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Chronicle AM: Seattle Pot Vapor Lounges, VA Pot Poll, Here Comes California, Iran Drug Executions, More (1/6/15)

Seattle's city attorney wants a place for marijuana users to congregate, California activists start moving toward 2016, Dr. David Nutt criticizes British Ecstasy policy, Iran starts the New Year with a bakers' dozen drug executions, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic executed more than 300 drug offenders last year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants Marijuana Vapor Lounges. In a new memo on marijuana policy, City Attorney Peter Holmes is calling for the legalization of pot vapor lounges in the city. "Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana; others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options," he noted in the memo. "You can enforce that law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand," Holmes said. The lounges would be open only to those 21 and over, require customers to bring their own weed, and would only allow vaping, not smoking. Such a move would require the approval of the city council and the city health department.

Virginia Poll Finds Majority Support for Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that 74% of respondents supported allowing medical marijuana and 60% supported decriminalization. The poll also had a near-majority for legalization, with 49% in favor and 44% opposed.

California Activists Set First Meeting for 2016 Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will kick off the effort to legalize pot in the state in 2016 with a meeting in Oakland this Friday. The meeting will be a seminar examining lessons from the successful initiative efforts in Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the roll-out of marijuana commerce in Colorado. Click on the link for meeting details.  

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Votes to Reschedule CBD, But Not Marijuana. The state Board of Pharmacy voted Monday to move cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule I to Schedule II, but not marijuana. The board was acting on a petition from long-time activist Carl Olsen, who sought to have the whole plant rescheduled. But the board wasn't ready to do that. Olsen says while it isn't what he was asking for, it is a step in the right direction.

Sentencing

Washington State Defelonization Bill to Get Hearing. A bill that would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony will get a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee on January 16. The bill is House Bill 1024, introduced by Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), and is estimated to save the state millions in incarceration costs each year if passed. Fourteen other states have defelonized drug possession, with California being the most recent. Voters there approved a defelonization initiative in November.

Law Enforcement

Rolling Stone Exposé on Crooked Texas Border Drug Task Force. Rolling Stone has published an in-depth look at a South Texas drug task force, the infamous "Panama Unit" of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and the Mission Police Department. The extent of the thievery and corruption is mind-blowing. Well worth the read.

International

"Illogical and Punitive Drug Policy" to Blame for British Ecstasy Deaths, Prominent Critic Says. Dr. David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs who was fired for failing to toe the government's hard line of drug policy, has blamed that hard-line policy for the drug overdose deaths of four men in the past few days. The men thought they were taking Ecstasy, but a British government crackdown on the drug has led to it being substituted by a more lethal substance, PMA. That's the "illogical and punitive drug policy," Nutt was referencing. "The emergence of the more toxic PMA following the so-called ‘success’ in reducing MDMA production is just one of many examples of how prohibition of one drug leads to greater harm from an alternative that is developed to overcome the block," he added.

Mexican Army Kills Nine Civilians in Cartel-Plagued Michoacan. Nine civilians have been killed by Mexican soldiers in the town of Apatzigan, Michoacan, after the army tried to take control of city hall, which had been held for days by armed civilians. It's not clear who exactly was involved, but the western Mexican state has been plagued for years by violent drug trafficking organizations, and more recently, by armed vigilantes fighting the cartels.

Iran Greets New Year By Hanging 13 Drug Offenders. New Year's Day saw 13 drug offenders hanged in Iranian prisons, including four women. All had been convicted of drug trafficking. Iran hanged hundreds of drug traffickers last year, and it looks like it's off to a quick start this year, too. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It looks like even corrupt cops take a holiday break. This week, we have only a pair of jail guards in trouble, and a Tulsa cop heading to prison for dirty dealing. Let's get to it:

In Danville, Indiana, a Vermillion County jail guard was arrested last Tuesday on charges he smuggled drugs into the jail. Jonathan "Doug" Maloney, 42, is accused of receiving marijuana from the girlfriend of a prisoner and delivering it to the prisoner in return for payment. He went down after supervisors noticed "suspicious activity" and began investigating. He is charged with official misconduct and bringing contraband into a penal institution. He no longer has a job at the county jail, either.

