A Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force confidential informant, who set up at least nine people on drug buys, had his own two felony drug charges reduced to one misdemeanor pot possession charge in Albemarle Circuit Court March 23.
Taylor Magri, 23, was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of cocaine April 10, 2014, according to court documents.
In a heroin distribution jury trial earlier this year, Magri was a witness against Ryan McLernan, whom the jury acquitted, citing entrapment. In that case, Magri said he’d signed a contract with JADE and set up 10 people, buying from each two to three times, in exchange for having his own charges lessened.
Magri testified that he came to Charlottesville from Florida to “get clean.” After he was arrested and was working for JADE, he’d say anything to get people to sell him drugs, he said in court, including sniffling to indicate he was going through withdrawal.
McLernan admitted his own addiction, but said he had never sold heroin before and only did so at Magri’s behest. McLernan was getting treatment at a methadone clinic when he was arrested six months later for the single sale. That $50 deal would have given him a prison sentence of between five and 40 years if he had been convicted.
Prosecutor Elliott Casey said that in a 2014 JADE raid at Magri’s residence, officers found 286.2 grams of marijuana—around 10 ounces—and a bag of white powder in his room.
Judge Edward Hogshire accepted the plea that reduced the felony pot charge to misdemeanor possession, which means a 12-month suspended sentence and a suspended driver’s license for six months, and dismissed the cocaine charge. Magri was given 90 days to pay his court costs.
In sharp contrast to the leather jacket and longish hair Magri wore to court in January, he donned a sport jacket and had a high-and-tight haircut for his most recent appearance.
Magri’s lawyer, Delegate Rob Bell, who is running for attorney general next year, said, “We’re not going to comment.” Casey also refused to comment.
Janice Redinger, who was McLernan’s lawyer, sat in court for Magri’s hearing. Afterward, she said that all the people she was aware of whom Magri set up were addicts, and they all ended up with more severe punishments than he did. “All wound up being felons,” she said. “He got off with a misdemeanor.”
She says the problem isn’t that Magri tried to extricate himself from “major, major” charges. “The problem is a system that gets people to turn on others,” she says. “We’re using drug dealers to use addicts to get out of trouble.”
She cites another JADE sting that set up prostitutes and johns, and offered them the opportunity to buy drugs to have those misdemeanor charges dropped. “What is wrong with us?” Redinger asks. She says the whole system of using confidential informants is “horribly wrong” and is making people criminals and sending them to prison.
Magri’s plea came a week after a young Charlottesville woman died of an overdose. Betsy Gilbertson, 25, had been arrested twice for heroin possession, according to court records, and went through withdrawal while she was in jail, her mother said. She was released January 8, and her family and friends believe the fatal dose she took that led to her death March 14 was the first time she’d used since getting out of jail.