BY KEN LITTLE
A former Fall Branch postal worker who stole pain medications from the mail intended for veterans was sentenced to time served Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
Lithia Daugherty, 48, of Powell, in Knox County, was convicted of a count of delay or destruction of mail and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer, who also ordered Daugherty be placed on supervised release for three years and ordered to perform community service.
Daugherty is also prohibited from obtaining a prescription for narcotic medications without permission from a probation officer.
Daugherty entered a guilty plea in October to the offense.
The plea agreement included a sentencing range for the offense of zero to six months, with probation. Daugherty, who was indicted on the charge in July by a federal grand jury, was free on bond when she was charged with driving under the influence in September after a wreck in Anderson County.
Her bond on the federal case was revoked and Daugherty served 27 days in jail before being released on bond in late October. That counted as time served in Daugherty's sentence on Wednesday.
Daugherty's DUI case is pending, said her lawyer, Tim Moore.
Daugherty was employed as a rural carrier for the U.S. Postal Service between May 2004 and March 2013, delivering mail out of the Fall Branch post office.
The federal charge stemmed from an investigation by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General "into a series of packages from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that had been opened and had medication missing from them prior to the packages being delivered to the patients," according to the plea agreement.
Daugherty admitted in her plea that on March 26, 2013, she "took possession of a parcel she believed contained prescription pain pills and opened the parcel shortly after leaving the post office."
Daugherty also admitted to investigators that she removed and opened a pill bottle from the parcel and took some pills.
Daugherty admitted in her plea to becoming addicted to pain medications following surgery about 10 years ago.
She admitted in the plea agreement that when she wasn't able to obtain pain medication with a valid prescription, "she started buying pills from street dealers and stealing pain pills sent in the mail to various patients in and around Fall Branch."
The government said that Daugherty would identify packages she believed were likely to contain pain medication and scan them as "attempted" delivery so they would be held at the post office for customers to pick up.
'OPEN AND RIFLE PACKAGES'
"The defendant admits that she knew where the key to the drawer that held these packages was kept, and she would open and rifle packages while the postmaster was at lunch," the plea agreement said.
Daugherty admitted "to opening and rifling at least six parcels containing medications mailed by the VA since October 2010," according to the plea agreement.
In court Wednesday, Daugherty apologized for her actions to Greer before sentencing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert M. Reeves told Greer that a sentencing range of zero to six months is within the probationary range.
Greer also ordered that Daugherty receive treatment for her addiction while on probation.
"She is a good-hearted person. She had an issue with these pills that started (with surgery)," Moore said. "She's had a period of incarceration and that made an impression on her."
Probation will actually help Daugherty, Moore said.
Greer noted that he is seeing more defendants in the public trust like postal employees and nurses who are charged with theft of pain medication.
"Unfortunately, I'm seeing an ever-larger number (who) are diverting drugs from patients for their own use." he said. "These are serious cases. They have potential to harm other people."
Drug addiction alters peoples' judgments, Greer told Daugherty.
"You made a very bad decision," he said.