A 25-year-old Alabama man was sentenced Monday to six years in federal prison for transporting 58 pounds of methamphetamine into Arkansas in 2021.
Abdul Malik Arnold of Florence, Ala., was arrested by state police after he was stopped on Interstate 40 in Pope County for a traffic violation. According to court records, about 8:35 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2021, Arkansas State Police Cpl. Paul Meeks pulled over a black Nissan Kicks with California plates for traveling outside its lane. Arnold told Meeks he had an identification card but no driver's license and that he was driving from Dallas to Alabama. Records indicated Pope County was not on the way to Alabama from Dallas.
After determining the vehicle was rented under someone else's name and there was no one nearby who could pick it up, Meeks called for a wrecker to transport the vehicle. During an inventory search he discovered two duffel bags containing approximately 58 pounds of the drug, worth an estimated $2.6 million.
Last January, Arnold pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky to one count of possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, which carries a potential prison term ranging between 10 years and life in prison under U.S. sentencing statutes, as well as a maximum fine of $10 million.
Arnold has a minimal criminal history, and his role in the offense was determined to be that of a "drug mule" with no authority. Under the terms of his plea agreement, the recommended guideline sentence for Arnold was calculated at 63 to 78 months in prison.
Arnold's attorney, Molly Sullivan with the Federal Public Defenders Office in Little Rock, requested a low-end sentence of 63 months, citing Arnold's education, stable employment and minimal criminal history.
"I do recognize this was a substantial amount of methamphetamine in this case and that Mr. Arnold is looking at much less because he doesn't have any substantial criminal history," Sullivan said. "He has one prior charge for marijuana which, you know, is a lot less than we usually see."
Sullivan said Arnold plans to continue his education, that he had received on-the-job training in construction and is certified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. She said Arnold's background suggests a high probability that he has the ability "to become a productive member of society again."
"His previous employer, who employed him before this arrest, is willing to reconsider hiring him back," she said. "This has been a big wake-up call for him about his involvement in crime. It's taken him away from his children and his family. He's been incarcerated ... since before Christmas of 2021, so he's missed out on time with his family."
Sullivan noted that several of Arnold's friends and family had traveled from Alabama to show support for him at the sentencing.
"That support system on the outside is really helpful, I think, for people who are trying to get themselves together," she said, "to help make sure they don't do this again."
Rudofsky, however, noted with concern that when Arnold was arrested in 2017, he had not been cooperative with police.
"I see the defendant continued to drive while being followed by multiple patrol vehicles with emergency lights and sirens active," Rudofsky said. "That, to me, sort of suggests fleeing."
According to Rudofsky's report, after Arnold pulled over next to a residence and was ordered to get out of the vehicle by police, "he did not comply."
When police attempted to physically remove him from his vehicle, Rudofsky said, Arnold "kicked and pushed an officer."
"Then, when we go to the current offense," the judge said, "while he didn't do any of that active resistance, he was driving on a suspended license, and he doesn't appear to me to have been the most truthful he could have been with police."
Sullivan pointed out that Arnold was 19 at the time of his previous arrest and had no experience with police.
"I think he was trying to make it home," she said. "I think he was scared, and he didn't know what to do. ... It was kind of a perfect storm of things."
She said Arnold was truthful and cooperated with police during the latest arrest, to the point of telling Meeks up front that he only had an identification card but no license.
"He obviously didn't say, 'Hey, you got me, now look at the 50-something pounds of drugs I've got in my car,' but neither was he running away," Rudofsky said. "From the way I read it, this is something of a drug mule situation."
"He was kind of just the driver," Sullivan said. "He's not the mastermind."
Arguing for a high-end guideline sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Liza Jane Brown said Arnold had already received substantial reductions for his role and that a 78-month sentence would be more likely to deter not only Arnold but others who might consider a lighter sentence a worthwhile trade-off for the risk.
"We have someone who was bringing in a lot of methamphetamine, and it was coming here," Brown said. "I think it's important to let the community know that even if you're a mule, even if you're not a big player, you're still going to go to prison."
As he announced the sentence, Rudofsky explained that his thinking was to go just above the middle of the range, saying Arnold's background and minimal criminal history worked in his favor, but the amount of drugs he was transporting did not.
"This is a crime that has serious consequences," he said. "People can and do die from this stuff all the time. ... What you did made it much more likely that somebody in the community would die."