In Crandon, Wisconsin, a Forest County jail guard was arrested last Friday on allegations she leaked the names of confidential informants to prisoners. Jeanie Pitts, 59, has been hit with nine criminal counts, including five counts of misconduct in office. Pitts' husband and another jail guard were also taken into custody, but no charges have been filed against them yet. A search warrant served on Pitts in October yielded marijuana, pot plants, cocaine, computers, firearms, ammunition, thousands of dollars in cash, and other items, all of which were seized by authorities.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a former Tulsa police officer was sentenced Monday to four years in prison for using police databases to steal money and help a cocaine distribution ring. Tyrone Jenkins, 40, was sentenced on two counts of bribery, two counts of computer crime, and one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Ho, ho, ho. We have a Christmas stocking full of corrupt cops this week. Without further ado, let's get to it:

In Brownsville, Texas, a Customs and Border Protection officer was arrested last Monday on charges he let vehicles full of drugs pass through his port of entry inspection station. Jose Luis Zavala went down after a van in his lane was randomly chosen for inspection and 3,000 pounds of pot were found inside. He is charged with bribery of a public official and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.

In Atlantic City, New Jersey, a Cumberland County jail guard was arrested last Friday for allegedly smuggling marijuana, tobacco, and vitamin supplements to inmates. Joshua Minguela is accused of smuggling goods between August 2013 and January 2014. He is charged with official misconduct, conspiracy, and drug charges.

In Derry Township, Pennsylvania, a former Derry Township police officer was arrested Monday for stealing prescription drugs from the evidence room. Sgt. Brian Romberger, who was primary evidence custodian at the time, went down after police discovered pills missing from evidence. During an investigation, authorities discovered that Romberger was falling asleep on the job and having other difficulties functioning, and he then admitted he took and consumed the missing pills -- at least 375 of them, including Percocet, oxycodone, hydrocodone, Xanax, Opana, and more. He is charged with theft, tampering with physical evidence, possession of a controlled substance and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a former sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Monday to pressuring a woman to cook and sell meth for him. Grady Keith Concord, 42, admitted approaching the woman and asking her to make the drug for him. He also supplied her with pseudoephedrine, a key precursor ingredient. He denied threatening to arrest her if she didn't cook for him, but conceded his position as a deputy may have influenced her. He copped to extortion under color of official right, manufacturing methamphetamine and manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine on premises where children are present. No word on sentencing yet.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a former Tulsa police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to four years in prison for taking bribes to use police databases to provide information to an informant who used the information to burglarize buildings where large amounts of money was suspected to be. Tyrone Jenkins had pleaded guilty to receiving bribes, two counts of computer crime, and one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The cocaine charge derived from Jenkins's setting up a deal between the informant and another man.

In Albany, New York, a former Saratoga County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Thursday to five years in federal prison for taking money to drive a drug dealer to Warren County to sell cocaine. Charles Fuller had been arrested last spring, and his defense blamed his behavior on gambling debts and alcohol use. He copped to a single count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. He went directly from court to prison.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The beat goes on. A Texas drug dog officer snorts the training dope, a pair of married Indiana deputies get wrapped up in the new synthetics, and a Georgia judge goes down for trying to set up a woman who accused him of making advances on her. Let's get to it:

In Grapevine, Texas, a Grapevine Police K-9 officer was arrested last Monday for allegedly stealing a case of training drugs and consuming some of them. Senior Officer Danny Macchio, 49, reported to Fort Worth police in October that someone had broken into his vehicle at his residence and stolen the drugs, which included, heroin, cocaine, meth, and ecstasy, but Grapevine police developed suspicions he had "mishandled" the drugs and the theft report. Macchio fled on the day he was supposed to undergo a drug test as part of the investigation, but was found in the Panhandle and returned home by Grapevine police. He confessed that he had taken the drugs and used some, and he returned the rest He was suspended with pay on October 24. Now he is charged with abuse of official capacity -- misuse of government property, a state jail felony.

