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The former sheriff's deputy who broke the law he was hired to uphold has been sentenced to a year's probation for federal drug crimes.
He faced as much as three decades in federal prison and a large fine.
Billy Rice, a former Taylor County Sheriff's Deputy, of Campbellsville, was charged in early October with committing federal drug crimes. He had initially pleaded not guilty, but, in April, appeared before Chief Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr. and pleaded guilty to three counts of distributing anabolic steroids.
Three sentencing dates had been set for Rice, with each being re-set. The last was re-set because Rice had scheduled a vacation and would be out of town.
But on Monday, Rice appeared in court with his attorney, Elmer George of Lebanon, and received his sentence.
According to federal court records, Rice faced as much as 30 years in prison, a maximum $1.5 million fine and two years of supervised release after he served his sentence. There is no parole in the federal prison system.
Rice was released on a personal recognizance bond after his arrest last October and has remained out on bond since.
In addition to Rice's probation sentence, he will pay $300 in court costs. If he violates the terms of his probation, according to a federal court official, Rice will be sentenced to serve a year in prison.
At press time, the terms of Rice's probation sentence hadn't been entered into public federal court records. Rice has the right to appeal his sentence.
George said on Tuesday that he is pleased Rice didn't have to serve a prison sentence.
"But I'm not pleased he's a marked person. He deserves better than that," George said. "My client had a very excessive defense."
He said Rice, after being asked to, gave non-narcotic steroids to a friend. The steroids could be ordered online, George said, and Rice was only doing a favor for a friend.
"At least he thought he was a friend," George said.
He said Rice never profited from selling the steroids, nor did he intend to do anything wrong.
George said he believes it's telling that McKinley made the comment in court that he believed all Rice was doing was helping a friend.
"But Billy Rice paid a dear price for trying to help a friend out," George said.
He said he wanted to take the case to trial, though Rice wanted to conclude his case as soon as he could.
"He just wanted to move on," George said.
Rice hates that he can no longer be a sheriff's deputy, George said, though he believes Taylor County Sheriff Allen Newton treated him fairly.
Overall, George said, the case against Rice involved a small amount of money and drugs that aren't illegal.
"Don't know why it ended up in federal court," George said. "[He has] a heart bigger than he is, and he used to weigh 285 pounds.
"It's sad he will have [this conviction] the rest of his life."
By entering a guilty plea to the charges against him, Rice admitted that he sold steroids on three occasions in Taylor County, between last May 17 and Aug. 22.
According to the federal criminal complaint against Rice, filed by FBI Special Agent Virginia MacHenry, an informant arranged to buy steroids from Rice through text messages and phone calls.
Records state that Rice was seen driving his Taylor County Sheriff's Office vehicle to pre-arranged meetings with the people he was selling the drugs to and also wore his Taylor County Sheriff's Office uniform and a pistol on his hip during one transaction.
In court records, Rice wrote that he knew he wasn't supposed to have a controlled substance without a prescription, and that doing so was against policy at the Taylor County Sheriff's Office.
After Rice's arrest, Allen Newton fired Rice, who had worked as a sheriff's deputy for nearly eight years.
Rice graduated from the police academy in June 2005 and began working for the sheriff's office thereafter. In December 2011, Rice received the office's Deputy of the Year award.
Amanda E. Gregory of the U.S. Attorney Office in Louisville prosecuted the case against Rice.
Earlier this year, a civil suit Rice filed in Taylor Circuit Court challenging a decision to not award him unemployment benefits was dismissed.