Justin A. Lugo, pleaded guilty in September to multiple counts of aggravated drug trafficking, a class A crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Lugo also pleaded guilty to theft by receiving stolen property, illegally possessing a firearm and assaulting a police officer.
Lugo and three others were arrested in September 2019 after police searched a China residence, acting on a search warrant.
Law enforcement officers discovered an estimated 20 grams of crack cocaine, as well heroin and fentanyl, $2,990 in cash, and four firearms, two of which were confirmed to have been stolen in a burglary.
Justice William Stokes sentenced Lugo to 12 years in prison but suspended all but eight of those years, meaning he’s likely to spend eight years in prison, unless he violates the terms of his three-year probation, which could result in him having to serve the full 12 year-sentence.
Stokes said Lugo’s youth weighed heavily in his mind as he considered his sentence, but noted he could not overlook the seriousness of the crime and its impact on others.
“You really did it up, Mr. Lugo, you had a quantity of highly illicit substances — cocaine base, heroin, fentanyl powder, and then you were receiving stolen firearms, so it’s pretty bad,” Stokes said. “You’ve managed to accumulate a series of criminal conduct that is almost shocking for a young man. There ought to be a lesson here, that this isn’t a way of life that’s going to get you anywhere. Well, it is going to get you somewhere, in a jail cell.”
But Stokes said he has a soft spot for people Lugo’s age, because he’s about the same age as his own son, and Lugo has so much of his life still ahead of him.
“So I have a lot of sympathy for you. When I look at you I see my son,” Stokes said to the 23-year-old Lugo. “If he were sitting there, it’d be heartbreaking. Young people do stupid things. You’ve done some very stupid things. You didn’t have the advantages my son had. You don’t have a mother, devoting herself to you. You don’t have a father devoting himself to you. And that can make all the difference.
“Ask anyone who has raised a child, how important it is for that parent to pay attention, to tell that child you care for them, you love them. You didn’t have that. And so you’re a victim too, Justin, don’t think I don’t recognize that,” he added. “But I’ve got to say your conduct, on a scale of seriousness, is pretty bad, and it’s got to stop. Because if it doesn’t stop, you’ll be dead at a very young age.”
Lugo, who served two stints in prison in New York, said his parents both sold drugs when he was a child and his father left the family at an early age, leaving him with his mother, who he said abused him, until he was taken away and placed in a number of different foster care homes. He was later returned to his mother who continued to sell drugs and abuse him.
“I ended up joining a gang because, in that neighborhood, it wasn’t safe unless you were part of a crew,” Lugo said.
He ended up in jail in New York as a teenager, on drug charges, and upon his release briefly moved back in with his mother but was later kicked out of the house. Then he moved to Maine and, he said, sold drugs to survive. He said he wishes he could change his past but knows he can’t. He vowed, if given a chance, to get his life together and become a productive citizen.
“What I can do is say I’m sorry,” Lugo said. “I’m going to get my GED, take college courses. I’m tired of living this life. I want to get a job, a home, a family. I’m going to stay away from anything and everything that can put me in jail. I refuse to let my little brother and sisters go through what I went through. I don’t know how long I’ll be in prison, but God willing I’ll make it out in time to save them.”
He said he’d been using cocaine since he was 14 years old.
Asked by Stokes if he had any kids, Lugo said he has a 3-year-old son.
“He needs me,” Lugo said.
State prosecutor Katie Sibley, an assistant attorney general, sought a 13-year sentence, in part to act as a deterrent and in part due to the seriousness of the crime, and because Lugo’s drug dealing resulted in other crimes. Those include crimes by a man who stole guns in order to trade them to Lugo for illegal drugs, she said.
“We’re not going to (solve the drug problem) if we fail to impose sentences … to deter other individuals from engaging in this conduct,” Sibley said. “He has been given multiple chances and the objective facts show he has not taken advantage of them.”
She cited the facts that Lugo accepted responsibility for his crimes relatively early, and the 23-year-old’s young age, as mitigating factors. But that he tampered with a witness and assaulted a corrections officer while he was in jail, which were aggravating factors, she said.
William Baghdoyan, defense attorney, sought a 10-year prison sentence, but with all but seven of those years suspended, followed by three years of probation.
“Our state, in particular, is not going to solve our drug problem by locking young men up for longer and longer periods of time,” Bagdoyan said. “He’s 23 years old, they want to send him to prison for 13 years, that’s more than half his life. I don’t think that benefits society at all.”
Baghdoyan said spending that much of his life in institutions could add, not subtract, to the odds Lugo returns to committing crimes when he is released from prison.
Bagdoyan said the three years of probation upon his release will put Lugo under supervision once he’s released, which would have benefits both to society and to Lugo, more so than if he just served a straight, longer sentence then was released from prison unsupervised.