Judge grants slight change in sentence

A Spartansburg man serving a one- to four-year state prison term in connection with a Pittsfield-based cocaine ring was granted a slight modification to his sentence Friday morning.

Judge Gregory Hammond granted a petition to modify the sentence of Timothy Soliwoda by allowing him to qualify for the Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive (RRRI) program.

Under the program, offenders can qualify for parole after serving three-quarters of their minimum sentence. In Soliwoda’s case, that amounts to nine months.

Hammond noted the modification is tentative, as state sentencing guidelines may prevent Soliwoda from qualifying for RRRI due to a 1991 harassment conviction.

Hammond presided over Soliwoda’s original sentencing on Dec. 21.

Soliwoda, 42, was originally sentenced to between 12 and 48 months in a state correctional facility for a count of delivery of a controlled substance following a grand jury investigation into a drug trafficking ring centered around Joseph Richard Cieslak Sr.

During the investigation, Soliwoda testified he had bought between five and ten ounces of cocaine from Cieslak for re-sale. Soliwoda was implicated in the sale of nearly two ounces of cocaine to a confidential informant on three separate occasions in 2010.

The majority of the charges against Soliwoda were not prosecuted in exchange for his cooperation with investigators.

Soliwoda’s petition requested he be allowed to serve a county sentence with work release.

Initially, Soliwoda told probation officers he was unemployed and receiving disability payments for severe depression. Prior to his sentencing, Soliwoda informed the court he had begun working as a painter on a casual basis when work was available.

“My concern with this is, if someone is a long-term employee who stands to lose that job with a state sentence, that would weigh in their favor,” Hammond said. “If they report to the court they’re on disability and then suddenly they can work, they say, ‘Please give me work release.’ My concern is they may be gaming the system.”

Hammond said the differences between Soliwoda’s sentence and that imposed on Thomas A. Lindstrom, who was also implicated in the drug ring, were based upon restrictions due to Lindstrom’s health.

Lindstrom has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Lindstrom was sentenced to between nine months and two years in the Warren County Jail followed by six years of probation by Judge Maureen Skerda on Nov. 30. Skerda agreed to order he serve the sentence on house arrest due to medical concerns following submission of documentation of his condition.

Hammond noted during Soliwoda’s initial sentencing, “I am taking into consideration that you benefited greatly from a plea agreement.”

While Hammond did grant a modification to allow Soliwoda to qualify for RRRI, he denied an additional request for a reduction of his minimum sentence to nine months to match Lindstrom’s.

“This wasn’t a one time lack of judgment,” Hammond said. “This was a long-term period of criminal misconduct during which he (Soliwoda) was stone-cold sober.”

Hammond had previously noted Soliwoda’s long-term sobriety at initial sentencing saying, “Being clean and sober for 17 years indicates that you were aware of the devastation that addiction can cause and disregarded that.”