Former Auburn University employee pleads guilty to distribution of date-rape like drug

A former Auburn University employee pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to three counts related to narcotics possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and one count of possession of methamphetamine after he was arrested last spring for selling quantities of substances similar to “date-rape drugs” to undercover agents in Auburn.

Stephen K. Howard, 64, pleaded guilty before Magistrate Judge Charles S. Coody of the U.S. District Court Middle District of Alabama to three counts of possessing with intent to distribute 1,4 butanediol, which is converted to GHB, commonly known as a “date-rape drug,” once ingested into the body. Howard also pleaded guilty to one count of possessing methamphetamine. Howard originally entered a not guilty plea to the charges during a June 16 hearing.

“Those who take advantage of young girls by doping them unconscious are disgusting and repulsive,” U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. said in a press release Wednesday. “Rape by force or mental incapacity is a serious crime that warrants harsh prosecution. Those who make or sell drugs used to rape by mental incapacity are equally as guilty.”

Howard, who used his employment as an Auburn University laboratory technician in a polymer fiber engineering laboratory to obtain 1,4, butanediol, sold the substance to undercover officers on May 7 and May 14; however, he denies personally distributing the drug to any Auburn University students.

He was also indicted on two firearms counts, one accusing Howard of knowingly brandishing, carrying and using a Ruger LC 9 mm pistol while making a transaction with one of the undercover agents on May 14, the other involving the possession of a Mossberg Maverick Model 88 shotgun, which was discovered when law enforcement executed a search warrant on Howard’s residence on May 22. During that search, authorities also discovered gallons of 1,4 butanediol in Howard’s home. Howard has not entered a plea related to the firearms counts, and will proceed to trial in January on those counts.

The guilty plea does not involve a plea agreement, but rather is a blind plea to the four drug counts, meaning the prosecution and defense have not agreed on a plea deal and the prosecution will not recommend a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

“I believe if we went to trial, the government would prove that (Howard) distributed 1,4 butanediol … an analogue of GHB, and that (Howard) sold it intending for it to be for human consumption,” said Howard’s attorney John Lovell.

Sentencing for Howard on the drug counts will happen after the trial for the firearms violations.

Coody explained that the drug analogue (1,4 butanediol) counts could each carry a sentence of a maximum of 20 years of imprisonment with three years of supervised release, a maximum fine of $1 million or both the fine and imprisonment. The methamphetamine possession count could carry a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment, a minimum $1,000 fine, or both the fine and imprisonment.

The case involved a joint investigation among the Auburn Police Department, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“This was a case in which a person was poisoning our community with illicit chemicals,” stated Capt. Will Mathews of the Auburn Police Division in a press release. “The Auburn Police Division solicited assistance from ALEA, FBI, DEA, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring this criminal to answer for his crime. It was very successful.”

On Monday prior to Wednesday’s proceedings, both the defense and prosecution filed motions pertaining to whether evidence of Howard’s drug distribution will be permitted during the January trial for the firearms counts.

“The court should not exclude such evidence,” states a motion filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “The drug distribution evidence is essential to establishing a key element of the government’s case as to counts three and five (the firearms counts). Further, it is not subject to exclusion under any Rule of Evidence. Accordingly, the government requests the court to allow it, at trial, to introduce evidence of Howard’s drug distributing without any limitation other than those provided for in the Rules of Evidence.”

The motion further states that the evidence is “not extrinsic, but rather is essential to proving that Howard committed the crimes with which he is charged,” explaining that Howard cannot be convicted on the firearms counts if the government does not prove that they are connected with the drug trafficking crimes.

In a motion submitted by the defense to exclude the drug-related evidence, Lovell cites Federal Rules of Evidence and examples of evidence that should not be included.

According to Federal Rule of Evidence 403, for example, evidence may be excluded if its introduction would be “substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.”

The motion also states specific evidence the defense seeks to exclude, including the fact that 1,4 butanediol is informally known as a “date-rape drug.”

“This evidence is not relevant to the government’s prosecution of Mr. Howard on the alleged firearms offenses as it does not make any ‘fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence,’” the motion states, citing Federal Rule of Evidence 401.

Howard’s trial is set for Jan. 4 and is expected to take three days or less, according to indications by the defense and prosecution during a pretrial hearing Wednesday.

Source: http://www.dothaneagle.com/news/crime_court/former-auburn-university-employee-pleads-guilty-to-distribution-of-date/article_d699c902-7e3b-11e5-bd18-8b0010168750.html

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