North Carolina woman admits role in marijuana conspiracy
ALBANY A North Carolina woman accused of trafficking an estimated $3 million worth of marijuana through Saratoga County admitted to her part of the conspiracy Tuesday, authorities said.
Sarah Inman Shafer, 34, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Albany to a single charge — conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and then distributing more than 100 pounds of marijuana.
She admitted to a scheme that passed four marijuana shipments of 300 pounds each through Saratoga County in 2008 and 2009. The marijuana was transferred to the buyer at a restaurant just off Exit 16 of the Northway. The buyer estimated that the total amount paid for the shipments was $3 million.
Shafer faces up to 40 years in federal prison, but will have the opportunity to appeal any sentence longer than 6 years, 6 months. The final sentence is up to the judge, with sentencing set for May.
Investigators believe much of the marijuana passed through the region to other destinations, but some stayed in the area, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Belliss has said.
Shafer was arrested in June 2012 at her North Carolina home. When confronted by investigators, Shafer allegedly admitted to introducing the buyer and seller, then later collecting payments and relaying them to the seller. She reaffirmed those statements as part of the plea agreement Tuesday.
Her listed attorney, David S. Zapp, of New York City, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Investigators with the Capital District Drug Enforcement Task Force began investigating Shafer’s activities in 2011 when they met the confidential source, according to the federal complaint filed last year. That source told investigators Shafer arranged the purchase of large amounts of marijuana from Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2008 and 2009, and the delivery of that marijuana to the Capital Region.
The source first met Shafer in early 2008 at a residence in Vancouver, according to papers. The source is not named in the document, nor even identified by gender.
In Vancouver, Shafer showed the source samples of marijuana that could be purchased for $3,600 to $4,200 per pound. The source indicated interest and told Shafer the marijuana was to be delivered to the Capital Region.
Shafer gave the source an encrypted BlackBerry and told the source to get prepaid cellphones. The marijuana would be trucked to the parking lot of Scotty’s Truck Stop/Restaurant, near Exit 16 of the Northway in Wilton.
Once there, the truck driver then would call the source on one of the prepaid cellphones and transfer the marijuana, concealed in black duffle bags, to the source. The source then would send an encrypted text message to Shafer to arrange payment in person.
The source made four payments, which totaled $3 million. Three were made directly to Shafer at the source’s home, described as being in the Northern District of New York, a large area that includes Saratoga County. The fourth was made at the Lowe’s store in Wilton to an associate of Shafer’s, according to the federal papers.
To corroborate the source’s story, investigators determined that in 2008 and 2009, Shafer lived in Southport, N.C., about 30 miles from Wilmington.
Investigators found flight records that showed Shafer traveled to Albany from Wilmington on six separate occasions from May 2008 to February 2009, with the dates corresponding to shipments or payments, according to the federal paperwork.