Saying that a significant consequence was a good way to change behavior, a circuit judge sentenced Colton Phillips to 180 days in jail for violating his probation in a drug trafficking case in which the judge had previously said he had received “the deal of a lifetime.”
Phillips, 25, had faced up to 15 years in prison for his role in what investigators called the “The Colton Phillips Drug Trafficking Organization” in 2018. That was based on a court system score sheet guideline based on drug trafficking and other charges.
But 7th Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza’s office agreed in 2019 that because Phillips helped law enforcement investigate internet drug dealing, he should receive a 15-year probation term instead.
As part of the deal, Phillips also received a withhold of adjudication, meaning he was not a convicted felon. And, at the request of the state attorney’s office, Phillips’ case was for a time sealed from public inspection. The case was unsealed in November 2020 after The News-Journal intervened.
Circuit Judge Dennis Craig on Monday sentenced Phillips to two years of community control and ordered him to serve the first 180 days in the Volusia County Branch Jail.
The rest of Phillips 15-year probation term will remain unchanged.
“A significant consequence is usually the best way to change somebody’s behavior,” Craig said. “I know medication helps and everything else, but there’s nothing like a good consequence to change your behavior in the future.”
“Mr. Phillips, you’re underlying charges are severe, your score sheet is severe, you really cannot afford another violation. And I’m kind of hoping that between medication and the jail time it sinks in” Craig added.
“Thank you, your honor,” Phillips responded.
Assistant State Attorney Sarah Thomas asked if adjudication would still be withheld.
“Yes, maintain the withhold, but that probably won’t happen the next time either, OK?” Craig said directing the last part toward Phillips.
“Understand,” Phillips responded.
“Ok, good luck to you,” Craig said.
Phillips then took off his coat and belt and handed them to Delgado. He turned around to face a bailiff who handcuffed him. Phillips then was led out of the courtroom. He looked toward his family as he was led out.
In reaching his decision, Craig said he took into consideration Phillips’ substantial assistance to law enforcement after his 2018 arrest for drug trafficking, and his mental health issues.
Phillips placed his 15-year probation sentence for drug trafficking in jeopardy in August when police charged he violated the terms of his probation by drinking alcohol and patronizing Biggins, a strip club in Daytona Beach Shores.
Daytona Beach Shores Police charged Phillips with violating his probation but did not take him to jail. Police also decided not to charge him with driving under the influence, although they found him backing up his pickup truck in the Biggins parking lot. Instead, they gave Phillips a courtesy ride home.
In that incident, body camera videos showed that after the police said they weren’t going to take him to jail, Phillips told them his father, Tim Phillips, paved Daytona International Speedway. Tim Phillips is the owner of P&S Paving, one of the most prominent paving companies in Florida, and is also a member of the CEO Business Alliance
Assistant State Attorney Sarah Thomas said on Monday that the State Attorney’s Office was asking for incarceration and adjudication for Colton Phillips.
Phillips’ defense attorney Aaron Delgado asked Craig to not send Phillips to jail or prison and instead place him on community control. Delgado said Phillips had recently begun treatment with a psychiatrist who had diagnosed him as bipolar and he had just started taking medication for the condition.
Also during the hearing, Daytona Beach Shores police officer Laura Diedesch testified that she was doing a routine check of tags in the strip club’s parking lot when the tag on Phillips’ vehicle came back to Phillips who was on probation and was not supposed to be at a bar drinking.
Diedesch testified that she believed Phillips was intoxicated at the time that she stopped him in his truck in the parking lot. She testified that she decided to give Phillips a break and give him a ride home. Another officer drove Phillips home.
Cocaine and a sealed case
Phillips and two others, Halie Craycraft and Arad Radfar were arrested in 2018 for trafficking cocaine on the “dark web,” a hidden part of the Internet used for criminal activity. Dark web sellers are rated much like legitimate websites on Amazon or Ebay and Phillips’ store was “highly rated,” according to a motion filed by prosecutor Daniel Jancha.
Law enforcement agents started investigating Phillips after getting a tip that Phillips and his group were getting one kilogram of cocaine a month, according to documents.
A law enforcement task force arrested Phillips, Craycraft and Radfar after finding a little more than 1.5 pounds of cocaine in a package from California. The package was picked up at home in Ormond Beach by Craycraft, who then gave it to Phillips. Phillips told investigators he would sell the drugs to Radfar, who would sell them on the dark web, according to an arrest report.
Craycraft was also sentenced to probation in the case, while Radfar was deported to Iran and charges against him were dropped.
Prosecutors asked that the case be sealed in 2019, partly to protect Phillips and his family who they said could be in danger if his cooperation became known. Craig took the unusual step of sealing the cocaine case from public view while it was still ongoing.
The case vanished from public view for more than a year. The News-Journal challenged that action in court in late 2020 and Delgado and Mark Caramanica, an attorney representing the News-Journal, agreed that the case files would be opened.
The court documents revealed that Phillips had been facing a potential lifetime in prison. Phillips’ lowest permissible sentence was about 15 years in prison. But the charges added up to 151 years in prison.
“I think I made a bad decision”
Under questioning by Delgado, Phillips testified he believed he could follow a schedule set by community control. Phillips testified he had a business paving private driveways.
Delgado asked him about his decision to go to Biggins and have a drink.
Phillips said he had suffered depression in the last year or two and had been prescribed medications which should not have been mixed with alcohol.
“So it was a horrible decision to have a drink. And I made some really bad decisions that night.”
Delgado asked Phillips whether he was close to his late uncle, William Todd Phillips who, along with Colton Phillips’s father co-founded P&S Paving. William Todd Phillips died unexpectedly in 2020.
“Yes, I have been suffering from that loss,” Phillips said.
Delgado asked how that affected him.
“Very harshly,” Phillips responded.
Delgado asked him if he had a sense that things weren’t right with him.
Phillips said he began to feel unhealthy and lose weight, saying he went from 195 pounds when he entered his plea to the drug trafficking charge in 2019 to his current weight of about 150 pounds.
In response to questions from Delgado, Phillips also said that besides seeing therapists, he has also been attending behavior therapy classes, averaging one to two meetings a week since October.
He said he also has been seeing a psychologist who has helped him gain insight into his behavior. Phillips said he has been taking Abilify, which is used to treat bipolar disorder, depression, and other mental health disorders.
“I’m willing to try anything to improve my behavior,” Phillips said.
Delgado asked Phillips to tell the judge what reasons he should not go to jail or be punished more harshly.
“I think I made a bad decision,” Phillips said. “I think the depression underlying really played a factor in it. I’m willing to do anything here forward to better myself and make sure that I continue to take my medication, continue to see my therapist and better my life.”
Phillips was then questioned by Prosecutor Thomas who referred to the conditions of his probation and said that he had been instructed not to drink alcohol. Phillips responded that he had not known whether that meant having alcohol in excess.
In response to another question from Thomas, Phillips agreed that he had been told that he was not supposed to be in a bar.
Thomas asked him about the night he was stopped at Biggins.
“You would agree that you were intoxicated that night,” Thomas said.
“Hmm, I wasn’t intoxicated.” said Phillips, adding that maybe the alcohol reacted with another medication he had been prescribed, Xanax.
In response to Thomas, Phillips said he had one beer inside Biggins.
But police found a 12-pack of Stella Artois beer in his pickup. Thomas asked if the alcohol in his truck belonged to him. Phillips said that it did.