Pubdate: Tue, 19 Jun 2012
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2012 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Note: Rarely prints LTEs received from outside its circulation area
Author: Glenn Smith
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


Former state trooper Kurt Steffen used his badge to shield himself 
from scrutiny while he and others grew marijuana on his Dorchester 
County land and ferried it about in his police cruiser.

But the tarnish on his shield worked against Steffen on Monday as a 
judge sentenced him to five years in federal prison for his crimes.

Steffen, 30, pleaded guilty in February to growing and possessing at 
least 100 marijuana plants with intent to distribute. He entered his 
plea on the day jury selection was to have begun in his case.

His public defender, Mary Gordon Baker, asked the judge on Monday to 
consider sentencing Steffen to less than the minimum five-year 
sentence, arguing, among other things, that he had no prior criminal 
record. Prosecutors argued against leniency, asserting that Steffen 
had total control over the growing operation because he owned the 
5-acre plot in Ridgeville where the pot was grown. His status as a 
law enforcement officer also gave the operation cover, they said.

Steffen, for example, acknowledged using his police cruiser to move 
pounds of marijuana and to escort his friends when they were hauling 
dope to avoid the possibility of other police officers pulling them over.

"This is someone who totally ignored the oath he's taken just to make 
a few bucks," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Bianchi said.

Senior U.S. District Judge Weston Houck ruled that Steffen was 
ineligible for a lesser sentence because he was a manager of the drug 
operation. "He could have pulled the plug on this entire operation," he said.

Houck said Steffen never should have gone near such a scheme, but the 
judge saw no need to give Steffen more than five years behind bars, 
followed by four years on probation. Houck also denied the 
prosecution's request that Steffen be taken into custody immediately 
because he allegedly posed a threat to himself and others.

The judge said he saw no evidence to support that. The court had 
received some 25 letters of support for Steffen, and he appeared to 
be a model citizen while out on bail, Houck said.

Steffen will report to federal prison at a later date. He and his 
family left a Charleston courtroom without comment.

Steffen worked as a trooper from July 2007 until late December 2009, 
resigning shortly before authorities raided his property.

Steffen acknowledged buying a rural plot on Stable Lane in May 2008 
as a base for a sophisticated indoor pot farm.

He and friends hatched the scheme as a way to earn extra cash. He 
bought the land just six months after graduating from the state 
Criminal Justice Academy, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have said the marijuana operation yielded multiple 
harvests, earning Steffen and his buddies thousands of dollars before 
Dorchester County deputies shut it down in January 2010.

Steffen initially faced between five and 40 years in prison and/or a 
$5 million fine. He agreed to forfeit his interest in the Stable Lane 
property and continue cooperating with investigators as part of his 
plea agreement.
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