City drug conspirator gets 5-year federal prison sentence

A federal judge Monday sentenced a city man to five years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to taking part in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine from a residence on High Street.

Earl Sampson, 55, formerly of 729 Elmira St., was sentenced by U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie, who gave him credit for the time he has served in jail, which is about 3 1/2 years, but not before Sampson caused an uproar in the court.

At times, Sampson became loud and accused Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Simmers of fabricating evidence and Vanaskie of being a criminal.

Vanaskie was holding back issuing a contempt citation because he said, “I don’t want to do it.”

Sampson had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 28 grams of the drug from 725 High St., Simmers said.

“He acknowledged that he helped to facilitate crack cocaine transactions and that he had conspired with, among others, Dorothy Robinson, who is serving an 18-year federal prison sentence,” Simmers said.

Sampson admitted that he was the first point of contact for customers wanting to buy cocaine at the house, according to the court records.

The history of the case was one in which Sampson was not pleased with numerous attorneys appointed to represent him and defended himself in court.

Vanaskie presided over the case when the late Senior Judge James F. McClure became ill.

More than six months after entering a guilty plea that signaled the end of the drug trafficking conspiracy spanning nearly five years, and less than two weeks before he was to be sentenced, Sampson attempted to withdraw his plea.

Vanaskie denied Sampson’s “11th-hour” attempt to proceed to a jury trial and denied the motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

Sampson was re-indicted on April 28, 2011, on the same conspiracy charge that led to the 2007 prosecution. The indictment charged that from on or about Jan. 1, 1996, to Oct. 2, 2007, Sampson conspired with others to distribute cocaine.

Charles Witaconis, Sampson’s attorney who stood by his client in case should he require legal counsel, also was on the end of Sampson’s finger. Sampson accused Witaconis of being complicit with the prosecution when Witaconis suggested that the judge recommend he serve his sentence at the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg.

But Witaconis also argued on behalf of Sampson that he did not play a major role in the drug conspiracy. He said Sampson drove around in a 1995 car, had financial debt and lived in a boarding house in the city, and was not part of a multi-million dollar drug conspiracy.

Of the co-conspirators in the case, “three of them received sentences higher than the sentencing range Sampson was looking at,” Witaconis said, urging Vanaskie to sentence his client on the lower end of the spectrum.

“There were no drugs on Sampson when police executed a search warrant and no drugs on his person,” Witaconis said.

When it came to where Sampson would served his sentence, Sampson said he suffered from nerve damage and back pain and wanted to go to a prison in North Carolina that specialized in providing that kind of medical treatment for inmates.

Vanaskie said he could not order Sampson to any specific prison. It is the role of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to decide where he serves his sentence, Vanaskie said.

Vanaskie’s sentence included four years of supervision following release from prison and a $100 special assessment.

“I didn’t do it,” Sampson said, as he was led out of court by federal marshals and blew kisses to his wife and children.

“I am not guilty and I am not subjecting myself to probation – I am subjecting myself to God.”