Four people from Panama City sentenced to federal prison on drug charges

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP)-- Five people were sentenced in federal court on Thursday on drug and gun related crimes, among them, conspiracy to distribute more than five kilos of cocaine.

Thomas Zachary Breeding, 33, of Panama City, was sentenced to 6 years in prison. Benjamin Bailey McGraw, 37, of Smyrna, Georgia, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Jeremy Patrick Hubbard, 32, of Panama City Beach, was sentenced to 8 years in prison. Richard Kenneth Helms Jr., 43, of Panama City Beach, was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Jessica Renee Ashbaker, 32, of Panama City Beach, was sentenced to 1 year in prison.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, in early June 2016, "Breeding acquired approximately 20 kilograms of cocaine and then divided it among himself, Helms, Ashbaker, and McGraw to sell. On June 25, 2016, law enforcement officers stopped Breeding’s vehicle and arrested him after discovering cocaine and a firearm in his vehicle."

The release continues, "On June 29, McGraw and Hubbard planned to obtain an additional 5 kilograms of cocaine from Breeding in Panama City Beach. When Hubbard arrived at the scheduled meeting place, he possessed approximately $20,000 in cash and a loaded firearm in his vehicle. He was arrested. While Hubbard went to meet Breeding, McGraw waited at a nearby motel room. McGraw was arrested at the motel. In the motel room, law enforcement officers seized a cocaine press, approximately 800 alprazolam tablets, a loaded firearm, and drug paraphernalia. On July 8, law enforcement officers seized approximately 2 and 1/2 kilograms of cocaine and approximately $33,000 in cash from Helms’s and Ashbaker’s residence."

Investigators say the case resulted from an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Panama City Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Edwin Knight prosecuted the case.

According to the release from the U.S. Attorney's office, in addition to the conspiracy charge, the defendants pled guilty to the following charges:
• Possession of a firearm as a convicted felon: Breeding and Hubbard;
• Possession with intent to distribute the controlled substance alprazolam: McGraw;
• Possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking: McGraw and Hubbard; and
• Possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of Cocaine: Helms and Ashbaker.