Drug charges dropped for soldier

Posted Feb. 22, 2010, at 1:52 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A man who helped arrange a drug deal that brought a large amount of cocaine into Maine is being allowed to return to the Army — and a second combat tour in Afghanistan.

Mathew Meineke faced the prospect of five years in prison because of the drug deal back in 2006. Afterward, the Colorado native cleaned up his life, enlisted in the Army and served in Afghanistan as a forward observer for his infantry unit from July 2008 to June 2009. While in Afghanistan, he was indicted.

Earlier this month, Meineke got a rare break. Defense lawyer Tim Zerillo asked federal prosecutors to consider dropping the charges, and they eventually agreed to do that.

“All he wants to do is to be able to serve his country,” Zerillo told the Portland Press Herald. “His highest and best use is not in a federal prison, it’s in Afghanistan protecting us and everyone else.”

Meineke already had cleaned up his act, returned to his parents’ home in Lakewood, Colo., and joined the Army when he was indicted. Two co-conspirators received sentences of four and five years in federal prison. Meineke was arrested after returning to the United States in June 2009.

Zerillo asked prosecutors to consider diverting the case, in effect dismissing charges. In exchange, Meineke promised not to commit other offenses and agreed to a set of conditions for 18 months.

U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby approved the deal. “It gives people a chance not to have a criminal charge,” she said. “That is infrequent, but it is an option.”

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