By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
“You didn’t say ‘no.’”
That’s what U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove told Doyle “Stan Boy” Fritts Thursday, who was found guilty in February of several charges related to a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone with his brothers.
The two brothers, Jerry Lee Fritts and Charles F. Fritts, Jr., along with Doyle Fritts, were among six people who faced federal charges in connection with a drug operation housed in a residence on Ted Ball Road. Former Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge frequented that home to sell and buy drugs, and it is where Charles Fritts and another co-conspirator, Jason Kersey, helped Hodge dispose of guns stolen during a burglary staged by Hodge.
On Thursday, Van Tatenhove handed down a 15-year sentence to Doyle Fritts in federal court in London.
Upon release, Fritts, 48, will receive three years supervised probation.
Fritts’ defense attorney, Eric Edwards, did make three objections in an effort to get a lesser sentence, but it did not help.
His first objection concerned the way illicit drugs are measured, by “translating everything into marijuana.”
“It’s historically the common denominator when you’re comparing drug quantities,” Edwards said. “(But) it’s not the methodology, but the source of the numbers is what’s at issue.”
He explained that his client was “not caught with 600 pills, as calculated” but actually only was caught with 18.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Dotson said some testimony given during trial “was so unreliable that you can’t accurately determine” the true pill count.
He said it is based on the average of the state, but that “at the end of the day, (there were) 600 pills over a 22-month period.”
“Certainly trial testimony (shows) he assisted his brother (Charles Fritts) in drug distribution,” Dotson continued. “Look at his own drug habit.”
He then cited Fritts’ addiction to Oxycodone, stating Fritts took four to five 30 milligram pills of the drug a day. Dotson also said Fritts regularly used other drugs, including LSD, Xanax, mescaline, mushrooms and peyote.
“This was a favorable calculation for the defendant,” Dotson said, adding Fritts had bought 18 pills in controlled buys in just a few weeks.
Van Tatenhove said an accurate pill count is hard to determine. “It is rare to know with absolute certainty what the drug count is,” he said.
“(This) argument is a fair one,” the judge continued. “(But with) testimony it could have been a lot higher.”
And then he overruled the first objection.
Objection number two concerned Fritts’ intimidation of witnesses through the telephone. “The court has to make certain (of the) facts when looking at that (intimidation),” said Edwards, explaining it was necessary to be sure there actually was any intimidation. “(We) don’t contest calls were made.”
He explained that content heard during the calls was “taken out of context,” he said. “I don’t even think it went that far.”
Dotson disagreed, reminding the court that Fritts told one witness “he would beat the brakes off him.”
“Fritts perjured himself during trial,” he continued. “Just about everything that came out of the defendant’s mouth was a falsehood.”
Based on the wording of the law, Van Tatenhove then overruled the second objection.
The third objection surrounded the charge of possessing a firearm during a drug exchange. “There’s no evidence (to support) that he (Fritts) possessed (the gun) during the drug offense,” Edwards said. “Whether he possessed it is not the issue.”
He said the issue was proving the gun was part of the drug offense.
Dotson argued against it. “(Fritts’) brother and co-conspirator got the gun for pills during the time frame of the conspiracy,” he said.
It was learned through the course of the trial the gun in question was from the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department’s arsenal, and it had been used by former sheriff Lawrence Hodge to purchase illicit drugs.
Dotson said Fritts knew that fact. “Fritts admits he knew the (tactical rifle) came from the sheriff,” he said. “(He) knew it was a police-issued firearm.”
He added the gun was “proceeds obtained” from selling pills. “It’s clear from the evidence it is,” he said.
Van Tatenhove agreed, denying the third and final objection of the day.
Dotson offered arguments for the “high end” amount of incarceration, 175 months. “His criminal history is understated,” Dotson said. “Certainly he is a career criminal — he’s been in front of court time and time again.
“(But) despite numerous times in front of court, nothing to date has worked,” he continued.
He asked that Fritts earn his GED, receive drug treatment, five years of supervised release and a continued substance abuse treatment program after his release.
Edwards said he “was going to argue for the low end” of prison time, approximately 140 months. He agreed with the GED and drug treatment requirements, but thought Fritts only needed three years supervised release.
During an opportunity to speak to the court, Fritts apologized to the U.S. government for putting them through this. “I’m in this court room because of officials,” he said. “(They) got me caught up in this.
“I’m sorry for what I done.”
But the judge was unwavering. “There’s an extensive criminal history,” Van Tatenhove said, agreeing with Dotson that Fritts’ record doesn’t cover everything.
“The seriousness of the offense — I can’t overstate it,” the judge said to Fritts. “People are dying because of the criminal conduct you’re involved in.”
He said the problem is far-reaching. “(There’s) any number of people ensnared in this…it’s the personal cost of addiction,” Van Tatenhove said. “I have to hold you accountable for making these bad decisions.”
The judge made reference to former sheriff’s Hodge’s involvement in the case, and said “there’s lots of corruption in that county,” he said to Fritts. “You were able to see the pattern.”
“(But) you didn’t say ‘no’ and you benefitted from it,” he continued. “I’m holding you accountable for not being able to say ‘no’ to that.”
He added that nothing in Fritts’ criminal history suggests he would not engage in the same activity again. “Everything I see (has you) returning to this pattern time and time again,” Van Tatenhove said.
With that, Van Tatenhove exceeded the “high end” amount recommended by Dotson and sentenced Fritts to 180 months in prison, or 15 years.
He will then receive three years supervised release.
It was unknown whether Fritts will appeal. He was returned to the Laurel County Detention Center. Hodge, convicted of money laundering, extortion and drug distribution, was sentenced to 15 years and six months, just slightly higher than Fritts. He currently serves his time in Elkton Federal Prison in Ohio.