DADE CITY — This East Pasco cocaine caper started two years ago in Zephyrhills, in a local trailer park, a Chili's restaurant and Room 219 of the Microtel motel on U.S. 301.
It involved a man in a motor home with lots of money, a confidential informant who ended up dead, and enough dope to bulge a brown paper grocery sack.
It ended Tuesday night.
The cocaine trafficking trial of Timothy Webb took two days. The jury needed all of 45 minutes to reach a verdict of guilty as charged.
Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa set sentencing for Thursday morning. Webb, 47, whose record includes drug and weapons charges, and a vehicular manslaughter conviction, will get at least 15 years in prison and could get as many as 30.
For $32,000, Webb bought two kilograms of cocaine from an undercover sheriff's detective in a reverse sting in April 2006 in the room at the Microtel.
Was it trafficking?
State law says trafficking is having more than an ounce of cocaine. An ounce is 28 grams. Webb bought 2,000 grams.
But the key question in this case focused on something else:
Was it entrapment?
Webb, his wife and her young son came to Florida from Maine in early 2006 because his father lived in Zephyrhills and was sick. Webb's wife, Carol Niedt, had gotten $175,000 from her ex-husband in a divorce settlement.
Down here, they started spending most of it on drugs — cocaine, marijuana, pain pills, "everything," Webb said in a hearing earlier this year. "Whatever we'd run into."
Niedt said Tuesday on the stand that they were spending about $500 a day on cocaine.
"Smoking it," she said.
Webb met Michael Henning the first day he moved in at Pasco RV Park. He lived next door. They did drugs together. Webb told Henning about the divorce money.
He didn't know Henning was a confidential informant for the Sheriff's Office.
Henning, Webb said Tuesday on the stand, started to "badger" him to buy his cocaine in larger quantities because it would be cheaper that way. It was Henning, Webb said, who set up a meeting at the Chili's with the man who turned out to be an undercover detective. It was Henning, he said, who drove him to the Chili's. It was Henning, he said, who told him there was no opportunity to back out of the two-kilos deal because this particular dealer might hurt Webb's family.
Henning, Webb said Tuesday, was a burly Vietnam veteran with a gun collection. Webb said he was afraid.
"He told me, 'You don't have any choice in the matter,' " Webb said on the stand. "He said, 'You don't want this guy messing with your family.' "
The next week, Webb showed up at the Microtel with a brick of money under his armpit, a spoon, a couple of needles and a nylon stocking. He was on such a cocaine binge he had been awake for nine straight days.
Henning was paid $2,000 by the Sheriff's Office for "intro and assistance" in the deal.
He couldn't testify in the trial because he died of a drug overdose six months later.
Webb's attorney argued over the past two days that all of this amounted to entrapment. The informant, attorney Dustin Anderson told the jury, pushed Webb into this and threatened him.
"This is not a case about the government investigating crime," Anderson told the jury. "This is a case about the government creating crime."
Michael Kruse can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6244.