A day after his arrest on charges of selling marijuana, Carlisle’s elected tax collector said he uses the drug for medical reasons.
George Thomas Hicks Jr. said in an interview Wednesday that he regularly smokes marijuana to cope with a mood disorder.
Hicks said the prescription drugs he used to take caused side effects and led to physical problems.
Hicks.jpgView full sizeGeorge T. Hicks Jr.
“I opted for an alternative,” Hicks said.
As for the charges — police said Hicks blatantly sold marijuana outside his office — the 21-year-old contends he sold marijuana only as a favor to a friend. He said he is not a drug dealer and will fight the two felony drug-dealing charges lodged against him in Cumberland County Court.
Hicks said he had smoked marijuana with a woman he knows through a debt collection agency which he owns and operates. The agency is in an office in the first block of South Hanover Street, on the same floor as his tax collector office.
On Aug. 2, Hicks said the woman asked him to sell marijuana to her friend, a man he said he knew only as Chris. Hicks said he agreed. Hicks said the woman then insisted the sale take place at the collection agency office.
Four days later, the woman called again, Hicks said, to say Chris wanted to buy more pot. Again, the woman asked Hicks to carry out the sale at the debt collection agency.
“[The woman] said [Chris’] dealer is on vacation. Can you get him some more? I said, ‘Why not?’,” Hicks said on Wednesday.
According to documents filed in District Judge Jessica Brewbaker’s office, Hicks took $100 from an undercover officer in an Aug. 2 marijuana sale and $200 in a marijuana sale on Monday.
Hicks was arrested the next day and is free on $5,000 bail.
Cumberland County District Attorney Dave Freed has asked the court to keep Hicks from collecting tax payments until his case is resolved. A judge will weigh Freed’s request on Monday. Until then, under a temporary injunction granted by county Judge Christylee Peck, collecting duties are out of Hicks’ hands. Taxes must be paid at the borough office at 53 W. South St.
Hicks, who as of Wednesday did not have an attorney, said he shouldn’t be barred from carrying out his tax collector duties.
The case is similar to that of former Cumberland Coroner Todd Eckenrode, who remained in office after being charged with mishandling prescription drugs obtained through death investigations conducted by his office. Between his arrest on Jan. 4 until he resigned effective May 12, Eckenrode was barred from involvement in any death investigations that could become criminal cases, including cases that were in progress when he was arrested, as a bail condition imposed by the state attorney general’s office.
Eckenrode on Friday was sentenced to a year of probation and 120 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a charge of mishandling the prescription drugs.
Pennsylvania State Department press secretary Ron Ruman said there is no state law requiring criminally-charged elected officials to leave office.
“The only stipulation is if you’ve been convicted, then you’re listed as not qualified to hold office. There’s nothing in the law to say if you’ve been charged with something you can’t serve,” Ruman said.
Hicks said he believes the court injunction, and the press conference at which charges against him were announced, were heavy-handed.
“I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. I would like to hold elected officials to a higher standard,” Freed said.
Especially, Freed said, since the alleged sales by Hicks took place down the hall from the tax collector office.
Hicks said the pot he sold amounted to less than 1 ounce in total. He said he sold the pot as a favor and didn’t charge more than he paid for the drug.
Jay Abom, a Carlisle criminal defense lawyer who is not connected to the case, said the quantity of drugs sold is not relevant in the felony charges lodged against Hicks. And, if Hicks sold the pot as a favor at no profit — even if he gave pot to the undercover officer — Abom said drug delivery charges would still apply.
“A dealer doesn’t need to make a profit to be a drug dealer,” Abom said.
Abom said the maximum prison sentence for each drug delivery is five years; however, mandatory minimum sentencing wouldn’t kick in unless Hicks sold at least 2 pounds of marijuana.
Hicks, a Philadelphia native, turned 21 on April 3. He said he’s fluent in Italian and came to Carlisle to attend Dickinson College and major in the language.
He said he decided last year to take time off from his studies and said he had worked for a debt collection agency before launching his own firm in June.
Since his arrest, Hicks said he’s received many messages from supporters.
“I love Carlisle,” he said. “I was building a business at the same time as being a tax collector.”