- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - A federal judge has sentenced a 36-year-old man to serve more than 23 years in prison for his involvement in large-scale drug conspiracy.

The Sun Herald reports (https://bit.ly/1kT89oW) Marques Payton was sentence Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden.

“I know right from wrong,” Payton said, tearing up as he spoke. “I chose wrong and followed the wrong people.”

He told the judge he’s much more than just a man involved in the drug trade.

“I’m a father, a husband, a friend and a coach,” he said, having coached softball and baseball teams in the Dixie Youth league in Gautier. “I am and was more than what you’ve read of men on that crime.”

Payton pleaded guilty to a federal drug conspiracy charge.

Prior to imposing the sentence, Ozerden pointed out Payton played a “leadership role” in the drug case that also resulted in indictments against Michael Wayne “Swisha” Hanzik Jr., 27, of Pascagoula, and Scott Joseph Houska, 48, and Demario Antwon Neal, 24, both of Gautier.

A DEA agent confirmed Tuesday that Neal was also accused in the same meth conspiracy. He has been indicted on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute meth and possession with intent to distribute meth.

Houska and Hanzik have pleaded guilty to charges in the case. Houska is serving a 14- 1/2 year sentence and Hanzik is awaiting sentencing. Neal has not entered a plea.

As the investigation progressed, authorities arrested Hanzik on March 24 in a traffic stop in Jackson County that resulted in the seizure of a bag of meth from his mouth and more meth hidden in tennis balls in his car.

The investigation is ongoing. Authorities are working to identify those supplying the meth to sell in Mississippi.

___

Information from: The Sun Herald, https://www.sunherald.com

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