A California man has been convicted of drug conspiracy for his role in a lucrative Sacramento-to-Juneau oxycontin ring that made millions of dollars from 2007 to 2011.
Richard Corum was also convicted of tampering with a witness for attacking one of his co-conspirators while in custody at the Anchorage jail.
The jury returned the two guilty verdicts Monday evening after deliberating for about five hours. Corum will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in October and could be facing up to 20 years for each count.
At trial, federal prosecutors relied on co-conspirators in the drug conspiracy to testify against Corum. The co-conspirators said they bought the pills from Corum and then they smuggled it (or used drug couriers to smuggle it) to Juneau to distribute. At its peak, the operation was making $2 million a year, according to testimony.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Barkeley, during closing arguments Monday morning, acknowledged the fact that the evidence against Corum was circumstantial, but he told the jury it is still enough to convict.
“Circumstantial evidence is just about all we have here, but it’s extremely powerful,” Barkeley said.
The defense, on the other hand, urged the jury to find the co-conspirator’s testimony unreliable, saying they are “experienced liars” who are being promised leniency in their own cases for their testimony.
“They aren’t telling you the truth,” defense attorney Peter Offenbecher said in closing.
Offenbecher criticized the government’s case for its lack of physical evidence, such as incriminating photographs, video, or anything other than “snitch witnesses” tying Corum to pills and drug money.
“The lack of evidence is startling in this case,” Offenbecher said, noting law enforcement searched Corum’s apartment in 2010 and didn’t find any wads of cash or drugs. “Not even one pill.”
Prosecutors say 30 to 40 people have been arrested in connection to the drug trafficking ring over the past several years, including some Juneau residents. It’s unknown what percentage or amount of the oxycontin pills in Juneau the group was providing, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt said supply has “dropped off drastically” since this conspiracy ended in January 2011.
The question of where Corum obtained the pills he is accused of supplying to the group remains unanswered. There was a reference during the two days of testimony to an elderly couple in Chico, Calif. who may have been a source. Schmidt said in an interview that “dirty doctors” who illegally dispense or prescribe the narcotic may be to blame.
Oxycontin is a painkiller that is legal to obtain with a prescription, but because it contains oxycodone, a narcotic, it is listed as a controlled substance.
Co-conspirator Milan Thomas, who made the U.S. Marshals Most Wanted Fugitive list as he was on the lam, is regarded by prosecutors as the “ringleader” or “mastermind” of this conspiracy, as Barkeley said in closing.
Corum was accused of punching Thomas as they made their way into the church service at the Anchorage jail in June 2012. Prosecutors argued the punch, which was captured on the jail system’s security cameras, was an attempt to influence Thomas’ future testimony against Corum, while the defense argued it was in self-defense.
Thomas and the other co-conspirators have already pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy and are scheduled to be sentenced at a later date.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.