Gay Porn Actor Fights Pot Sentence at 11th Circuit

ATLANTA (CN) — An attorney for a gay-porn star who was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for his role in a $3.5 million marijuana-trafficking operation vied Tuesday to have the 11th Circuit overturn that punishment.

(AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)

Steven Sholly, also known by the stage name Chris Bines, was indicted in July 2017 alongside seven co-conspirators and charged with trafficking roughly 220 pounds of marijuana. According to the indictment, the men conspired to sell the marijuana in Florida between January 2014 and June 2017.

Sholly and others in the Pensacola area ordered the marijuana from Brandon Remeyer, of Trabuco Canyon, California, and Charles Sindylek, of Pensacola, the Department of Justice said in April 2018.

Sindylek and Remeyer shipped six-pound packages of marijuana from California to Florida, where the drugs were then sold by Sholly and others. The DOJ stated that the proceeds from the drug sales were laundered through bank accounts before being mailed to addresses in California.

According to the DOJ, over $3.5 million in cash from the sale of marijuana was laundered by members of the operation between 2014 and 2017.

With the exception of Sholly, all of the men were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering in addition to drug trafficking. Remeyer and Sindylek were sentenced to 72 and 90 months in prison, respectively.

Sholly pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana and was sentenced to 59 months, one month short of five years.

Pensacola attorney John Anthony Terrezza, arguing Tuesday morning on behalf of Sholly, told a three-judge 11th Circuit panel that his client’s sentence was determined based on inadequate findings of fact.

“There was no large-scale seizure of drugs in this case. That left the court in a position where it had to estimate the drug quantity,” Terrezza argued.

“The law permits judges to do that though,” U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin pointed out.

“Yes, but the judge didn’t make specific findings about whether the evidence used to calculate the drug quantity was reliable,” Terrezza responded, adding that the timeframe during which the drug shipments were made was also unclear from the government’s evidence.

The attorney added, “Reliability is consistency and corroboration of evidence. There was neither in Sholly’s case.”

Terrezza said that evidence presented by the government concerning when packages of marijuana were shipped from California to Florida was limited to shipment records from FedEx and statements made by Sindylek, which were relayed to the court by a federal agent.

Since Sindylek did not testify before the district court, Terrezza argued the judge in the case “had no opportunity to observe the witness to determine credibility.”

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Butler told the panel that the district court engaged in “a good exchange about the reliability of Sindylek’s evidence.”

“[Senior U.S. District Judge Roger] Vinson followed the law scrupulously in this case. Sholly was the seventh defendant to be sentenced in this conspiracy. Vinson was very well-versed with this case,” Butler told the panel.

In response to questioning from U.S. Circuit Judge Robin Rosenbaum about whether the district court erroneously failed to make a specific reliability finding with regard to Sindylek’s evidence, Butler explained that Sindylek’s statements were corroborated by items taken during a search of the conspirators’ property that found “a large-scale marijuana operation.”

Butler told the panel that the government also presented evidence that Sholly had “ongoing dealings” with Sindylek.

“The idea that the [shipping] records for Sholly don’t encompass his involvement in the conspiracy is pure speculation,” Butler said.

Rosenbaum and Martin were joined on the panel by Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Danny Boggs, sitting by designation from the Sixth Circuit. The panel did not indicate when it will reach a decision in the case.

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