On paper, David McConnell had the profile of a drug kingpin. Using the Internet, he imported large amounts of Molly drugs from China. He headed a ring of at least five people and boasted a cache of high-powered guns.
But even a prosecutor pointed out during a sentencing hearing on Monday that McConnell was no South American drug lord shipping cocaine loads or commanding an army of soldiers. In fact, he was a honors student at Florida International University and turned to trafficking synthetic drugs only after battling addiction and psychological woes.
“David is a very smart young man. The problem is that he has all these mental health and drug problems layered over it,” his defense lawyer, Paul Petruzzi, told a federal judge on Monday, adding: “There’s a lot there worth salvaging.”
The judge on Monday agreed to an extent, sentencing McConnell to 14 years in prison for importing 30 kilos of synthetic drugs from China. Under federal law, McConnell – who pleaded guilty in July – had been facing up to 20 years behind bars.
Between 2012 and 2014, McConnell was one of South Florida’s biggest smugglers of the club drug Molly, all of it ordered from China — an illicit narcotics pipeline spotlighted by the Miami Herald in a recent three-part series. “It seems to be a big problem,” U.S. Judge Joan Lenard said of the Chinese pipeline. “It seems to be pretty prevalent.”
The judge acknowledged McConnell’s turbulent upbringing in South Miami. McConnell was described as having poor social skills, which led to his being bullied. He got addicted to drugs and was even hospitalized against his will for mental-health breakdowns.
McConnell, 28, said: “I made poor decisions. My friends kept pressuring me to order drugs because I knew how to get them off the Internet. I was weak and I gave in to both greed and peer pressure.”
Using the Internet, McConnell ordered the drugs to be mailed to an unassuming barbershop along Miami's Coral Way, among other locations. McConnell, who went by the nickname “Sway,” and his friends paid for the Molly drug methylone by wiring money to a Chinese chemical company called Egbert Limited.
McConnell’s business model was based on fast-food franchises – he farmed out wholesale product to other South Florida young men. One cohort, Brian Scot Bailey, who received packages at his home, was acquitted at trial in July. His defense lawyer said McConnell told him the drugs were legit.
Another co-defendant, Bryan Granados, will be sentenced on Tuesday. A barbershop employee, Bryan Romero, was also convicted.
McConnell had been no stranger to the synthetic drug game. In 2008, Coral Gables police arrested him for selling 56 ecstasy pills to an undercover detective; he was sentenced to 364 days in jail and two years of probation.
In his latest case, the government and the defense had agreed to recommend a sentence of 12 1/2 years behind bars. But the judge on Monday noted that McConnell seemed to have “graduated in his trafficking of drugs.” He was also hurt by his cache of 12 firearms, including five assault rifles.
Federal prosecutor Tony Gonzalez and Petruzzi noted that the guns were always kept in storage facilities, never used as part of the drug operation. In fact, McConnell threw them in a Dumpster before his arrest. At one recent hearing, he told the baffled judge he threw them away because he had become a vegetarian.
“That didn’t make sense to me either,” Gonzalez told the court.
But McConnell explained he got rid of the guns because he changed his mind on tools of violence: “I meant I wouldn’t hurt an animal, therefore I wouldn’t hurt a person.”