A Harvey man was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday (July 12), after he pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing fentanyl, the synthetic opiate painkiller federal authorities say is linked to a spike in overdose deaths in the United States in recent years.
After a jury was seated for his trial, Courtney Ables, 36, pleaded guilty as charged to possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
Judge Stephen Grefer of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Ables to 20 years for each offense without the benefit of probation or suspended sentence, and ran them concurrently.
Judge Grefer then sentenced Ables to 20 years as a triple offender, also run concurrently. Ables’ criminal history includes convictions of aggravated flight from an officer, writing worthless checks and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is up to 50 times more powerful than street-level heroin and has been linked to thousands of overdoses and deaths nationwide during the past two years – Prince’s death on April 21 was ruled an accidental overdose from fentanyl. The DEA last month issued an alert to law enforcement officers, warning them to handle the narcotic carefully during investigations.
Ables’ charges stemmed from his March 8, 2015 arrest by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies went to a home in the 4000 block of Indigo Court to investigate a complaint about a gun being fired. A resident reported that someone fired a bullet through his exterior wall and into a bedroom, according to the arrest report.
Deputies investigating the bullet trajectory traced it to the neighboring home – where Ables lived with his parents, according to the report. The parents denied knowledge of a firearm being discharged but allowed the deputies to search the house.
The deputies noted the bullet was fired from within Ables’ bedroom. They found Ables hiding in his parents’ bathroom, according to the report.
In the back yard, meanwhile, a deputy noted an overturned children’s swimming pool and found underneath it a gray lock box, the key to which was on Ables’ keychain, according to the report. Inside it were two pistols and 16 grams of fentanyl packed in individual baggies for resale.
Ables pleaded guilty to both offenses on Aug. 25, 2015. However a panel of judges at the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal vacated the plea and sentencing on Feb. 25, finding an error in how the plea was handled in the trial court.
On remand, Ables initially opted to stand trial, which began Tuesday morning with jury selection. He changed his mind and pleaded guilty to the charges a second time late in the afternoon just after a jury was seated.
Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Sanderson and Josh Vanderhooft prosecuted the case.