A federal judge on Monday sentenced a Durham man to 57 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, saying that the defendant was motivated by greed and his belief that he was smarter than the system. Seth Leaf Pruzansky, 36, was found with two duffel bags containing 64 pounds of marijuana when he was arrested by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in September 2010, according to court documents. He pleaded guilty in June to the charge of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
In addition to the prison time, federal authorities confiscated $147,400, a 2005 BMW, a 2005 Ford pickup truck and a home under construction in Oxford County reportedly worth $500,000. Pruzansky, the co-founder of an organic snack food company called Living Nutz, could have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and as many as 30 years in prison for the conviction but the minimum did not apply because Pruzansky met key criteria, including not using violence during the crime and meeting with the government about the offense. Pruzansky told the court he was ashamed of himself and had no one else to blame.
“It is entirely of my own doing,” he said. During the hearing Monday, his supporters described him as the creative and caring child of back-to-the-landers who had settled in the woods of Canaan. While he was in the sixth grade, the family relocated to Waterville, where Pruzansky became the target of anti-Semitic bullying as well as the victim of a violent assault. Pruzansky said in a letter to the court that he started using marijuana in high school and then hallucinogenic and hard drugs, including heroin, cocaine and crystal meth. He wrote that he stopped using hard drugs on his own, but continued to smoke marijuana.
More than 50 supporters filled the courtroom during the proceeding and a half-dozen asked U.S. District Court Judge George Signal for leniency. “He has a beautiful soul and he’s never harmed a living creature in his life,” said his mother, Stephanie. The supporters spoke of Pruzansky’s remorse, his ability to learn from the situation and all that he could offer others, including serving as the father figure to his partner’s 10-year-old son. His lawyers, Peter DeTroy and Richard Berne, had asked the judge for a sentence on the low end of the 51- to 71-month range that applied to Pruzansky and to consider home confinement. Pruzansky and his supporters said he has a health condition that he has been treating with a specialized diet and supplements, after years of struggling to get better.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Joyce asked for a sentence on the high end of the range. He noted that when Pruzansky was arrested, he had about $147,000 in cash, was driving the BMW and had spent about half a million dollars on the house. “This is nothing more than a profit-driven enterprise,” he said. Pruzansky, whom Singal described as a substantial wholesaler in the area, was deemed responsible for more than 1,676 pounds of marijuana.
That amount, which is a factor in sentencing, is the quantity determined to be involved in the larger drug-dealing scheme – not just the amount found at the time of arrest. Pruzansky said later that he made reckless decisions and was frightened about his medical condition. He said health insurance did not cover the alternative and natural remedies he had been pursuing. Singal noted the supporters’ high opinion of the defendant and said that he himself would have found Pruzansky an interesting and pleasant person, had they met in a social context. But the judge said it was hard to reconcile that with Pruzansky’s criminal history.
At 16, Pruzansky was convicted of furnishing drugs and was sentenced to seven days in jail. When he was 19, he was convicted of unlawful possession of drugs and was sentenced to 15 days in jail – “Apparently Mr. Pruzansky didn’t get a wake-up call at that time, either,” Singal said as he recounted Pruzansky’s criminal history. He was convicted in state court of trafficking when he was 25, sentenced to two years of incarceration – which was suspended – and put on probation for two years. Pruzansky said after the hearing that one offense was for two ounces of hemp seed and another involved one ounce of marijuana – an amount that would now be considered a civil violation.
Singal had harsh words for Pruzansky, saying he should be ashamed before his parents and for taking advantage of the trust and affection of his friends. The judge also chided the defendant’s supporters, saying that none apparently counseled him to stop his drug dealing following his conviction in state court.
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