Leaf pleads guilty to stealing painkillers
GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that he broke into a Montana home and illegally possessed painkillers, part of a deal with prosecutors that recommends he spend nine months in a secure drug treatment facility.
The former San Diego Chargers quarterback and Washington State standout was shackled hand and foot and wore a black-and-white prison stripes as he told Cascade County District Judge Kenneth Neill that he needed treatment.
“I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity presented,” Leaf said. “An intensive nine-month rehab facility is presently needed.”
It was one of the few statements Leaf made in the hearing under questioning by his attorney, Kenneth Olson. Leaf admitted that he broke into a home in Cascade County on April 1. He then admitted that a few days earlier, on March 28, he illegally possessed oxycodone that was not prescribed to him.
Leaf pleaded guilty to one count each of felony burglary and criminal possession of a dangerous drug. Under the agreement, County Attorney John Parker agreed to dismiss two other counts of burglary and drug possession.
Neill set sentencing for June 19. Parker and Olson are recommending a five-year sentence in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections for the burglary charge.
Olson said that recommendation will include a nine-month program at the Nexus Treatment Center in Lewistown, a center affiliated with the DOC, where Leaf would be locked down and unable to leave. That would be followed by time in a pre-release program in which Leaf’s movements would be restricted.
The agreement recommends a separate five-year sentence for the possession charge, but all of it would be suspended, Olson said.
Neill is not bound by the sentencing recommendation, but indicated he may look favorably on it.
“There is no question he needs treatment,” Neill said.
Olson said he and Parker also will recommend that the sentence run together with whatever sentence Leaf is given for a probation violation in Texas.
A prosecutor there, James Farren, filed to revoke the former quarterback’s 10-year probation from a 2010 plea deal. Leaf was charged with stealing prescription pain medicine from a player’s home while he was a coach at West Texas A&M. An investigation also found he obtained nearly 1,000 pain pills from area pharmacies in an eight-month span.
Olson said he has received no sentencing commitment from Texas prosecutors, but he hopes to have one when Leaf goes to Texas to face the probation violation accusation.
“We all agree that Ryan needs treatment. He needs that more than he needs to go to prison,” Olson said.
Farren said if the Montana judge approves the deal there, Leaf could return to Texas for a hearing to revoke his probation, either before or after the treatment program. He said he would like Leaf back in Texas as soon as is feasible to face “extensive” prison time that Farren will recommend to a judge in Amarillo.
Leaf asked for a reduction in bail — $76,000 in Montana and $50,000 in Texas — so that he can spend time with his family and get his affairs in order before sentencing. He told the judge that he was not a flight risk.
Parker said Leaf is “a man in the grip of a very powerful addiction” and it would be a mistake to reduce his bail before he begins treatment in a secure facility.
Neill denied the request to reduce bail.
Leaf was the No. 2 pick in the 1998 draft, but his short-lived career earned him the reputation as one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
Prosecutors say the investigation into Leaf began in March, when Great Falls postal workers tipped the Central Montana Drug Task Force that Leaf was receiving frequent packages and paying more than $500 cash on delivery for each.
Task force officers and Leaf’s parole officer confronted Leaf on March 30 and found two pill containers in a golf bag. One contained 28 oxycodone pills, while the other was empty with a prescription label in the name of an acquaintance of Leaf’s.
Police interviewed the acquaintance and the acquaintance’s housekeeper, who said that Leaf had entered the man’s home the day before without permission.
Leaf was arrested and then freed on $76,000 bail.
Two days later, on April 1, two Cascade County residents told authorities they had returned home to discover a man inside their home, according to the charging documents. The man said he had the wrong home and left, and the couple only later noticed a drill and three different prescription medications missing.
The couple identified Leaf in a photo lineup and police went to Leaf’s home to arrest him. They found another 89 hydrocodone pills when searching his home, the charging documents say.
Great Falls Police Sgt. Chris Hickman said Tuesday that the task force and federal drug authorities are still investigating the Florida source of the packages that Leaf received through the mail. The task force also is reviewing data downloaded from the GPS device in Leaf’s truck to determine if Leaf drove to other sites where there were burglaries.
Leaf could face more charges in the future if any incriminating evidence is discovered, Hickman said.
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