Christopher F. Reckmeyer II, the mastermind of a national drug ring based in Loudoun County, was sentenced yesterday to 17 years in prison without parole after he asked a judge to give him a "reasonable" prison term so that he could be released in time to watch his 9-year-old son play high school football.
Reckmeyer, 34, spoke softly in the crowded Alexandria courtroom yesterday as he addressed U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris: "Your honor, I am not an evil man. I never meant to cause any harm to anyone."
Before sentencing Reckmeyer, Cacheris denied a motion by the defendant to withdraw his guilty plea. The judge said that Reckmeyer needed more than a "technical reason" to change his plea and force a jury trial after the "U.S. had dismantled its case and prosecution team."
Reckmeyer had argued that he should be allowed to change his plea because he was not fully aware of the criminal enterprise charge against him when he pleaded guilty.
A tall, balding father of three, Reckmeyer was indicted Jan. 9 along with his brother, Robert B. Reckmeyer, and 24 others for directing a decade-long operation that distributed nearly 300 tons of marijuana and hashish valued at more than $100 million.
On April 26, Robert Reckmeyer, 30, was given the same sentence his brother received yesterday -- 17 years without parole.
Yesterday, as Christopher Reckmeyer asked the judge for a lenient sentence, he recalled playing football at McLean's Langley High School and "how it meant everything" to have his family watching. "I'd like my 9-year-old son to know that same feeling," he said.
He added, "I will never do anything illegal again."
Nancy Reckmeyer, Christopher's wife who is expecting their fourth child in the next few days, testified yesterday. As the 33-year-old woman stood at the lectern in a royal blue maternity dress, she said: "I'd simply like to say, I love my husband. He's not a bad man."
Facing possible life sentences without the possibility of parole, both brothers pleaded guilty in March to conducting a criminal enterprise, in exchange for government assurance of a sentence of between 10 and 20 years.
Neither brother is eligible for parole under the stiff drug statute, but Stanley Reed, Christopher Reckmeyer's attorney, said that both could be released in 11 years if they receive credit for good prison behavior.
"The family has been left completely destitute," Reed said yesterday after stating for the record that he believed his client did not get a "fair shake" from the government.
"Fifty to 60 million Americans use marijuana," Reed said, "and while it may be dangerous, marijuana is a fact of life." The defense attorney argued that a 17-year sentence without parole was the "equivalent of getting more than a life sentence for first-degree murder," because in those cases, Reed said, defendants are eligible for parole in 10 years.
Reed said he questioned the use of government resources -- he estimated that the three-year investigation and prosecution of the Reckmeyers cost more than a million dollars -- when there were many more serious offenders.
"I have never heard anything more ludicrous," Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Tandy responded in court to Reed's allegations that the government exaggerated profits and misinformed the judge and that extensive media coverage prejudiced the case.
The prosecutor said that Chris- topher Reckmeyer "richly deserved every year" that he will spend behind bars, and he told Cacheris that even after Reckmeyer became aware that a grand jury was investigating him, the defendant stuffed $855,661 into three cardboard boxes for payment of a 15,000-pound marijuana shipment docking at Norfolk.
Prosecutors said the elaborate drug ring laundered its profits through Oriental rugs, African gems and organic vegetables from Christopher Reckmeyer's 1,000-acre Loudoun County farm, valued at $2.8 million.
When U.S. marshals seized the farm, known as the Shelburne Glebe, and other drug-related assets, many of Reckmeyer's Loudoun County neighbors said they were shocked that the close, churchgoing family was involved in drug trafficking.
The chief of the criminal division at the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, Joseph Aronica, said the government's efforts in the Reckmeyer case were continuing. Of the 26 individuals indicted, 11 have not been arrested, including the third alleged kingpin, Bruce W. Thomason, of Maryland.