Former Greeneville pharmacist Robert D. McNeese, who became entangled in an oxycodone distribution scheme with five other Greene County residents, has made a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
McNeese, 38, of Afton, will enter a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to distribute a quantity of oxycodone, court documents state.
He will serve more than five years in prison as a result, according to terms included in a plea
agreement filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.
A sentencing date for McNeese will be set at a court appearance when he formally enters the guilty plea before U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer. The court date had not been scheduled as of Friday.
The five other co-defendants in the case have already entered pleas of guilty to conspiracy. McNeese, who worked at Corley’s Pharmacy in Greeneville until his arrest in July 2011, was set to go to trial on Dec. 17.
The six were indicted by a federal grand jury in February of this year.
In court documents filed Thursday, McNeese entered a guilty plea to the first count he is charged with: conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of oxycodone.
The maximum penalty upon conviction of the felony charge is a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment, a $1 million fine and a supervised release term of at least three years to life.
TENTATIVE SENTENCE SET
The plea agreement states that McNeese and prosecutors agreed to a prison sentence of 63 months, followed by a three-year term of supervised release, that “is the appropriate disposition of this case.”
McNeese also must forfeit his interest in a 2008 Toyota Sequoia registered in his name, and pay any fine assessed by Greer.
By entering the guilty plea, federal prosecutors dismiss another charge against McNeese:
intentionally omitting material information from reports, records and documents relating to required documentation of controlled substances.
“The defendant is pleading guilty because the defendant is in fact guilty,” the plea agreement states.
D. Wayne Taylor, assistant U.S. attorney, who is lead prosecutor in the case, said Friday that the government was ready to go to trial and prove the charges against McNeese if no plea agreement had been reached.
Taylor said he could not comment further on the pending case.
His Lawyer Comments
Greeneville lawyer John T. Milburn Rogers, Knoxville lawyer Ann Short, and attorney Jenny C. Rogers, Rogers’ daughter and law partner, represent McNeese.
The agreement was reached with the government after negotiations that began recently, John Rogers said.
“I thought it was a fair and equitable result for Mr. McNeese under the facts and circumstances of the case and for the United States of America,” he said Friday.
McNeese had no criminal record prior to the charges being filed against him in July. Under federal guidelines, he would be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his time, Rogers said.
McNeese “obviously felt like it was in the best interest of his wife and four children and himself” to accept the plea offer, Rogers said.
No longer at corley’s
McNeese had been a pharmacist at Corley’s since 1999 and became a co-owner in 2004. He has no current connection to Corley’s Pharmacy.
According to the state Board of Pharmacy, McNeese’s license was indefinitely suspended in January 2012.
His violation was [that he] “removed controlled substance from the pharmacy without authorization from a licensed prescriber.” Prior to his arrest, McNeese was highly regarded in the community.
Alan Corley, owner of the business, was shocked when allegations of McNeese’s illegal activities came to light.
“It’s a sad thing for everybody, but I am relieved we are not going to trial. It was going to be a lot of anguish for our staff to go through,” Corley said Friday.
Despite McNeese’s actions, Corley remains concerned about him. Corley said after the arrest that the charges against McNeese were entirely out of character.
“I’m also worried about Robert and his family and what this is going to mean for them, but, selfishly for us, I’m glad we get some closure and can move on past that and get on with things,” Corley said.
“It’s been hanging over our heads for quite a while.”
McNeese remains free on $20,000 bond pending sentencing.
FACTS OF CASE
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, according to court documents.
Both are Schedule II controlled substances.
McNeese, “a supervisory pharmacist” at Corley’s Pharmacy, “illegally distributed these pills to other individuals,” court papers state.
The co-defendants in the case — Chucky Copas, George Copas, Jimmy Hodges, Terry Scalf and Scottie Leach — all have entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to distribute a quantity of oxycodone, and possession with the intent to distribute the oxycodone.
All have sentencing dates in upcoming months.
McNeese met Chucky Copas when Copas went to Corley’s Pharmacy to solicit money to sponsor a rodeo, court documents state.
McNeese agreed to provide cash to Copas for a sign advertising Corley’s Pharmacy at the event.
Loaned Substantial Cash
“Over the course of time, (McNeese) loaned substantial amounts of cash to Copas for a variety of
supposed legitimate reasons.
