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At the time of his arrest, Michael McCall was portrayed by federal authorities as the organizer and leader of a major prescription drug ring.
Prosecutors repeated those allegations Thursday. However, as part of a plea deal with McCall, they dropped the formal charge accusing him of overseeing the drug network.
McCall, in the end, pleaded guilty to a less serious charge of conspiracy to possess and sell Oxycontin.
"It was not as big a conspiracy, not as much activity, as they thought it was," Rodney O. Personius, McCall's defense lawyer, said of the prosecution.
Personius said the evidence proved that McCall had not led a major drug ring, and he credited the U.S. Attorney's Office with realizing as much.
Federal prosecutors offered a different take on why McCall was spared the more serious charge of operating a continuing criminal enterprise - his age and health. They said McCall is in his early 60s and is suffering from diabetes and other serious health problems,
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said McCall also admitted to being the head of the drug ring as part of his plea agreement and, in the end, is likely to get an equivalent sentence of about nine years in prison. In announcing the indictment and original charge in January 2011, Hochul said McCall could have faced up to life in prison if convicted, though sentencing guidelines would have called for much less time if he had pleaded guilty to that charge, as well.
"He's admitted to all his relevant conduct, including being the leader and organizer of a drug distribution network," Hochul said Thursday.
At the time of his arrest in 2010, McCall was portrayed as the ring leader of a prescription drug network made up of 30 or more people and with deep roots in the city and suburbs.
The investigation, headed up by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, targeted drug dealers who relied on unsuspecting doctors and pharmacists and catered to people from all walks of life, many of them teenagers.
The arrests followed the highly publicized deaths of several young people using illegal prescription drugs and subsequently heroin, a drug often linked to painkillers and other prescription drugs.
At the time, investigators accused McCall of schooling his employees on how to fake illnesses and ailments as a way to get prescriptions and then sell the drugs from those prescriptions.
They also described the arrests as the largest local prescription drug bust ever, and a federal grand jury later indicted McCall on the criminal enterprise charge.
Prosecutors said it was the first time they had pursued the charge against a prescription drug dealer.
In the end, McCall pleaded guilty to possessing and selling Oxycontin and as part of his plea deal acknowledged schooling people in "doctor shopping."
He admitted instructing one woman on how to request a prescription for 90 Oxycontin tablets by telling her doctor she was "in a lot of pain [and] taking 3 [tablets] a day."
He told another woman she could obtain a two-month supply of Oxycontin from her doctor by saying she was going through pain management and "you just need enough to last you a month."
McCall's plea agreement with the government lists 12 different instances of him either advising people on how to get prescription drugs or actually arranging to buy them.
Deshawn McLorn, another defendant in the drug case, also pleaded guilty Thursday to possessing and selling Oxycontin. To date, 16 defendants have been convicted as part of the federal court case.
McCall is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 8. He faces up to 20 years in prison but, under sentencing guidelines, is likely to get about nine years in prison.
His plea is the result of an investigation by the DEA and the New York State, Buffalo, Cheektowaga, West Seneca and Lancaster police departments.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com