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Man sentenced to two years in jail in drug case

<p>JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Gilbert Espiritu, right, appears in court with attorney Brian De Lima on Friday during his sentencing.</p>


Tribune-Herald staff writer

A 59-year-old Ainaloa man was sentenced Friday to two years in jail on charges stemming from an October raid that netted almost 100 pounds of marijuana plus other drugs.

Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura also sentenced Gilbert Espiritu to 10 years probation. Espiritu will receive credit for time he’s already served in jail.

Espiritu pleaded guilty in April to first-degree commercial promotion of marijuana and first-degree promotion of a harmful drug. Eighteen additional charges were dropped in exchange for his plea. He could have been sentenced to life with the possibility of parole because he was charged with multiple Class A felony offenses.

Espiritu apologized “to the court, to my family and to the community.”

“What I did was wrong,” he said. “I know that and I feel totally bad about that, but I know that things are changing for me. And I see better places up ahead. Right now, my life has been really kind of bad, but everything’s looking up and I feel better about getting more sober and staying with the fight. I’m at the stage where I’m feeling more confident about it, and I would like to

try to improve it. I’m very sorry about what happened and what I did, and that won’t happen again.”

Espiritu and his longtime girlfriend, Phyllis Morby, were arrested Oct. 18 after police served a search warrant on three Tiki Lane properties. Officers confiscated 321 marijuana plants, 96 clones, 98.8 pounds of dried marijuana, 2.5 grams of heroin, 125 grams of hashish and 232 hydrocodone pills — which are marketed as Vicodin — at two of the properties.

The 57-year-old Morby was sentenced earlier this month to five years probation after pleading guilty to first-degree promotion of a detrimental drug. She was in the courtroom gallery for Espiritu’s sentencing.

Deputy Prosecutor Jason Skier argued that two years in jail is an “appropriate” punishment.

“This was a very large amount of drugs,” he said. “… What exacerbates that is according to the defendant’s own statements, his main purpose in growing and having this amount of contraband was to facilitate trading it for large amounts of heroin. … I think a lot of people in the community have the misunderstanding that marijuana grow operations like this are relatively harmless to the community. I think Mr. Espiritu is a perfect example of why they are very harmful to the community, because it’s an epicenter for other drugs.”

Skier also took issue with Espiritu working “quote, unquote cash jobs,” saying the pre-sentencing report doesn’t indicate that Espiritu pays taxes on those jobs.

“If he’s not acknowledged these cash jobs to the people who’s administering his public assistance, I would caution him to do so, because they’re going to know about this very soon, and I think him coming clean would go a long way toward whatever public assistance he’s receiving that he’s not entitled to, resolving that,” he said.

In addition, Skier said Espiritu “is not being honest with the probation officer about his continued use of illegal narcotics.”

“Defendant’s statement regarding his use of marijuana is that he told the probation officer that his last use was on New Year’s Eve in 2012, but he’s testing positive at the end of January for that same substance,” he said.

Espiritu’s attorney, Brian De Lima, saw the report’s contents differently.

“As the court knows, marijuana stays in the system, especially with Mr. Espiritu’s body type, for some time,” he said. “I don’t really quarrel with the recommendations, … but I don’t think jail should be imposed forthwith. … I think it’s important to note that Mr. Espiritu is in treatment. He is receiving methadone as part of that treatment, and he is on assistance because of that. He reports the income that he gets, very limited income, as part of his application with the Department of Human Services. It’s not really fair to characterize him as the prosecutor did.”

De Lima requested that Espiritu be allowed to remain free “for at least eight months” so he can complete the methadone program and not suffer withdrawal in jail.

“If he’s incarcerated immediately, forthwith, that would be a significant impact, because they don’t provide methadone while incarcerated,” he said.

Skier shook his head during De Lima’s argument and requested that Espiritu be jailed immediately.

“I don’t see any need to give him special treatment that wouldn’t be available to other people just because of the fact that he takes methadone,” he said. “… I think that delaying (jail) for the amount of time that Mr. De Lima’s asking sends the wrong message, not only to Mr. Espiritu, but to others in the community.”

Nakamura ordered Espiritu, who is free on $66,000 bond, to report to jail on July 5, and said methadone treatment shouldn’t be used “as a justification to delay or prevent somebody from suffering the penalty of incarceration.”

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