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Claiborne drug dealer gets 145 months in plea deal

From the Citizen Tribune

Claiborne County crystal-meth dealer Lonnie Engle was sentenced to 145 months in federal prison on Thursday, and that was a break, according to court documents.

Due to a drug-related felony conviction in 2013, Engle, 46, was facing a minimum-mandatory, 20-year sentence, according to his plea agreement, in which he took responsibility for distributing more than 150 grams of meth. What happened between August 2018, when Engle filed an amended plea agreement, and Thursday remains unclear.

Both the defense and prosecution sentencing memorandums were filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville under seal. Assistant U.S. Attorney Caryn L. Hebets indicated the reason for the secrecy was “the sensitive nature of the material contained therein.”

Like most defendants in the 20-defendant federal prosecution, Engle was hopelessly compromised by court-authorized wiretaps, including the phone of the lead defendant, Leonard “Squeak” Brown, who pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

“(Engle) was intercepted in wire and electronic conversations talking with Leonard Brown about obtaining methamphetamine,” his plea agreement states. “During some of these calls and texts, (Engle) and Leonard Brown about obtaining methamphetamine … (they) talked about ‘little Greg,” which the defendant admits was code for methamphetamine.”

U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Varlan recommended that Engle serve his time in a federal lockup in Manchester, Kentucky. He’ll be under court supervision for three years after he’s released. He’s been in federal custody since March 2018.

In a case adjudicated in federal court in Greeneville, Newport resident Zachary Strom, who played a supporting role in a Cocke County-to-New Jersey gun-running operation, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison on Wednesday, according to court documents.

Strom, 27, pleaded guilty earlier to conspiracy to traffic in firearms and making a false statement to purchase firearms. His two codefendants, 27-year-old Cocke County resident Aaron Turner, and the mastermind and main beneficiary of the conspiracy, Charles Koerner, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

U.S. District Judge Ronnie recommended that Strom be incarcerated at a federal lockup in Butner, Kentucky, and “strongly recommended” that Strom undergo a 500-hour substance-abuse treatment while incarcerated.

Koerner, 40, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in New Jersey after he was convicted of kidnapping, robbery and escape, couldn’t buy firearms, so Strom made “straw” purchases using his own money, and Koerner reimbursed him with heroin, according to a detention order written by U.S. Magistrate Clifton Corker.

One firearm was conclusively linked to two shootings in Bridgeton, New Jersey. A felon was carrying another firearm Koerner supplied other handgun when it was confiscated in New Jersey. That handgun been used in a separate shooting, according to the plea agreement, which states the serial numbers had been removed from both firearms.

In this case, gun running was dangerous in more ways than one. Koerner allegedly threatened to shoot either Strom or Turner after he learned he had been targeted by law enforcement, according to the detention order.

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