A Jefferson County man indicted in March 2020 as part of a drug distribution ring was sentenced Wednesday to 21 months in federal prison for failure to report a felony.
Barry Glen Laws Jr., 35, of Altheimer, pleaded guilty last May before U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. to one count of misprision of a felony, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Laws was originally indicted along with 11 others in a drug conspiracy broken up in 2019 as part of a federal investigation dubbed Operation "Mad Hatter."
According to a March 2020 news release from the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock, Operation Mad Hatter was initiated in June 2018 to target violent drug trafficking organizations operating in central Arkansas and, in particular, Pine Bluff.
The investigation revealed that the Stuttgart Police Department was responding to drug violence caused by a local gang organization called Porter Block Mafia, or PBM. Jefferson County law enforcement advised investigators that the main violent gang organization in the Pine Bluff community is known as Murder Gang and Murder MOB, or MOB. Those organizations, authorities said, were responsible for much of the violent crime in those communities.
Laws, who was represented by Donald Etherly of Helena-West Helena, apologized to Moody for his conduct and asked the judge to consider a minimum guideline sentence of 21 months in prison for him.
"My drug problem has been pretty bad," Laws said. "One thing I never tried was inpatient mental health, so I'd like to try some type of mental health and some type of treatment."
Laws, who had been held in pretrial detention at the Pulaski County jail, also asked Moody to allow him to be released and to self-surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons. He said in the past few days, fentanyl had been discovered in the jail and he said the coronavirus is still an issue.
"Coronavirus scares me the most," he said. "My daddy died of coronavirus."
Etherly told Moody that Laws was diagnosed in 2004 with anxiety, depression and bi-polar disorder. He said his client had often used illicit drugs in an effort to cope with his condition. He said Laws had one prior conviction for drugs and that he had never shown any violent tendencies.
"Over 60% of his life has been covered by the veil of drug use," Etherly said. "He's been a drug user since he was 13."
Etherly said Laws had been to drug treatment three times in the past and through that process had recognized that his mental illness issues were exacerbated by his drug use.
"It's a combination that has to be dealt with and the mental health aspect of it he arrived at on his own," he said. "He recognizes that upon release he's going to have to tackle that issue."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Gardner agreed with Etherly's assessment and said she had no objection to a bottom end guideline sentence, "or even below that."
In addition to the 21-month prison sentence, Moody ordered Laws to serve one year on supervised release and recommended a residential substance abuse program while he is incarcerated.
Moody ordered Laws to report to his designated Bureau of Prisons facility on Nov. 28 by 2 p.m.