U.S. District Court / Web 'drug lord' denies intent to kill
27-year-old testifies at his sentencing hearing
BY SHANNON PRATHER
Article Last Updated: 07/31/2007 11:48:29 PM CDT
In hopes of avoiding a life sentence, Internet drug dealer Christopher Smith answered questions Tuesday from a skeptical sentencing judge.
"I didn't intend to become a drug lord of Internet pharmacies," Smith told the judge.
He blamed bipolar disorder and impulsiveness for a jailhouse conversation in which he talked of killing a witness or the witness's child. He said he'd never go through with it.
"I never hurt anyone. I never beat anyone up," said Smith, 27.
He denied allegations that he wanted to kill his wife and her new boyfriend: "She's the mother of my child. I wouldn't have her killed so my son is an orphan. That's ridiculous."
In November, a jury convicted Smith of nine federal counts, including conspiracy to distribute drugs, misbranding drugs and money laundering. Smith, a high school dropout, netted more than $24 million selling prescription painkillers over the Internet to customers without legitimate prescriptions.
"You thought you were smarter than most people?" U.S. District Judge Michael Davis asked Smith.
Smith replied, "Yes."
He awaits trial on separate charges of witness tampering and obstructing justice.
Federal prosecutors seek a sentence of 30 years to life, arguing Smith acted like a crime boss - dealing drugs, hiding money, carrying guns, flouting court orders and conspiring to have a witness killed. Smith is asking for no more than 20 years, arguing he's not as ruthless as the prosecution is painting him.
He took the stand Tuesday but may have done more damage than good by talking about his drug empire, which included more than 100 employees. Smith admitted to many of the assertions made by the prosecution.
Davis listened to seven hours of testimony and argument Tuesday. The sentencing hearing resumes this afternoon.
Smith admitted using a Taser and a stun gun on employees at his Burnsville office but said it was just horseplay.
"It's pretty harmless. He wasn't overly upset about it," he said of the target of one Tasing incident.
He admitted storing a handgun at his office but said it was unloaded and that he never used it to threaten employees.
"I never took it out and twirled it around on my desk," Smith said.
He admitted flouting the judge's earlier orders to cease his illegal drug business and continuing efforts to re-establish online pharmacies in Canada, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.
Smith also admitted hiding more than $1 million in cash in cereal boxes at his Prior Lake estate even after the judge ordered his assets frozen.
"Did you have a cereal you enjoyed eating?" asked a sarcastic Davis.
While awaiting trial in jail, Smith admitted, he manipulated the jail's phone system so he could make calls that would not be recorded. The jailers eventually caught on to his scheme and recorded the call in which he talked of killing a witness.
"Christopher Smith, computer wizard, beats the Sherburne County jail," Davis said.
Smith also admitted that he knew his Internet pharmacy sold drugs to addicts but said that was not his primary goal.
Prosecutors called Smith an "Internet scam artist" who used spam, or junk e-mail, to con people before he set up an online pharmacy in 2004. Smith's Internet pharmacy, based in Burnsville, had customers fill out a health questionnaire. He then paid a New Jersey doctor to prescribe painkillers without consultation or examination. The doctor, who pleaded guilty to a federal charge before trial, approved 72,000 prescriptions.
Customers paid exorbitant rates for the drugs. Smith charged $599 for a 160-count prescription of Vicodin.
Smith contracted with a handful of small mom-and-pop pharmacies to fill the prescriptions.
Smith reveled in his newly amassed fortune. He bought a $1.1 million estate in Prior Lake and a fleet of luxury cars. Each week, an armored truck delivered $80,000 to $120,000 in cash to his Burnsville office.
Others associated with Smith pleaded guilty before trial. Two key associates - an attorney and accountant - were acquitted.
Smith also admitted turning down a plea deal that would have resulted in a sentence closer to 10 years. At the time, he sought a sentence of probation. "Hindsight is worth a million (dollars)," Smith said. "I acted like a fool. That's the situation."