York County drug unit commander Marvin Brown stopped at a carwash on Firetower Road in Rock Hill to clean his police car. He pulled in, fed his change into the machine and grabbed the brush.
What did Brown see, not 50 feet away, in broad daylight?
“Paul Malone selling pills,” said Brown. “Again, right out in the open.”
The guy buying the pills, a senior citizen, tried to sneak off. Slow and cool, trying to be unseen, despite the creak of aged knees.
Paul Malone, 71, 6-foot-1, 229 pounds, bald, no shrinking violet even in his eighth decade, was scheduled to go to court on drug charges not three days later.
Malone stood there in the shade of an old oak tree with his mouth open. Nobody needed a lip reader to see the words “Marvin Brown” and “cops” and “jail” being said.
Marvin Brown walked those 50 feet, looked out from under his signature moustache, and said, “Paul Malone, you are under arrest.”
Brown charged Malone on Friday – as he had before on 11 charges in three separate incidents in the past six years – on three new drug dealing charges. Felonies.
Malone has been getting arrested since 1963, records show, and was first convicted of drug offenses in the 1990s.
The drug offenses came after convictions for house breaking, escape from jail, assault, breach of trust, bookmaking, gambling, possession of a shotgun, receiving stolen goods and more.
Malone had spent short and long stretches in prison, 30 days up to three years.
He would get out. He would walk from his house in Lesslie, southeast of Rock Hill, to the little store nearby and buy beer. He would get arrested again, soon enough, for selling painkillers and fencing stolen goods. He would race cars and hang out in pool halls and run gambling rackets.
Cops would get calls about Malone selling pills. His “rap” sheet for exactly a half century of crime is 19 pages long.
On Friday, Malone had a prescription bottle, Percocet synthetic heroin painkiller pills that had been prescribed to him, Brown said. The prescription for 120 tablets had been filled just days before.
Just four tablets were left.
No prescription urges someone to take 30 pills a day.
These pills sell on the street for $8 a pop. Assuming 116 pills times 8 bucks, you get $928.
When he was arrested Friday, Malone had $925 in his pocket.
“I’ve been knowing Paul for 30 years, at least,” Brown said. “This is who he is. Paul deals drugs. We catch him.”
The kicker is that – even as he was arrested for selling pills, in plain view of York County’s top drug cop who had arrested him three times before on the drug and stolen goods charges – Malone was due in court Monday on pending drug and stolen goods charges.
Malone had been out on bond for months facing charges for third-offense drug distribution, trafficking painkillers and more. He was facing up to 25 years for trafficking, 10 to 30 years for selling pills and the stolen goods charges.
A potential life sentence for a 71-year-old with past convictions for felony drug sales.
Still, Malone sold drugs Friday afternoon in plain view of a cop, to another guy almost as old as himself.
Malone had been warned, repeatedly, by drug agents over the years that unless he stopped his pill sales, he would get busted.
In 2007, Malone was found guilty and sentenced to probation for selling narcotic pain pills.
“He just wouldn’t stop selling dope,” Brown said.
Malone spent the weekend in jail, held without bond, then was brought to court Monday morning. His court-appointed lawyer, assistant public defender Mark McKinnon, had the week before worked out a plea deal with 16th Circuit assistant solicitor Matt Shelton.
The agreement would allow Malone to plead guilty to drug dealing first offense, instead of the repeat offense that would give him a death sentence in prison.
In South Carolina, not only selling narcotic pain pills illegal, giving them away to your sister is illegal. A felony.
Yet Shelton, the prosecutor, had a 71-year-old man to deal with as a defendant.
The deal was for 5 years in prison on narcotics distribution that would allow law enforcement to not have to divulge a confidential informant that had been part of the arrest of Malone in 2012, Shelton said. Malone was never alleged to be running a drug ring, just selling pills for $8 a pop.
Shelton agreed to go forward with the deal even after Friday’s arrest. The protection of the informant and Malone’s age were factors in the decision.
“Mr. Malone was going to prison if he pleaded guilty,” Shelton said. “He was convicted. It was the right resolution.”
McKinnon agreed after telling the judge during the plea that “nobody wants to see Paul Malone die in jail.”
“Paul was not involved in large amounts of drugs,” McKinnon said. “This five-year sentence is not unreasonable. He knew he had to go to prison for this.”
The charges from Friday were dismissed with the right to restore them, Shelton said.
Malone will be eligible for parole in about 15 months.
Taxpayers who paid for Malone’s Medicare before and during his arrests the past six years, who paid for his pills through his Medicare benefits that Malone sold, will now pay for Malone to be incarcerated again.
For Brown, the drug enforcement unit commander, five years for Paul Malone is “an outcome perfectly OK by me.”
The pain-pill-dealing problem – Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Percocet and other synthetic narcotics – is real. More people die in America from pill deaths than car wrecks.
Paul Malone, 71 or not, refused to stop selling pills that could end up in the hands of kids.
“The question is, what does society do with guys like Paul Malone, who just continue to sell drugs?” Brown said. “The law is the same for somebody 17 or 71.
“The answer is, you put him in jail.”