Posted: Feb. 24, 2014 11:11 am Updated: Mar. 10, 2014 11:14 am
By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — When given the chance to speak Monday morning, John Grotts spoke softly and got right to the point.
“I am very sorry for the problems I have caused and the time I have wasted for this court,” Grotts said to Judge Sue Myerscough during his sentencing hearing on a federal drug charge in U.S. District Court.
Grotts, wearing a black suit, then said he took full responsibility for his actions and sat down. He stood for only 15 seconds. Minutes later, Myerscough sentenced the former Adams County Probation Officer to 30 days of community confinement and three years of supervised release. On Oct. 23, he pleaded guilty to one count of maintaining a drug-involved premises in connection with his April 24 arrest at his Ursa home.
Grotts, who was the Probation Department’s representative to the Adams County Drug Court program at the time of his arrest, will also have to serve 200 hours of community service and will be subject to regular drug testing while he is on supervised release.
Grotts, 60, was not taken into custody after the 35-minute hearing. He must turn himself in at the Bureau of Prisons’ request. Grotts will serve 30 days in a county jail near Quincy. Since Adams County does not house federal inmates, Grotts likely will serve his time in Pike County, which does house some federal inmates.
Grotts declined comment after the hearing.
The plea agreement Grotts’ attorney, James Elmore, worked out with prosecutors included the prosecution recommending probation for Grotts. Myerscough went against that recommendation by ordering jail time and supervised release, which is more stringent than probation.
“I struggled with your case,” Myerscough said. “I understand that you were a well-respected probation officer and were successful at what you did. But you abused your position of trust as probation officer, not only by starting a relationship with someone (in the Drug Court program), but by turning a blind eye to her drug use.”
Myerscough read from a letter that Grotts submitted to the court as part of his pre-sentence report. He said he started a relationship with Devin C. Lawton, 36, in November 2012, approximately 15 months after his wife, Leslie, died of lupus. Lawton graduated from the Drug Court program in May 2012. Lawton moved in with Grotts at his residence at 207 Walker in Ursa.
Grotts wrote that he would work during the day, while Lawton stayed at the residence. He said he was unaware of any drug use by Lawton, saying she concealed it from him.
When agents with the West Central Illinois Task Force served a search warrant at the residence they found meth waste and other drug paraphernalia.
Task force officers collected three bags of trash from a bin in front of the residence, and they said eight burned pieces of foil with residue, one of which tested positive for meth, was found. Also found was a cellophane bag containing cannabis stems and seeds, which field-tested positive for the presence of cannabis; a receipt showing the purchase of pseudoephedrine pills; several plastic corner-cut bags; and papers showing Grotts’ address.
When agents served the warrant, they said they found a one-pot shake-and-bake meth lab that contained meth residue on the back porch by the walk-out door from Grotts and Lawton’s bedroom. Two bags of cannabis were found in the bedroom, and a cannabis pipe was found on the living room floor, agents said.
From the bedroom, agents confiscated a corner-cut plastic bag with white residue, a “tooter” straw and a piece of burnt foil with meth residue, three used coffee filters with residue, two pieces of foil and a marijuana grinder, digital scales and plastic bags.
One bag of cannabis was found in a basement safe. Also found in the basement were a grow light and metal stand used to grow plants indoors, a book on growing marijuana, four boxes of starting plugs, two scales, a water pump, three boxes of empty capsules and a number of totes that contained more than 100 blue bags of plant material.
Myerscough said she had a hard time believing Grotts’ version of events.
“I find it impossible that you were completely ignorant of what was going on,” Myerscough said.
Prosecutor Bryan Freres with the U.S. Attorney’ Office called Grotts’ case “strange.”
“I recommend probation with hesitation because it doesn’t reflected the seriousness of his conduct,” Freres said.
Federal sentencing guidelines said that Grotts could have been sentenced to up to six months in prison or up to three years probation. The range of punishment was so low because Grotts had virtually no previous criminal history.
“A federal felony will end his career,” Freres said. “Maybe the community service work will make up for some of the damage his breach of trust has had on the community.”
Elmore said Grotts deserved probation because there was no proof that he was involved in any of the drug use police found at his residence.
“He was known as the ‘Meth Nazi’ in Adams County because of his dislike and disdain for meth,” Elmore said. “The body of his work is helping people, not hurting people.”
Grotts was fired from his position with the Adams County Probation Department on May 9. Elmore said Grotts is basically retired now.
Among the conditions of Grotts’ sentence was the fact he will no longer be able to possess a firearm. Agents seized 11 guns from the house. A 9 mm pistol, four magazines of ammunition and two 20-gauge double-barrel shotguns were found in a computer room. Eight rifles were found in a closet by the front door.
Lawton pleaded guilty to possession of meth and possession of meth precursors in July in Adams County Circuit Court. It was her third felony conviction and she was sentenced to seven years in the Illinois Department of Corrections on July 30.
/221-3370Editor's Note: This story has been updated since its original version.