County man given historic 5½-year sentence in federal bath salts case

Posted July 11, 2012, at 4:16 p.m.
Last modified July 16, 2012, at 5:47 p.m.
Shayne Ellis
Caribou Police Department
Shayne Ellis

BANGOR, Maine — The first person to be sentenced in Maine for federal drug crimes relating to bath salts was given a 5½-year prison term at U.S. District Court on Wednesday for robbing a Caribou pharmacy, possessing and distributing bath salts, and violating federal gun laws last year.

Aroostook County native Shayne Ellis, 30, was sentenced to 66 months imprisonment and $2,490.91 in restitution by U.S. District Judge John Woodcock.

Ellis robbed the Rite Aid pharmacy in Caribou of $2,500 worth of prescription painkillers and another $1,000 in merchandise including jewelry and high-end liquor on Nov. 27, 2011 after being arrested on Nov. 4 for possession of a large amount of pharmaceutical drugs, and again on Nov. 22 for possession of a loaded handgun, 400 grams of a synthetic cathinone used to make bath salts, and a large amount of oxycodone, hydrocodone and buprenorphine.

Ellis, who admitted to being on bath salts at the time of the robbery, was being prosecuted on three counts including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, felony possession of a firearm and ammunition, and robbery of controlled substances from a DEA-registered pharmacy.

Ellis — who was born in Limestone, grew up in Houlton, and most recently resided in Brewer — faced prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years and fines ranging from $250,000 to $2 million for all three counts. By entering a guilty plea, he admitted he was part of a drug conspiracy between Jan. 1 and Nov. 27, 2011, that distributed methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, a component used to produce bath salts.

Federal sentencing guidelines after all factors were considered called for a jail term of 78 to 97 months and a fine no less than $12,500 and no higher than $1 million.

“Going by the guidelines, I would’ve unequivocally imposed a 97-month sentence if not for the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s recommendation,” Woodcock said.

“The person who broke in was not the same person who was in court today,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey. “The government is satisfied that a 66-month sentence is a fair sentence to be given in light of all the sentencing factors the court has to consider in imposing a sentence.”

Ellis apologized to the court and to one of the two pharmacy employees who was working when he and Amy Geroux, 24, of Bangor robbed it. While that employee, who said she “had never seen anyone look so mad in my life” and that Ellis “seemed like a monster” in her victim’s impact statement to the court, was present at Wednesday morning’s sentencing, she chose not to address the court.

“I’d very much like to apologize to [both pharmacy employees],” said Ellis, whose father and mother were both drug addicts, according to his attorney. “I was initially attracted to the high euphoria offered by bath salts, but after the high wore off, I realized I needed to make some changes in my life.”

Ellis, who has a 5-year-old daughter who was put up for adoption, admitted to using virtually every drug on the list for the last 20 years of his life.

Ellis’ sentence included mandatory drug treatment, at least three years of supervised release and regular drug testing, and a prohibition on the use of any drugs or alcohol.

“My client, obviously, was hopeful the judge would agree with the U.S. Attorney’s recommendation. We’re very thankful to the U.S. Attorney for looking at the circumstances of this case and making the recommendation he made,” said Chuck Hodsdon, Ellis’ defense attorney. “We believe it’s a good result. He’s been an addict since he was 10 after his father tried to commit suicide, and it’s going to be hard for him to turn it around, but I believe my client is highly motivated.”

The charges against Ellis stemmed from separate arrests in Brewer last November, when he was found with a large amount of diverted prescription drugs and $1,450 cash on Nov. 4 and then arrested again Nov. 22 in a Brewer motel room with a large amount of bath salts, $3,469 and a .38-caliber revolver.

“I do commend you for your insight and courage to break with your past,” Woodcock told Ellis. “But I also warn you that society cannot tolerate your return to this lifestyle.

“If you continue back into that lifestyle, you will not want to see me again.”

Ellis’ aunt and another family member were present in the gallery behind Ellis. They all hugged when he was led in and again, tearfully, before he was taken out.

“It’s OK. It’ll be OK,” Ellis told them.

When asked for a statement regarding the significance of Wednesday’s sentencing, U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty issued the following statement:

“This case is noteworthy because it is the first federal prosecution in this District involving so-called ‘bath salts.’ The problems associated with bath salts have been well-documented over the past year, especially in the Bangor area.

“Now that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has classified MDPV, the active ingredient in bath salts, as a Schedule I controlled substance, this office will aggressively prosecute these cases whenever they are supported by sufficient evidence.

“Federal prosecution of Ellis was also noteworthy because of his varied criminal activity, including the robbery of a pharmacy in Caribou, which is an offense that is a priority for this office.”

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story contained errors. Ellis’ 5-year-old daughter is the child of another former girlfriend, not longtime girlfriend Amy Geroux. Defense attorney Chuck Hodsdon’s name was misspelled because of an error in court documents.

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