North Side man with a history of drug dealing gets life sentence

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By Rich Lord

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Drug sentencing reform won’t mean a lighter sentence for North Side resident Sean Moffitt, whose history of lawlessness earned him life in prison Wednesday following a June guilty verdict.

“Life, you don’t think that’s kind of harsh for my crimes?” Moffitt asked U.S. District Judge Maurice Cohill. The defendant said that his past convictions added up to 29 grams of drugs “and they’re saying because of that right there I’m supposed to be in jail for the rest of my life?”

“He’s in this position because of hundreds of deliberate criminal choices he’s made over the years, choices that have polluted the community with drugs and violence,” assistant U.S. attorney Craig Haller told Judge Cohill. He called a life sentence society’s “strong, clear and final self-defense” against Moffitt.

Moffitt, 33, was one of three men busted in a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sting after they agreed to a potentially violent theft of cocaine.

The cocaine did not exist, and Moffitt did not make the rendezvous with an ATF agent at which two co-conspirators were arrested. However, a jury found enough video and cell phone tracking evidence that he was part of the plot to convict him of conspiracy and attempt to possess and distribute cocaine.

Mr. Haller filed a motion disclosing Moffitt’s past convictions, which under federal law mandated a life sentence.

Moffitt’s attorney, David Chontos, complained that the motion violated the spirit of Attorney General Eric Holder’s August statements calling on federal prosecutors to save powerful sentencing enhancements for high-level, violent or gang-related drug offenders. He said he wanted time to ask Mr. Holder’s office to overrule local prosecutors.

Mr. Haller responded that Moffitt had a history of firearm crimes. He said that the amount of drugs was less significant than the persistent criminal conduct.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton, who attended the sentencing hearing, said later that some defense attorneys are selectively interpreting federal drug sentencing reforms. He said that Mr. Holder’s calls for change don’t apply to violent offenders, serial dealers or members of criminal organizations, all of which he said applied to Moffitt.

Judge Cohill counted six juvenile delinquency adjudications, six juvenile case dismissals, four adult drug convictions, two firearms arrests, three disorderly conducts and four other arrests.

“So the whole record is bad,” the judge said, after denying Mr. Chontos’ pleas for more time and before imposing the life sentence. That means that Moffitt will die in federal prison, unless the sentence is overturned.

Mr. Chontos pledged to appeal the conviction and sentence.


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published February 5, 2014 5:19 PM

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