PITTSBURGH – A former US Airways Express pilot will spend nine months in prison for selling a powdered drink mix over the Internet that he claimed was "100 percent" effective in helping drug-using truck drivers, pilots and train engineers pass federally mandated drug tests.
U.S. District Judge David Cercone on Friday rejected a request for probation only by Stephen Sharp, 41, of Port Orange, Fla., and scolded Sharp for not considering "the magnitude of the potential harm" of his actions.
The judge interrupted Sharp as he expressed regrets for the difficulties his family has encountered - he's married with an 11-year-old daughter and lost his pilot's job because of his crimes - in the nearly 2½ years since federal agents raided his Sharp Labs, which did business as www.yourintheclear.com.
"If you think those years were hard, how do you think you would have felt if a pilot was able to disguise his intoxication with your product and crashed a plane killing 250 people?" Cercone asked.
Sharp noted that he sold about 1,500 other chemical products through his business and "lost track" of the "Your in the Clear" solution he sold from November 2006 through May 2008.
At that time, Sharp was also a pilot for PSA Airlines, which flies under the US Airways Express banner, and said he considered the possible consequences.
"But it didn't cause you to take it off the Internet until you were caught, didn't it?" Cercone said.
Sharp's Florida attorney, Fritz Scheller, had argued for a probation sentence or, failing that, to have Sharp serve his sentence in a halfway house so he can be on work release to support his family. Scheller said Sharp trained to be a pilot for four years, and worked as one for six before losing his job earlier this year.
Scheller argued that Sharp sold only $10,000 to $15,000 worth of the product, noting the case was far smaller in scope than another Cercone handled in April involving another drug-cheating product: a prosthetic penis sold as "The Whizzinator."
One of the Whizzinator defendants got three years' probation, while the other received a six-month prison sentence - but largely because of a previous marijuana trafficking conviction. Scheller noted that the Whizzinator did hundreds of thousands of dollars in business.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary McKeen Houghton said there were other factors in documents filed under seal that affected that sentencing.
Prosecutors haven't said whether Sharp had used drugs, or his own product. He must submit to drug testing when he's released from prison and begins a two-year probation term.
Sharp had pleaded guilty in April to conspiring to defraud the United States because his product was specifically marketed to defeating drug testing standards developed by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMSHA tests are used to screen pilots and others by the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as some other federal employees, including FBI agents.
"You simply mix the powder with a large glass of cranberry juice 1-5 hours before your test and then just relax!" Sharp's Web site said.
Sharp and his attorney declined comment after the sentencing.