A quadriplegic man only able to move his head and neck was sentenced to 17½ years in prison Tuesday in federal court for running a drug pipeline between California and Akron.
Federal prison officials will assess Patrick Griffin’s medical needs and decide where he should be confined. Griffin, who is on a ventilator and a respirator, will need to be in a medical facility.
“It’s just tragic,” said Rhonda Kotnik, Griffin’s attorney.
The hefty prison sentence is the latest sad chapter in Griffin’s life that started when his father shot his mother while he sat on her lap as a young boy and continued when he was shot in 2011, leaving him paralyzed. Griffin pleaded guilty in 2016 to trying to extort money from Akron native and former Ohio State University football star Beanie Wells and was indicted last year on federal drug charges.
Griffin, 31, pleaded guilty in February in U.S. District Court in Cleveland to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of methamphetamine and heroin. Federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss several other felony drug charges against him.
Kotnik pushed for a lesser sentence of about 10 years.
U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Gaughan, however, noted that Griffin was given a chance when he was sentenced to house arrest for the Wells’ extortion case in 2016 — and ended up running afoul of the law again with the drug ring.
Federal prosecutors were pleased with Griffin’s prison term.
“This defendant orchestrated large shipments of heroin and methamphetamine from California to Ohio and sold these dangerous drugs around Akron,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said in an emailed statement. “These drugs have caused particular pain in Summit County. A sentence of over 17 years imprisonment is an appropriate punishment.”
History of trouble
Griffin has a long history with drugs that began with his mother, who was paralyzed after being shot by his father when he was 2. His mother, who used and sold drugs, lost custody of him and he lived with other relatives. By the time he was 13, Griffin was on the streets and began racking up robbery and drug charges.
In December 2011, Griffin, 24, was shot by Dawud Spaulding, who was looking for the mother of his children, Erica Singleton. Spaulding shot and killed Griffin's uncle Ernie Thomas and Singleton and was convicted and sentenced to death.
Griffin spent 13 months in the hospital before moving in with longtime girlfriend Natorria Clark, who bought a handicap-friendly house in a quiet neighborhood in Ellet.
Despite his disability, Griffin continued to get into trouble.
In 2015, the FBI said Griffin and his friend Frank Conley threatened Wells and his family unless they paid them up to $175,000. The money was to make up for what they lost to a Mexican drug dealer they met through Wells’ brother, the FBI said.
Conley was convicted of extortion and other crimes and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Griffin took a deal and pleaded guilty to extortion. He faced up to 41 months in prison. Only one federal prison in North Carolina could care for his medical needs.
Prosecutors pushed for Griffin to get prison time — noting that he could continue in the drug trade if he remained free — but a judge noted that Griffin had been shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and that his prison medial care would cost taxpayers a lot of money. She sentenced Griffin to one year of house arrest and probation and ordered him to donate $10,000 from his Social Security benefits.
At “some point in time, with all the tragedy you’ve experienced, you have to understand that you cannot be the one who perpetrates the wrongs,” the judge told Griffin.
Griffin, though, didn’t heed the judge’s words. He was one of eight Akron residents indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges in September.
Investigators said Griffin was the primary conduit for the drugs, though Clark “coordinated drug distribution and deliveries” for him when he wasn’t available, according to court documents. The others were accused of traveling to pick up the drugs or selling them in and around Akron.
Altogether, investigators said Griffin and his cohorts distributed 6 kilos of methamphetamines and 200 grams of heroin at a time when many in the Akron area were dying from overdoses.
Clark, 34, who is no longer involved with Griffin, recently was sentenced to probation.
Residents who lived near Griffin and Clark noticed the frequent comings and goings at their Ellet home and worried about what might be happening there. Their angst increased after Griffin was convicted of extortion.
“We thought, ‘Uh-oh. This is not good over here,’ ” said one neighbor who asked not to be named because of safety concerns.
The resident is pleased that — this time — Griffin received a significant prison sentence. He said another family moved into Griffin’s former house and the neighborhood has returned to normal.
“Getting these people off the street has been very beneficial to a lot of people,” the resident said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, email@example.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.