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Texas drug trafficker sentenced to life in prison

MOBILE, Ala. – A Texas man was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for his participation in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine in Alabama, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Mobile County Sheriff's Office.

Frank James Abston, 40, of Houston, Texas, was sentenced to life imprisonment in federal court after he entered a guilty plea to the charges in November 2011. Judge Callie V. S. Granade imposed the life sentence after conducting a hearing to determine the advisory guideline range applicable to Abston's case. Six witnesses testified to their extensive drug transactions with Abston, who was characterized as a major supplier of cocaine and crack cocaine in Mobile County.

"With Mr. Abston's previous criminal history, he should have known that severe consequences were in store for him should he continue to violate the law," said Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. "HSI has had no better partners than the Mobile County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Alabama in identifying and arresting significant drug traffickers in our area of operations. This significant sentence should put Mr. Abston's former colleagues on notice that they will either reform their ways or share his fate." Parmer oversees HSI activities in Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

According to the testimony, most of the drug transactions occurred in south Mobile County, in the Grand Bay area. Abston's co-defendant, Walter Lee Hodges, testified that Abston hired him to transport cocaine on the bus two days before they were arrested by Mobile County sheriff's deputies. Hodges testified that he and Abston's girlfriend each brought a kilogram of cocaine on the bus from Houston to Mobile. When they were stopped in a vehicle off Interstate 10 in Mobile, they had approximately 500 grams of cocaine in the car. Hodges testified that Abston sold the rest of the cocaine the night they arrived and the next morning.

Abston testified at the hearing in his own behalf, and he claimed that he was only minimally involved in selling drugs and that his former defense attorney misled him about the terms of his guilty plea. After the testimony was concluded, Judge Granade found that Abston occupied a position of leadership in the conspiracy, that he was accountable for at least 127 kilograms of cocaine and 1.4 kilograms of crack cocaine (both figures she characterized as very conservative), and that Abston was not entitled to any mitigation in the guideline calculations because he had not been truthful in his testimony before the court. Judge Granade found that his advisory guideline range was life imprisonment, and that because of his prior drug convictions, the federal enhancement statute also called for a life sentence.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Gloria Bedwell.