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Man gets 18 months in motorcycle gang bust

2-year undercover drug investigation has implicated at least 26 people

POSTED: April 18, 2014 11:25 p.m.

A judge said Friday that although the government’s conduct had raised some eyebrows, it didn’t excuse the actions of a Gainesville man who served as lookout for federal-agent-initiated drug deals.

Phillip Honeycutt, 47, was sentenced Friday in Gainesville’s federal court to serve 18 months in prison and one year of supervised release after pleading guilty to drug charges stemming from a two-year undercover investigation into motorcycle gangs. The investigation implicated at least 26 people total in six separate cases.

“The public out there wants me to do something,” U.S. District Judge Richard Story said. “‘Lock them up as long as you can.’ That’s what the public thinks. This is not one of those things where we can just turn our heads.”

Story said while the case may have been less palatable because of the government involvement, Honeycutt had been the one “willing to do it.”

“And what if that hadn’t been the case?” he asked Honeycutt.

Honeycutt pleaded guilty to use of a communications facility in the distribution of a controlled substance. The charge carried a maximum sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Defense motions, statements from attorneys and testimony in one trial have asserted the government involvement verged on entrapment. Honeycutt’s attorney Michael H. Saul said at the sentencing hearing that drug charges had been dismissed by a federal judge in another jurisdiction because of outrageous conduct that was similar to the facts of Honeycutt’s case.

“Reverse stings” had a tendency to “ensnare people who have financial problems,” Saul said, citing the California case. He argued that by agreeing not to have a trial, Honeycutt was allowing the government to forgo the risk of jurors’ finding the government’s conduct in the case outrageous.

But Story said the only jury trial thus far revealed a less-than-sympathetic mindset. In a separate case stemming from the investigation, James Robert McGlothlin of Dawsonville was convicted by a jury in about an hour after a two-week trial.

In asking for a minimal sentence, Saul also stressed Honeycutt’s limited role in the transaction.

“The government offered him $200 to sit on the street and look for police,” he said, and case law would indicate a “very light” sentence.

“He’s not a leader. He’s not a manager. He’s just some unemployed person being paid to yell ‘police,’” Saul said.

“There’s nothing to suggest he’s a bad person,” Saul added.

Prosecutor Sally Molloy, in making her recommendation of 24 months’ confinement, agreed that Honeycutt had been a law enforcement lookout who had not handled any of the “purported cocaine,” nor did he carry a gun.

No one “used or carried a firearm during any of these deals,” she said.

Honeycutt had not been arrested in 13 years, and it “appeared he was a law-abiding citizen for the few years leading up” to his arrest, Molloy said. The government recommended “what was essentially half of the statutory maximum,” she said.

“He is substantially less culpable than Brandon Musser,” she said, adding the co-defendant had recruited both Phillip and Davey Honeycutt to the operation.

Musser, of Gainesville, was sentenced to two years and four months in federal prison and three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute drugs on March 18.

Story sentenced Honeycutt to less than the government’s recommendation of 24 months in prison. He pointed out that Honeycutt faced a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence if he had not accepted the negotiated plea and been convicted at trial. Honeycutt’s sentence was the “lowest sentence we’ve imposed in this case,” he said.

Saul, who asked for a sentence of home confinement, said Honeycutt had struggled in school because of an undiagnosed learning disability, which made him more vulnerable to the influence of others, including those with bad intent.

“He is more susceptible to undue influence by criminal types,” he said, and asked for a “fair and just sentence.”

“It wouldn’t be unfair and it wouldn’t be unjust to the government if he’s sentenced to home confinement,” he said.

Story agreed an underlying learning disability likely accounted for educational struggles based on school transcripts, which had made Honeycutt “vulnerable.”

“Don’t let yourself get caught up in a situation because people will take advantage of you,” he said.

Story said he would recommend Honeycutt serve his sentence at a work camp in Atlanta. If he was not sent there, he said he would recommend a prison close to Atlanta.

Honeycutt spoke briefly, his voice barely audible as he mumbled that he had “done wrong” and couldn’t change what he had done. Several friends and family of Honeycutt sat close together on a bench behind him throughout the proceedings.

He nodded as Story explained his sentence and the lessons he hoped Honeycutt would take away from the incident.

“You have made a mistake and I think you have learned from that,” Story said. “There’s no such thing as an easy $200.”

Honeycutt was allowed to voluntarily surrender to authorities, and will receive notice of when and where in the coming weeks.

One defendant in the case still awaiting sentencing is Phillip’s brother, Davey Honeycutt.

Co-defendants Phillip Alexander, David Rizo-Troncoso and Jessi Castillo have pleaded not guilty. A date for a jury trial has not yet been set.


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