants "to obtain the oxycodone pills, both for their own consumption, and for further distribution in the Eastern District of Tennessee."

Court documents state that Copas met McNeese in the guise of promoting rodeo events.

"Over the course of time, McNeese loaned substantial other amounts of cash to the defendant for a variety of supposed legitimate reasons which the defendant used to purchase pain medications," the plea agreement states.

Ultimately, Copas admitted to McNeese that he was using the money to buy pills "and was addicted," court documents state.

Copas asked McNeese if he [McNeese] could provide him with some suboxone without a prescription "to help in weaning himself off his addiction."

McNeese complied and gave Copas some subutex.

But, the plea agreement says, Copas became ill and told McNeese "he was scared he was going to die."

He also told McNeese that his daughter was going to take him to the hospital, the plea agreement states.

QUANTITIES OF PILLS

The plea agreement states that McNeese told Copas and his daughter not to go to the hospital, "and to come to the pharmacy instead and McNeese would fix things."

McNeese then left a bottle containing 80 to 100 oxycodone pills for Copas in his truck.

Once Copas took all the pills McNeese gave to him, he contacted McNeese, and McNeese "agreed to continue to supply the defendant with additional oxycodone pills," the plea agreement states.

Copas sold some of the pills for $20 each, the plea states.

The arrangement allegedly continued through the end of July 2011. Court documents also describe how McNeese distributed the pills.

Copas frequently took his cousin, George Copas, and an "unindicted co-conspirator" along with him to pick up pills from McNeese, the plea states.

"As word spread that the defendant was getting oxycodone pills from McNeese," co-defendants Hodges, Leach and eventually Scalf also began obtaining oxycodone pills from McNeese, the plea states.

'SOURCE OF SUPPLY'

Hodges had claimed in his plea agreement that he had threatened McNeese with going to the police if he (McNeese) did not continue to provide pills.

Copas "was concerned about these other people getting pills from McNeese because he was addicted and did not want to lose his source of supply," so he spoke to some of the other defendants.

He asked them not to tell McNeese they were going to report him "because [he] might stop distributing pills altogether," the plea stated.

McNeese was distributing between "100 to 150 pills a couple times a week over a period of months" to Copas, the plea agreement states.

Around March 2011, according to the plea agreement, McNeese told Copas "he could not continue to cover the pills he was giving away," the plea states.

"In order to try and continue to feed his addiction, the defendant then also told McNeese that he would tell the police about his illegal distribution of oxycodone," Copas's plea stated, and McNeese continued to supply pills.

Copas's plea states that, in the final weeks and months leading up to July 28, 2011, Copas obtained 150 to 200 30-milligram oxycodone tablets from McNeese "every few days."

Toward the end of July 2011, "McNeese asked [Copas] how many pills it would take to end it for good. [Copas] told him that he was moving away and needed another approximate 180 pills," the plea states.

When Copas went to pick them up at the pharmacy on July 27, 2011, he was approached by law enforcement. He attempted to flee and was taken into custody a short time later.

As part of his plea, Copas agreed "that he conspired to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute at least 9,400 [30-milligram] pills and at least 2,030 [15-milligram] pills."

NO AUTHORIZATION

Prosecutors said in court documents that from the start of 2011 through July 28, 2011, McNeese conspired with at least one other person to distribute at least 14,000 30-milligram oxycodone pills and 1,850 15-milligram oxycodone pills.

Both are Schedule II controlled substances.

McNeese, who was at the time "a supervisory pharmacist" at Corley's Pharmacy, "illegally distributed these pills to other individuals," court documents state.

The other co-defendants in the case would likely have testified against McNeese had his case gone to trial.

 
For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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