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Marijuana Kingpin To Serve 10 Years

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
YOUNGSTOWN — The kingpin of a marijuana growing and distribution ring, whose collapse led to one of the largest seizures of the drug in U.S. history, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. His drug delivery man received a 57-month sentence.

He was the last of 11 defendants to be sentenced in the case that centered on an indoor marijuana farm in a warehouse at 814 Marshall St. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized some 3,500 marijuana plants there early in 2004. The high-grade marijuana sold for $3,200 a pound, investigators said.

U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus imposed the 10-year sentence Monday on Edwin J. Stupka, 49, who appeared in court in an orange jail uniform.

"He was the ringleader," Roger S. Bamberger, assistant U.S. attorney, said of Stupka. "We worked our way up to the top," he said of the investigation of the ring.

Stupka, an investor in the warehouse, moved from Youngstown to Tucson, Ariz, in 2003. All of the other defendants in the case cooperated with the investigation, but Stupka did not, Bamberger said.

Stupka, who has been in federal custody since his arrest a year ago, pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. He was indicted in May 2006 on charges of laundering nearly $2 million between 1999 and 2002 and conspiracy to distribute more than a ton of marijuana between 1992 and 2003.

Stupka admitted attempting to launder $1.7 million through a scheme to buy a chain of coffeehouses in Cleveland. As part of his plea agreement, Stupka has forfeited between $400,000 and $500,000 in cash and properties, Bamberger said.

The marijuana delivery man, Ronald Gordon of Youngstown, who was indicted on the same marijuana distribution conspiracy charge as Stupka, received a 57-month sentence and will be notified when and where to report to federal prison, the judge said. Gordon, whose sentencing immediately followed Stupka's, will forfeit a house on Fifth Avenue in Youngstown, a bank account containing $20,000, a gun and ammunition, Bamberger said. The judge also fined Gordon $1,000.

Gordon, 41, who pleaded guilty to the marijuana charge, delivered the marijuana and collected proceeds from the sale of previously distributed marijuana at Stupka's direction, the indictment said.

Supervision after prison

Stupka and Gordon, who apologized in court for their roles in the conspiracy, will be on supervised release for five years after they complete their prison terms, Judge Economus said.

All 11 defendants pleaded guilty as charged, were sentenced to federal prison and are still in federal custody, Bamberger said.

In recommending the mandatory minimum 10-year sentence be imposed on Stupka, his lawyer, Neal Atway, said Stupka had no criminal record within the past 30 years and that he cooperated with the forfeiture. A 10-year sentence for him — the longest imposed on anyone in this case — would be almost three times the 42-month average for his co-defendants, Atway said.

Bamberger said after court that he was satisfied with Stupka's sentence. "Ten years is a long time," he said.

Judge Economus told Stupka it was his duty to punish him and "to protect the public from drug traffickers like yourself." Noting that a pre-sentence investigation reported Stupka has used marijuana since the age of 16, the judge told Stupka his prison time could be reduced by up to a year if he completed a substance abuse treatment program.

"It's an isolated incident. ... He's been extremely cooperative," Gordon's lawyer, Damian Billak, said of his client's conduct, calling for a sentence at the low end of the 57- to 71-month available sentencing range.

In sentencing Gordon, Judge Economus said he must not only protect the public, but also "deter you and others from other criminal conduct.'' The judge said a 57-month term for Gordon was sufficient because of his cooperation with the government in this case and lack of a prior criminal record, other than a 1999 drunk driving conviction.

The sentences of the other nine were not immediately available.

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