The leader of a southern Minnesota heroin conspiracy linked to two overdose deaths last year was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison this week alongside a half-brother, who also participated in the drug ring.
In imposing the sentences, Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Davis told one of the men that "you were selling poison … and it caused death."
Davis sentenced Antonio Jermaine Snell, also known as "Fatty" or "Lord," and Melvin Hunter in separate hearings this week.
Snell, 36, of Albert Lea, oversaw an operation that funneled heroin from Chicago into the Rochester, Minn., area, according to court documents, and authorities say the supply killed two young men in Austin, Minn.
According to court filings, Hunter, 23, of Chicago, was responsible for supplying drugs that killed 23-year-old Tyler Burkey in December 2015 and 20-year-old Jordan Jensen the following spring.
Jensen purchased his fatal dose by giving his dealer a 56-inch television, prosecutors said.
Before sentencing, attorneys sparred over whether the heroin Hunter supplied using a pair of middlemen could be directly linked to the deaths. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen used the argument as an example of defendants lacking remorse and failing to take responsibility.
"Even after two of their customers died from heroin overdoses, the defendants continued dealing these dangerous drugs," Paulsen said in a statement Friday. "The imposed sentences appropriately reflect the defendants' callous disregard for human life."
Snell and Hunter were among five co-conspirators indicted last year and received the longest sentences in the case because of their leadership roles and connection to the overdose deaths.
Snell had two prior felony drug convictions for selling crack cocaine in Rochester and served a shortened federal sentence before participating in a court program from which he twice absconded.
Thomas Shiah, an attorney for Hunter, the youngest defendant indicted in the case, argued that his client was not "in any leadership role or capacity … but simply involved in the distribution" of heroin.
But prosecutors said Hunter used homes belonging to other people, including the mother of his child, to "store, cook, cut and package drugs." He made all his money dealing drugs, Paulsen wrote, and would post images of stacks of cash on Facebook.