In Indianapolis, two former Hendricks County sheriff's deputies were arrested last Thursday on charges related to a synthetic drugs sales ring. Jason Woods, 44, and Teresa Woods, 34, had been suspended from the sheriff's office in October 2013 after a marked sheriff's vehicle linked to them had been spotted at locations under investigation. That same day, the couple dropped off a safe with Teresa Woods' mother -- who promptly contacted authorities. They searched it, finding $88,000 and 100 grams of synthetic drugs. Investigators also found evidence the couple had written checks to a Canadian company that sells synthetic drug powders. Although state police said it was one of the biggest synthetic drug operations in the state, the couple have so far been charged only with misdemeanor possession of synthetic drugs.

In Atlanta, a former chief judge of the Murray County Magistrate's Court was found guilty last Thursday of conspiring to plant meth on a woman who had publicly accused him of making advances on her in his chambers. Former Judge Bryant Cochran plotted with a Murray County sheriff's deputy and a local meth offender to plant the drug in her vehicle, then have her pulled over and arrested. He was convicted in federal court of witness tampering, conspiring to distribute a controlled substance and a federal civil rights charge that accused him of sexually assaulting a court employee. He faces a February 20 sentencing date.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

NYPD officers are involved in two out of three of our corrupt cop reports this week, and a pair of thieving San Francisco cops round out the rogues' gallery. Let's get to it:

In Sunrise City, Florida, an NYPD officer was arrested last Tuesday while trying to buy 10 pounds of cocaine. Officer Philip LeRoy, a former Queens precinct "Cop of the Year," now faces charges of felony weapon possession, cocaine trafficking, and conspiracy to traffic cocaine. Sunrise is notorious for its asset forfeiture-driven drug stings. At last report, Le Roy was still in jail awaiting extradition.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Friday for driving a drug dealer around, warning a cocaine dealer that police action was coming, and offering to arrange a heroin deal. Officer Merlin Alston allegedly told one cocaine supplier to "ghost" and "be gone" from a corner when police were coming, helped another dealer deliver cocaine, and offered to help the latter deal score some heroin. He is charged with official misconduct and conspiracy.

In San Francisco, two San Francisco police officers were convicted last Friday of stealing thousands of dollars worth of cash and other property from suspected drug dealers. Officer Edmond Robles and Sgt. Ian Furminger were found guilty by a federal jury of five and four counts respectively. There could be more guilty verdicts or plea bargains to come in this scandal, which began Public Defender Jeff Adachi released surveillance videos showing officers walking out of cheap SRO hotels with bags of residents' possessions.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Houston cop gets caught transferring cocaine, a New York narc gets nailed for tipping off his neighborhood buddies about looming drug raids, and another prison guard goes down for contraband. Let's get to it:

In Houston, a Houston police officer was indicted November 20 for transporting cocaine. Officer Jasmine Renee Bonner, 26, had been arrested in August after a "lengthy ongoing investigation" led by DEA and ATF officers when she was observed removing cocaine from the trunk of her car and giving it to a coconspirator. Both were then pulled over separately in traffic stops. She is charged with first-degree felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and is being held in the Montgomery County Jail on a one million dollar bond.

In Troy, New York, a Troy police officer was indicted last Friday on charges he tipped off a friend about an impending drug raid. Patrolman Brian Gross had been arrested in July, and the arrest and the indictment were part of a five-month investigation by the attorney general's office and the State Police. Gross was assigned to the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, "and thus had knowledge of and access to investigative intelligence, suspect information and details concerning the timing and location of search warrants," according to an attorney general's office. The investigation started after police raids aimed at known drug houses turned up no activity. The houses were all in Gross's neighborhood. He was indicted for tampering with physical evidence, a felony, and misdemeanor counts of divulging an eavesdropping warrant, two counts of official misconduct and a count of obstructing governmental administration.

