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Former Mingo fire chief sentenced to 6 months in jail

FACING THE JUDGE — Former Mingo Junction fire chief John Wright, right, was sentenced to six months in East Ohio Regional Correction Center on Wednesday for violating the terms of his probation and getting booted from the Jefferson County drug court program. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — On a day when her staff celebrated the graduation of two women who’d successfully completed Jefferson County’s Drug Court Program, Common Pleas Judge Michelle Miller terminated another participant for what she termed a “major violation” of the rules.

Former Mingo Junction fire chief John D. Wright, 50, was weeks away from graduating from the drug court program himself when he committed the rules infraction, Miller said.

“Mr. Wright was consistent in his participation in the drug court program, he did everything that was asked of him,” said Miller, as frustrated as she was disappointed, prior to sentencing. “He not only took care of himself, but he was helping others, all through his drug court experience. The reason we’re here today was because of a major violation — his major violation was providing suboxone to others.”

Wright was indicted in May 2020 on charges of theft by control, theft by deception and receiving stolen property. He pleaded guilty a month later and was ordered to make roughly $4,040 in restitution to his six victims, all of them Mingo Junction firefighters. Because drug and alcohol abuse factored into his criminal activity, he was accepted into drug court. Had he completed all four phases of the program, his record would have been expunged.

Miller said he was slated to finish Phase 4 on Sept. 29 and graduate Oct. 6.

She said distributing suboxone is “a major violation,” pointing out the state’s position is that Wright should be sent to East Ohio Regional Correction Center for six months followed by three years in community control.

Current Mingo Junction Fire Chief Brandon Montgomery, who’d delivered a victim impact statement at Wright’s hearing in 2020, urged leniency.

“He retired as fire chief, he served as my fire chief for many years, he hired me,” Montgomery said. “I understand people make mistakes. Everybody deserves a second chance. Obviously, he was completing his drug court, he was participating and helping others. I’m asking you look at, consider, that. His wife is here, his parents are here, his son who’s getting married is here, he does have a family. He’s dedicated his life to Mingo Junction, he’s served 25-years plus. I wish you would take that into account.”

Fran Carinci, Wright’s attorney, said there’s no disputing a crime was committed, “people do make mistakes.”

“But I think what he has done in this life far outweighs the bad. He saved peoples’ lives … how many of us can say that? Firefighters have very high rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome, he’s had injuries which led to drug addiction which led to his problems so there’s been a lot of psychological issues he’s battling with, and you don’t get better in a few months. People mess up, they do — that’s part of the healing process, part of getting better process. You’re never cured from drug addiction; you just try to fight it every day and do the best you can.”

Carinci said the Wright family is asking that he be allowed to attend his son’s wedding in October. She said they’d pay for any additional expense incurred for security.

“This is important to his family,” she said. “You’re not really punishing him, you’re punishing his family by not permitting him (to attend).”

Wright, given an opportunity to speak, said only that he would “just like to apologize to you, your honor, and the drug court team, my family, and anyone else I let down.”

In sentencing Wright to six months at EORCC and three years of community control, Miller told him, “These types of crimes undermine the efficacy and public perception of medically assisted treatment.” She also is still mulling the feasibility of allowing Wright to leave EORCC for his son’s wedding in October.

“This court agrees you have done a great service to community in your long history as a first responder,” Miller said. “You have saved lives; you have been there for others. You have withstood great challenges throughout the drug court program. You didn’t help anyone by redistributing subozone …

“Most of the people who participated in the program looked to you as the model, they held you up there,” she added. “That’s not your fault, it’s because you did such good work. And when they found out about (your violation), a couple of them were absolutely crushed. It had them question their sobriety and what they’re doing.”

In contrast, the court staff was all smiles as the two candidates for graduation stepped forward and were released from their obligations, their records expunged.

“It seems kind of anti-climactic,” Miller told the first woman, who broke down in tears. “There can’t be a big enough celebration. It will be a life-long journey, there’s going to be bumps, but I think you have the tools to deal with those bumps.”

She told the second woman “you have absolutely everything you need to continue living life to the fullest with the tools you’ve learned and shared with others. This court couldn’t be any happier for you.”

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