JOHNSTOWN - George M. Lowmaster of Carrolltown did a lot of apologizing Tuesday just before he was sentenced to 20 years in a federal prison for leading an organization that distributed marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, oxycodone and prescription pills throughout the area.
Lowmaster said he was sorry he was so greedy, taking money from families, money those families used to purchase his drugs.
Lowmaster, 44, a former highway construction worker, also said he drew his parents into the business.
His father, Gerald, who owned a bar in Carrolltown, and mother, Marguerite "Dolly" Lowmaster, both 67, were facing financial difficulties, and he started giving them money.
Gerald used some of George's money to buy a Fleetwood motor home for his son and to remodel his bar.
In February, Gerald was sentenced to 46 months in prison for money laundering, which he is now serving in the Elkton Federal Corrections Institution in Ohio.
George, through his attorney Sally Frick of Pittsburgh, asked Tuesday that he be sent to the same prison as his father, a request that U.S. District Judge Gibson put in his sentencing order.
The "conspiracy," as George called it, also included his wife and mother-in-law.
"The whole family got involved. They got caught up in the conspiracy. I apologize for this," he told Gibson during a two-hour sentencing hearing in the U.S. Courthouse in Johnstown.
In addition to the lengthy prison sentence, Lowmaster will be required to spend another 10 years on supervision.
Federal, state and local authorities rounded up Lowmaster and 25 others in May 2011 after a lengthy investigation that included thousands of recorded conversations. The prosecutor, U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Valkovci, said the investigation began in Cambria County through the local drug task force and eventually was expanded to include the federal drug task force and the FBI.
While the prosecution characterized Lowmaster as the head of a substantial drug operation that did millions of dollars in business between July 2008 and August 2010, Frick tried to paint a different picture.
She presented many letters to the judge from friends and neighbors, stating George was always respectful to his elders and that he was "kind-hearted," "a loving father" and a "protecting brother."
One other letter was submitted by Kevin Christopher, an inmate at the Cambria County Prison, who said he was a recovering heroin addict. He has gotten to know Lowmaster while in prison, and he said, "George is a man I look up to."
Lowmaster talked to Christopher, giving him advice about life.
"He offers positive solutions," Christopher said, adding everybody else in the prison tells him how to be a better criminal.
George Lowmaster tells him how to be a better person, Christopher said.
The sentencing guidelines called for Lowmaster to serve a minimum of 292 months to a maximum of 365 months in a federal prison.
Frick urged Gibson to sentence Lowmaster below the guidelines because she argued in a presentence memorandum, "The defendant is arguing to the court that the career offender guidelines in this case overrepresent the seriousness of the defendant's prior record."
She said that Lowmaster's past record, including three appearances before Cambria County judges, included one sentence of 3 years in a state prison and minor sentences in the Cambria County Prison.
Frick emphasized that Congress and the U.S. attorney general are taking action to reduce the amount of time drug dealers are to be sentenced. Congress, she said, is expected to pass legislation that will require a two-level reduction for drug dealers in federal prison beginning in November. Valkovci backed up Frick on that statement.
As a result, Gibson sentenced Lowmaster to 240 months instead of 292 months.
While Frick was asking for an even lower sentence, contending Lowmaster was a small-time dealer, Valkovci retorted that Lowmaster was anything but a low-level dealer.
"He is the highest-level drug dealer we've seen here in a long time," Valkovci told Gibson.
"In every sense of the word, your honor, Mr. Lowmaster's operation was a corporation, a well-run corporation, an organized corporation."
It had specific roles for each person who was involved. For instance, Lowmaster collected money in $5, $10 and $20 denominations. He assigned someone to convert those small bills into $100 bills so he could more easily send $40,000 in cash to Oregon to purchase marijuana. The organization had its supplier - just like a good corporation - and it made a great deal of money - just like a good corporation, argued Valkovci.
Valkovci said he is not prone to use words like "boss" or "kingpin," but in Lowmaster's case, those words are appropriate.
He called Lowmaster a "leader," who, had he used his skills for a legitimate purpose, would have had great success.
In his sentencing statement, Gibson pointed out that Lowmaster, from the time he was a child, has been involved with illegal drugs.
He had a good relationship with his mother, but his relationship with his father was strained, beginning when he was 13 years old, a point when he started growing marijuana, Gibson said.
At age 11, Lowmaster began using alcohol and marijuana. He was using cocaine by age 13, and by age 19 had a 2-gram-a-day habit.
He went on to use crack cocaine, LSD, mushrooms and methamphetamine.
Lowmaster gave up his post-secondary studies because of his drug habit.
He has two young children.
Lowmaster pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants, money laundering, conspiracy to distribute less than 500 grams of cocaine and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone and methadone.
Valkovci said the Lowmaster case is an example of cooperation among agencies. In a news release, U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania David J. Hickton commended the joint task force that investigated the case.
It included the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, state police, the Pennsylvania attorney general, the Cambria County district attorney and local police departments from Carrolltown, Patton, Ebensburg, Portage and Paint Township.
Lowmaster has also forfeited to the government six properties, all in Carrolltown, three vehicles and $691,082 in cash.