Jan. 5, 2009— -- Bristol Palin's future mother-in-law pleaded not guilty today to felony drug charges for allegedly selling the prescription painkiller OxyContin.
Sherry Johnston was arrested Dec. 18 on six felony drug charges for allegedly selling OxyContin to a police informant. She was released on $5,000 bail.
Johnston could not immediately be reached for comment. The Anchorage Daily News reported that she arrived in court today without a lawyer, friends or supporters. A trial date was set for the end of March.
According to a police affidavit, the case began in September, a few weeks into the McCain-Palin presidential campaign, when investigators intercepted a package containing 179 OxyContin pills.
Two suspects at the delivery address agreed to work as informants and make undercover purchases from Johnston in exchange for receiving leniency on their drug charges, according to the affidavit.
Johnston allegedly sold the OxyContin to the informants during controlled drug buys in October and November, which police had monitored, the affidavit says. When confronted by the police, Johnston allegedly admitted that she'd sold the drugs.
The affidavit says Johnston used the word "coffee" in text messages to refer to OxyContin. In one text message to one of the police informants, Johnston allegedly wrote, "I wish I could but there's only so many times I can go for coffee a month. The rest of the time I need to have it at home!"
On another occasion, on Oct. 1, Johnston allegedly sent a text message saying, "Hey, my phones are tapped and reporters and god know who else is always following me and the family so no privacy. I will let u no when I can go for cof."
The case generated controversy after the affidavit seemed to imply that Johnston was under Secret Service protection and that police delayed searching her house because of the presidential election.
On Dec. 29, Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Joe Masters released a statement denying that the case was delayed because of the election and saying the affidavit incorrectly said that Johnston was under Secret Service protection or surveillance.
Johnston Drug Case 'Anything but Normal'
But, the Anchorage Daily News reported that an Alaska drug investigator said politics interfered with the case.
In a Dec. 30 e-mail to members of the Public Safety Employee's Association, the union that represents state troopers, Kyle Young, a trooper involved in the case, said that "as soon as investigators realized who the target was ... this case became anything but normal."
He claims that police delayed serving a search warrant on Johnston because of the election. The e-mail also says that although Johnston was not under Secret Service protection when her son Levi was in the house, he and other members of the family were under its protection.
Masters said in a written statement today, "the accusations that political motives were behind the decision on how to manage this case are baseless."
He said Palin's office was not notified of the investigation until Johnston was arrested and that she was only contacted because of the "inevitable media frenzy that would ensue" because of Palin's family connection with Johnston.
John Cyr, the union director, said the union was standing by Young. "We absolutely believe that Kyle's version is scrupulously true," he said.