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Calif. oxy 'mule' sentenced to 3 years of probation

Posted: March 16, 2012 - 1:56pm  |  Updated: March 17, 2012 - 11:08pm

A California woman who pleaded guilty to transporting 667 pills of oxycodone to Juneau was sentenced Friday in federal court in Juneau.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess sentenced Jessica Nashea Cooper, 22, to three years of supervised probation after determining the time she has served in prison since being taken into custody — almost 14 months — was a sufficient sentence.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office allege Cooper, then 20 years old, was flying from San Francisco to Juneau via Alaska Airlines on Dec. 31, 2009, and was attempting to catch her connecting flight to Juneau when Drug Enforcement Administration agents stopped her at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. She was found to be carrying 667 80 milligram oxycodone pills that contained 53.36 grams of actual oxycodone, according to court documents. She was arrested later on Jan. 25. in Sacramento.

She was indicted by a federal grand jury in January of last year with one felony count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute oxycodone between August and December of 2009.

That’s a crime punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

She accepted a plea deal in which prosecutors agreed to recommend a mitigated sentence for accepting responsibility, and she pleaded guilty in April.

On Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt told the judge that Cooper, who was paid $1,000 to as a mule, agreed to be a drug courier for financial gain, and that sort of “thinking error” has gotten her in trouble once before. She was previously convicted of credit card fraud for using someone else’s credit card, he said.

“In this situation, it was no different,” Schmidt told the judge.

Schmidt recommended the court sentence her to 37 months in prison, given the amount of drugs involved in the case.

The advisory sentencing range called for 37 to 46 months in prison, but judges are not bound by those parameters, and other factors can be used to determine sentencing terms.

In turn, Assistant Federal Defender Sue Ellen Tatter argued her client was a “naive, disadvantaged” young woman whose been working since 16 years old to support her family after her mother married a methamphetamine addict. Cooper was struggling to keep her younger brothers in high school and to get them into college, Tatter said.

“She made an economic decision at the age of 20 to take $1,000 to do this trip,” Tatter said, noting it was Cooper’s first plane trip. “She wasn’t driven by an addiction here. She was 20 years old and she made a bad decision.”

When contacted by law enforcement at the airport, Cooper immediately “gave up everything,” Tatter said, which led to her arrest.

Tatter described Cooper’s prison experience as harsh, saying she’s served in five or six different facilities in four different states. Also, Cooper’s mother died while Cooper was incarcerated, and she couldn’t attend the funeral, she said.

“She’s a bright, young woman, and she can learn from this,” Tatter said. “She doesn’t need rehab or a psychiatrist. She’s ready to start a new path.”

Tatted also said the credit card fraud conviction was Cooper’s only prior conviction, and that Cooper doesn’t have any other criminal history.

When given the opportunity to speak before the sentence was handed down, Cooper said that prison has been a really “maturing, eye-opening” experience.

“I met a lot of women whose lives this drug has affected,” she said. “Oxycontin is not a joke. It’s addiction.”

She added, “I should have weighed this decision before I made it. What I was carrying had the potential to be devastating to this community.”

Burgess said there was no doubt this was serious crime, but he thinks her experience in prison has already given her “serious pause” and is enough to deter her from engaging in such conduct in the future.

“I think that she made a bad decision, and it’s cost her already,” Burgess said. “... I think she certainly gets it, and I think 15 months probably brought that message home.”

Burgess ordered her to be released and taken back to Sacramento on Saturday.

“You’ve got a huge break in the case, and I hope you take advantage of that and make something of your life,” Burgess told her.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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