Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — Twelfth Judicial District Judge Michael Gonzales didn’t know what to think when he read Stella Ann Schimpf’s case file.
The 46-year-old La Jara woman had no previous criminal history until last year. But then, she became involved with an alleged drug ring that distributed prescription painkillers and other controlled substances across south-central Colorado.
Eventually, Schimpf pleaded guilty to attempted distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance, and on Tuesday, she stood before Judge Gonzales as a convicted felon.
She originally faced even more serious charges, including three counts each of distribution and conspiracy to distribute, as well as a separate Conejos County case. Those charges disappeared under the terms of a plea deal.
But Judge Gonzales found that the underlying facts in Schimpf’s case remain serious enough for the court to impose a 90-day jail sentence, with credit for time served. He also imposed a $5,000 fine, while suspending $4,500, and placed Schimpf under supervised probation for three years.
Finally, he left her with a warning: if she violates any conditions of her probation, she will face serious consequences, including two to eight years in state prison.
In a related case, Manassa resident Jennifer Rivera-Lovato pleaded guilty on Tuesday to distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance. Prosecutors, in turn, dismissed 12 additional charges against her, including seven counts of distribution, two counts each of conspiracy and misdemeanor child abuse and one count of “special offender.”
According to a Colorado Bureau of Investigation report, the 32-year-old woman sold well over $7,150 in oxycodone pills to an undercover agent, along with 90 Vicodin pills.
A separate case is also pending in Chaffee County, where Rivera-Lovato is scheduled to enter a plea on April 30.
In Schimpf’s case, an undercover agent reported that she sold him Ecstasy pills on two occasions last summer. The agent reported that the colorful pills were named after cartoon characters like Superman and the Transformers.
Schimpf later introduced the agent to a man who allegedly sold him 65 oxycodone pills for $1,000; on another occasion, the agent reported that Schimpf and her boyfriend, Billy Darrel Webster, sold him $800 worth of oxycodone pills.
In addition to Schimpf, Rivera-Lovato and Webster, authorities arrested 12 other people during their crackdown on an alleged drug ring that reached from Conejos County to Salida and Cañon City.
Some of those suspects have previous criminal records, but defense attorney Raymond Miller noted that Schimpf had no previous run-ins with the law.
“This is a lady that got caught up in a sting,” he said.
Schimpf assured the judge that she wants to put the experience behind her.
“I know what I did was wrong, and I want to apologize to my family and everybody,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like that (before), and I will never do anything like that again.”
Judge Gonzales ultimately ordered Schimpf to perform 75 hours of useful public service, to complete a substance abuse education program and to submit to random drug tests, if necessary. He also stayed her jail sentence until March 18, and gave her credit for 63 days served.
There’s no evidence to suggest that Schimpf sold prescription drugs to young people. But the judge said he felt compelled to address the overall problem of painkiller abuse among kids and student athletes.
“What distresses me the most about your crime is (seeing young people) doing things with painkillers that I never thought were possible,” he said. “Maybe it was an easy way for you to get this money, but … (it was) on the backs of these children.”
Numerous studies suggest that the problem extends far beyond the San Luis Valley and southern Colorado.
According to a University of Colorado, Denver researcher, prescription painkiller abuse among children is 40 percent higher than it was among previous generations. Only marijuana is more popular among young drug users, the researcher found.
Prescription drug abuse among all ages is also on the rise, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of people who die as a result of drug overdoses has more than tripled over the last 20 years, and prescription drugs were responsible for most of those deaths, the CDC reported.
More and more people are also misusing opiate-derived or synthetic opiate painkillers, the agency says.
In 2010 alone, more than 12 million people reported that they used painkillers for non-medical purposes.
The vast majority of those people — over 75 percent — abused prescription medications that doctors prescribed to someone else.
At least 36 states responded to these trends by setting up their own prescription drug monitoring programs. Even so, legal prescriptions rose from roughly 40 million in 1991 to nearly 180 million by 2007, and between 1999 and 2010, sales to legitimate health care businesses quadrupled.
“We’re creating a generation of people addicted to prescription pills,” Judge Gonzales noted. “We’ve got doctors giving them away like candy because people say they’re not feeling well.”