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Virginia mail carrier gets prison term in 'wildly successful cocaine trafficking conspiracy'
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Virginia mail carrier gets prison term in 'wildly successful cocaine trafficking conspiracy'

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A Richmond mail carrier who helped traffic an estimated 11 to 33 pounds of cocaine from California to Richmond was sentenced Wednesday to a prison term of three years and four months.

Tammy Rena Sowell, a 30-year-old mother of two children who had no prior criminal record, pleaded guilty in December to a charge of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine.

She faced a maximum of 40 years in prison, but federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of roughly six to seven years. U.S. District Judge David J. Novak also imposed three years of supervision after Sowell’s release from prison.

Prosecutors, in a sentencing document seeking a prison term of 6½ years, wrote that Sowell “accepted bribes in a wildly successful cocaine trafficking conspiracy.”

They said Sowell “betrayed her position as a United States Postal Service employee. While using her position as a postal courier, she conspired with a large-scale drug trafficker and assisted in the distribution of between 5 to 15 kilograms of cocaine. This huge amount of cocaine, literally tens of thousands of doses, placed the lives of her fellow citizens in danger.”

Sowell’s lawyer, Michael L. Donner, countered in a sentencing memorandum that “Ms. Sowell did not ‘betray the United States government in a position of trust.’ The government is engaging in hyperbole when it says Ms. Sowell took a ‘bribe’ — nothing she did can be considered an ‘official act.’”

“Setting the hyperbole aside, the crime for which Ms. Sowell is to be sentenced was a serious crime and, recognizing the seriousness of the conspiracy and her part in it, the defendant’s position is that 51 months is sufficient to recognize the gravity of the crime for which she is to be sentenced,” Donner argued.

The U.S. attorney’s office said Sowell was suspended without pay from the Postal Service after her arrest and that the determination of her employment status would be made after her sentencing. Authorities did not identify Sowell’s post office.

Three other people involved are identified in court records only as “co-conspirators” 1, 2 and 3. In pleading guilty, Sowell admitted that from August 2019 to August 2020, she distributed 10 packages and that she was paid $500 each time.

Authorities said she identified addresses where the co-conspirators could ship the packages — including her home — and that after they were shipped she “would remove the parcels containing the cocaine from the postal stream and deliver them to Co-Conspirator #1 and Co-Conspirator #2.”

“This important role filled by Sowell not only involved her receiving and transporting up to 15 kilograms of cocaine but allowed the conspiracy to function for a significant period by using the postal system as a clandestine method of transport,” prosecutors wrote.

The scheme unraveled last August when a package with nearly a kilogram of cocaine was intercepted by authorities. After most of the cocaine was removed and a GPS tracker was placed inside the package, law enforcement made a “controlled delivery” of the package to Sowell.

Sowell left the package inside a vehicle belonging to one of the traffickers. After discovering that cocaine was missing, the conspirator threw the package from his vehicle and attempted to flee. No further information was available Wednesday.

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