PITTSFIELD -- A 22-year-old who was found guilty last week of dealing marijuana and possessing a sawed-off shotgun has been sentenced to three years in jail.
Police and prosecutors say Daniel B. Lowenstein, a former University of Massachusetts at Amherst student from Sheffield, sold marijuana to an undercover Great Barrington police officer who had arranged the buy with Lowenstein through Facebook.
Lowenstein was living in Amherst at the time from where he was running a sophisticated marijuana-growing operation and delivery service, according to Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Richard M. Locke.
When members of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force arrested him following a third drug sale, on March 9, they found a sawed-off shotgun with a defaced serial number and shells in the trunk of Lowenstein's 2002 Honda Civic, according to court testimony. Police recovered $1,200 in cash, several small containers of marijuana valued at $600, two digital scales with drug residue, and a pellet gun pistol.
Locke painted a picture of a professional drug dealer who had weapons readily accessible in order to keep his money and drugs safe.
"He was a drug dealer and needed protection," the prosecutor said. "He took the initiative to put [the shotgun] in his car.
Locke described the many past violent confrontations that ended in bloodshed involving marijuana sales in other unrelated cases, saying it was "a dangerous game" that dealers were playing when it came to guns.
Locke asked for a four- to six-year state prison sentence in the case.
On Nov. 21, Lowenstein was found guilty of seven illegal gun and drug charges, including possession of a sawed-off shotgun and multiple counts of marijuana distribution following a Berkshire Superior Court trial. The jury deliberated for about an hour before returning its verdict.
On Tuesday in Berkshire Superior Court, Lowenstein -- who has been held without bail since his trial ended -- appeared before Judge John Agostini.
"I've made many mistakes that led me to stand in front of you in chains," the defendant told the court. He said he made "poor and idiotic choices" and deserved to be punished, but asked for leniency in his sentencing.
Lowenstein said he wanted to put this chapter of his life in the past and would be living a law-abiding life from now on.
His attorney, Judith Knight, painted a portrait of a gentle and thoughtful young man who was psychologically addicted to marijuana and got caught up in this "lifestyle."
As for the shotgun, Knight said someone had given it to her client in lieu of cash for marijuana.
"He thought it was cool," she told the court. "When he got it, he didn't know what to do with it."
Lowenstein was not violent and had no intention of using the weapon, she said, pointing to the fact that it wasn't loaded when recovered by police.
She asked that her client be given a two-year Berkshire Jail & House of Correction sentence with 18 months to be served.
The defendant's family and friends tearfully spoke to the court on behalf of Lowenstein and described him as hard working, intelligent, and a "good man" who has been a vegetarian for 15 years because of his personal beliefs.
Judge John A. Agostini, noting Lowenstein's lack of a record and his demeanor, said that it was probably lucky he was arrested.
"He makes a very poor drug dealer. He was probably going to get killed" because he was a target and wasn't a violent person, said the judge. "He would have been a victim."
Agostini sentenced Lowenstein to a total of three years in jail followed by two years of probation, saying that the defendant hadn't graduated to state prison, but likely would were he to be back in court on similar charges in the future.
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