A Montgomery man described as a "kingpin" in an international marijuana trafficking operation was sentenced to 30 months in prison during a federal court hearing Thursday.
Roy "Opie" McAllister II, 39, was identified as a leader of a ring of at least 11 people who moved up to 3,000 kilograms of marijuana from Quebec to Vermontfrom the mid-2000s until his arrest in May 2013. The operation created a "sense of lawlessness," in Franklin County, prosecutors said.
Federal sentencing guidelines suggested a sentence of around eight to 10 years, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss said during the hearing. But attorneys agreed to a plea deal for significantly less time, just as they did for other defendants in the operation. In part, prosecutors explained, the lesser sentences were offered in response to the government's increasing acceptance of marijuana use. After successful marijuana legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington, the Justice Department in 2013 announced it would not challenge state laws that allow for recreational or medical marijuana use.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Ross said she struggled with whether the lighter sentence for McAllister was warranted, but agreed to it in "recognition of the national shift in attitude towards marijuana."
"That's not to say any conduct here was legal or will ever be legal, or to minimize the very serious nature of the conduct and how it compromised the border," Ross said. "[But] the government must recognize what is happening in the U.S. nationally."
Reiss said that McAllister was a kingpin who for years was able to keep his hands clean while getting several younger people in Franklin County to do the "dirty work."
"Mr. McAlister is the most culpable person in the conspiracy," Reiss said, later adding that he and other leaders "took advantage of [people] who live in an economically depressed part of the state who looked up to them and saw what they had ... It was like bullies in the schoolyard."
McAllister forfeited to the government a home heating delivery truck, 34 guns, two Harley-Davidson motorcycles, a Polaris ATV, a Chevy Tahoe SUV and a Ford pickup truck. Prosecutors are still seeking to take his home in Montgomery, jewelry and another truck.
In total, federal authorities obtained more than $600,000 cash, three parcels of real estate, more than 70 guns and 17 vehicles from forfeitures in the case, which utilized electronic surveillance and confidential informants.
McAllister declined to speak during the hearing.
His attorney, Peter Langrock, said McAllister grew up poor and has now lost everything. "He is not an evil person," Langrock said. "He participated as one of many. He was not alone in what he did." Langrock said some of the witnesses who pointed the finger at McAllister had lied.
Reiss noted that McAllister has a young daughter and a domestic partner. She said she was bothered by the "myth that this is just marijuana and it's going to be legal soon."
"It will never, ever be legal to bring huge quantities of marijuana across the Canadian border and distribute it," Reiss said. "This was not Vermont homegrown marijuana. If it's legalized, the government is going to be in there taxing it, and you know it and I know it. The myth that this is something the government shouldn't be spending any resources on is lost on me."
Reiss recommended that McAllister serve his sentence in a minimum security facility.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly described McAllister as a Northeast Kingdom resident.