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A former state drug counselor serving a life term for drug dealing was granted a new trial Tuesday as a state appellate court branded improper a plea deal Erie County prosecutors gave his co-defendant to bolster a weak drug case.

In a unanimous ruling, the five-judge Appellate Division of State Supreme Court overturned the May 26, 1988, drug conviction for Fred A. Thomasula, ruling that prosecutors improperly arranged a plea deal that spared a prison term for Thomasula's co-defendant, Richard Pantano, 38.

District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon said he will fight the ruling because the courts did not clarify plea-deal rules until last year.

Now an inmate at the Albion Correctional Facility serving a term of three years to life, Thomasula, 45, is a former drug counselor and security officer for the state Division of Youth.

A youth division worker for 17 years, he was convicted in May 1988 of selling $5,800 in cocaine to undercover Erie County sheriff's deputies at his Auburn Street home in December 1986 and February 1987, but acquitted of trafficking in cocaine in April 1987.

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