In Drug Cases, The Rich Have ‘Medical Issues’

By: Bill McClellan
(reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 6, 2005)

Josh Marino and Charles Crispin came to St. Louis from Illinois in March 2004. They had come to buy cold remedy products containing pseudoephedrine, which is used to make methamphetamine. Because authorities are aware of the connection, a person can buy only a limited quantity of the cold remedy products. So a meth cook will hire a couple of people to drive around and buy small quantities from lots of stores. It’s called smurfing.

An off-duty police officer who was working security at a store in Brentwood saw Marino and Crispin arrive together, split up, make their purchases and reunite at their car in the parking lot. He called the local police. (It is against the law to possess pseudoephedrine with the intent of manufacturing meth.)

The local police called the county police, who have a small unit — the Methamphetamine Precursor Diversion Task Force — set up for just this kind of case. Sgt. Tom Murley and Detective Sue McClain responded to the call and confiscated the pills. There were about 1,000 of them. The case was referred to the U.S. attorney’s office, and a federal grand jury returned indictments this May.

Why a delay of more than a year? The pills had to be tested in a lab. That can delay things for a few weeks. The real problem is one of volume. The criminal justice system is swamped with drug cases.

I thought about that Friday morning when I picked up the newspaper and read the latest story about Thomas Noonan, an attorney and the deputy mayor of Kirkwood. He was arrested in a drug sting Tuesday after he allegedly gave a woman $2,400 to buy oxycodone. Police said he had 400 milligrams of the drug in his possession when he was arrested. He hired Scott Rosenblum, the most prominent defense attorney in the area. Rosenblum was quoted in Friday’s story. He said that Noonan had a "medical issue."

As regular readers know, I believe we ought to legalize all this stuff. Regulate it and tax it. The really bad stuff we ought to just give away. If you want to be a junkie, go ahead. We can’t stop you, anyway. Instead of spending all our money chasing druggies, prosecuting and incarcerating them, we ought to spend a chunk on education and a chunk on rehab clinics for people who want help. The rest of the savings can go into general revenue.

We’d also get away from the terrible hypocrisy of the present system. If you’re an addict with money, you have a medical issue. Otherwise, you have a criminal issue.

A lot of people in St. Louis had a criminal issue Friday morning. I called the circuit attorney’s office to see if there were any drug sentencings. I had a choice of five divisions. I stopped in at one of the courtrooms. A deputy checked the docket. "We’ve got marijuana and cocaine," she said.

I wandered over to the federal courthouse. Marino was about to be sentenced. He’s 28 years old. He’s been an addict since he was 12. He has no money. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit, a sign that he had not been able to make bail. He was represented by an attorney who had been appointed by the court. Marino gave a wave to Murley, the man who had arrested him.

"He’s a good guy," Murley told me. "He’s really funny."

The federal guidelines called for a sentence of 110 to 137 months, but the government had agreed to let the judge give a shorter sentence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sirena Wissler said her motion in that regard was sealed and she could not comment on it. Except for the agreement to lower the sentence, the case is typical, Wissler said. Judge Rodney Sipple sentenced Marino to 55 months.

Later that afternoon, Crispin was sentenced to 84 months. He, too, is poor. No bail. No private attorney. And like his fellow smurfer, his addiction was not a medical issue.