Two sentenced for roles in drug-trafficking ring
Duo testified at ‘Fat Cat’ Devine trial
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Two men were sentenced Friday to jail time for their roles in a drug-trafficking organization that brought a highly-desired yet deadly form of heroin to Altoona in 2016 and 2017.
Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron, in separate proceedings, sentenced James A. Miller III, 31, of Johnstown to 5.5-to-15 years’ incarceration, and Richard A. Govier, of Stoystown, Somerset County, to three to six years’ incarceration.
Both testified at a December jury trial where Damon “Fat Cat” Devine, Jabu Robinson and James Everett-Bey contested charges linking them to what investigators said was an organization that set up a heroin pipeline between Philadelphia, Johnstown and Altoona.
Because the heroin was sold in packets bearing a dragon stamp, it became known as “Dragon” heroin and judged by users as highly desirable. It also was linked to multiple overdoses and deaths.
Miller, who has been incarcerated in Cambria County Prison, participated in Friday’s court proceeding by video transmission.
In exchange for the recommended sentence, Miller rendered guilty pleas to participating in a corrupt organization, dealing in unlawful proceeds, criminal conspiracy and possession with intent to deliver.
Miller also asked if he could remain in Cambria County Prison instead of being transferred to a state prison for his sentence. He’s been in Cambria County Prison since Nov. 10, 2016. After credit for time served, he said he has about two years remaining on the minimum portion of the proposed sentence.
“He’s been an exemplary inmate,” defense attorney Michael Gieg said. “He’s finished five or six classes, and works in the kitchen.”
Milliron said the state won’t allow the sentence to be served in Cambria County.
While Miller’s actions reflect an acceptance of responsibility, the judge said the sentence imposed should also reflect a defendant’s depth and involvement in the conspiracy.
“I think you were pretty deeply involved in this,”
Milliron told Miller.
When Devine, Robinson and Everett-Bey were on trial, leading to their convictions, Miller told the jury that he was generating at least $20,000 a week during the four months he sold heroin for Devine.
Govier also testified during the same trial and described his success with selling Dragon heroin in Altoona. At that time, Govier was using heroin and built up a $7,000 debt to Devine. Unable to pay, Govier went to drug law enforcement agents and cooperated in an effort that brought Devine to a motel parking lot in Altoona to collect the debt and provide Govier with more heroin to sell. Instead, Devine and others were arrested.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman suggested a five- to 10-year prison sentence for Govier’s guilty pleas to participating in a corrupt organization, criminal conspiracy and dealing in proceeds of an unlawful activity.
While Govier testified, his cooperation has been inconsistent due to his continued drug use and failure to embrace drug treatment opportunities, Gorman said.
“In a case like this, I’d normally be up here asking for leniency,” Det. Sgt. Chris Moser of the Altoona Police Department told Milliron. “But he’s squandered his chances.”
Govier told Milliron that he relapsed to drug use when he became fearful of returning to prison. It was drug use that made him three hours late for a previous scheduled guilty plea session. And it was drug use that caused him to miss a subsequent rescheduled court proceeding.
“I was just scared. I didn’t snub my nose at the system,” Govier said.
Currently incarcerated at Blair County Prison, Govier suggested that he be sentenced to a long-term treatment program.
Milliron declined and settled on the three- to six-year sentence. He also directed Govier to be transported to the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill.
Gorman said he thought Govier’s actions merited a longer sentence than three to six years. He said that he fears if Govier doesn’t address his drug problem, he’ll be back on the streets selling drugs.
Govier showed no emotion when Milliron imposed the incarceration.
Defense attorney Scott N. Pletcher said Govier was OK with the amount of time imposed.
“He thought he was going to get five years or longer,” Pletcher said.
Also on Friday, Judge Timothy M. Sullivan approved Anthony Freiwald’s entry into the county’s Drug Court program, where he will be subject to rules and required treatment options, after being released from Cambria County Prison.
Freiwald, when testifying during Devine’s trial, said he transported Devine around Johnstown where Devine met people and made exchanges with them. Freiwald said he didn’t pay attention to what was going on but believes they were trading cash and drugs. Freiwald also acknowledged his own use of heroin during the trial.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.