Judge: Greed drove jeweler to sell cocaine
BY BRETT HAMBRIGHT, Staff Writer
Hector Velez had a caring family and a stable job as a jeweler to support them.
But he wanted more, a local judge said Tuesday in Lancaster County Court.
So Velez turned to dealing cocaine.
Velez will spend up to 20 years in state prison for a series of sales to an undercover detective in 2011, the judge ordered.
"You had a career that should have been a source of pride for you," Judge Dennis Reinaker said while ordering the 8-to-20-year sentence. "There's not a single other factor that could explain this -- other than greed."
Velez and his attorney said the sales were made to raise money for the family.
"He was looking to support them with quick money," defense lawyer Doug Conrad told Reinaker.
Said Velez, while his family watched from the gallery: "I didn't realize how much this is going to affect my family."
Reinaker didn't buy it.
"How can you say that when this happened before?" the judge interjected, referencing a 2002 conviction for dealing cocaine.
"I didn't go to jail back then," Velez replied.
Reinaker and Assistant District Attorney Robert Smulktis stressed that Velez was selling large quantities of the drug -- more than 100 grams alone in the sales to the detective, Smulktis said. The sales reportedly were conducted in a back room of Empire Jewelers, 221 N. Prince St.
"This wasn't a case of selling a 20-dollar hit," Reinaker said.
Velez, 40, of Lancaster, closed his eyes and lifted his head upward as Reinaker announced the sentence.
Also watching from the gallery was Steven Groff, Velez's employer for 31-w years.
"This doesn't seem to be Hector's persona," Groff told the judge at the 45-minute hearing. "In 29 years, we've never had as good a jeweler as Hector. This was a surprise, to say the least."
Reinaker said drug dealing leads to other criminal acts, such as addicts breaking into homes to gather drug money.
"It's unbelievable the number of criminal offenses I see that have drug activity at their core," the judge said. "Somewhere along the line, a message needs to be sent."