“Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what I would do today,” Roper said.
It wasn’t that the sentence he imposed on Stefan Ambrose last summer was an abnormality. The abnormality was created when his former co-defendant, Tori Angela, was sentenced by another judge, Roper said.
Ambrose, Angela and Cyron Ross were arrested Feb. 11, 2012, when Richmond County Sheriff’s Office narcotics investigators caught the three with 26 pounds of marijuana on Dan Bowles Road.
Ambrose, 25, pleaded guilty on July 29, 2013, to trafficking in marijuana, a crime that carries a mandatory minimum prison term of five years. Ambrose, who had been a student at the University of Florida with no prior criminal record, pleaded with Roper to sentence him under the First Offender Act so he would have a chance to continue school and get a decent job once released. Roper granted his request and sentenced Ambrose, whose father was dying, to five years in prison followed by five years on probation.
Ambrose, his attorney Pete Theodocion said, was one of the college students recruited by Angela to serve as couriers. According to the investigators’ reports, Angela bought marijuana from dealers in California and sold it to others.
But when Angela, 53, appeared before Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet on Oct. 23, 2013,, John O’Neal, a prosecutor who has since left the district attorney’s office, told the judge that the real trafficker was Ambrose. He also told Overstreet that Angela had tried to provide “substantial assistance,” but her information on drug dealers in California wasn’t helpful because the U.S. Justice Department wasn’t interested in prosecuting marijuana cases in a state that legalized medical marijuana.
Although no motion is on record that O’Neal asked for a downward departure from the mandatory minimum of five years, O’Neal recommended a sentence of 20 years on probation, with probation to terminate after 10 years if Angela paid her $30,000 fine.
The mandatory fine for trafficking in marijuana, which Angela pleaded guilty to, is $100,000.
Overstreet accepted the sentencing recommendation.
Angela, not Ambrose, was caught on a wire tap in more than 15 calls and texts arranging for the sale of marijuana, Theodocion said Tuesday.
Roper granted Theodocion’s motion to allow Ambrose to withdraw his guilty plea to prevent a “manifest injustice.”
Assistant District Attorney Robert Homlar, who inherited the criminal case, offered to recommend a sentence of 10 years on probation under the First Offender Act in exchange for Ambrose’s guilty plea to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
Ambrose accepted the offer, as did the judge.
The third defendant in the case, Ross, 43, has pleaded not guilty. His case is pending in Richmond County Superior Court.