A Gilbert man lost his bid for leniency in the drug-related death of another man after a federal judge last month sentenced him to more than 11 years in prison for distributing the deadly drug fentanyl.
John Yoon Yi, 29, also was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell to three years of supervised probation after his release for his guilty plea in connection with the September 2015 overdose death, of a victim whose name was sealed in federal court records.
Yi sold three blue “M-30” pills that looked like oxycodone to the victim, who died of an overdose within hours.
Yi was indicted last year by a federal grand jury on a charge of distributing drugs laced with fentanyl on one other occasion in 2017, and possessing a firearm.
The details surrounding the death and his other crimes were not part of the public court record as the indictment was sealed for reasons not cited in the case file.
In a pre-sentence memo, public defenders Jon Sands and Gregory Bartolmei made an impassioned plea for a sentence below what was called for in federal sentencing guidelines. They requested 10 years in prison with an unspecified amount of credit for time served, that he be placed in a residential drug treatment program and that he be allowed to serve his sentence in a penitentiary in Arizona.
Inmates in the federal prison can be moved anywhere within the U.S., depending on the availability of cell space and the seriousness of the charges for which they were sentenced.
“The pain and reality of consequences has been fully realized” by the defendant, the defense lawyers said.
They noted that the Centers for Disease Control has been studying the sharp increases in opioid overdose deaths in various States going back to 2013, and the study included 60,000 deaths – nearly a third from mixing fentanyl with illicitly manufactured opioids to make a drug 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
“Statistics aside, it is a sad fact that many young people not only have a casual attitude about the use of narcotics for entertainment but they are also completely uninformed of the serious risks inherent in casual drug use,” the lawyers wrote. “Constant government warnings about the inherent dangers go unheeded including the fact that the drug you think you are taking and sharing with others is not necessarily what the substance actually is. Thus, when a substance like fentanyl is consumed and it is actually 50-100 times stronger than the ‘party’ drug you thought you were taking.”
They went on to assert that this is what happened to the man whose death Yi was held responsible.
Referred to only as “R.S.,” the victim had known Yi for about two years from high school and that his “casual attitude toward drugs” resulted in his death.
“John thought he knew the nature of the substance he provided to his friend and he was and remains shocked and saddened by all that happened,” they said of their client. “John now carries a heavyweight for the loss of life as well as the pain that resulted to others. The weight of his guilt never leaves him, day or night. It is not some bad dream from which he will ever awaken but a painful fact that will continue to haunt him every day for the rest of his life.”
They said Yi was remorseful and he understands his actions as well as their questions “says a lot about his character, which is a factor for this court to consider.”
They also said a shorter sentence “is sufficient and serves as deterrence.”
“Another consequence of his crime is the suffering John must endure knowing that he is completely helpless and unable to support his parents in any manner, particularly with the knowledge of their current health conditions and the fact thatthey are getting older. The time he has already spent in detention and the many years in prison that will be imposed has caused him significant mental anguish. The years are in themselves sobering and they have impressed upon him the importance of never again participating in criminal conduct in the future for anyone for any reason,” they wrote.
Even the 10 years they were seeking, they added, was sufficient warning to others about the seriousness of the crime.
“John is person who wants to make something better of his life when he is finally released from prison. He completed several education courses at Mesa Community College and now plans to take advantage of the courses, counseling and training available at the facility where he will be placed by the Bureau of Prisons,” they said.
“Mr. Yi has been battling serious drug abuse issues for years and he wants nothing more to do with it,” they said, noting his probation officer also recommended he be placed in a residential drug treatment program.
As for putting Yi in an Arizona facility, they said his older brother is in the military and is stationed overseas.
His parents are getting on in years and have some significant health issues,” they explained. “They live in Arizona and travel is very difficult for them. Family unity has always been an important factor for placement because it aides in the rehabilitation process and gives inmates something to work towards and to look forward to. It would help Mr. Yi and his family to maintain that unity if he is housed in Arizona.
“There are only so many ways for Mr. Yi to say he’s sorry,” they said. “He truly is sorry and has learned much already from this experience.”