GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A former inmate at the now-closed state prison annex in Carter County will serve seven years for his part in bringing drugs into the prison, including fentanyl-laced pills that resulted in one inmate dying of an overdose in 2020.
A new release from the Eastern District of Tennessee’s U.S. Attorney’s Office says Michael Lee, 45, of Blaine, was convicted in January of conspiring to distribute fentanyl, abetting the distribution of fentanyl and using a communication facility to conspire to distribute fentanyl.
His 87-month sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release.
Court documents and trial evidence revealed that Lee used a contraband cell phone to communicate with Debra Kathleen Vekasi, who would acquire narcotics and take them to Carter County.
“She would hide the narcotics in tennis balls, which were thrown over a security fence and into the recreation yard,” the news release says. It says inmates would collect the narcotics-filled balls for Lee, “who would distribute the drugs throughout NECX.”
One batch of those drugs delivered May 15, 2020, included 30 fake oxycodone pills that contained fentanyl. That was the same day two inmates were transported to a local hospital for overdose treatment, and that one of them died.
“A search of Vekasi’s cell phone included text messages between her and Lee that discussed the receipt and distribution of narcotics, as well as the receipt and payment of money for the narcotics,” the release states.
Vekasi, 70, was convicted at trial as well and sentenced in May to 28 months in prison (time she had already served) as well as three years of supervised release.