As Bethany Halford noted in her Newsbytes post below, suspended University of California, Merced, chemistry graduate student Jason D. West pled no contest last week to charges of embezzlement and felony conspiracy to make methamphetamine. He will be sentenced to nearly six years in state prison or a state rehabilitation facility for substance abusers.
We reported earlier this month that West allegedly stole approximately $10,000 worth of equipment and chemicals from the university to make meth (Student Suspected of Making Meth). West has already done one stint in the California Rehabilitation Center, following a conviction in 2001 for making methamphetamine.
As part of the current plea deal, charges of grand theft and conspiracy to distribute meth were dropped. Steven Slocum, a deputy district attorney for Merced County, says the difference between embezzlement and grand theft has to do with whether the accused was entrusted with the property. As a student and employee of the university, West was entrusted with the chemicals and equipment to do his research, therefore the appropriate charge for stealing them is embezzlement. If someone unaffiliated with the university had stolen the items, the charge would have been grand theft.
Slocum also says that although West had drawn out synthetic pathways in his garage, had precursor materials and solvents, and told police he’d made the meth intermediate phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) on a houseboat and transported it back to his home, laboratory tests of material prepared by West showed that he may not have actually succeeded in making either P2P or methamphetamine. “I think he was high on meth half the time that he was trying to cook it,” Slocum says. The lack of actual P2P or meth in samples tested by the Department of Justice is why the plea agreement settled on conspiracy to make meth rather than manufacturing or distributing the drug.
Slocum adds that the allegation that the thefts occurred over a three-year period is also not backed up by the evidence currently available. “From everything West told police, it was at most maybe a year” Slocum tells C&EN, adding that the charges in the plea deal covered a five-week period, from July 1 through Aug. 7, 2008.
UC Merced spokesperson Patti Istas says the university has no comment on the plea deal.