Terry R. Smith preyed on Eastern Kentuckians who were addicted, poor and weak in running a drug ring that contributed to the destruction of countless lives, a federal judge said.
Ultimately, it cost Smith the rest of his life.
U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell on Thursday sentenced Smith, 55, of Clay County to life in prison.
Caldwell imposed the sentence because Smith was convicted of illegally distributing prescription pain pills that caused the overdose death of Patty Smallwood, and he had prior felony convictions.
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Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Dotson said the life sentence was justified because Smith was a key player in driving the crippling level of prescription-drug abuse that has affected Clay County and other areas.
"He was making money off the misery, the suffering, the death" of others, Dotson said in court.
The life sentence is thought to be the first imposed in federal court in Kentucky for an overdose death involving prescription drugs, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey.
Caldwell sentenced Smith's wife, Gerry Smith, 53, to 90 months in prison. Evidence showed Gerry Smith kept records on the drug operation and went to clinics to get pills.
Terry R. Smith, who had a large house at Horse Creek, near Manchester, was charged with leading a drug ring from March 2011 to August 2013.
Witnesses said Smith paid for people to go to clinics in other states and get prescriptions for pain pills.
When they filled the prescriptions, Smith took enough pills to cover the travel expenses, according to an affidavit from Richard A. Dalrymple, who investigated as part of a Drug Enforcement Administration task force.
Smith and the people working for him split the remaining pills. Smith then distributed pills or had someone sell them, witnesses told Dalrymple.
In September 2011, Smallwood took part in a trip to get prescriptions for Smith at a clinic in Georgia. She died of an overdose of a pain medication called oxycodone the same night she received her cut of the pills from the trip, according to court records.
A jury convicted Smith in January, but he maintains he is innocent.
Smith has filed his own motions, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to convict him and that drug abusers and traffickers falsely implicated him because authorities coerced them or promised not to prosecute them.
However, Caldwell said there was sufficient evidence to convict Smith, and she overruled his request for a new trial.
In court Thursday, Smith said he and his wife were "getting accused of a bunch of stuff that's just not right."
But Dotson said that even though addicts are responsible for their conduct, people like Smith drive the drug problem in Eastern Kentucky by underwriting trips to obtain prescriptions and pills.
Smith sometimes preyed on people who had gotten behind on the rent at his mobile-home park, cutting their rent if they helped him get pills, and he also sold pills in the park, Dotson said.
He noted that Smallwood was one of 1,058 people who died of overdoses in Kentucky in 2011.
"We can't get justice for all those people. But what we can do is get justice for Patty Smallwood," he said.
Caldwell said Smallwood might not have been a model citizen, but she didn't deserve to die. Smith preyed on people for profit, Caldwell said.
"Terry Smith's actions contributed to the destruction of countless lives," Caldwell said.
She also fined Smith $10,000.
Smith's attorney, Willis G. Coffey, said Smith would appeal his conviction.
Gerry Smith's attorney, Stephan Charles, said she had been under her husband's control for most of her life, including during the drug conspiracy. The two married when she was 14, Charles said.
"She was doing what Terry told her to do," Charles said.
The advisory sentencing range for Gerry Smith was 121 to 151 months, but Caldwell said a lower sentence was proper, noting her lack of criminal history and other factors.
The life sentence for Terry Smith apparently was the first in a prescription-drug death, but it might not be the last.
Harvey said his office had placed additional emphasis on cases involving fatal over doses and was working with police in the district — which covers the eastern half of the state — to try to get more of them into federal court.
"We think there's a strong deterrent effect in these cases," he said.
Harvey said one key is to begin gathering evidence for a possible criminal case at the scene of an overdose death, rather than thinking of all overdoses as accidents.
Smith's case had ties to several other alleged drug operations that kept Clay County awash in pills for several years.
In one, pharmacist Charles Terry Tenhet pleaded guilty to improperly filling prescriptions that people working for Smith and other traffickers brought from other states. Tenhet, who operated Community Drug Pharmacy in Manchester, was sentenced to 10 years and forfeited $4 million in property.
In another, Joel A. Shumrak, who owned pain clinics in South Florida and Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiring to dump hundreds of thousands of pills into Eastern Kentucky. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison and forfeited $7 million.
Charges are pending against others in that case, including several doctors from other states.
Court records say Smith's case also had ties to one involving Jimmy D. Benge, who ran a drug ring based in Clay County and was accused of having a man stabbed to death out of suspicion he had told police about Benge's operation. Benge pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years.