A Beechview man was sentenced in federal court Friday to 37 months in prison for importing and selling the party drug methylone, a key ingredient in the drug widely known as "Molly."
Molly emerged in the national spotlight in recent years after leading to a number of deaths at electronic dance concerts around the country.
Patrick Taylor, 33, pleaded guilty in January to importing more than 6 pounds of the drug from China with the intent to distribute. Federal prosecutors alleged that he began the conspiracy in November 2011 and continued to import and distribute the drug until his apartment was raided by law enforcement in March 2013, shortly after the federal Department of Homeland Security intercepted a drug shipment en route to Taylor. He was indicted in August.
"I have struggled with drug addiction since I was 15 years old," said Taylor, choking up as he read a prepared statement before U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak during the sentencing hearing. "I have done many things I am not proud of and I have harmed many with my actions."
Taylor was remorseful throughout his statement, speaking emotionally about how he hopes to set a better example for his 5-year-old son. Taylor's mother, whose name the Post-Gazette is withholding to protect the child's identity, also spoke on her son's behalf.
"While it is an extremely sad day for me, it is also one full of hope and thanks," she said, citing her son's 15 months of sobriety.
"The seriousness and wrongness of what Patrick pleaded guilty to does not escape me, but nonetheless my heart breaks today, mostly because Patrick and his 5-year-old son will lose years together," she said.
She and others, including Taylor's sponsor, Eric Zurlo, described in heroic terms the defendant's efforts to remain clean, and put much of the onus for his crime on his addiction. Charles Porter, Taylor's attorney, said that all of the money made from the sales of methylone were put toward feeding his heroine addiction.
While Katherine King, assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, called Taylor's efforts at sobriety "commendable," she pushed back against the narrative that the plot was a mere symptom of addiction.
She described a large-scale operation in which Taylor communicated via email with a supplier in China and wired money, typically around $2,000 per kilogram, to have the drug shipped overseas. Taylor would then sell the drug for between $17,000 and $40,000 per kilogram, she said. He also recruited others to assist in the operation, court documents show.
"It is extremely deadly and dangerous. It's being marketed as Molly," Rusty Payne, a spokesman at the Drug Enforcement Agency, said in an interview later describing methylone. "You can call anything Molly."
Mr. Payne said a number of the deaths that have occurred are among users who believe they are ingesting MDMA or ecstasy, other drugs that are commonly used at night clubs. Because so many designer drugs are coming out of laboratories in China, not even the dealers know exactly what they are selling, he said. The process of purchasing the drug is easy, and "the money is astounding," he said.
A recent United Nations report showed that the trafficking of such synthetic drugs internationally now outpaces the trafficking of more traditional drugs like marijuana and heroin.
"Patrick was an addict. He was selling to fuel his addiction," Mr. Porter argued in response.
Judge Hornak lauded Taylor's efforts at sobriety in his statement before announcing the sentence. Nonetheless, he deemed the sentence necessary for what he called "a planned, organized, arranged offense." Taylor was released with an order to report to prison upon direction from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was edited to prevent identification of a minor.
Matt Nussbaum: email@example.com, or 412-263-1504.