In Orlando, Florida, a former prison guard was sentenced last Monday to 18 months in prison for smuggling marijuana and tobacco into the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex near Leesburg. Jason Epstein, 29, copped to receiving hundreds of dollars in payments in return for smuggling in goodies "at least three or four times." He had pleaded guilty to one count of bribery.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It never ends. More jail guards with contraband issues, another cop with a serious pill problem. Let's get to it:

In Tabor City, North Carolina, a Tabor Correctional Institute jail guard was arrested last Friday after being recorded giving doses of Xanax to an inmate. Sabrina Wallace, 42, went down after the inmate agreed to cooperate with investigators. She is charged with providing drugs to an inmate and is out on an unsecured bond.

In Kerrville, Texas, a Kerr County jail guard was arrested Sunday on charges he smuggled drugs and other contraband into the jail. Carl Birdwell, 22, went down after an investigation that began in December when administrators noticed "suspicious activity" in and outside of the jail. He was one of 11 people indicted in the contraband scheme. He allegedly smuggled alcohol, tobacco, pills, a cell phone, and more to inmates. He is charged with organized crime offenses.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, a former Newport Police detective was sentenced Monday to 7 ½ years in federal prison for peddling pain pills. James Finley Holt, 59, went down after a snitch agreed to help federal law enforcement, telling the feds he had sold him stolen items, which Holt then sold at a convenience store he owned. Further investigation revealed that Holt was buying and selling hydrocodone and Xanax, sometimes in his Newport police cruiser. When agents executed search warrants, they found cocaine, pills, and a bottle of testosterone in his locker, nine different prescription pill bottles, loose pills, and a grinder in a safe under his desk, more pills and pill bottles in his cruiser, and a sawed off shotgun at his home. He was convicted of federal drug distribution charges.

Chronicle Book Review: Mexico on the Brink

Hidden Dangers: Mexico on the Brink of Disaster by Robert Joe Stout (2014, Sunbury Press, 210 pp., $16.95 PB)

Today is the official 104th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. The uprising that began then lasted for nearly two decades and by the time it was over, nearly two million Mexicans were dead, and the country was changed forever. That revolution overthrew a sclerotic, encrusted dictatorship that advanced the country materially and brought it to the brink of the modern era, but which ignored the interests of the vast majority of Mexicans.

Are we about to see a repeat? That's probably premature, but it's notable that authorities in Mexico City have canceled the official commemorative parade set for today, afraid of trouble breaking out. There has already been trouble in Mexico City today, anyway -- with masked demonstrators attempted to block access to the international airport -- so that decision may well be a prudent one.

What is motivating the protests today -- and for nearly the last two months -- is the disappearance (and almost certain murder) of 43 radical students from a provincial teachers' college in the south central state of Guerrero. It seems clear that the students and their threats of demonstrations were seen as a threat by Maria de los Angeles Pineda, the wife of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca. Pineda, who has been identified as a leader of the Guerreros Unidos organized crime group (commonly referred to as cartels), is believed to have ordered Iguala municipal police to "take care of" the unruly students.

According to a version of events delivered by Mexican Attorney General Jesus Karam Murillo, Iguala police shot up the commandeered public buses the students were riding in (commandeering buses is not unusual in political protests), killing some of the students on the spot. The remaining students were then allegedly turned over by Iguala police to Guerreros Unidos gang members, who, according to Karam, killed them all, burned their bodies, chopped them to bits, and threw them in a river.

Of course, it took Karam a month to make that announcement, and in the meantime, anger over the disappearances grew by the day. Demonstrators attacked and burnt part of the state capitol complex in Chilpancingo; they attacked and burnt municipal buildings in Iguala; they fought pitched battles with police on the road to the Acapulco airport. And the demonstrations and solidarity protests are spreading.

