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A life of pain may get worse

The typical drug trafficker is not a graduate of an Ivy League law school. Nor is he a victim of botched back surgery that created chronic pain, forced him to rely on a wheelchair and left him hooked on prescription drugs.

There's no evidence that Richard Paey ever sold pills to anyone else, but when investigators discovered that he had illegally obtained more than 1,000 painkillers, they charged him with drug trafficking. That's the same charge they throw at drug lords who move, for instance, hundreds of pounds of cocaine.

State prosecutors realized the potential punishment for trafficking didn't fit Paey's crime.

"We took into account the fact that he is disabled, his medical condition . . . and it seemed like the proper disposition was to get him treatment," said Assistant State Attorney Richard Mensh, the chief prosecutor in Pasco.

So, prosecutors offered the 43-year-old Hudson man house arrest and probation, a sweetheart deal considering that most convicted traffickers go to prison for decades.

But no matter how many times prosecutors offered him a way out, Paey balked.

And now he is paying a heavy price.

Two weeks ago, Paey risked a trial and lost. A jury convicted him of eight counts of trafficking in oxycodone. Equally significant was that Paey had obtained more than 28 grams of the oxycodone pills illegally. That pushed him into the toughest category of Florida's minimum mandatory sentencing laws for drug trafficking.

The law couldn't be clearer: A judge must sentence Paey to at least 25 years in prison. "I have to question my own judgment," Paey said of his decision to stand trial. "It's hard to swallow."

Paey now sits in the Pasco County jail awaiting a sentencing hearing. But hours after his conviction he saw only one way out of his predicament. He sharpened his jail medical tag and slashed his neck and wrist. He just missed the major artery in his neck and had to be flown to a Tampa hospital.

"It was a moment of despair," he said. "The deepest despair of a lifetime of unending suffering."