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Air Force Academy cadet sentenced for dealing drugs

November 3, 2015 Updated: November 3, 2015 at 5:27 pm
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An Air Force Academy cadet admitted dealing drugs at the school and was sentenced to 3 years in military prison Tuesday as part of a plea deal.

Cadet Nathaniel Penalosa, a junior, told Air Force judge Lt. Col. Shelley Schools that he sold the party drug "Molly" to classmates along with the psychedelic drug LSD and prescription anti-sleep pill Modafinil. He said he got the drugs online, through what witnesses have described the "black Internet."

"I purchased it on the Internet, had it mailed to me," Penalosa said.

A former airman who earned the Air Force Achievement Medal, Penalosa was on the military honors list at the academy before a random room inspection last fall turned up drug residue, an electronic scale and small bags often used for selling narcotics.

Penalosa pleaded guilty Tuesday to nine drug counts that accused him of using, distributing and bringing the drugs to the academy. He also pleaded guilty to a drug manufacturing count for converting powdered methylenedioxy-methamphetamine into pill form by filling empty drug capsules.

He faced a maximum of 69 years for the crimes, but after the deal, authorities asked for just three.

Schools wanted to sentence him to 42 months, but the plea deal means Penalosa will serve no more than 36. That's because the military allows academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson to limit the sentence to comply with the plea deal.

Prosecutors said Penalosa deserved the three years.

"He corrupted his fellow cadets," prosecutor Capt. Joshua Tolin said.

Penalosa asked for leniency so he can support his mother through physical ailments and financial difficulty. A native of the Philippines, he immigrated to America in 2002 and was raised by his mother.

"Please consider a sentence that would allow me to start helping my mother as soon as possible," Penalosa said in court.

As part of his deal, Penalosa agreed that he will testify against a fellow cadet in an unspecified case. Prosecutors said Penalosa has given statements in that matter.

To get the drugs to the academy, Penalosa used computer software to create a "virtual private network" that allowed him to bypass academy Internet security, witnesses said. From there he went to the Internet drug market commonly called "Silk Road."

He paid using the untraceable Internet currency Bitcoin and the drugs were sent to the academy dorms through the mail.

In court, Penalosa claimed he was in the drug business briefly, with fewer than 20 total sales. His most popular product was Modafinil, a prescription drug used to treat narcolepsy that the cadet said made him more alert for his studies.

Penalosa's biggest client may have been his roommate, Luca Simmons, a former academy baseball player who was kicked out of the school in September.

Simmons testified Tuesday that the prescription sleep-fighting drug he bought from Penalosa helped him deal with the tough academics at the academy.

"It was pretty effective," Simmons said.

Three cadets tied to the case have been dismissed from the academy, officials said.

Penalosa's civilian lawyer, Frank Spinner of Colorado Springs, said the former cadet regrets dealing drugs at the school.

"His only thought is what have I done to my mother," Spinner said.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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