This is a brutal scandal that has shaken even brutal scandal-plagued Mexico. Federal authorities have now arrested the mayoral couple, along with dozens of police men and gang members (some are undoubtedly both). The governor of Guerrero has been forced to resign. And President Enrique Nieto Pena and his government are now besieged, even though the mayor and the governor belonged to another political party.

This may be the landmine that sets off a long pent-up social explosion south of the border. I use the word "landmine" deliberately, for that is the precise term used by long-time journalist and current Oaxaca resident Robert Stout in his new book, Hidden Dangers. Although it appears to have been largely written before Pena Nieto took office nearly two years ago, it seems remarkably prescient.

In Hidden Dangers, Stout identifies several festering -- and interconnected -- problems facing Mexico, the result of ongoing economic and political changes.Looming large among the potential landmines are emigration, the war on drugs, rising popular political movements of resistance, official corruption and impunity, and increasing environmental degradation.

With the case of the missing 43 students, Mexico is stepping on two of those landmines: the war on drugs and the problem of official complicity and corruption. As Stout makes clear, Mexico's drug corporations (he never uses the word "cartels") have thrived in an atmosphere of violence and corruption and official complicity. I wouldn't say that drug money has corrupted Mexico's institutions because they have been deeply corrupted for years, as Stout illustrates throughout the book, but it has deepened the corruption and blurred the line between organized crime and state power.

What Stout has to say about the drug cartels and the counterproductive policies adopted on both sides of the border to stop them is probably not new to regular readers of these pages. Through violence and cold, hard cash, the cartels manage to suborn security forces, elected officials, and legitimate businesses alike. And heavy-handed, militaristic attempts to quash them, especially with an army that seems to have no notion of human rights, has only resulted in more violence and more mistrust of government.

But it is complicated, and looking at Mexico solely through the prism of its war on drugs is too narrow a focus to get a good grasp on the country's realities. Mexico's drug cartel problem doesn't exist in a vacuum; it is part and parcel of a deeper social and political malaise, which, in Stout's view, is related to the country's authoritarian, unresponsive government and its inability or unwillingness to address the country's aching concerns.

And it's not just the PRI, the party that emerged from the Revolution to govern the country as "the perfect dictatorship" until the election of Coca Cola executive Vicente Fox in 2000. One of Stout's contributions to our understanding is his explication of the authoritarian character that defines all political parties in Mexico. Whether it’s the PRI or the rightist PAN or the leftist PRD, all have adapted the same top-down, strongman politics that characterized the PRI in its heyday.

It is worth noting that the mayor of Iguala and his wife are members of the PRD, which is a sad reflection on the Mexican left. But Mexicans don't need to read Stout's book to understand that the same rot grips all the parties, and that's part of the reason even the PRIista Pena Nieto is feeling the heat over the Iguala disappearances. The problem is systemic, Mexicans understand this, and that's why they're so angrily taking to the streets right now.

Hidden Dangers does a very good job of tying together the disparate "landmines" facing Mexico right now. Especially for readers who have approached the country primarily through the lens of drug policy, it is a welcome opening of perspective. And, at only a bit more than 200 pages, it's a relatively quick read, packed with information and plenty to ponder. Check it out. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Baltimore cop who insisted on arresting the wrong guy is in trouble, a suburban Chicago cop who tried to be a little too helpful to some women has lost his job, and a Tennessee cop facing federal drug-related money laundering charges retires with his benefits. Let's get to it:

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was charged last Friday with arresting on drug charges a man he knew was innocent. Officer Steven Slack was part of an arrest team directed to detain a man observed by hidden officers making a hand-to-hand drug deal, but he placed the wrong person under arrest. Even though he was informed by the observing officers that he had the wrong guy, Slack arrested him anyway and wrote up an arrest report claiming he had committed the crime. Slack is now charged with official misconduct and perjury.

