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(Law too loose? Different punishments for having Ecstasy pills, Powder)
The Beacon News, November 21, 2002
By John Zaremba
Staff Writer
YORKVILLE — The prosecutor who helped send an Oswego man to prison for having a dealer’s supply of Ecstasy had too much power in deciding his punishment, the man’s lawyer says.

Philip Ragusa’s defense attorney, Kathleen Colton, filed a challenge to the law that toughens penalties for those caught with large amounts of Ecstasy, saying it is unconstitutional and denied Ragusa his right to due process.

The law, Colton says, gave prosecutors too much freedom to decide whether Ragusa, 19, should go to prison or be eligible for probation.

They charged him based on the number of pills in his stash, which led to his six-year prison sentence, rather than charging him on the weight of the Ecstasy seized, which would have allowed the judge to consider probation.

It doesn’t make sense to have two sets of penalties for what amounts to the same crime, she argued.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Ragusa, he was the guinea pig for this law,” Colton said Wednesday.

She said prosecutors sought the stiffened charges because it is politically fashionable to take a hard stand against Ecstasy, a potentially fatal stimulant and hallucinogen that has become notorious because of its popularity among teen-agers.

Colton noted that the law has connections with several highly visible politicians, including state Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, newly elected as the state House’s minority leader, and Dupage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett, who lost the race for Illinois attorney general earlier this month.

Cross worked to pass the legislation, and Birkett joined the effort. When Ragusa was arrested in February — just before the March primary — police and politicians, including Birkett, proudly displayed the bust at a press conference attended by Chicago TV news stations.

 “My opinion is that this was done for a political purpose,” she said. “I understand the prosecutors have a lot of power and clout in the legislation to enact new laws, but that doesn’t excuse them from comporting with the constitutional requirements.”

Kendall County First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Weis, who prosecuted the case, rejected the notion that politics drove the law.

“I don’t agree with her that he was marched in front of the cameras,” Weis said.

Ragusa, who is serving time at the state’s prison in Robinson, was arrested after a six-week investigation by the Kendall County Cooperative Police Assistance Team.

Police seized 25 Ecstasy pills, 7.8 grams of cocaine, 207 grams of marijuana, a scale and a pipe.

Weis said he never considered prosecuting on the lighter offense that could have come had Ragusa been caught with the drug in powder form.

“Plus, the fact that he had cocaine and the cannabis didn’t help his case,” Weis said. “I sleep well at night.”

Ragusa must serve at least half of his sentence and must spend his first three years out of prison on parole.

Colton’s challenge has been denied in Kendall County court It is up on appeal with the Illinois Second District Appellate Court in Elgin.

Colton said it might be more than a year before the court takes action.