Tearful Pittsburgh-area pill runner narrowly averts prison
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One of the region's largest prosecutions for the illegal sale of oxycodone drugs appeared Wednesday to be heading toward conclusion as a husband-and-wife team agreed to plead guilty and a low-level pill runner got a last-minute break on his sentence.
Brian David Wolfe, 37, and Shannon Houston Wolfe, 36, both of South Park, are accused of being the ringleaders of a 10-member crew that used false prescriptions to get powerful narcotics that were later sold on the street. They were scheduled to plead guilty last month, but didn't show up, and were later arrested in southern Texas.
"We don't take issue with the allegations," that Mr. Wolfe violated his bond by traveling to Texas, said his attorney, David Yablonski, at a hearing on the violation. He later said that the two were familiar with Texas because they had relatives there, and took a trip to detoxify before pleading guilty and going to prison. He said they were not fleeing the country.
Mr. Yablonski said that Mr. Wolfe was confused and scared because he has been accused of dealing large volumes of prescription drugs. "It's our intention to enter a plea of guilty."
Ms. Wolfe's attorney said she, too, would plead guilty. Their plea hearings are likely to occur by Sept. 25, before U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond. Their trials were set to begin Sept. 24.
Earlier Wednesday, Judge Diamond sentenced one of the Wolfes' former associates to prison, but then had an abrupt change of heart and gave him probation in a halfway house instead.
The judge's about-face came at a sentencing hearing for Stephen Michael Arovits, 28, of Munhall, indicted for twice taking fake prescriptions into pharmacies for Mr. Wolfe, seeking to get 120 pills of OxyContin.
According to Arovits' family, Stephen was a drug addict who helped Mr. Wolfe in return for pills. After his arrest, he successfully completed drug rehabilitation.
"This actually saved his life, what happened to him," said Arovits' father, also named Stephen Arovits. The two co-own a pizza shop. "He's my partner. ... I want him back home where he belongs."
Prescription "runners" like Arovits "were essential components of this conspiracy," Judge Diamond said, and sentenced him to 16 months in prison to match the terms given to other runners in the case.
Arovits was led away in tears by federal marshals but seconds after leaving the courtroom, Judge Diamond hurried back, called the parties to return, and vacated that judgment. He changed the sentence to time served plus a year in a halfway house.
"The public, I think, will be more than adequately served by having an individual who has been rehabilitated," he said, "instead of a charge on society."
First Published September 6, 2012 12:00 am