In Newport, Tennessee, a Newport police officer facing money laundering charges retired last Wednesday. Former Captain Roger Lynn Schults, 54, had been indicted in July on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering along with another Newport police officer, the officer's wife, who is a city alderwoman, and their son. The federal charges involve a hydrocodone distribution ring. It looks like Schults will get his retirement benefits, too, according to his brother, Newport Police Chief Maurice Schults.

In Hoffman Estates, Illinois, a Hoffman Estates police officer has resigned after being caught phoning female partiers at a local hotel and warning them that police were on the way because of a marijuana smoke and loud noise complaint. The officer, who has not been named, had met the two women earlier in the evening during a traffic stop. One of the women, who was later arrested on a prostitution charge, told arriving officers "one of your cops keeps calling us, and he just called telling us the cops were on the way." He signed a separation agreement with the department in September, and faces no administrative or criminal charges.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy. A crooked FBI agent is wreaking havoc with drug cases in DC, rip-off cops get busted in Chicago and Philly, an Alabama cop gets nailed for making a woman cook meth for him, and more. Let's get to it:

In Washington, DC, a federal judge threw out 13 more tainted drug cases last Friday. US District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed 13 criminal indictments against defendants in major drug cases as a scandal around FBI agent Matthew Lowry, 33, continues to unravel. Lowry is accused of tampering with drugs, guns, and other evidence seized in the cases, but he has not yet been charged with any criminal offenses. A day earlier, prosecutors dropped charges against 10 other defendants, some of whom had been serving lengthy prison sentences.

In Chicago, a Cook County sheriff's deputy was arrested on drug corruption charges last Monday. He killed himself the next day. Officer Stanley Kogut apparently hanged himself at the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was being held. He and his partner, Robert Vaughan, had been arrested in an FBI sting after they robbed an agent posing as a drug dealer of 70 pounds of marijuana.

In Salem, West Virginia, a Salem Correction Facility guard was arrested last Wednesday after she was caught bringing pills, powders, and paraphernalia into the jail. Guard Philomena Liberty got caught during a random pat down at the start of her shift. Officers found she had six different types of pills, a cardboard envelope containing a white powder, and drug paraphernalia. She denied that she intended to traffic the drugs, saying she was going to crush and snort them herself. She is charged with transporting drugs into a correctional facility.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly ripping off drug dealers and buyers along with three middlemen. Christopher Saravello is accused of using the middlemen to buy or sell drugs to others and then providing him with information on their locations. Saravello would then show up in uniform in his police vehicle, pretend to lock up his middlemen, and then let the buyers and dealers go, but only after stealing their cash and drugs. Saravello had resigned from the department in 2012, as it prepared to fire him for being strung out on prescription drugs.

In Mt. Vernon, New York, a former Mt. Vernon police officer was arrested Monday for illegally obtaining nearly 4,000 hydrocodone pills. Joseph Russo used forged prescriptions in his and his wife's name to obtain the pills. He also filed fake insurance claims to pay for the prescriptions. He is charged with second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first degree scheming to defraud, but, oddly enough, not drug possession.

In Colchester, Vermont, a Colchester police detective was arrested Tuesday after a gun that was supposed to be in the department's evidence room turned up at a house in a Burlington drug raid. Corporal Tyler Kinney, 38, is now accused of taking drugs and the gun from the evidence room. He was expected to be charged in federal court today with drug distribution and gun trafficking offenses. The Colchester Police say they have now ordered an external audit of the evidence room and procedures for handling evidence.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a former Winston County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges that he forced a woman to cook meth for him. Grady Concord, 42, had been hit with a single count of meth manufacture in June, but prosecutors added new counts of extortion under color of law, meth manufacture, and meth distribution where children are present. The woman said Concord threatened her with arrest if she didn't cook for him and provided pseudoephedrine tablets for her. Some of them were stolen from the department evidence room. Concord copped to the three later counts Monday and is looking at up to 20 years in prison at sentencing.

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