Druggie facing stiff prison term

Convicted drug dealer and organized-crime enforcer James Edward Clark was between a (crystal meth) rock and a hard place.

The ex-con was facing 30 years to life for a Feb. 11 conviction for attempted manufacture of methamphetamine and possession of red phosphorous with intent to manufacture meth.

The prolific jailhouse lawyer figured that he had to do something. Like a bit player in a 2009 version of "Back to the Future," he's been trying to erase his past.

It all began last year in the latest case of his long, storied criminal career when Clark, 49, of Harleysville, Montgomery County, had 19 pounds of what he believed to be ephedrine, a chemical used to make methamphetamine.

Clark contacted a meth cook, gave him a portion of his 19 pound-bundle and asked him to cook it into crystal meth, a more potent form of speed, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank A. Labor III.

Twice more, Clark delivered chemicals to make meth, including red phosphorous, to the meth cook.

Then, the revelations began:

The meth cook was working for the Drug Enforcement Administration. And the 19-pound cache of ephedrine? It was vitamin B, according to DEA lab results.

Clark fired three attorneys during his federal drug case, but he was convicted anyway. Then, his long rap sheet and a bizarre 1992 criminal escapade in Montgomery and Bucks counties came back to haunt him at sentencing.

So, he began acting as his own attorney, with lawyer Kenneth Edelin as his backup.

In the '92 incident, Clark entered guilty pleas to burglary in Montgomery County and to three counts of kidnapping, aggravated assault and related offenses in Bucks County.

The felony convictions gave him a new status as a "career criminal" in federal court. This designation, in turn, increased his potential drug sentence from the February conviction from a 15-20 years in prison to a term of 30 years to life.

Clark's response? He wants to take back his guilty pleas in the '92 incident - 16 years later, after serving eight years in prison for crimes he once admitted.

Bucks County Court officials declined to act on his petition. But a Montgomery County judge appointed an attorney to review his claim. Meantime, U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly sentenced Clark to 30 years in prison on Nov. 6. Clark has filed his own appeal.