Eric was working as a pharmacist when a customer and his wife offered to start paying him hundreds of dollars for each false painkiller prescription he filled. He agreed so he could provide for his relatives in Ghana, and he is now serving a mandatory 25-year sentence for conspiracy to traffic 28 grams or more of a controlled substance. Neither of his codefendants received any jail time.
Eric grew up in Accra, Ghana in a three-bedroom house with thirty other relatives. He graduated from high school in 1998 and immigrated to New York to enroll in the state’s City College. In 1992, Eric transferred to Long Island University’s School of Pharmacy. Eric met his wife, Esther, that same year. It was love at first sight — the two have been together since the day they met. Eric completed his pharmacy degree in 1996 and moved to Florida to find employment.
Soon, Eric and Esther were the proud parents of four children. Eric found steady employment as a pharmacist and settled comfortably into life in Florida, though he never forgot where he came from. As the only one in his family with a college degree, he felt obligated to provide for his relatives in Ghana. Eric paid for the clothing, food, shelter and school tuition fees for all of his nieces and nephews. He began working the night shift as well as additional overtime hours at the pharmacy, but the extra money was not enough to meet the growing needs of his family overseas along with his wife and young children.
In the beginning of 2003, Eric was approached by a customer with whom he was briefly acquainted. The customer and his wife were painkiller addicts who created false prescriptions for Oxycontin, Xanax, hydrocodone, and methadone on their home computer. They told Eric they would pay him hundreds of dollars for each false prescription he filled. Eric was torn but eventually agreed, persuaded by the promise of extra money he could send to his relatives. Eric helped make the prescriptions look legitimate by providing doctors’ names and the required DEA numbers for controlled substances. From February to November 2003, the couple dropped off several prescriptions at the pharmacy two to three times per week. Eric usually received between $800 and $900 at each drop-off. He tried to ignore his guilt about his illegal actions because he was glad to be able to send money to Ghana. In July 2003, Eric used some of the money to visit his family in Accra and Kumasi.
Eric was arrested with the couple and charged with conspiracy to traffic 28 grams or more of a controlled substance, an offense that mandates a 25-year sentence in Florida. At sentencing, Judge Michael Weatherby acknowledged he had no power to change the outcome of Eric’s case, stating “I recognize this is a mandatory sentence, that I don’t really have any choices.”
The man that created the false prescriptions was given three years of probation to testify against Eric. Eric’s two codefendants not only used the painkillers themselves but sold the pills to others. Though their offenses were punishable by over 125 years in prison, and the man was rearrested in July 2005 for the same offense, neither of Eric’s codefendants received any jail time.
Eric’s incarceration has placed incredible hardship on his family. His children are now 21, 14, 11, and eight. The family lost their home, and Esther struggles to provide for their children. Eric has completed a faith-based program in prison. There are few other rehabilitative courses available due to budget cuts. Though he accepts responsibility and knows he should be punished for breaking the law, Eric cannot understand why his judge was forced to sentence him to two-and-a-half decades in a cell for a first-time, nonviolent offense.
The Facts: Erik Arthur
Sentence: 25 years
Offense: Conspiracy to traffic 28 grams or more of a controlled substance
Year sentenced: 2006
Age at sentencing: 38
Projected release date: Aug. 18, 2030