Thousands of hours of volunteer work in the Red Lodge community weren't enough to spare Joseph Maxwell from federal prison time for dealing cocaine.

Nor were more than 70 letters of support from family and friends who praised Maxwell's work ethic, character and willingness to help and mentor others, especially youth.

“I'm very sorry, your honor,” said Maxwell, a log building contractor, as more than a dozen supporters sat in the gallery.

But community backing, along with Maxwell's once-clean record, did help a little.

Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull on Wednesday sentenced Maxwell, 53, to two years in prison, departing downward from the guideline range of 37 months to 46 months. Maxwell also provided a $25,000 check to the U.S. Marshals Service in lieu of a forfeiture.

Maxwell pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count for trafficking cocaine from 2006 until 2009. The judge held him responsible for 800 grams, or almost two pounds of cocaine.

Cebull rejected a defense request for a term of 14 months or less, or even supervised release and community service, saying such a sentence would not deter others.

But Cebull also said Maxwell shouldn't get more time than his supplier, William Cushing, 63, of Sedona, Ariz., who was sentenced to 33 months.

“All the time he was volunteering as an upstanding member of the community, he was dealing cocaine,” Cebull said.

Maxwell didn't help himself by not cooperating immediately with federal Drug Enforcement Administration investigators, Cebull said. By the time he did, it was too late and “the DEA already knew everything,” he said.

Cushing had already cooperated. So had Peder Nees, a Red Lodge resident who sold Maxwell's cocaine to at least nine others and to undercover agents on 11 occasions.

Nees, who was prosecuted in state court, was sentenced to 15 years, with 10 years suspended, is back in the community under intensive supervised probation.

Maxwell's attorney, Sandy Selvey, said Maxwell had volunteered more than 11,000 hours over 30 years to various organizations and events including the Silver Run Ski Education Foundation, United States Ski Association, Cody High School, Red Lodge Ski Joring Association and the Stanos Bustos Memorial Foundation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Seykora objected to a guideline departure.

“Maxwell refused to take responsibility and 'passed the buck,'” Seykora said in a sentencing memo. “Basically, he told agents through his attorney to 'pound sand,' so to speak.”

Contrary to what a Maxwell supporter wrote to the judge, Maxwell “did not 'man up' but sent the government packing,” Seykora said.

Cebull allowed Maxwell to report to prison when assigned to a facility.

Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.

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Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.