[Photo courtesy of the Grand County Sheriff's Office]

A Moab woman who was arrested this spring after two teens overdosed on an illegal designer drug that her son reportedly sold them could avoid going to state prison, under the terms of a plea deal with prosecutors.

Marlee Ann Swink, 40, waived her right to preliminary hearings in two separate cases on Tuesday, Aug. 15, and pleaded guilty to charges of theft, obstruction of justice and possession of a controlled substance.

In exchange for her pleas, the county’s conflict attorney agreed to reduce the main charges from third-degree felonies to class A misdemeanors – each of which carries a potential penalty of up to one year in jail, and up to $2,500 in fines.

Swink was arrested in late March, after the Grand County Sheriff’s Office received word that two unidentified juveniles were admitted to the hospital for emergency care when they ingested an unknown substance.

The overdoses were serious enough that one teen was transported to a hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, for medical care, while the second teen was flown to University Hospital in Salt Lake City. Both teens were later released from the two facilities.

Authorities subsequently obtained a warrant to search a residence that investigators said was associated with the possession and distribution of the drug.

A juvenile male who has since been identified as Swink’s 17-year-old son was booked for third-degree felony distribution of a schedule IV synthetic narcotic, along with evidence tampering and two counts of reckless endangerment. Swink was arrested on the obstruction charge, and for possession of drug paraphernalia in a drug-free zone; in a separate case, she was charged with third-degree felony theft and unlawful possession or use of a controlled substance.

At the time that authorities took her into custody, they said that the drug – which does not have a known nickname – was being distributed to buyers in a powdery form.

They later identified that substance as a combination of at least two benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” a class of psychoactive prescription drugs that are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety or insomnia. The identified drugs include alprazolam, which is sold under the registered trade name of Xanax, and clonazolam, according to Grand County Sheriff’s Lt. Kim Neal.

Benzodiazepines act as muscle relaxants, but they can also cause lethargy, breathing difficulties and a loss of consciousness – symptoms that the two hospitalized teens experienced, Neal said earlier this year.

Judge seeks clarification of defendant’s statement, plea deal

Swink’s statement to the court was incomplete, and after 7th District Judge Lyle R. Anderson reviewed it, he sought further clarification from the defendant.

“You don’t state here what you did to commit these offenses,” he said.

Under questioning from the judge, Swink admitted that she stole two 500-pill bottles of hydrocodone-acetaminophen, a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is sold under brand names like Vicodin and Lorcet. But she said she was still unclear about the value of the pills she stole.

“To be honest with you, I’m not sure about the price,” she said.

Deputy Emery County Attorney Brent Langston, who is serving as the conflict prosecutor pro tem in the case, said the pills had a retail value of $1,500 to $5,000 – an amount that falls within the felony theft range. Under the plea deal, attorneys for both sides agreed to reduce the stated value of the pills to more than $500, bringing the offense down to the class A misdemeanor level.

While they’d already reached a plea deal before Swink’s Aug. 15 hearing began, there was still some confusion about the agreement: Defense attorney Joseph C. Alamilla of Holladay conferred with his client and Langston several times – and paused at length – as he attempted to straighten things out.

As the attorneys appeared to resolve the confusion, Judge Anderson told them that he could not accept a proposed change that was apparently mentioned in error: It intertwined the theft and drug possession charges.

“I can’t by any stretch of the imagination make possession of a controlled substance be theft,” the judge said.

In the separate case involving the obstruction of justice charge, Swink continued to question what she did to hinder the investigation.

“Honestly, I’m not quite sure,” she said. “I’m not quite sure.”

Langston told the court that she was charged with obstruction because she intervened on her son’s behalf.

“When they were investigating her son … she misled the investigators in that case,” Langston said.

Alamilla said that after his client gave law enforcement permission to speak with her son, she reversed course.

“Initially, she had allowed them to start talking to him,” he said. “I know that she took exception to the way they were talking to him, and at that point, said, ‘Either get a lawyer, or don’t talk to the police.’”

Judge Anderson noted that the question of obstruction is an interesting one.

“But you’re not raising it,” he said. “That did amount to hindering. It might have been something she was entitled to do, but you’re not fighting that battle, is that right?”

Alamilla said his client ultimately chose not to dispute the obstruction charge because she understands that the agreement resolves both cases at the same time, leading to what attorneys call a “global resolution.”

“I know she felt strongly about that … and I think with respect to my client, she felt like discretion was the better part of the (deal) because there was a global resolution between the two cases,” Alamilla said.

Swink is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday, Sept. 26. Judge Anderson referred her case to the Adult Probation and Parole Office, which will be responsible for preparing a presentencing report.

She has agreed to pay restitution for the stolen pills, and while Langston said his office doesn’t yet have the exact figure of the amount that she owes, it will eventually disclose the amount to her attorney and the presentence investigator.

“If they have any objection, then we’ll work on that,” he said.

Swink would avoid prison term under deal with prosecutors