ROCKLAND — A Friendship couple pleaded guilty Friday to their roles in a family drug operation that distributed the deadly drug fentanyl throughout the midcoast.

Joseph “Joey” Thurston, 31, and Amanda Thurston, 30, pleaded guilty Jan. 18 to trafficking in fentanyl.

The pair were two of seven family members charged in March as part of the drug ring.

Joseph Thurston will be formally sentenced in May at which time a sentence of six years in prison with all but three years suspended will be imposed. He will also be on probation for three years upon his release and fined $400.

Amanda Thurston was sentenced to four years with all the sentence suspended. She will also be on probation for three years and fined $400.

Assistant Attorney General John Risler said that Amanda Thurston’s sentence was influenced in part because of her relatively minor criminal record and the fact that she has four children at home and is pregnant with another child.

The formal sentencing of Joseph Thurston was postponed until May to allow him to earn more money scalloping before he goes to prison and to allow him to be present for the birth of the couple’s child.

The family members were arrested in March following a several-month investigation by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. During the investigation, agents learned that family members were traveling to New Bedford, Mass., several times a week to purchase fentanyl that they would resell in Knox and Lincoln counties.

Justice Bruce Mallonee accepted the plea agreements but questioned the sentence agreements worked out between the defenses and the state. The judge pointed out that both Thurstons had claimed not to be addicted to drugs so that was not a reason for their trafficking.

He said fentanyl is the number one drug responsible for overdose deaths in Maine. He said this drug also is responsible for so many children being in the custody of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, as well as burglaries and thefts.

Joseph Thurston’s attorney Philip Cohen said his client was not working much at the time and was trying to get money to support his family. Amanda Thurston’s attorney Roger Hurley said his client was under family pressure to deal the drugs.

Risler said if Amanda Thurston went to prison, there would be more children placed in the custody of DHHS.

The prosecutor said the head of the drug ring was Steven Libby.

Libby, 50, of Warren, pleaded guilty in December to two counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs (Feb. 28 and March 1 in Warren), and illegal possession of a firearm.

He will be sentenced at a later time.

Michelle Howe, 47, of Warren, formerly Michelle Libby, pleaded guilty last month to illegal possession of a firearm. Two counts of trafficking in drugs were dismissed. She was sentenced to four years in prison with all but one year suspended. She will begin her sentence on Jan. 31.

Libby and Howe are Amanda Thurston’s parents.

The other family members await sentencing.

MDEA agents searched the family’s two homes in Friendship and Warren.

Seized were 20 grams of fentanyl, a handgun, $1,800 of suspected drug proceeds and other evidence of drug trafficking.


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