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November 29, 2011

Department of Justice

United States Attorney William C. Killian Eastern District of Tennessee

Cosby Man Sentenced To Oover 24 Years In Prison For Drug Trafficking

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. - Johnny Carl Grooms, 59, of Cosby, Tenn., was sentenced in U.S. District Court on November 28, 2011, to serve 292 months in prison for his May 2011 trial convictions of conspiring to distribute oxycodone and cocaine, interstate travel to further drug trafficking, possession of oxycodone with the intent to distribute, distribution of cocaine, possession of firearms by a convicted felon, and illegally trafficking in ginseng. In addition to the prison term, the Honorable J. Ronnie Greer, U.S. District Judge, ordered Grooms to serve eight years of supervised release and pay $1,600 in assessments.

In the fall of 2008, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) received reports that Grooms was illegally trafficking in wild American ginseng, a protected plant. The Lacey Act, a century-old federal law for the protection of wildlife, fish and plants against commercial trafficking, makes it a federal offense to transport interstate for sale wildlife, fish or plants taken or sold in violation of state law as well as making it an offense to commercially traffic in such wildlife, fish, and plants that have been taken in violation of federal law.

In September 2008 a USFWS special agent, posing as a ginseng dealer, contacted Grooms at his business, the Park Entrance Grocery in Cosby. In addition to discussing the illegal trafficking in ginseng, Grooms was also observed selling drugs, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, and Xanax, from the counter at the store. In later recorded conversations, Grooms detailed how he was “sponsoring” trips by persons from Cocke County to “pain clinics” in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, Fla. He detailed how the process worked, with individuals going first to the clinics, paying for a referral to a MRI lab (often located in truck trailers next to strip clubs), returning to the clinic for a doctor to issue a prescription, and then filling the prescription, either at a dispensary located at the clinic or at out-of-state pharmacies, often in southeast Georgia because Tennessee pharmacists would refuse to fill the prescriptions. Oxycodone 30 milligram tablets were prescribed in quantities of 180 to 240 at a time, in addition to 180 oxycodone 15 milligram tablets, Xanax, and Soma (carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant). A Greeneville pharmacist who testified at trial explained that drug abusers seek this “drug cocktail” of opioids and benzodiazepines to potentiate the effects of the narcotics, extending the “high” and controlling withdrawal symptoms. Grooms paid the expenses of the trips, including hotels and air fare, as well as the costs of the clinic visits and the prescriptions in exchange for half of the drugs obtained. He then sold the pills from the Park Entrance Grocery, usually charging a dollar a milligram for an oxycodone tablet.

P In a January 2010 recorded conversation, Grooms bragged that he had “15 people down there” in Florida obtaining drugs for him. Grooms’ brother Terry Grooms and his son Jonathan Grooms, along with seven others, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Johnny Grooms to obtain and distribute oxycodone. Several of the co-conspirators testified that Grooms paid for them and others to travel to “pain clinics” in Florida to obtain prescriptions for oxycodone and other controlled substances. The scheme included traveling by air from Knoxville and Tri-Cities, Tenn., to south Florida as well as travel by automobile, often in Grooms’s van. Grooms paid his co-conspirators to have the prescriptions filled at pharmacies in Florida, Georgia, and elsewhere, paying cash for the narcotics. Grooms also used MoneyGrams sent from the Wal-Mart in Newport to transfer funds to be used for obtaining drugs and paying expenses of the trips to obtain drugs.

Grooms required his co-conspirators to provide half or more of the pills obtained to him which he then sold from the Park Entrance Grocery in Cosby. Many of the people Grooms enlisted to obtain oxycodone for him were prescription drug addicts. He used their addiction to promote his criminal enterprise, including coercing sex from young women desperate for pills to ease their “pill sickness” (withdrawal symptoms). However, Grooms himself was not addicted to prescription drugs.

In September 2009, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other law enforcement agents recovered pills, firearms and numerous drug ledgers during the execution of a search warrant. The drug ledgers, kept in paper bags with the drug customers’ names, contained lists of the pills sold as well as IOUs for pills sold on credit and records of expenses for pill trips. A review of those records showed that Grooms trafficked in over 500 grams of oxycodone, well over 17,000 pills.

Grooms was also convicted of conspiring to distribute cocaine. He broke larger quantities of cocaine down into half-gram bags at the Park Entrance Grocery, which he sold for $50 per bag. Witnesses testified at trial that he had been selling cocaine from the store since at least 2002. In early February 2009, Grooms provided a sample of cocaine to the undercover USFWS and then sold the agent an ounce of cocaine later that month.

Grooms also delivered multiple pounds of wild ginseng to the USFWS undercover agent on four separate occasions in 2009 and 2010. He did not have a dealer permit nor records of ginseng sales as required by Tennessee state law. Ginseng roots, which had been marked by the National Park Service in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), were also found in the ginseng sold by Grooms. He acknowledged during the recorded conversations that he knew ginseng he was obtaining had been illegally taken from the GSMNP. A National Park Service botanist explained that illegal harvesting from the GSMNP threatens the Park’s ginseng population.

The indictment and subsequent conviction of Grooms was the result of a three year investigation conducted by the USFWS, DEA, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Cocke County Sheriff’s Office, National Park Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith represented the United States at trial.

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