Lawyer who hid drugs gets 1 year of home detention

October 06, 2006|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

A prominent Eastern Shore attorney who admitted to hiding illegal drugs for his clients escaped prison time in federal court yesterday when the judge ruled that the lawyer's evidence tampering was a product of an "irrational panic" brought on by the lawyer's addiction to drugs and alcohol.

U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Christopher Llinas, who has served as an assistant state's attorney, an assistant public defender and a director of the Ocean Pines Association, to spend a year under home confinement and two years under probation. The judge also excused Llinas from paying any substantial fine, saying the soon-to-be disbarred lawyer could not afford one.

Under the original charges brought against Llinas, he could have faced life in prison and a $4 million fine, authorities said. He pleaded guilty to a single count of tampering with evidence, a conviction that called for a recommended sentence of 10 to 16 months in prison. The prosecutors in the case called for some time behind bars.

But the judge disagreed, saying, "I don't think anything is going to be served by Mr. Llinas in prison."

Bennett, who called the crime "really distressing" because it was committed by an officer of the court, granted leniency, he said, because of the letters of support sent to him on Llinas' behalf. Supporters included Del. Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat, as well as other lawyers and local leaders.

According to court papers, Llinas had been buying "8 balls" worth of cocaine and 50 to 70 pills of the prescription painkiller oxycodone from a drug organization run by Paul Apostolopoulos, who earlier pleaded guilty to drug charges and is serving 14 years in prison.

On July 14, 2005, some members of Apostolopoulos' family were arrested, and his business and home were searched by federal agents. But authorities missed finding some of the drugs in Apostolopoulos' bar. The cocaine was later ordered removed by Llinas, who admitted that he split the drugs with another drug dealer.

Llinas, who has undergone drug treatment, apologized to his family and friends in court yesterday, saying, "I should have known better."

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