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Saline County man sentenced to 28 years in prison on federal drug conspiracy charges

Wrightsville man last of 11 by Dale Ellis | October 8, 2021 at 3:06 a.m.

A Saline County man convicted earlier this year in federal court on drug conspiracy charges was sentenced to 28 years in prison Thursday by U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr.

James Richards, 52, known as "Richie Rich," was convicted of one count each of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine and cocaine distribution, and five counts of use of a telephone in furtherance of a drug crime. His co-defendant, Isaac May, 42, of Sweet Home was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine and three counts of use of a phone in furtherance of a drug crime.

May was sentenced to 30 years in August for his part in the conspiracy.

Richards, of Wrightsville, was the last of 11 defendants to be sentenced in the federal prosecution of a drug ring federal officials said was run by John Garner, 53, a Los Angeles native living in Henley when the drug ring was broken up in 2018. Garner testified against Richards and May during their trial in April.

Garner is serving 15 years for his part in the conspiracy. Other terms range from 30 years to probation.

When Richards was escorted into the courtroom on Thursday, he was greeted by well-wishers from his family and community, several of whom had written letters of support to Moody and several of whom testified at Richards' sentencing hearing, asking the judge to show mercy to Richards.

Curtis Johnson, who described himself and Richards as "lifelong friends," said he had tried over the years to help Richards, but said his friend became a "product of the system."

"That system is part of the reason he's here facing what he's facing right now," Johnson said. He added that one reason Richards elected to go to trial rather than strike a plea agreement was that most of the contents of plea agreements are public record and can be accessed by inmates looking for information on other inmates.

"He's a pretty decent guy," Johnson said. "He just got caught up in a situation."

Cornelius Gentry, who also wrote a letter to Moody, asked the judge, "for Mr. Richards to get another chance to try harder and hopefully not extinguish any hope he might have of pursuing a useful life."

Gentry asked Moody to use "whatever is available to you as a judge ... to give him a chance at having some hope."

Richards appeared ready to read a prepared statement but was overcome with emotion as he tried to read. Asking for the mercy of the court, he said, "I am a life worth saving," before he stopped, unable to continue.

"That concludes this presentation," said his attorney, Arkie Byrd of Little Rock.

"While you were speaking you got a little emotional," Moody said to Richards. "Have you said all you want to say or do you want to take a minute? That's up to you."

After Richards indicated he was finished, Byrd continued.

"His worst behavior is not who he is," she said. "I would like to see him have some hope of coming out of incarceration to where he has some way to live and will be able to enjoy freedom and to be able to be in his family's life in a meaningful way."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Givens, who assisted with the prosecution of the case, noted Richards' previous incarceration on a drug conviction that resulted in a life sentence that was later commuted.

"What Mr. Richards has done with his life after getting a chance that most people never get," Givens said, "is extremely disappointing."

Givens said in 1991, Richards was sentenced to life in prison for selling drugs but later had his sentence commuted and he was released from prison.

"He was given another chance at life," Givens said. "And he went back to the thing that got him a life sentence. ...He did this after receiving the mercy of a break on a life sentence."

In announcing the sentence, 336 months for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine, Moody noted that it was a two-year downward variance from the bottom of the recommended guideline range of 360 months to life in prison.

Part of the reason, he said, was Richards' history of mentoring others, and part, he said, was because "you at least appear to be more remorseful than Mr. May, thus justifying the two-year difference in your sentences."

Moody also sentenced Richards to 336 months for distribution of cocaine, and four years for each count of use of a telephone in furtherance of a drug crime, with all sentences to run concurrently for an aggregate sentence of 28 years in prison.

Moody ordered that, upon his release from prison, Richards will serve an additional 10 years on supervised release. He also ordered Richards to pay a $700 special assessment; $100 for each count.

Print Headline: Drug-ring role nets Arkansan a 28-year term

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