Elkins men sentenced in federal court

An Elkins man accused of growing marijuana and cooking methamphetamine after police found a large marijuana plant outside his residence in September 2012 was sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison Tuesday in federal court.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey sentenced Velair Von Collins II, 42, to 57 months in prison after Collins pleaded guilty to an information charging him with being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm March 27 in federal magistrate court.

Following his release, he will be placed on supervised release for three years.

The charge stems from a search of Collins’ Diamond Street property that occurred Sept. 4, 2012, when Cpl. C.D Cross with the Elkins Police Department spotted a 4- or 5-foot marijuana plant growing in a 5-gallon bucket near Collins’ residence. Police subsequently obtained a search warrant for the Diamond Street property and allegedly found the makings of a “shake-and-bake” meth lab, two guns – a Harrington & Richardson 12-gauge shotgun with no serial number and a Marlin .22-caliber rifle – as well as other drug paraphernalia inside his residence.

According to Randolph County Circuit Court records, Collins was convicted of driving under the influence, third offense, a felony, on Feb. 25, 2003, and, as a felon, is legally forbidden from possessing a firearm.

During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Collins’ attorney, Brian Kornbrath, took issue with the portions of the presentence investigation report that recommended sentencing enhancement due to the fact that one of the firearms in Collins’ residence had a barrel that was half an inch too short.

“It was half an inch short of being lawful,” Kornbrath told Bailey. “It’s not the typical weapon that would be used for a criminal purpose such as robbing a bank.”

Kornbrath also objected to a second section of the report in which probation officers recommended sentencing enhancement because they believed the guns were connected to the commission of a felony drug operation.

“It is our position that when police drove by and saw the marijuana plant in a pot, whoever was at the premises making methamphetamine was alerted and took off,” Kornbrath argued. “If he didn’t create the meth himself, (the sentencing enhancement) should not apply.”

Bailey overruled both objections. He said although measurements differentiating legal and illegal lengths of weapons “are somewhat arbitrary, this is what I have to deal with.

“As to the use and connection (of the weapons) to the commission of a felony, that’s overruled,” he said. “Aside from an active meth cook … we have a loaded, sawed-off shotgun in proximity to the remains of a meth lab.

“If this weapon had been found in a gun case or hanging above a fireplace, it would be a different matter,” Bailey continued, “but this was clearly there for protection of drug activity.”

Kornbrath asked for “some relief.”

“You’re obligated to look at the nature of the offense,” the defense attorney said. “He’s working full time in the heating and cooling business, and had been battling serious addiction but is now sober. He has no real crimes of violence and he is a prohibited person because of a DUI.”

Kornbrath asked for a variance in Collins’ sentence “well below” 57 months, which is the minimum amount of prison time Collins faced according to federal sentencing guidelines.

The maximum amount of prison time to which Collins could have been sentenced is 71 months.

However, assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Warner requested that Collins be sentenced to 57 months, noting that Collins had been “forthright and truthful” with the government.

Bailey then sentenced Collins to 57 months in federal prison, which the judge said would hold him accountable not only for the possession of dangerous weapons, but also for the possession and/or manufacture of marijuana and methamphetamine.

“I will note that Mr. Collins has a significant work history and has been employed for most of his life, but has little to show for it,” the judge said.

Collins apologized to his family.

“I’m sorry to my wife and my family,” he said. “It won’t happen again. It’s caused a change in my life… thank you.”

Bailey ordered Collins to self-report to the U.S. Marshal Service on Aug. 1.

Also in federal court Tuesday:

– Brian Keith Hammer, 51, of Elkins, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release.

Hammer pleaded guilty to one felony count of possession of pseudoephedrine to be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine on Dec. 11, 2012.

The charge stems from an incident that took place on June 3, 2012, when Hammer was arrested for purchasing a product containing pseudoephedrine at Walgreen’s.

According to the federal sentencing guidelines in the presentence investigating report, Hammer could have faced 21 to 27 months in federal prison.

Dorwin Wolfe, Hammer’s attorney, disagreed with those guidelines, however, saying Hammer “deserves some compassion.”

Noting the death of Hammer’s wife more than a year ago, Wolfe said Hammer had “systematically lost everything.”

“Some people don’t handle death well,” the attorney said. “When his wife died, that’s when he was first arrested. He didn’t care about his job. He didn’t give a s— whether he lived or died.”

“All you can prove is that he bought a box of Sudafed,” Wolfe said, addressing Warner.

Warner, however, pointed out that Hammer tested positive for methamphetamine three days after pleading guilty in federal court in December 2012 and highlighted Hammer’s recent indictment by a Randolph County grand jury on additional drug-related charges.

In Randolph County Circuit Court Monday, Hammer was indicted on one count of operating or attempting to operate clandestine drug laboratories, a felony; one count of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver, a felony; and two counts of conspiracy, a felony. Hammer and four other individuals were arrested Dec. 29, 2012, after police allegedly found materials commonly used to make methamphetamine in a residence located at 462 Wilson Street in Elkins.

After imposing the 15-month sentence Tuesday, Bailey noted Hammer has struggled with substance abuse for “30-plus years, and until his wife died, had managed to maintain some semblance of control.

“Hopefully, with the help of substance abuse and mental health treatments, this sentence will deter the defendant from committing any future criminal acts,” the judge added.

Bailey ordered Hammer to self-report to the U.S. Marshal Service on Sept. 5.

Contact Katie Kuba by email at kkuba@theintermountain.com.