HOULTON, Maine — A Littleton man who spent approximately seven months in hiding in 2011 after police issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with a methamphetamine lab discovered in Presque Isle will spend 6½ years in prison for charges stemming from the incident.
Ronald Lewis, 23, appearing Friday in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton before Justice E. Allen Hunter, was sentenced for unlawful trafficking of scheduled drugs and violation of conditions of release.
Lewis was 21 when the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, suspecting that methamphetamines were being manufactured at a Main Street apartment, executed a search warrant at the lab on Dec. 29, 2011. Outgoing MDEA Division Commander Darrell Crandall said significant evidence was found at the apartment.
Aroostook County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Kafferlin told Hunter in court Friday that Lewis was guilty of his role in making the meth “concocted at home for the poisoning of one’s self and the community.”
Lewis has past convictions for reckless conduct with a firearm and criminal threatening with a firearm, as well as for bail violations. While he was manufacturing the drug, Kafferlin said, Lewis was lying to his substance abuse counselor and probation officer about abstaining from drug and alcohol use.
Kafferlin said that once Lewis learned the MDEA was after him for manufacturing meth, he fled the state. Lewis was found about seven months later in Topeka, Kan., by officers with the U.S. Marshals Service. The assistant district attorney also said that he had “disappeared” while under house arrest in 2010 and had to be tracked down by a Maine State Police officer.
“He has a ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ mentality,” said Kafferlin. “If he is not brought to court in shackles and jail clothes, he does not appear. He says, ‘catch me if you can,’ and now he stands before you, caught.”
The assistant district attorney asked Hunter to sentence Lewis to a minimum of 7½ years in prison, plus fines and probation.
Lewis’ attorney, Jeff Pickering of Houlton, argued for significantly less time, saying that his client was only 21 at the time of the crime. He cited research showing that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not complete until near the age of 25. This area of the brain is responsible for foreseeing and weighing possible consequences of behaviors, making predictions and impulse control.
“He didn’t see the reasonable risks of his conduct or have the capacity to be fully culpable,” said Pickering.
The defense attorney also said that an alcohol and drug counselor who examined Lewis noted that many of his experiences as a child led to his substance abuse problems, and that Lewis wanted to pursue substance abuse counseling in prison and as part of his probation.
In court, Lewis admitted that he needed help and apologized for his actions.
“I’ve been an addict for a long time,” he told Hunter. “I don’t want to run anymore. I have brought more grief and pain to my family than anyone ever has. It is not easy to hear my mother’s cries and not be able to do anything to console her. It is not easy to live with.”
Lewis said that he could not change the past, but said that he had a 1-year-old daughter and was determined to be a better father to her.
Hunter said that a number of factors worked against Lewis, including the fact that he was making meth in the apartment and selling it in the community. The justice noted that the impact of drugs is not just felt by the person taking the illegal substance.
“You don’t need to take a methamphetamine pill to be harmed by it,” he said.
The justice also pointed out that Lewis engaged in new criminal conduct while on probation for other crimes.
But Hunter also gave him credit for admitting that he was an addict and that he needed to change his life for his daughter, and for wanting to attend addiction programs in prison.
He was sentenced to seven years in prison with all but four years suspended on the unlawful trafficking charge, in concert with three years of probation during which time he cannot ingest any drugs or alcohol and must undergo substance abuse counseling. Lewis also must jointly pay with Alger approximately $2,571 in restitution to the MDEA for the cleanup of the lab site and pay a $400 fine.
Lewis was sentenced to 30 months for the violation of conditions of release charge, to be served consecutive with the trafficking sentence.
Crandall, who on Aug. 1 will take over as chief deputy of the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department, said after the hearing that he felt the sentence reflected the seriousness of the charges.
“We have gotten a restitution order in this case, as we have in some cases in the past,” Crandall said Friday. “But that doesn’t begin to cover the costs to the agency or to the taxpayers in this case. That was just the tip of the iceberg as far as the cleanup costs. That did not cover the money spent by the state to track him down, or to house him in jail, or to fly an officer to Kansas to get him and bring him back, plus other costs. We will never fully recoup all the money that was spent, or undo the damage that was done to the community by the manufacturing and distribution of the drugs.”