Man granted clemency by President Obama sent back to prison for drug violations
AKRON, Ohio -– A man who spent 22 years in federal prison for a cocaine charge racked up during the height of the U.S. government’s War on Drugs, only to be granted clemency by President Barack Obama in 2015, is headed back to prison for marijuana trafficking.
Antwon Rogers, 47, was sentenced Wednesday to four years, nine months in federal prison for violating the terms of his probation. U.S. District Judge John Adams said that Rogers, who lived in Parma Heights, failed drug tests and didn’t tell his probation officer that he had moved.
By far the most serious offense, though, was that Rogers fell back into his old ways, despite being given an extraordinary chance at a new life, Adams said.
The judge said it was “tragic the defendant has returned ... to the drug trafficking trade.”
Obama and his White House undertook major efforts to shorten the sentences of a record number of people, part of a way to attack the consequences of decades of stiff sentences for people convicted of non-violent drug crimes. The majority of the thousands sentences Obama commuted were for drug cases, a pattern that has not continued under President Donald Trump.
Rogers was the beneficiary of this program. He was sentenced to life in prison in January 1995 after authorities said he sold crack cocaine. In March 2015, Obama commuted the remainder of Rogers’ sentence, and he was released shortly thereafter. He had a construction job, and seemed optimistic about the future.
Jeff Lazarus, a federal public defender for Rogers on both the new case and the clemency request, said getting the call that Rogers was getting out was one of the proudest moments of his law career, and his client’s good fortune lent him a feeling of invincibility.
Rogers was arrested on Nov. 17, though, after state and federal investigators orchestrated the delivery of a package with five pounds of marijuana to his apartment. A search turned up drug paraphernalia, bags, scales and marijuana residue, and Rogers admitted to receiving packages of marijuana from California for several months, both for him and others to sell.
He pleaded guilty in August to a drug possession charge, and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Shaughnessy sentenced him to nine months in prison.
Adams was noticeably irked by Rogers’ case, and the opportunity he gave up. The 57-month sentence he imposed was the highest one recommended by the U.S. Probation Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and just three months short of the maximum sentence allowed by federal law. He did not count the time Rogers served on the state sentence toward the new federal penalty.
The judge also rejected Rogers’ request for a recommendation that he participate in an intensive drug and alcohol treatment program while in prison. The program in which he wanted to participate can lead the Federal Bureau of Prisons to shave time off an inmate’s sentence. Adams noted that he previously gave Rogers chances to get clean, to no avail.
“It’s unfortunate that you did not seize the opportunity given to you by the president,” Adams said.
The judge also said he believed Rogers at least had knowledge of more than an ounce of cocaine that investigators found in a coat in a bedroom closet, something that Rogers adamantly denied.
Rogers apologized to everyone in the courtroom, which included his wife in the viewing gallery. He said he wants to leave Ohio after getting out of prison.
Lazarus said his client is embarrassed for his actions and that “negative influences took him down.”
He said Rogers has repeatedly asked him if he was mad and that he responded that “we’re all just disappointed because you had this chance and you squandered it.”
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