Two sentenced to prison in Iron drug bust


Staff Writer

CRYSTAL FALLS – Prison sentences have been ordered for two of the six Iron County residents who were arrested as part of an Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET) drug bust in Iron River.

Rhonda Nichols, 31, of Caspian will serve a minimum of two years in prison for two felony counts of delivery of heroin as a habitual offender-third.

Joseph Baclich Jr, 31, of Iron River will serve a minimum of one and a half years in prison for two felony counts of delivery of heroin and three felony counts of possession of analogues.

The two were arrested with four others on May 21 after a search of Baclich’s home revealed illegal drugs, such as heroin, mushrooms, marijuana, and prescription drugs, and evidence of drug distribution.

During Nichols’ sentencing hearing in Iron County Trial Court on Monday, her attorney Geoffrey Lawrence pointed out that Nichols has several misdemeanor and felony convictions on her record, but they are all for theft and drug crimes.

“Prison should be for violent offenders,” he said.

Lawrence requested that if Nichols were to be sent to prison, she be eligible for a special alternative incarceration program that would help her with her drug addiction.

“She has taken steps in addressing her drug problem,” he said. “Give her a sentence that allows help with the problem.”

Iron County Prosecutor Melissa Powell claimed that Nichols has only been able to stay clean from drugs while incarcerated.

“She doesn’t maintain a sober lifestyle,” said Powell.

Powell also noted that Nichols did not just use drugs in this case – she was dealing drugs and enabling other people to be addicts.

When allowed to address the court, Nichols apologized to the court, community, and her family. She also expressed that she wants to better herself.

Judge C. Joseph Schwedler decided to impose a minimum two-year sentence, but allowed the special alternative incarceration program. He felt that the strict supervision of the program would benefit Nichols in the long run.

During Baclich’s sentencing hearing in Iron County Trial Court on Monday, his attorney Henry McRoberts said that Baclich has taken full responsibility for his actions.

“He has admitted the error of his ways,” said McRoberts. “He is ready and willing to be sentenced.”

According to McRoberts, Baclich was addicted to heroin for less than five months before he was arrested. Since his arrest, he lost his job, friends, and credibility in the community, said McRoberts.

Powell believed that Baclich has two sides: one that is “very sweet and helpful” and one that has a criminal record of domestic violence and weapons charges.

She also pointed out that, like Nichols, Baclich dealt drugs into the community. Furthermore, she claimed that he dealt drugs to a co-defendant, who then dealt them to other people.

While addressing the court, Baclich stated that he has learned from his experience.

“Heroin is the type of thing that destroys lives,” he said. “It destroyed mine.”

Judge Schwedler sentenced Baclich to one and a half years in prison and agreed to allow Baclich to participate in the boot camp program so he can have strict supervision after his release.

As for the other co-defendants in the case, one has already been sentenced to jail time, one is scheduled for a pre-trial on Sept. 23, and two will be sentenced later this month.

Nikki Younk’s e-mail address is