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Bob Pockrass, SportingNews.com

Jeremy Mayfield avoids jail time after plea deal

NEWTON, N.C. – Suspended NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield agreed to a plea deal Monday that will result in no jail time and that he hopes will lead to his eventual reinstatement to racing.

Mayfield faced seven felony charges – one charge of possession of methamphetamine, five charges for possession of stolen goods and one charge of obtaining property under false pretense, all stemming from a Nov. 1, 2011 search of his home. The charges carried more than 20 years in prison.

He pleaded guilty Monday in North Carolina Superior Court to three misdemeanors, two for possession of stolen goods and one for possession of drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail, which will be suspended as long as he doesn't violate an 18-month probation. He also must pay a total of $88,124.41 in restitution to the victims as well as $1,100 in fines and court costs. The guilty plea he entered is known as an Alford plea, one where the defendant admits there is enough evidence to convict although not necessarily admitting to the acts themselves.

"It's been tough," Mayfield said Monday after an appearance in front of Judge Yvonne Mims Evans in Catawba County. "It's been something that has been held over us and we weren't able to move forward and move on with our lives, and that is something that was very important for us to do – keep going and get it behind us. ... I'm looking to start over with a fresh start."

In April, Mayfield unsuccessfully attempted to have the charges thrown out on the basis that confidential informant John K. Franklin – whose information led to the search warrant – died in a motorcycle accident following a police chase in 2012 and had a lengthy criminal record, according to court testimony last year.

Some of the items found in the Nov. 1, 2011, search of Mayfield's former 400-acre property were from burglaries reported by Red Bull Racing and Fitz Motorsports. Other items were furniture from DEA Ventures as well as items from Lincar Investments and from B.R. Lee Industrial Properties, according to indictments, as well as 1.3 grams of methamphetamines.

Less than a year after the search warrant was executed, Franklin died following a high-speed police chase, according to the hearing testimony. Police found methamphetamines and scales in a compartment in Franklin's motorcycle. A passenger on Franklin's motorcycle also was killed.

Prosecutors indicated the death of Franklin resulted in the plea agreement.

"The convictions ... were based on a number of factors, including conversations with the victims and law enforcement in this case, the unavailability of the state's key witness due to his death and the likely result should these cases have been presented to a jury without the witness," Catawba County District Attorney James C. Gaither Jr. said in a statement.

The 44-year-old Mayfield, who has won five Sprint Cup races in 433 career starts and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2004-05, still needs to apply for reinstatement to NASCAR. He was trying to run his own team before being suspended in 2009 for what NASCAR said was a positive drug test for methamphetamine. Mayfield argued that the test was a false positive for a mixture of allergy medication and the prescription drug Adderall.

He unsuccessfully sued NASCAR to get reinstated and later alleged that NASCAR worked with authorities on the cases that resulted in his criminal charges.

He has since talked about going through NASCAR's recovery program if that could help him become eligible to race again. He said Monday that he would consider going through the recovery program and did not believe his pleading guilty to misdemeanor drug paraphernalia possession would impact his ability to go through the recovery program.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do now," Mayfield said. "We're going to wake up tomorrow morning and figure that out. ... I'm not sure what I want to do yet. In some way (I want to race). I'm not sure what way yet.

"I love racing. That is what I love to do and what I'd like to do, I'm just not sure to what extent or not really even sure that will be in our future."

In the two years since the search, Mayfield's wife filed for bankruptcy and the couple had to move from the property. Their house recently was burned by the new owners.

Mayfield did not comment when asked about where he would get the money to pay the victims. He had to pay $60,000 on Monday afternoon and must pay the remainder Tuesday. The stolen goods found on Mayfield's property had already been returned to their owners.

Mayfield's attorney David Freedman said Mayfield agreed to pay restitution to the victims so they would be taken care of and everyone can move on.

"The only people who've been hurt by this, by Mr. Franklin's actions, are going to be taken care of by Mr. Mayfield," Freedman said.

Mayfield originally faced charges in two other North Carolina counties. The charges in Iredell County had previously been dropped and the charges in Caldwell County were dropped Monday as part of the plea deal.