Crime

Ex-Franklin Co. jail guards plead guilty to drug charges

PASCO -- Two Franklin County jail guards will likely never see the inside of a federal prison for trying to start a marijuana distribution business.

Kevin Still, 44, and Sonya Symons, 32, both of Pasco, pleaded guilty to drug charges Thursday in U.S. District Court in Richland in a plea deal. Both sides are agreeing to recommend they serve two years of probation and not prison time when they're sentenced in July.

Still, a 21-year veteran corrections officer, also could be ordered to spend four months on electronic home monitoring.

Still and Symons, who had worked at the jail for six years, will be required to complete 200 hours of community service and undergo drug testing and treatment.

Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim didn't mince words last fall when he issued a news release about the arrests of his employees. He said Still and Symons were "motivated by greed" and thought they were "too smart to get caught." He also said then that he was disappointed by their actions.

On Thursday, Lathim said that he and the rest of the employees at the sheriff's office have moved past the incident, but he did admit he was surprised at the deal Still and Symons got.

"I thought the fact that since they were working in the criminal justice system and corrections that they would get some prison time from it," Lathim said. "I was just a little surprised at the leniency of it. I expected more, but it doesn't make or break my day."

Still and Symons were fired after they were arrested for conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute last October. The arrests followed an investigation by the Tri-Cities Metro Drug Task Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.

Symons' brother, Troy Green, 29, of Spokane, also was arrested for his alleged role in the marijuana distribution plan and is awaiting trial.

Symons pleaded guilty Thursday to distributing marijuana, while Still admitted he attempted to possess marijuana with intent to distribute it. In exchange for their pleas, federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss a conspiracy to distribute marijuana charge against Still and Symons.

Still and Symons were living together at the time of their arrest, but had been ordered to have no contact with each other while their trial was pending. On Thursday, Judge Edward Shea said the couple could see each other while they await sentencing but are not allowed to live together.

Still and Green were arrested in Spokane when they went to meet with an undercover detective who had arranged to sell them 12 pounds of marijuana for $30,000. Symons was arrested at her home.

According to court documents, Still and Symons initiated plans to start dealing marijuana by contacting an inmate at the Franklin County jail who was known to have contacts in the marijuana distribution business.

In June 2009, the inmate then approached a Metro detective and provided information about the corrections officers trying to connect with large drug trafficking organizations.

The informant said he got preferential treatment from the jailers -- Symons let the informant use her personal cell phone while locked up -- and maintained a personal relationship with them once released.

In September, Still contacted the informant to get help purchasing 50 pounds of marijuana and the informant set up a meeting with an undercover officer who was acting as a large-scale marijuana transporter, documents said.

Still and Green allegedly negotiated a purchase deal with the undercover officer, but only had $12,000 with them when they went to make the buy, so the undercover agent agreed to front them half of the 12 pounds of marijuana, documents said. They were arrested after they completed the transaction.

The informant was not named in court documents, but in court Thursday, Still told Judge Shea that he "tried to purchase a pretty good amount of marijuana from a guy named Les Gardner."

Gardner is an admitted marijuana grower who was busted by Metro detectives in January 2008 inside a large, sophisticated underground marijuana growing operation in Kahlotus. Gardner was charged with manufacturing marijuana but the case was later thrown out because of a bad search warrant.

-- Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com

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