LOVINGSTON — An Atlanta man will spend 14 years behind bars for his involvement in trafficking methamphetamine to Nelson County between 2016 and 2017.
Phillip Bennet, 52, was sentenced in Nelson Circuit Court on Aug. 20 to 20 years with six suspended, leaving an active 14-year sentence for one count of enhanced distribution of methamphetamine. Bennet was sentenced to an additional 40 years with all 40 suspended for two counts of participation in racketeering.
Judge Michael Garrett considered the arguments of Nelson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Daniel Rutherford and defense attorney Anthony Martin, who for the most part agreed with each other, before deciding Bennet’s fate.
“I have to balance all the facts,” Garrett said. “The plague that meth is to these communities and the size of the operation — I have to balance that with what you have done since you’ve been caught, which did not go unnoticed.”
Rutherford told the judge before the sentencing that while Bennet was heavily involved with more than 10 others to conspire together to get meth to Nelson and other areas of Central Virginia, Bennet was honest, helpful and willing to cooperate with the commonwealth after being caught.
“When Bennet was charged, he was honest and took ownership,” Rutherford told the judge.
Rutherford asked Garrett to sentence Bennet to 80 years total on the distribution charge, with 64 suspended, leaving an active sentence of 16 years. Rutherford asked for 20 years for each of the two racketeering charges, with all suspended.
Rutherford said that, given Bennet’s age, for the remainder of the time he has, he will be monitored and has to be clean of all drugs and alcohol after being released.
“Sixteen years active is warranted in this case,” Rutherford said.
Martin told Garrett he agreed with a lot of what Rutherford stated and said he was grateful that the commonwealth took the mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years off the table. A statute in Virginia states that if a charged individual divulges sufficient evidence for the commonwealth to use and testifies for other cases if needed — which Bennet did — the mandatory minimum will no longer apply to the individual’s sentencing.
“Since he literally gave up everything, he met the requirement,” Rutherford said in an interview on Aug. 21.
Martin asked Garrett to consider Bennet’s age, the help he’s been for the past year and a half in assisting the commonwealth, and to consider his pending case in Wythe County on one elevated distribution charge.
“We don’t agree with 16 years,” Martin said.
Martin asked the judge to consider Bennet’s lack of criminal history in addition to his cooperation and argued for less of an active sentence and for whatever sentence given to run concurrent with Bennet’s pending charges in Wythe. Rutherford disagreed.
Garrett said he couldn’t run his sentence concurrent with Bennet’s case in Wythe due to the status of it and that that’s not something he would normally do anyway.
“It’s substantially under what you could have expected had you not cooperated,” Garrett told Bennet after sentencing.
According to a February news release from Rutherford, from March 2016 through November 2017, a slew of individuals distributed meth from Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, all over Nelson County and other areas of Central Virginia. They would then wire money back to Bennet in Atlanta, where he would purchase more meth and the pattern would continue.
“At the height of the ring’s operation, one pound of methamphetamine was trafficked every week into Central Virginia,” the release said.
Charles Anthony “Tony” Fitzgerald, one of the individuals involved with the meth ring and charged with racketeering and possession of a controlled substance, is set for sentencing Nov. 5.