The son of Hephzibah’s City Commission chairman, caught with more than two ounces of cocaine, was spared the usual mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence Wednesday for trafficking the drug.
John Buchwitz, 21, pleaded guilty in a Richmond County Superior Court courtroom packed with supporters Wednesday morning in a plea negotiation approved by District Attorney Ashley Wright.
Judge J. Wade Padgett accepted the plea agreement for a 10-year probation sentence with 180 days in the probation detention center, and a $25,000 fine. He granted defense attorney Victor Hawk’s request to sentence Buchwitz under the First Offender Act.
“Make no mistake about it,” Padgett told Buchwitz, “you are a drug dealer.” It’s ironic that everyone screams about locking up drug dealers and throwing away the key unless it’s someone they know, the judge said.
On May 14 in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart on Deans Bridge Road, Buchwitz sold 10 grams of cocaine to a confidential informant, Assistant District Attorney Adam Land said. The next day, in the same parking lot, Buchwitz arrived with 59.6 grams for a meeting with the informant, whom Buchwitz believed intended to pay him $2,000 for two ounces.
Buchwitz, the son of Hephzibah commission member Robert Buchwitz, admitted to investigators that he had sold cocaine before and this time intended to profit by $200.
In the past 10 years in Richmond County Superior Court, 247 people facing trafficking cocaine charges have pleaded guilty or have been convicted of felonies, according to court records analyzed by The Augusta Chronicle. About a third – 89 defendants – got probation; the rest did prison time. Of those sentenced to straight probation terms, only 2 percent pleaded guilty to trafficking in cocaine. The rest pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute the drug or simple possession.
In Georgia, trafficking cocaine at the amount Buchwitz intended to sell is a crime punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison and a $200,000 fine.
Trafficking cocaine requires a minimum 10-year prison term except in cases where the prosecutor requests a reduction because of substantial assistance rendered to police.
Wright said the exception was used in Buchwitz’s case. Neither his father’s political standing nor the family’s position in the community had any bearing on her office’s request for the judge to depart from the mandatory minimum sentence, Wright said.