(DELAWARE COUNTY) - A judge sentenced three Delaware County convenience-store clerks to serve nearly a year in jail for selling bath salts to customers.
The Muncie Star Press reports, two of the clerks, 20-year-old Harwinder "Monty" Singh, and 31-year-old Ramesh Kumar, pled guilty on Monday to dealing in a counterfeit substance, a Class D felony carrying a standard 18-month prison term.
Co-defendant 21-year-old Kameljit "Lucky" Singh, pled guilty to a similar charge last week.
Judge Thomas Cannon Jr. gave each man a 364-day jail term, the maximum allowed under the terms of a plea agreement. With credit for good behavior and time served since a series of June raids at convenience stores in Muncie and Yorktown, they will likely be eligible for release in about 60 days.
The plea bargains also call for the trio to testify against co-defendants that prosecutors Jeffrey Arnold and Eric Hoffman say played a far more substantial role in the local trafficking of the so-called "designer drugs," which mimic other controlled substances.
"In the bigger picture of this case, these three individuals served a very bit part," said attorney Mark McKinney, who represented Singhs and Kumar.
Cannon granted McKinney's request to reduce his clients' convictions from felony to misdemeanor status.
While all three men apparently entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico in 2010, the lack of felony convictions could assist in their efforts to remain in the country, the Star Press reported.
McKinney and Arnold said federal immigration authorities placed a hold on each of the men.
Judge Cannon told the men, it is not up to him to decide if they can remain in the United States.
But with the possibility of being deported looming, Cannon suggested "depositions ought to be taken," for use in the other prosecutions, while the Singhs and Kumar remain in the county jail.
Two of the men said they fled their hometowns in India in fear for their lives, citing widespread violence between political and religious factions. One had witnessed the killing of his father, a police officer.
All three described working 84-hour weeks at the local convenience stores -- for considerably less than minimum wage -- and sending much of their meager income to impoverished relatives in India.
McKinney said his clients were remorseful over breaking the law.
The judge told the men they were "nothing more than indentured servants, brought here for somebody else's gain."
But he added, "The fact remains that all three of you are illegal immigrants... and now you have committed crimes."
Have a question or comment about a news story? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org