HOLLIDAYSBURG - Natasha Qiana Miller of Altoona was in tears Thursday after being sentenced to a 16- to 32-year state prison term for her part in overseeing the day-to-day operations of a Baltimore to Altoona cocaine ring.
Miller, her friends and relatives in an emotional 3-hour sentencing hearing pleaded with Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle for leniency, but police and prosecutors didn't buy Miller's excuse that she was "in the wrong place at the wrong time" when she became involved in bringing at least 18 kilograms of cocaine into Blair County in late 2011.
The drug organization operated out of The Corner Bar and Grill at 1001 Eighth Ave., and the lengthy investigation into the drug ring was dubbed by state attorney general's agents and the Blair County Drug Task Force as "Operation Last Call."
Fourteen arrests were made as part of the investigation, and Miller is one of five members of the ring who have now entered guilty pleas. Miller, 31, is the highest ranking member of the ring sentenced so far.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman asked Doyle to impose a 20- to 40-year sentence. Miller's attorney, Joel Peppetti, asked Doyle to give her a reduced sentence, pointing out the sentence requested by the prosecution is the same sentence a person would receive for third-degree murder.
Miller was the longtime girlfriend of alleged ringleader Damion Floyd, who is accused of running the ring for a time from state prison.
Miller was not involved in cutting the cocaine or in street sales but oversaw the money, arranged the trips to Baltimore and supervised Jermaine Samuel, another alleged co-conspirator, Regional Supervisory Agent James Walstrom of the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation said.
As far an overseeing the drug operation, "She was Damion Floyd in that regard," Walstrom said.
Walstrom told the judge that Miller now "greatly diminishes her role. She says she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was well aware of her station. She boasted about it."
Miller is also the mother of two children, ages 2 and 12, and she and her family were concerned that a stiff sentence would bar her from being part of the lives of her children, now in the custody of a grandmother.
Gail Miller of Altoona, in a letter to Doyle, described her daughter as a "remarkable mom," and said her daughter was not a bad person.
"She's a giver, a helper and a selfless person. I would hate for my daughter to waste her passions sitting any longer in jail or prison," Gail Miller wrote.
Doyle called it a "sad day" for a judge to sentence a young person for serious crimes that included several counts of possession with intent to deliver, participating in a corrupt organization, dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activity and conspiracy.
Some people decide to take the easy way rather than traveling the more difficult path in life of holding a legitimate job, Doyle said.
People can become addicted in more than one way when they become involved with drugs, Doyle said.
Miller said she had a drug and alcohol problem, but Doyle said the drug world can lead to addiction to money and power as well.
Miller will also serve five years' probation and pay a $120,000 fine.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.