Attorney gets 4 years in smuggling

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    Attorney gets 4 years in smuggling
    He apologizes for meth addiction and taking items, heroin into jail for client

    A disbarred defense attorney said he was embarrassed and humiliated to stand before a court commissioner in jail stripes and chains.

    Jason Keller, 35, admitted Friday that he was a methamphetamine addict who smuggled a cellphone, charger and heroin into a Maricopa County jail for a client with suspected ties to the Mexican Mafia.

    Keller apologized to his clients, to the court and to his family, and for disgracing the legal profession. He said he watched his clients destroy their lives with drugs and did the same to himself.

    "In one poor single exercise of judgment, I threw it all away," Keller told Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Steven Lynch.

    "The only explanation I have is that methamphetamine is a very dangerous, evil drug."

    Lynch sentenced Keller to four years in prison and seven years' probation. He decided not to give Keller up to 10 years in prison, saying Keller doesn't have a criminal record, was addicted to drugs, alcohol and gambling, and has genuine remorse.

    "This was awful. I know you know it was awful, but this was really bad," Lynch said.

    A second attorney, David DeCosta, 42, was charged in September with attempting to smuggle heroin and methamphetamine for the same inmate as Keller.

    Keller and DeCosta both represented Jesse Alejandro, 24, a suspected member of the Mexican Mafia charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and promoting prison contraband.

    Kathleen Carey, a fellow defense attorney, urged Lynch not to make an example out of Keller. She said police and prosecutors have walked away with probation for similar offenses.

    "Mr. Keller is the exception. He's going to get hammered because of who he is," Carey said.

    Defense attorney Ulises Ferragut Jr. praised Lynch for imposing a fair sentence. Ferragut asked for three years in prison, the minimum under a plea bargain. "I think anytime a criminal-defense attorney gets in trouble, they are going to be held to a higher standard, right or wrong," he said.

    Keller, who was arrested in September 2008, probably will spend about 2 1/2 years in prison before he is eligible for release, Ferragut said.

    by Jim Walsh - Oct. 31, 2009 12:00 AM
    The Arizona Republic

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