Three Randolph County residents named in an eight-count indictment pleaded guilty to methamphetamine-related charges Tuesday in federal court.
Brian Keith Hammer, 52, of Elkins; Shalae Brooke Studer, 21, of Elkins; and Steven B. "Pacco" Miller, 39, of Dryfork pleaded guilty to charges related to the manufacture of methamphetamine stemming from an incident that occurred over June 3-4.
Hammer and Studer each pleaded guilty to one felony count of possession of pseudoephedrine to be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine before U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
The maximum penalty for possession of pseudoephedrine to be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine is up to 20 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and up to three years of supervised release upon release from prison.
In exchange, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Warner agreed to move to dismiss the remaining charges pending against Studer and Hammer. According to the indictment, Hammer and Studer had each additionally been charged with one felony count of possession of material used in the manufacture of methamphetamine and one felony count of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.
During the plea hearings, Randolph County Sheriff Deputy Bradley Sharp testified that on June 3, he had been contacted by Jeff Corley, who reported that his girlfriend, April Kenney, was missing. In an attempt to locate Kenney, Sharp said he pulled into the parking lot of McDonald's in Elkins, where he found Kenney sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle that was being driven by Hammer. Sharp said Studer was sitting in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle.
Sharp searched the vehicle and found Liquid Lightning drain opener, lithium batteries and coffee filters, among other precursors used in the cooking of meth. Upon further investigation, Sharp discovered that Hammer and Studer had purchased pseudoephedrine at Walgreen's within two minutes of one another.
"At 4:22 p.m., Mr. Hammer purchased pseudoephedrine," Sharp testified. "Then, Studer purchased pseudoephedrine at 4:32 p.m. and Hammer returned to Walgreen's at 4:34 p.m. to purchase pseudoephedrine." Sharp said he also searched Studer's purse and car, finding "numerous small plastic baggies," prescription medication, pseudoephedrine-based products and a glass smoking device.
Following Hammer's plea hearing, his attorney, Dorwin Wolfe, said his client's role in the June 3 incident was limited.
"He just agreed to drive them (to Walgreen's)," Wolfe told The Inter-Mountain. "He's not a meth cook. He bought pseudoephedrine once in his life."
Also on Tuesday, Miller pleaded guilty to one felony count of possession of materials used in the manufacture of methamphetamine before U.S. Magistrate John S. Kaull in federal magistrate court. The maximum penalty for possession of materials used in the manufacture of methamphetamine is up to 10 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and up to three years of supervised release upon release from prison.
Sharp testified that following the June 3 incident in the McDonald's parking lot, he drove to the residence of Corley, April Kenney's boyfriend, in the Bowden area to execute a search warrant for precursors of methamphetamine. Sharp said he encountered Miller exiting Corley's residence and subsequently searched him. The deputy reportedly found lithium batteries and coffee filters containing a white residue that later tested positive for methamphetamine on Miller's person.
When Kaull asked Miller if he disagreed with any of Sharp's testimony, Miller said yes, and stated that he was simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time." After an apparent disagreement between Miller and his attorney, Brian Kornbrath, Kaull ordered everyone out of the courtroom so the two could consult privately.
Several minutes later, Kaull called court back into session and addressed Miller sternly. Kaull said that after Miller had already taken responsibility for his actions, he then offered the court "basically an excuse."
"You said you were 'in the wrong place at the wrong time,' and implied that you didn't know what was going on," the magistrate said.
"I'm sorry," Miller responded. "I knew everything (precursors of methamphetamine) was there."
Kaull ordered that Miller be released from state custody, pending an inspection of his sister's residence where he plans to reside until his sentencing before Bailey.
"I'm releasing you (from regional jail) basically because there's no reason not to," Kaull said, "but I do so with some concern. You just sat in front of me and tried to minimize your involvement, so if you fall on your face, it will have consequences."
- Also in federal court Tuesday, Archie Ray Arbogast, 36, of Dunmore, pleaded guilty to one felony count of possession of materials used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Arbogast eluded authorities for 15 days following a Sept. 10 traffic stop, escaping police custody while wearing handcuffs. He was arrested Sept. 25 in Dailey after police found various materials typically used to make meth - including lithium batteries, rubber tubing and 14 capsules of Claritin D24 Hours - in two backpacks that belonged to Arbogast.