A Durango man was sentenced to 16 years in prison Friday for distributing large quantities of Oxycodone pills in the community.
William O’Neal, who turned 40 on the same day, was facing 16 years to 24 years in prison after signing a plea agreement with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
He apologized for his crimes and began crying when his 17-year-old son spoke on his behalf.
“There’s no other person that I’d rather have as my father,” said his son, who is a junior at Durango High School and plays football and competes in wrestling and track.
O’Neal was the focus of a multimonth investigation by the Southwest Drug Task Force. He was arrested in May with 505 Oxycodone pills.
He made friends with people, gave them painkillers, then turned those friendships into business relationships, said Frank Sandoval, an investigator with the task force.
He had dozens of customers, including other drug dealers, Sandoval said.
O’Neal was co-owner of Citified, a clothing shop in the Main Mall that has since closed. Sandoval called it a front for his drug-dealing activities.
O’Neal purchased Oxycodone for $12 to $14 per pill in Las Vegas and sold them in Durango for $35 each, Sandoval said.
Most drug dealers are in business to support their own habit and make a little money on the side, he said. But O’Neal had no drug habit and was motivated purely by the profits to fund an expensive lifestyle. Prosecutors said he made tens of thousands of dollars per month.
It was difficult for customers to pay $35 every day to support their drug habit, so some turned to heroin, which is cheaper, he said.
Deputy District Attorney Justin Fay read about a dozen names of people who have gone through the judicial system for substance-abuse charges, all of whom were O’Neal’s customers.
Sandoval called O’Neal a “predatory drug dealer,” saying he gave away Oxycodone to get people hooked and then began charging them.
“I have heard people say that drug abuse is a victimless crime,” Sandoval said. “It is not a victimless crime. Drugs and drug abuse spur other crimes. This particular case is no different.”
O’Neal’s Durango defense lawyer, Joel Fry, criticized the District Attorney’s Office for what he perceived as an unfair plea agreement.
Prosecutors offered a plea agreement that would have sent O’Neal to prison for eight years, he said. But they removed the offer after Fry and O’Neal insisted on having a suppression hearing – a motions hearing to determine whether certain details or pieces of evidence can be withheld from a jury for legal reasons.
Fry said he advised his client to go through with the suppression hearing. He filed the motion to suppress in “good faith,” saying it was worthwhile to explore whether there was police misconduct, he said. It’s unfair that his client is being punished for the decision to have a motions hearing, he said.
Judge David Dickinson said he would have liked to consider a plea agreement in the 10- to 20-year range, but he probably would have settled on a 16-year sentence anyway.
He called O’Neal a “smart man” who has positive attributes.
“It’s a shame that you can’t put that to better use,” he said.
Authorities also arrested Maris M. Moore as part of the investigation. She faces 11 charges, including distribution of a controlled substance and being a habitual criminal. A trial for Moore is scheduled for Jan. 22. She is free on $25,000 bail.