Prosecutors accused Julius "Butch" Nesbitt of running a "Grand Central Station" of illegal pill sales in rural Georgetown County, where up to 20 people a day stopped in to buy oxycodone.
And when Nesbitt faked his own death at sea during Thanksgiving of 2007 in an apparent plot to avoid prison time, they further allege that it was a selfish act that endangered Coast Guardsmen, costing taxpayers well over $170,000 to launch an air, land and sea search of Winyah Bay.
"This was all about Butch Nesbitt," Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Phillips said Wednesday in federal court in Charleston.
Jurors will renew deliberations this morning on the six criminal counts against Nesbitt, including illegally distributing prescription drugs, gun possession and triggering an unnecessary Coast Guard search.
And while a verdict is yet to come, law enforcement testimony gave a peek into the inner-workings of the underground prescription pain-pill network in South Carolina, where the drugs are so addictive that some nickname them "hillbilly heroin."
Drug Enforcement Administration investigator Adam Roberson testified that Nesbitt was a significant dealer in Georgetown, buying hundreds of pills from sources who received their oxycodone prescriptions legally.
He then turned a sales profit of $10 to $30 per pill, depending on strength size, Roberson said.
The pills are sought for the rapid "high" they provide to those willing to crush the tablets for snorting or injecting into the body. One seller provided Nesbitt with more than 360 pills, Roberson said, while hundreds of others came from other sources.
A common practice, Roberson said, was for people to sell Nesbitt their own pills at the start of each month, then come back at the end of the month to re-buy when their own prescription dwindled. The cost would be "at the retail, inflated 'Nesbitt' price," Roberson said.
After Georgetown sheriff's deputies raided Nesbitt's Andrews home in August 2007, they found more than 100 pills of all types inside, along with three shotguns, a rifle and a handgun.
Nesbitt did not testify in his own defense. Defense attorney David McCann questioned the validity of some of the government's tape-recorded evidence that allegedly relate Nesbitt selling drugs to an informant.
On the tapes, the word "pills" is never mentioned during sales negotiations. Instead, the informant uses the code words of wanting two "cans of green paint" in placing his order, prosecutors contend.
McCann also argued that Nesbitt should not be held accountable for the two days of the November 2007 Coast Guard search because he never left instructions for a rescue to be launched if he did not return from a solo boat trip into Georgetown's Winyah Bay.
Phillips told the jurors that the bogus rescue was a key part of Nesbitt's faked-death escape plot. His 16-foot fishing boat was found beached high in the marsh with the ignition still switched to "on" but the engine cold.
For the alleged hoax Nesbitt is accused of triggering a false distress signal, or "knowingly and willfully" causing the Coast Guard to attempt to save a life and property when no help was needed. It can draw a maximum five-year sentence, while the other drug and gun charges could put him behind bars for decades.
Nesbitt was arrested six weeks after he disappeared, in Terre Haute, Ind., living on $65,000 in counterfeit money. He received a year in federal prison earlier on the counterfeit charge, while an accomplice was charged as well. Deliberations resume today at 10 a.m.