A Spokane man busted in a federal marijuana sting and looking at a prison sentence had one request: He wanted to go to Disneyland.
He got his wish.
Scott Nicholas Cassell, 29, leaves this weekend for Southern California, two weeks before a judge will be asked to approve a plea deal that calls for him to spend five years behind bars.
U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno granted a motion late last month for Cassell to travel to the Magic Kingdom for a week with his mother, wife and 6-year-old daughter.
“What he’s doing is good for him and good for the family,” said Cassell’s lawyer, David Miller. “His young daughter can’t be around her dad for a while; how sad is that? This will put a good memory in the memory bank.”
Imbrogno also approved a request last November from a Spokane cocaine dealer to leave jail for Thanksgiving under armed guard, although the inmate, Terrence A. “T-Baby” Kinard, never did so.
Federal courts have tougher pretrial release conditions than state courts and often hold suspects without bail until trial. Despite the potential for public outcry, some say the cases of Cassell and Kinard simply reflect unusual circumstances.
“She’s been on the bench long enough to know there’s reasons and people you have to take a chance on,” Spokane defense lawyer Mark Vovos said of Imbrogno, who was appointed to the bench in 1991. “It depends on your background, your criminal history, your family support and things like that.”
Imbrogno’s judicial assistant, Kathy Roberts, said Imbrogno couldn’t comment, but said it’s not uncommon to allow defendants to spend time with family before sentencing.
In the November case of the drug dealer given a jail furlough despite failing to show up for court 75 times, Imbrogno was asked to let Kinard leave jail for five days before he headed to federal prison for six years for selling cocaine. Imbrogno allowed Kinard five hours and ordered his family to pay for federal agents to stand guard. The family rejected the offer. Spokane police raided the family home a few days later in a drug investigation.
Federal prosecutors didn’t object to Kinard’s request, but they did to Cassell’s.
“The defendant no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Smoot, who added Cassell should have already been behind bars pending sentencing.
Cassell has misdemeanor convictions, but his first serious felony came when he pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. He was one of about two dozen people arrested in February 2009 in a statewide sting. Court documents say he had five firearms at the time.
He left jail on $10,000 bond and is on house arrest but allowed to leave for work. Imbrogno also allowed him to leave for a weeklong honeymoon last August.
Cassell has undergone drug treatment and is subjected to regular drug tests, Miller said.
“He’s followed everything and complied with all the court’s orders,” Miller said. “I wasn’t surprised (the trip) was approved. He’s a local person who’s lived here all his life, and it was merely the distribution of marijuana.”
Cassell is scheduled to be sentenced June 30 by U.S District Judge Edward Shea. Prosecutors are recommending a term of 60 months.
In court documents, Cassell said the trip will “provide one final great memory for our daughter prior to my leaving.”
“I know this trip would mean so much to our 6-year-old, and my wife would have the ability to keep a positive spin on these last few weeks at home,” Cassell wrote. “I promise I will return to Spokane to face whatever consequences this court deems appropriate.”
Spokane defense lawyer John Nollette called Imbrogno “pretty conservative” regarding bail and release conditions.
“Everyone wants to go to Disneyland before they go to prison,” Nollette said. “But federal magistrates are pretty severe and pretty strict, so it must have been a pretty unusual circumstance.”