Wallace Bigger brought thousands upon thousands of pills to Northern Michigan, made thousands of dollars distributing them through a network of dealers, and perhaps turned at least one addict into a prostitute.
The drug operation saw untold numbers of morphine and Dilaudid pills prescribed by a doctor in Saginaw brought to Antrim County and sold out of trailers, a camper, and an apartment above a pizza store in Mancelona.
But the 71-year-old was by no means getting rich from his backwoods prescription drug cartel. From what lawyers said at his sentencing in Bellaire on Nov. 19, Bigger barely got by.
There was testimony Bigger earned over $20,000, which is a large amount of money if it’s sitting in front of you on a table, but not much if it’s what’s made over a couple of years.
In fact, Bigger’s attorney, Philip Settles, said at the hearing that for the past couple of years, Bigger has been living in “squalor beyond my imagination.”
Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers went further, telling Bigger: “Did you live a big lifestyle? Were you sitting out next to the cement pond with a BMW parked in the driveway? No, you weren’t. You lived a pretty crummy lifestyle, from time to time in a camper in your daughter’s front driveway. But it didn’t stop you from being manipulative. It didn’t stop you from abusing other people.”
‘WILL NOT ADMIT TO NOTHING’
Bigger was defiant at the hearing, even as he braced for a lengthy prison sentence which almost certainly means he will die in prison.
“I did not sell drugs, and I will not admit to nothing,” Bigger told Rodgers.
He blamed his conviction on a failing of the criminal justice system.
“When I asked for my lawyer to be fired, because he wasn’t doing what I asked, you denied it three times. I said a mistrial should have been called, and just start all over. Witnesses I got can clear me. I believe the judge is biased and I said right from the start, Antrim County would not give me a fair trial. And I did not get a fair trial. And I got a screwy lawyer. So there. That’s it.”
Rodgers was unmoved and sentenced Bigger to 15 to 30 years on one of the charges, conspiracy to deliver narcotics, plus another four to 20 years on five other charges which Bigger will have to serve if he survives the first sentence.
Among other crimes, a jury found Bigger guilty of conducting a criminal enterprise.
‘NOT IN THE STARS, BUT IN OURSELVES’
Rodgers excoriated Bigger for the harm he’d done in keeping open a pipeline of prescription drugs into Antrim County for a couple of years.
Bigger was charged along with numerous others after a Traverse Narcotics Team investigation led to an investigative subpoena process, overseen by James Rossiter, an assistant prosecutor for Antrim County, that saw numerous people brought in to be questioned behind closed doors about what they knew about drug dealing in the area.
The sweeping investigation followed numerous drug overdose deaths in the area.
Rodgers said the evidence presented in Bigger’s trial in October convinced him of Bigger’s guilt.
“It’s your attorney’s fault, it’s the judge’s fault,” Rodgers said, commenting on Bigger’s knack for blaming everyone but himself. “There’s a line from Shakespeare that might benefit you -- ‘the fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.’” He called Bigger the “ragtag leader of a wholesale drug operation, with a number of ragtag retail sellers who themselves have been addicts, selling to support their own habits. One of them I think has become a prostitute as a result of this. You have visited a lot of misery on a lot of other people.”
‘ISN’T A BUSINESS FOR OLD MEN’
It came out during the investigation that Bigger married a now-34-year-old woman during his time as a dealer.
Bigger manipulated the woman into marriage when she was high, Rodgers said, and during the trial, the woman said she didn’t even recall the marriage.
“I listened to the testimony of your wife who... said she was high when she married you, which doesn’t surprise me,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know what you’ve come to believe in your own mind the attraction is between the two of you, other than Dilaudid.”
Bigger’s attorney, Settles, didn’t try to argue that Bigger didn’t deserve a stiff punishment.
Rather, Settles argued, before Rodgers handed down the sentence, that perhaps it didn’t make sense, from a tax-payer’s point-of-view, to lock up such an old man for the rest of his life.
“For what purpose? Is he going to come out and be the desperado that he was before? I don’t think he’s going to,” Settles said. “Certainly, it isn’t a business for old men. He hasn’t gotten any younger while he’s been in jail for these past several months.”
Rossiter, the prosecutor, said it was important to send Bigger away as a signal to anyone else who might try to fill the void left in Bigger’s absence.
HIS PAST CAUGHT UP WITH HIM
One of the co-defendants who testified against Bigger was sentenced the same day.
Jason Craig Blackmore, 29, sold prescription pills out of his apartment above his father’s pizza store in Mancelona.
His attorney, Sean Liles, noted how Blackmore had gotten himself clean and out of the drug world before he was caught and said he should get a break because he cooperated. He asked for probation sentence.
Blackmore had turned down the first plea deal he was offered, Rossiter said, a deal that would have likely ended with some jail and probation. Now he was looking at a prison sentence.
After the more serious charges were filed, Rossiter said Blackmore became more cooperative. Perhaps he reconciled the fact that he could not outrun his past.
Rossiter said Blackmore should spend at least some time in prison because of the depth of his involvement in drug crimes.
‘THIS IS THE LAST HURDLE’
Blackmore spoke emotionally to the judge.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “Most of which I have acknowledged and tried to put behind me. I feel that this is the last hurdle... to close that chapter in my life.”
He said the birth of his son changed him. “In April of 2010, as you have already heard, I found out I was going to be a father. I was approximately two weeks sober at that time. When I found out I was going to be a dad, I made a promise to not only myself and my fiancee, our families, that I was done with drugs. I was done with the lifestyle. My son will be two years old in January, and I’ve succeeded in keeping that promise.
Rodgers sentenced him to 23 months to 20 years in prison, and made him eligible for boot camp. He agreed with Rossiter that Blackmore deserved more punishment than probation.
Rodgers called Blackmore one “of the people who tried to do right out of this mess,” but Blackmore only came around slowly.
Boot camp would mean Blackmore could get out of prison early and spend time in a military-like setting.
The only thing that could jeopardize that would be if Blackmore behaves poorly in prison, so Rodgers warned him about his first days there: “You need to be careful. You need to keep your head down and your mouth shut.”