Courier staff writer
CONEJOS — Billy Darrel Webster says he never sold prescription opiates to an undercover law enforcement officer.
But the Conejos County man was present last September, when his girlfriend handed the agent $800 worth of oxycodone pills. For the purposes of sentencing, then, the law treats him as though he was involved in the deal.
“From a legal perspective, we want to discourage anyone from being involved in that sort of thing,” 12th Judicial District Judge Michael Gonzales said Wednesday.
“It’s not the sort of behavior that we want in the community.”
With those words, the judge placed Webster on supervised probation for two years, and gave him credit for 71 days served, as recommended by the probation department. However, instead of ordering the defendant to serve any additional jail time, Judge Gonzales placed him on an electronic monitoring program for 30 days.
Webster, who was 39 at the time of his arrest last fall, previously pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance — four grams or less. He entered the plea of convenience in order to avoid a more serious Class 3 felony charge of selling or distributing a Schedule II controlled substance.
Authorities arrested Webster and 14 other people during an October 2012 crackdown on an alleged drug ring that reached from Conejos County to Salida and Cañon City.
As the investigation expanded beyond Chaffee County, police departments in Alamosa and Salida stepped forward to help out. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tactical Diversion Squad and other entities were also on hand to assist.
At the time, investigators who organized the crackdown called the arrests a significant disruption of southern Colorado’s drug trade.
Some of the suspects allegedly sold methamphetamine and Ecstasy to undercover agents. But authorities said most of the transactions involved synthetic opiates and other prescription painkillers.
Investigators claim that many of the 15 suspects obtained oxycodone, OxyContin, Vicodin and other medications by convincing licensed physicians they needed prescriptions for the drugs.
Most of Webster’s co-defendants in numerous Conejos and Alamosa County cases — including his girlfriend, Stella Ann Schimpf — have already pleaded guilty to related charges.
Deputy District Attorney Rob White’s office also agreed to accept Webster’s plea, as well as most of the probation department’s sentencing recommendations. But White said he remains concerned by the defendant’s characterization of what happened on the day in question.
Webster was not only present at the scene of the transaction; according to White, the defendant was very much a part of it.
“Certainly, it’s concerning that Mr. Webster seems to be minimizing his involvement in this incident,” he said.
Given Webster’s previous criminal history, and his role in the current offense, White suggested that the court should order the defendant to serve additional jail time.
Defense attorney Alex Raines acknowledged that jurors would have convicted Webster of the more serious offense if the case had gone to trial. But the reality of many cases is that the circumstances are frequently different from the way they’re outlined in police reports or criminal complaint forms, he said.
It’s laughable to suggest that more jail time could help someone succeed in the long run, Raines said.
Judge Gonzales ultimately imposed a $2,000 fine, and suspended all but $200 of that amount. He also ordered Webster to perform 75 hours of useful public service, and to maintain full-time employment.
Under the terms of his sentence, Webster must also continue to receive mental health treatment, and he will have to complete an intensive substance abuse treatment program. In addition, he must submit to random drug tests.