A Wayne County man who helped run one of the largest drug rings ever uncovered in the area was sentenced Tuesday to 11 years and eight months in federal prison.
The attorney for James Ronald “Ronnie” Muse had asked for a shorter sentence, saying that putting the 70-year-old in prison for more than a decade would amount to a life sentence.
But U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove said Muse and two others sentenced with him had helped pour fuel on the fire of methamphetamine abuse that has caused terrible problems.
“I cannot overstate the damage being caused by meth in our communities,” Van Tatenhove said. “It’s ravaging this whole region.”
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Van Tatenhove sentenced Paul Ronald “Curly” Dunagan, 59, of Pulaski County, to five years and 10 months in prison and Clinton Emery Stowers to 15 years and one month.
Stowers, a Tennessee man who supplied meth to Muse, had prior criminal convictions that pushed up his potential sentence range. Dunagan helped in the drug ring through acts such as storing and delivering meth, but had a lesser role than Muse.
In addition to his prison sentence, Muse agreed to sell nine pieces of equipment valued at $189,000 and give the money to the government in lieu of having other property seized.
Muse’s son, James Lewis (J.L.) Muse, was involved in the meth ring as well. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison, fined $2,000 and ordered to forfeit $24,000.
The drug ring grew out of J.L. Muse’s drug problem, according to a court document.
Joel Craig Cunigan, a task-force officer with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, testified in a hearing that a Mexican drug supplier had threatened to kill or hurt Muse over a drug debt of $30,000 to $40,000, and Ronnie Muse stepped in to help his son, according to court documents.
Cunigan suggested the debt “inspired” the father and son to establish a drug-trafficking organization that dealt mostly in crystal meth, Van Tatenhove said in a ruling.
A few years ago, many meth abusers made the drug themselves through a chemical reaction created by combining an over-the-counter decongestant with other ingredients in soft-drink bottles. The last few years, however, traffickers have switched to importing a more pure form of meth, called crystal meth, that is made in large labs in Mexico.
The Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which covers parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia, said in a 2015 report that seizures of the type of meth imported from Mexico jumped 176 percent in its area from 2013 to 2014.
A witness told police that Ronnie Muse had a Mexican source for meth, according to a court document.
Ismael Gonzalez and Odneil Gonzalez were charged in the Muse case.
Odneil Gonzalez is a fugitive, according to a court record. Ismael Gonzalez is awaiting trial in a separate case in Louisville, where he is charged with being part of a large meth and heroin conspiracy.
A document in that case said Gonzalez allegedly had contacts in Mexico and along the southwest U.S. border to get drugs.
Cunigan testified that the trafficking organization Muse ran had brought in more than 100 pounds of meth, making it one of the largest, and perhaps the largest, drug rings ever investigated by the London DEA office, according to a court document.
“The breadth of this drug trafficking was truly remarkable,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Rosenberg said in court Tuesday.