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Former Pasco County fugitive sentenced to 25 years in federal prison

TAMPA — A former fugitive on Pasco County's most wanted list was sentenced Monday to 25 years in federal prison for hiring a hit man to kill a drug dealer-turned-informer.

Joseph Lee Musson, 32, offered 3 ounces of cocaine, $1,000, a dirt bike and speakers to the person he hoped would kill Robert Shane Ballard.

Musson wanted Ballard dead after he realized that a drug deal between the two men involving 100 ecstasy pills was actually a setup, according to court records.

But the murder never happened. That's because the hit man also decided to help authorities.

With Musson facing a maximum penalty of life in prison, his attorney asked U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday to sentence Musson to 20 years.

Musson is willing to share information with federal officials on grow houses, drug dealings and gun violations, a private investigator retained by the defense told the judge.

Musson's attorney, Mark O'Brien, also urged the judge to consider that Musson was addicted to drugs when he plotted the murder.

"The way that it's been made that I'm this gruesome person who wanted somebody dead, I never wanted that," Musson said, while his family sat in the back of the courtroom.

Musson pleaded guilty in January to a three-count indictment, including using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of a murder-for-hire, carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

His sentence totaled 35 years, part of which will run concurrently.

During a meeting and recorded conversation, Musson gave the informer a loaded .45-caliber weapon.

"I'm going to take this dude out, man," the informer told him. "The dude's gonna disappear."

"That's what I need," Musson replied.

In November, Musson was caught in Las Vegas.

He already had been convicted of several felony drug charges.

Kevin Smetana can be reached at ksmetana@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2439.

Former Pasco County fugitive sentenced to 25 years in federal prison 04/19/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 19, 2010 11:33pm]

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