'Foot soldier' in heroin ring gets 5 years
A California man will serve 60 months in federal prison for his role in bringing nearly a pound of heroin to the Medford area with plans to more than double the amount.
James Robert Thomas, 25, was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Medford for delivering roughly 400 grams of heroin to Southern Oregon between December 2016 and November 2017.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Delph described Thomas and convicted co-defendant Sheridan Joshua Hall, 27, as “not necessarily the top of the food chain” in a large-scale heroin drug ring. Delph described Thomas and Hall as “foot soldiers” who profited from the opioid crisis.
Thomas made $15,200 selling heroin in Southern Oregon, Delph said.
The Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force seized another 559 grams of heroin and $16,782 from a Phoenix motel when Thomas and Hall were arrested Jan. 5, 2018.
Because Thomas allegedly directed Hall at times in the heroin ring, Delph sought 3 months more than the mandatory 5-year prison sentence, but U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Thomas to the same 60-month prison sentence as Hall, who was sentenced last month.
Donald Scales, Thomas’ public defender, said his client grew up surrounded by drugs. Thomas’ grandmother raised him because his mother spent many of his childhood years in prison, and his grandfather was an opioid addict who ultimately died of an overdose.
“He grew up in an environment where drugs were the norm,” Scales said.
Thomas completed drug treatment in Grants Pass, according to Scales, and recently has been living in Northern California working for Tesla, assembling the electric cars in Fremont.
Aiken allowed Thomas to report to U.S. Marshals next month, but prefaced it with a warning that any missteps could jeopardize his placement in the medium-security federal prison that she and Scales recommended.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Aiken said.
Aiken said she’d recently visited the facility in Sheridan, knows the warden well, and she said the prison has strong drug rehabilitation and vocational programs.
She described prison as a turning point for Thomas, with the potential to either teach him how to be a “better bad guy” or how to learn to be a law-abiding citizen for his loved ones.
Aiken expressed hope because of Thomas’ young age, but concern at his street smarts and fragile sobriety. Toward hopes he’ll improve himself, Aiken recommended the book, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk.
“Be grateful you were caught — this could change your life,” Aiken said.