Johnston pleads not guilty to drug charges

Levi Johnston quits his job as a North Slope oil field worker

Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2009

ANCHORAGE - A woman whose son is engaged to marry Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter has pleaded not guilty to felony drug charges for allegedly selling a powerful prescription painkiller.

Sherry Johnston - whose 18-year-old son Levi Johnston is engaged to Palin's daughter, Bristol - was arrested Dec. 18 on six felony drug counts, accused of selling OxyContin.

The 42-year-old Johnston entered her plea Monday at an arraignment in Palmer.

According to authorities, Sherry Johnston sent text messages to two police informants discussing drug transactions before her arrest in December. An affidavit says the text messages referred to "coffee" as a code for OxyContin.

Johnston was arrested after state troopers served a search warrant at her Wasilla home. She is out on bail.

Also on Monday, Levi Johnston's father, Keith Johnston, said his son quit his job as a North Slope oil field worker after questions arose in a weekend newspaper column about Levi's eligibility to work as an apprentice electrician without a high school degree, the Anchorage Daily News reported on its Web site.

There was no phone listing for Keith Johnston. There also was no answer at the Sherry Johnston home on Monday evening, and a message could not be left because the phone's voice mail memory was full.

Levi Johnston is enrolled in high school through a correspondence program, Gov. Sarah Palin told The Associated Press last week. But his father told the Anchorage Daily News that his son decided on Monday to quit and return home to focus on his education.

Levi Johnston worked for ASRC Energy Services, and the company's rules require a high school diploma for those in its apprentice program. The elder Johnston is an engineer for the company, and said his position accounted for any help Levi received in getting the job.

Sherry Johnston's court case began in the second week of September when drug investigators intercepted a package containing 179 Oxycontin pills. That led to the arrest of the suspects, who agreed to be informants.

In the affidavit, Johnston is accused of setting up a meeting at a store. The document says the informant received $800 to make a purchase, meeting investigators later with 10 pills of 80-milligram Oxycontin.

A second purchase was made the following day, authorities said. This time the informant wore a hidden camera and a microphone.

A third purchase occurred Nov. 26. The informant was wired for the transaction and this time police videotaped the meeting.

A drug investigator has said that authorities delayed the arrest until after the November election, in which Palin was the Republican vice presidential candidate, the newspaper reported.

Investigator Kyle Young sent an e-mail to the Public Safety Employees Association saying the search warrant of Johnston's house was delayed for political reasons.

"It was not allowed to progress in a normal fashion, the search warrant WAS delayed because of the pending election and the Mat Su Drug Unit and the case officer were not the ones calling the shots," Young wrote in the Dec. 30 e-mail.

The warrant was delivered the same day as Sherry Johnston's arrest.

Public Safety Commissioner Joe Masters insisted the case was handled fairly and said no one in the governor's office knew troopers were investigating until Sherry Johnston's house was searched.

After the house was searched, Masters said he called Palin's chief of staff, Mike Nizich, to alert him of a potential media frenzy.

Col. Audie Holloway, the troopers' director, also vigorously disputed that there was anything irregular in how the case was handled.

A message left for Young with his union was not immediately returned Monday.

Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin recently announced the birth of their son. The baby, Tripp, is the governor's first grandchild.

Palin and the Public Safety Employees Association, which represents troopers, have sparred over a high-profile dispute that became known as Troopergate.

At the center was former commissioner Walt Monegan, whom some say was dismissed because he would not fire a trooper involved with a messy divorce with Palin's sister.

A Legislative Council found that Palin had abused her office but the firing was legal since Monegan was an at-will employee. A subsequent investigation by the Alaska State Personnel Board found there was no probable cause to believe Palin or any other state official violated ethics laws. Palin maintains that Monegan was ousted over budget disagreements.

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