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Pharmacist convicted in Internet scam pleads for mercy before he is sentenced

Will serve 25 more months in prison for role in scam

He picked up his reading glasses, and put down his wet tissue. Baldwin Ihenacho, a Dorchester pharmacist, had his first opportunity to address US District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns since his arrest in 2008, and he had much to say.

And he said it, in between tears and cries.

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“I apologize to my family and friends and to you and this court,’’ he began, failing to hold back his sobs. “It was a betrayal of my family, of my friends, of my profession, and I betrayed the core principles and core values on which I had been brought up.’’

His lawyer passed him a cup of water, but he did not take it.

He was being sentenced on 30 counts of drug distribution and money laundering, among others charges, for taking part in a scam to sell pharmacy drugs over the Internet without proper prescriptions.

He wanted to leave the courthouse a free man yesterday, having served 38 months in prison since his arrest. Prosecutors asked that he serve another seven years, and a crowded courtroom waited in anticipation for Stearns’ decision.

Ihenacho, 58, a father of five, ran the Meetinghouse Community Pharmacy in Dorchester for nearly two decades, and he used the pharmacy as the base for distributing the drugs. The scheme was run out of the Dominican Republic, and several coconspirators from that country remain at large.

Others in the United States were also charged, including Ihenacho’s wife, Gladys. She was convicted by a jury in a split verdict in January and is to be sentenced May 9. Another man, the owner of a distribution company from Chicago, had his case dismissed after Stearns found “gross incompetence’’ in the handling of evidence.

But Baldwin Ihenacho pleaded guilty in August 2011 to charges including dispensing a controlled substance, misbranding drugs held for sale in interstate commerce, and money laundering. He said yesterday that he wanted to take responsibility for his crimes. Admitting he was defying his lawyer’s recommendation, he also defended his wife, saying she knew nothing of his conspiracy.

Assistant US Attorney Shelbey D. Wright had asked that he be sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison, saying that in spite of his dedication to his family and his positive history as a business and community member, he “strayed off a path.’’

“He should have known better,’’ she said, arguing that a stiff sentence would deter others from committing similar crimes.

Ihenacho’s lawyer, David J. Apfel, asked that his client be sentenced to a term of time served. Apfel said defendants in similar cases have been sentenced to lesser terms.

Ihenacho pleaded for mercy.

He told Stearns of the difficulty of living in a prison with a cellmate the age of his oldest son, 21, and having to hear stories of how the cellmate killed someone. He spoke of the embarrassment of having to use the bathroom in front of his cellmate.

He called his wife brave in her struggle to raise their children on her own. She has no money for food, and their home bounces in and out of foreclosure.

He apologized to the families of Dorchester and Mattapan and Roxbury who used to benefit from the turkeys he would pass out around Thanksgiving Day.

And he spoke of the dread of not seeing his children grow older. His youngest son is a football player, he hears. And his youngest daughter is a cheerleader, he has been told. “I have only been told,’’ he said. He turned back to look at his family. “Please forgive me for letting you down,’’ he said.

Stearns said the case had all the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy, a family man broken by greed. He said similar cases on average called for a sentence of 50 months. Citing the calculations of sentencing guidelines in this case, Stearns sentenced Ihenacho to 63 months, to include the 38 months served. That means he will serve another 25 months in prison.

“I wish you the best, for you and your family,’’ he said. “I can’t send you home today, but it won’t be in seven years. It will be sooner than that.’’

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.
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