STATESVILLE, NC - Six individuals were sentenced Wednesday and Thursday in United States District Court in Statesville to a total of more than 43 years’ in federal prison, all in connection with offenses involving methamphetamine. The convictions on which the sentences were handed down were the result of guilty pleas having been previously entered by the defendants. U.S. District Judge Richard L. Voorhees, for the Western District of North Carolina, handed down the sentences.
Sentenced Thursday, February 23:
BRANDON EARP of Lenoir, North Carolina
JEREMY HODGES of Vilas, North Carolina
CHARLES DOUGLAS HUGHES of Morganton, North Carolina
THERESA RENEE LEWIS of Lansing, North Carolina
JERRY MANUEL WOODS of Morganton, North Carolina
Those listed above represent federal defendants in four separate methamphetamine conspiracies, which were carried out, in part, in Ashe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, McDowell, Watauga, and Wilkes Counties over a period beginning as early as March 2004 and continuing through as late as December 2004. The investigations each involved the cooperative efforts of various state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies.
United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has announced this year that the prosecution of meth cooks and distributors nationwide is a Justice Department priority in 2006. The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina will continue to aggressively go into federal court, seeking stiff sentences for those involved in the meth trade in every Western North Carolina county this year. During the last ten years, federal prosecutions of meth cases nationwide have more than quadrupled, and over the last three years, law enforcement has seized, on average, 45 small toxic meth labs or dumpsites each day across America. An even higher level of pressure will continue to be applied to those who would involve themselves in methamphetamine-related offenses in the Western District of North Carolina in 2006. State, local, and federal law enforcement agencies will continue to combine resources, as they have done successfully in these cases in which sentences are being announced today, to fully investigate methamphetamine-related offenses and bring them into federal court for prosecution.
North Carolina State government has also responded forcefully to the challenge of meth-amphetamine use and production. Tough legislation has been enacted and went into effect on January 15 of this year, which is crafted to control the flow of simple ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine–such as the pseudoephedrine that is found in many cold medicines. Law enforcement activity has already had many positive effects in North Carolina as the State Bureau of Investigation reports the number of clandestine methamphetamine labs located in the State has reached its plateau at approximately 320 for 2004 and 2005.
A total of 14 plea agreements have been filed to date by these defendants and their co-defendants in connection with each of these methamphetamine conspiracies.
At this week’s sentencing hearings the government consistently sought and received the application of sentencing enhancements due to the substantial risk of harm that manufacturing of methamphetamine causes the environment. In fact, defendants Earp, Hughes, Huskins, and Wood, named above, are, in addition to their terms of imprisonment, jointly and severally responsible, along with the co-defendants in their cases, to make payments directed to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration for the cleanup/disposal of the hazardous materials involved in the commission of these offenses. The government additionally sought and received the application of a sentencing enhancement in a case involving the manufacturing of metham-phetamine at a home where a minor was living.
Methamphetamine is an addictive, synthetic drug that is extremely dangerous both to take and to produce. Methamphetamine use and production will harmfully ravage any community in which it is used and/or produced, and presents major challenges and dangers to law enforcement officials at the federal, state, and local levels.
Methamphetamine affects the brain causing mind and mood changes such as anxiety, euphoria, and depression. Long-term effects can include chronic fatigue, paranoid or delusional thinking, and permanent psychological damage. Methamphetamine affects the body, creating a false sense of energy and pushing the body faster and further than it is meant to go. It increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and risk of stroke. An overdose of methamphetamine can cause heart failure. Use of the drug can cause a severe “crash” after its initial effects wear off, and can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain. Methamphetamine affects self control, often causing aggression and violent or psychotic behavior. Methamphetamine production and/or use presents such high risks that the gamble can never be won. It is illegal in all states and is highly dangerous. The ignitable, corrosive, and toxic nature of the chemicals used to produce meth can cause fire, produce toxic vapors, and damage the environment.
United States Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert commented on this week’s sentencings: “Stiff federal prison terms for meth producers offer a respite for our communities from the damaging effects of meth production and usage. This week’s sentences also send the message to those who would continue to gamble at making and selling meth that they will be discovered and punished. We are fully committed to doing everything we can to keep the scourge of methamphetamine from taking deep root in our beautiful Western North Carolina communities.”
The government’s trial counsel, Karen Marston, of the Charlotte U.S. Attorney’s Office, expressed her thanks to Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Walt Thrower, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Special Agent Jaime Bivins, Eric Smith of the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office, and North Carolina SBI Special Agents Scott Akens and Chris Chambliss. “Every time an agent or officer answers a call in response to suspected methamphetamine production, they place themselves in harm’s way. Their efforts, which include the sacrifices of their families and support of their agencies, brought these defendants to justice,” said U.S. Attorney Shappert.