LEBANON, Ohio — An Ohio teenager considered by authorities to be one of the most prolific drug dealers in the Cincinnati area was sentenced on Monday to between six months and three years in a juvenile prison after a judge told the teen he was "a pretty fine young person that went down a bad trail."
Tyler Pagenstecher of Mason was taken into custody immediately after the hearing and will be turned over to Ohio's Department of Youth Services. The agency ultimately will decide how long Pagenstecher will be in prison, depending on his behavior.
"He's not going home today," Judge Thomas Lipps said, explaining that the charges against Pagenstecher were too serious for him to avoid prison time.
Lipps handed the sentence down after Pagenstecher stood up in court and apologized for what he did, saying that he didn't realize the severity of his actions.
"I understood that I would get in trouble but not to the level or extent this has become, and I sincerely regret all of this," said the pale, bespectacled, soft-spoken teen. "If I could take it all back, I would."
Authorities accused Pagenstecher, who turned 18 earlier this month, of playing a major role in a drug ring that sold as much as $20,000 worth of high-grade marijuana a month to fellow students in and around his well-to-do suburb.
Authorities say they believe Pagenstecher began selling the drugs when he was at least 15 and managed to stay under authorities' radar for a long time by not selling pot at school, but largely out of his home — a two-story, white-brick house on a spacious corner lot where he lived with his single mother and older brother.
Investigators said they found no evidence that Daffney Pagenstecher, a 50-year-old school bus driver, knew what her son was up to.
Daffney Pagenstecher, who dabbed her eyes during the sentencing, and defense attorney Mike O'Neill both declined to comment after the hearing Monday.
During the hearing, O'Neill minimized Pagenstecher's actions and pointed out that he had no weapons or wasn't involved in any violence.
"We have a high school child here who was using a lot of marijuana and was selling marijuana to his friends," O'Neill said, adding that intense media coverage of the case will affect him for the rest of his life.
He added that Pagenstecher completed an "intensive" drug abuse program, is sorry for his actions, cooperated with authorities and didn't have a serious criminal history. Pagenstecher also has a job at an Italian restaurant, the owners of which wrote to the judge and told them how reliable and hard-working the teen is.
"This is a kid with some potential," O'Neill said. "He can go on and do something with his life."
Authorities said that Pagenstecher took orders from adults who led the drug ring, but was in charge of six teenage lieutenants who helped sell the pot.
Seven adults, ages 20 to 58, also were arrested and were accused of growing the pot under artificial lights in a furniture warehouse and two suburban homes.
Four of the adults have pleaded not guilty to charges of drug trafficking and possession, marijuana cultivation and engaging in corrupt activity, and are set for trial in November and December.
Three of the adults agreed to plead guilty to some of the charges in order to get other charges dropped. One of them, 31-year-old Stacy Lampe, was sentenced to two years in prison. The other two are set to be sentenced by the end of the year and also face years in prison.
As part of its investigation of the drug ring, the Warren County Drug Task Force seized more than 600 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $3 million, or $5,000 a pound. Investigators also found $6,000 in cash in Pagenstecher's bedroom.
Task force Cmdr. John Burke has called Pagenstecher a "little czar" in the drug ring and said that most of his customers were students at Mason High and Kings High, two highly ranked public schools about 20 miles outside Cincinnati.
Friends and neighbors have described Pagenstecher as a seemingly typical teenager who liked to ride skateboards and bikes, and usually got As and Bs.