Sentence: 15 years
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance
Priors: Driving while intoxicated (1995, 2000)
Year sentenced: 2008
Age at sentencing: 36
Projected release date: Sept. 21, 2020
Michael was born in Springfield, Missouri. After his parents’ divorce when he was seven, Michael bounced between his mother and father. He struggled with depression in high school but found his niche in basketball, a sport in which he excelled. Michael dedicated himself to athletics, and his hard work paid off with a college basketball scholarship. He graduated with a history degree from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1996.
Michael stayed at his alma mater to help coach the basketball team. Unfortunately, he remained a part of the alcohol-saturated party scene that he participated in as a college athlete. Michael’s social drinking had morphed into a daily habit that earned him his first DWI, in college, and his second, five years later. He did community service, paid fines and completed probation for his offenses.
In June 1999, Michael and his wife had their first child. Michael was elated to be a father and spent every free moment with his son. He took on longer hours at work and traveled more to support his family and experimented with cocaine, hoping it would give him the energy to keep up with his taxing schedule. His alcohol habit quickly gave way to a cocaine addiction, and his marriage dissolved. When he lost his job and custody of his son, Michael enrolled in drug treatment and kicked his cocaine habit.
Michael was hired as an insurance claims adjuster in 2000. He gained sole custody of his son in 2001 due to his ex-wife’s mental health issues. Michael flourished in his new job and, after several promotions, was able to buy his first home. He fell in love with a woman who adored him as much as she loved his son. As Michael says, “My life was going great—I had a wonderful son who was the center of my world, a great career, and a new home.”
The new life Michael built for himself came crashing down when he tried methamphetamine at the end of 2003 in an effort to perform better on the job. Michael writes that meth “quickly took control of my life. I lost my son, my job, my home, my dignity…nothing mattered to me except the drug.” Michael’s father and stepmom assumed care for his son.
To raise the funds to feed his addiction, Michael began selling marijuana, and then methamphetamine, for a conspiracy based out of Texas. In 2005, police investigating drug activity in the Western district of Oklahoma and Missouri discovered that Michael and five codefendants were selling marijuana and methamphetamine that they received from Texas in the Springfield area.
Police officers set up surveillance and conducted a series of traffic stops to build evidence against Michael. First, on February 9, 2006, police found 96.3 grams of meth and 20.3 grams of marijuana in Michael’s vehicle. The car was being driven by a codefendant and Michael was not present. On May 22, 2006, officers found $4,934 and 48.8 grams of meth in the rear of his vehicle. On July 16, 2006, officers conducted a traffic stop and found a revolver, 15.5 grams of a mixture containing meth, and 53 grams of cocaine in Michael’s car. Michael’s drug use during this period was described as out of control by a codefendant that saw Michael swallow four grams of meth at a time, a very large dose of the drug.
Michael was arrested in August 2006 on state charges stemming from his drug activities. One year later in August 2007, Michael was found not guilty in state court. Immediately after the verdict, he was arrested by federal marshals on charges of methamphetamine conspiracy and use of a weapon during a drug trafficking crime.
Michael pled guilty to the federal charges and received the mandatory minimum sentence: 10 years for the meth conspiracy and an additional five years for the gun charges. As he was forced to impose the 15-year sentence, Judge Ortrie Smith said, “I don’t have any real discretion here…this case is heartbreaking.” If not for the mandatory minimum, Judge Smith could sentence Michael to eight to 10 years under the federal sentencing guidelines.
Michael accepts full responsibility for his actions. He recognizes that his unacknowledged alcoholism made him susceptible to meth addiction and hopes to get drug and alcohol treatment while in prison. His biggest regret is that his poor choices have left his son, who will be an adult by the time Michael is released, without a father.