Six Cortland County residents sentenced in federal meth case

CORTLAND, N.Y. — A city woman was sentenced to two years in federal prison Tuesday morning for purchasing medicines containing pseudoephedrine knowing it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine, according to city police.

Samantha Albanese, 32, is one of six County residents recently sentenced in federal court in Syracuse for possessing ingredients to make meth.

The sentencings were the culmination of a year-long investigation by a multi-agency drug task force that dramatically impaired meth production in the county and led to the arrest of 18 people on federal drug charges.

The taskforce, which included city, county and state police, focused on meth-makers and ingredient suppliers breaking a federal law against purchasing more than 9 grams of medicines containing pseudoephedrine in a month, according to city police. Pseudoephedrine is an essential ingredient to make methamphetamine and can be found in many over-the-counter cold medicines. The arrests were made in a coordinated sweep by the taskforce, headed by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the US Attorney General’s office, from Nov. 14-16, 2017, according to a DEA press release and the federal court.

Two Cortland County brothers arrested in the sweep were also sentenced to federal prison last week for purchasing ingredients to make meth, according to city police.

James Duff, 39, of Truxton, was sentenced Thursday to six years in prison and Timothy Duff, 38, of Cortland, was sentenced Friday to three years in prison after each plead guilty to possessing a listed chemical knowing it would be used to manufacture a controlled substance, according to police. James Duff was also sentenced to three years of post-release supervision In addition to the Duffs and Albanese, those County residents arrested included: Pamela Lackner, 48, Tyler Brobeck, 27, and Alysia M. Brobeck, 27, all of Cortland.

City police previously arrested Lackner when a meth lab in her attic exploded across the street from Parker Elementary School in 2017, according to the department. Albanese was arrested with James Duff for manufacturing meth in 2016 in an Owego Street apartment, according to state police.

While federal cases require a higher standard of evidence than cases involving state law, the prison sentences for breaking federal statutes are longer, Deputy Chief Paul Sandy said.

The difference between federal and state prison sentences for meth-related crimes is startling.

James Duff was sentenced in Cortland County Court to a year in jail as part of a plea bargain after he was arrested for manufacturing meth twice in eight months and possessing the drug with intent to sell, felonies, according to city police. Duff was sentenced Thursday in federal court to six years in prison and three years of post-release supervision for having more than 9 grams of pseudoephedrine knowing it would be used to make meth, according to information obtained from the US Attorney’s office.

Each person arrested in the November sweep faced up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release, according to a DEA press release.

The city police department’s involvement with the taskforce focusing on federal meth crimes has led to a noticeable decrease in meth manufacturing in Cortland, said Lt. Rick Troyer.

Since the November 2017 arrests, the number of meth-related labs in Cortland County dropped by 70 percent, according to state police statistics. From 2014 to 2017, the New York State Police Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team cleaned up between 33 and 39 meth labs discovered by police. In 2018, the team responded to 10 meth labs.

“Obviously, it’s worked. Our meth labs have gone way down,” Troyer said. “And the same people are the people we’ve been chasing around for years.”

One advantage of cooperating with the federally-led taskforce is it takes a holistic approach to targeting drug manufacturers and traffickers that travel frequently between Cortland, Syracuse and Binghamton, city police noted. The taskforce works inside and outside Cortland County, just as meth-makers travel inside and outside of the County’s borders.

“These individuals were purchasing ingredients for the purpose of manufacturing a dangerous and illegal drug in and around Broome, Cortland, and Tioga counties,” New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II said in a press release at the time of the drug sweep. “These arrests ultimately saved lives, and send the message that we will work tirelessly to rid our communities of methamphetamine and its associated dangers.”

Members of the task force, including a city police detective assigned to the team, monitor a live computer network drugstores use to report their sales of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, an ingredient necessary to make meth, according to city police. Officers look for names of individuals repeatedly purchasing the drugs, or stores that sell an unusually large amount. If an individual attempts to buy more than the federally-allowed 9 grams of medicine, that person is blocked from purchasing additional medicines and the taskforce is notified. Police might then surveil the individual for activities consistent with drug making or for bringing pills to meth makers, an activity called “smurfing.”

While the defendants were all arrested for possessing ingredients to make meth, they were all also involved in the manufacture of the drug, according to city police. However, their method of making meth in a two-liter soda bottle, also called the “one-pot” or “shake and bake” method, does not generate enough meth at one time to break federal manufacture laws. First-time offenders must generate 50 grams of meth, or the equivalent of about a small egg, to be prosecuted under federal manufacturing laws that can garnar up to 10 years in prison, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service Report. The average soda bottle method can only yield about 12 grams of meth, according to BioMax Environmental, Inc., a California-based company that samples and assesses meth labs for environmental cleanup.

The three other Cortland County residents arrested in the sweep – Lackner and the Brobecks – were sentenced in September and October in federal court to time served and three years of supervised release.

The 12 Broome and Tioga county residents arrested in the sweep were:

  • William J. Richards, 39, and Kurtis H. Richards, 20, of Johnson City. Kurtis Richards was sentenced in August to a year-and-a-half in federal prison with three years of supervised release. William Richards is set to be sentenced at 11 a.m. Jan. 22 in federal court in Binghamton.
  • Troy D. Clark, 40, Whitney Point, is scheduled to be sentenced at 10 a.m. Jan. 22 in federal court in Binghamton.
  • Mervin R. Clark, 63, and Lindy S. Clark, 34, of Glen Aubrey. Mervin Clark was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in federal prison, while Lindy Clark received two years in prison. Both were sentenced to three years of supervised release.
  • Charles A. McNeilly, 50, Whitney Point. McNeilly was sentenced in October to three years in federal prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Donald W. Moshier, 39, Whitney Point. Moshier was sentenced in October to two years in federal prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Jennifer Collins of Berkshire was sentenced in October to two years in federal prison and and three years of supervised release.
  • Arthur Schermerhorn of Berkshire was sentenced in October to a year-and-a-half in federal prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Corey R. Mangan, 30, Lisle, NY. Mangan was sentenced in April to five years in federal prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Warren J. Zeilman, 56, and Lisa K. Zeilman, 52, of Vestal. Warren Zeilman was sentenced in January to one-and-a-half years in federal prison and three years of supervised release, while Lisa Zeilman was sentenced in June to time served with three years of supervised release.

A total of 10 law enforcement agencies took part in the taskforce: the Syracuse DEA office, state police, U.S. Marshals, the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office, Cortland City Police Department, Ithaca City Police Department, Binghamton City Police Department, the Broome County Sheriff’s Department, the Vestal Town Police Department and the Endicott Village Police Department.