A Juneau man who was convicted by a jury last March for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine was sentenced Friday to serve the next decade in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess imposed the 10 year sentence, which is the mandatory minimum sentence for the crime, in federal court in Juneau.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska allege Ryan Budd Burnett, 30, and a co-conspirator agreed to travel to Seattle in order to obtain methamphetamine for subsequent distribution in Juneau in November of 2009.
According to charging documents, Burnett flew to Seattle on Nov. 7, 2009, to purchase 11 ounces of methamphetamine, and he arranged for a “mule” or drug courier, who is not named in court documents, to carry the drugs back to Alaska via Alaska Airlines. Burnett organized their trip and the return flight to Juneau.
The next day, Nov. 8, the courier arrived in Seattle and was videotaped being picked up by Burnett in a rental car. The two were then videotaped at Target purchasing items later used to conceal and package the drugs in order to avoid detection at the airport, according to court documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt.
On the morning of Nov. 11, Burnett drove the courier to Seattle’s SeaTac airport. Both were scheduled to leave from Seattle to Juneau via Alaska Airlines, but the co-conspirator was caught inside the secured area of the airport. She was found to be in possession of about 311 grams of a mixture containing methamphetamine that was tested later to contain about 337 actual grams of meth, which is a little more than 11 ounces.
The Empire previously reported Burnett was contacted at the departing gate, denied knowing the mule, or even his own name, and was subsequently detained.
He was indicted by a federal grand jury in September 2010 on count of conspiring to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine. He was arrested a month later in October.
The case went to trial in March of last year, and after a guilty verdict was handed down, Burnett moved for an acquittal and for a new trial. Those motions were denied by Burgess in May.
On Friday, Schmidt requested Burnett serve 20 years in prison, arguing that he was “a highly dangerous individual.” Schmidt said it was not the first time Burnett was involved in drug trafficking, and that when Burnett was 18, he was charged in state court with three counts of third-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, a felony, for distributing cocaine. Though those charges were dropped, Schmidt said that when Burnett was contacted at his Juneau residence in August of 2010, he was carrying a loaded .40 caliber handgun and had installed video cameras for surveillance around his house, allegedly to protect his drug enterprise.
“I find that highly disturbing,” Schmidt said, adding, “That is something that scares many people.”
Schmidt noted that Burnett has a minimal criminal history — he only has one prior conviction for contempt of court for failing to report violations of the conditions of release for another man, an older friend, he was acting as third-party custodian for. Burnett was 18 at the time, and he served 90 days in jail for that offense. But Schmidt said that was indicative of his disregard for the criminal justice system and inability to follow court orders.
“Obviously that jail stint didn’t work,” Schmidt said. “... The defendant hasn’t been deterred. ... He hasn’t done anything to repudiate from his past, and he needs to be deterred, and the only way to do that is to give him a serious sentence.”
Burnett’s attorney Kristen Swanson said perceptions that Burnett was solely a drug dealer were false, and that he did not continuously deal drugs. Originally from Anchorage, Burnett moved to Juneau during his high school years with his father after his parents got divorced, she said. Since then, he’s worked as a laborer in the community and for his father’s business, and friends, family members and former employers have all written letters of support of his work ethic. In the past 17 months he’s been held in custody, he’s worked in the kitchen at Lemon Creek Correctional Center, she added.
All this is way of saying he has good prospects for rehabilitation after his release, she said, adding that his limited criminal history should also be taken into consideration. Swanson requested he serve the minimum sentence of 10 years at a prison that offers an electrical skills program that could help him land a job after his release.
“Ten years is plenty of time,” Swanson said. “Going higher than that is just not going to make a difference.”
Burnett declined to address the judge before the sentence was handed down, saying, “I don’t really have anything else to say except I’m sorry.”
Burgess imposed the mandatory 10 years and five years of supervised probation after his release, but said if it were up to him, he probably would have given Burnett a lesser sentence given his lack of criminal record. He called a 10-year sentence “unusual” because most defendants have served serious jail time before receiving a lengthy 10 year sentence, whereas Burnett has only served 90 days in jail before.
But because Congress prescribes the 10 year mandatory minimum for this crime, there was no room for his discretion, he said.
“Ten years is more than sufficient in this case,” he said. “... But it’s not my decision. That’s Congress’ decision.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.