“Ultimately, Copas admitted that he had been using the money loaned to him to obtain pills and was addicted,” court documents state.
Copas asked McNeese if he could provide him with some Subutex without a prescription.
After taking some of the drug, which is used to treat addiction to opioid drugs, Copas “began to feel very ill” and his daughter called McNeese, who told him to come to the pharmacy and McNeese “would attempt to help.”
McNeese left an unlabeled pill bottle containing between 50 and 100 30-milligram oxycodone pills in his Toyota Sequoia, which was picked up by Copas, court documents state.
Once Copas took the all the oxycodone pills given to him by McNeese, “ he contacted (McNeese)
again and asked for more because he remained addicted,” documents state.
McNeese agreed to continue supplying Copas with additional pills in early 2011. The arrangement continued until July 28, 2011, court papers state.
The pair communicated by cell phone, often by text, “and used certain code words to arrange meeting times and amounts.”
The plea agreement details how McNeese would sometimes leave the pills in an unlabeled bottle in his vehicle.
On other occasions, Copas picked up the pills through the pharmacy drive-in window, or at other locations.
“On numerous occasions, when the store was closed, the defendant told Copas to come by his residential mailbox and pick up the pills from there,” the document states.
As McNeese continued to distribute the pills to Copas, word spread among Copas’s acquaintances about the arrangement.
Beginning in April 2011, Hodges and Leach went to Corley’s Pharmacy to “confront” McNeese, the plea agreement states.
“Hodges told the defendant that he would call the police and let them investigate the matter,” it states.
McNeese then began supplying Hodges and Leach with 60 to 100 oxycodone pills per week, from the end of May through July 2011, court documents state.
He also began distributing oxycodone pills to George Copas and Terry Scalf.
HOW IT ENDED
The end came after McNeese gave “a very large quantity of oxycodone pills to Copas, 100 to 150 pills a couple of times a week over a period of months,” resulting in McNeese telling Copas “that he could not continue to provide the pills.”
In order to “feed his addiction,” Copas also told McNeese he would go to the police.
McNeese continued to give Copas pills as his tolerance to the narcotic drug grew, the plea agreement states.
During the final weeks and months of the conspiracy leading up to July 28, 2011, “Copas obtained approximately 150 to 200 oxycodone 30-milligram pills from the defendant every few days,” court documents stated.
Toward the end of July, McNeese “asked Copas how many pills it would take to end it for good.”
Copas responded that he was moving away and needed between 150 and 180 30-milligram oxycodone pills.
On July 27, 2011, McNeese gave Copas 150 pills and another 75 pills to Scalf, the plea agreement states.
“At that point, (McNeese) realized that things were out of control and he could no longer live in this manner,” court documents state.
The same day, he admitted his illegal distribution of the drugs to Corley and, on July 28, gave a “detailed tape confession” to law enforcement authorities and made arrangements for Copas to
return to the pharmacy to pick up more pills.
As Copas arrived at the pharmacy later on July 28, he was taken into custody.
A federal Drug Enforcement Administration audit completed at the pharmacy after McNeese’s confession showed a shortage of 17,842 oxycodone 30-milligram pills and 2,347 15-milligram pills.
“The defendant agrees and stipulates that he conspired with Copas and other co-defendants and that he actually distributed at least 14,000 oxycodone 30-milligram pills and at least 1,850 15-milligram pills,” court documents state.
The 63-month proposed sentence for McNeese may also include “any lawful fine and any special assessment fees as required by law,” the plea agreement states.
“The cooperation of (McNeese) now being complete, this sentence takes into account the cooperation and assistance provided to law enforcement in this investigation,” the plea agreement states.
If the court declines to accept the agreement, “either party will be free to withdraw from the plea agreement,” court documents state.
As part of the agreement, McNeese agrees “not to file a direct appeal of (his) conviction or sentence,” although he retains the right to appeal a sentence imposed above the sentencing guidelines determined by the district court or above any mandatory minimum sentence deemed applicable by the district court, “whichever is greater.”
The five co-defendants in the case all entered into plea agreements prior to McNeese.
Chucky Copas will be sentenced by Greer on Dec. 10. Hodges will be sentenced Dec. 5. George Copas will be sentenced on April 15, 2013. Leach and Scalf will be sentenced on April 22, 2013.
A plea agreement supplement under seal containing more details about the case was also filed Thursday. Prosecutors declined to discuss the content of that material.