BY KEN LITTLE
Robert D. McNeese, the former Greeneville pharmacist who became involved in a drug distribution scheme with five other Greene County residents, formally entered a guilty plea Wednesday in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to distribute a quantity of oxycodone.
U.S. District Court Judge J. Ronnie Greer set a sentencing date for McNeese of May 13, 2013.
McNeese, 38, of Afton, remains free on $20,000 bond. He made a plea agreement with federal prosecutors earlier this month through his primary lawyer, John T. Milburn Rogers.
According to terms of the plea agreement, McNeese could serve more than five years in prison.
In an order entered Wednesday, Greer set a deadline of April 29, 2013, for the prosecution and defense to file sentencing memorandums "setting forth the party's position with respect to a reasonable sentence in the case."
All letters to be considered by the judge "must be attached to the defendant's sentencing memorandum or they will not be considered by the court," the order states.
"If sensitive material is contained in those letters, the defendant shall file a motion to seal any letter containing sensitive material before that letter is electronically filed," the order states.
TRIAL DATE WAS SET
McNeese, who worked at Corley's Pharmacy in Greeneville until his arrest in July 2011, was scheduled to go to trial on Dec. 17 before the plea agreement was reached.
The proceeding Wednesday was called a "change of plea" hearing.
"Mr. McNeese entered a guilty plea. He pleaded guilty to the court of the indictment consistent with the plea agreement that is on the records," Assistant U.S. Attorney D. Wayne Taylor, who is prosecuting the case, said after the proceeding.
The five other co-defendants in the case have already entered pleas of guilty to conspiracy.
The five other 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.
They and McNeese were indicted by a federal grand jury in February of this year.
CONSPIRACY PLEA ENTERED
McNeese formally entered a guilty plea Wednesday to the first count he is charged with: conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of oxycodone.
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.
In entering the guilty plea Wednesday, federal prosecutors dismissed a second charge against McNeese.
That charge is 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.
Rogers reached an agreement with the government earlier this month.
"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," Rogers said at the time.
NO PRIOR RECORD
McNeese had no criminal record before charges in the current case were filed in July 2011. Under federal guidelines, he would be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his time, Rogers said.
McNeese began employment as a pharmacist at Corley's Pharmacy in 1999 and became a co-owner of the business 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 substances from the pharmacy without authorization from a licensed prescriber," according to the Board of Pharmacy.
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, "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.
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 federal Drug Enforcement Administration audit completed at Corley's 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 agreed-upon 63-month sentence for McNeese may also include "any lawful fine and any special assessment fees as required by law," the plea agreement states.
A plea agreement supplement under seal containing other details about the case was also filed earlier this month. Prosecutors have declined to discuss the content of the supplement.