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Defendant's letter kills plea deal

A defendant's letter to a federal judge has led to the collapse of plea deal discussions in the case of two local horse racing figures who are charged in a massive 2004 drug conspiracy case.

U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny appointed new attorneys last week for Hugh Stevens, 61, and his wife, Sandra Jacobi Stevens, 50, of Derby.

An owner and trainer of harness race horses, Stevens is accused of transporting the drug ephedrine for one of the largest methamphetamine rings ever uncovered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. His wife faces less-severe conspiracy charges.

The two were scheduled to go to trial in September, but Skretny canceled the trial after a prosecutor and defense attorneys told him they were working out a plea agreement.

But now, after receiving a letter from Stevens insisting that he and his wife are innocent, Skretny said he has appointed two new attorneys to represent the couple at public expense.

Stevens told the judge he and his wife want to fight the government charges but no longer have money to pay attorneys.

"I have no clue of these vicious charges," Stevens wrote to the judge last month from the Niagara County jail, where he awaits trial. "My wife and I will take lie-detector test to show we had no knowledge of this being ephedrine." Stevens offered to move back to his native Scotland with his wife, if it means avoiding prison time in the case. In a strange conclusion to his letter, he wrote, "As Elvis would say, Thank, Thank you very much." Federal prosecutors and drug agents accuse Stevens of using horse trailers, cars and trucks to move hundreds of pounds of ephedrine from Canada through Western New York to California.

Agents alleged that, in July 2004, Stevens loaded 430 pounds of ephedrine into a horse trailer at a race track near Hamilton, Ont. The ephedrine was found by inspectors at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.

Skretny appointed Andrew C. LoTempio to represent Stevens and Cheryl Meyers Buth to represent Jacobi Stevens.

LoTempio and Buth could not be reached to comment.


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