A 22-year-old man who sold drugs while armed with a revolver on the UT campus after the Florida football game and who was involved in numerous armed robberies and a deadly car wreck is facing at least 82 years in federal prison.
Following a three-day trial in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, a jury convicted Tyler James Schaeffer of Seymour, Tn., of three counts of brandishing a firearm during and in relation to three robberies of businesses engaged in interstate commerce (Hobbs Act robbery) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a methylone trafficking conspiracy.
Schaeffer’s sentencing is set for 10 a.m. on Oct. 9 in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. He faces up to life on the firearms convictions, and up to an additional 160 years in prison on the robbery and drug trafficking convictions. There is no parole in the federal system.
The latest convictions stem from a series of armed robberies in Knox, Sevier and Blount counties between July 26, 2010 and Sept. 14, 2012. Schaeffer previously pleaded guilty to all of the robberies, a total of seven, as well as the methylone trafficking conspiracy. Those pleas were accepted by the Thomas A. Varlan, chief U.S. District Judge, on April 30. Chief Judge Varlan also presided over Schaeffer’s trial.
Schaeffer brandished a knife in at least two of the robberies, and firearms in four of the robberies. Based on the proof available at the time of trial, the United States pursued firearms charges in connection with three of the seven robberies, as well as the methylone trafficking conspiracy. The jury convicted Schaeffer of each of those four firearms-related counts.
Jerel Bray-Sean Johnson, 20, of Knoxville, and Rodney James Ruffin, 22, of Sevierville, previously pleaded guilty to related robbery, drug trafficking and firearms charges, and did not go to trial with Schaeffer.
According to evidence presented at trial, Schaeffer brandished handguns when he robbed local stores, restaurants, and drug traffickers, including a revolver he obtained on the black market. Evidence detailed how Schaeffer obtained the black market revolver; how he used it in connection with two robberies and a methylone conspiracy; and ultimately, how the revolver was discarded in a south Knoxville storm drain days after an automobile collision involving Schaeffer on September 16, 2012. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Knoxville Police Department (KPD) recovered the firearm on April 9, just over a month before trial was to commence.
The evidence also included testimony about Schaeffer’s trafficking of methylone on the University of Tennessee campus following the UT/Florida football game on Sept. 15, 2012, while armed with the revolver. Methylone, a Schedule I controlled substance, is a “party” drug sometimes referred to as “Molly.” Schaeffer took the stand and testified that he used “fake” guns in the robberies and denied ever using the revolver recovered from the storm drain. The jury deliberated for about two hours before it rejected his testimony.
Law enforcement agencies participating in the joint investigation which led to indictment and subsequent conviction of Tyler James Schaeffer included the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force, KPD, Office of District Attorney General James B. Dunn, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Sevier County Sheriff’s Office, Sevierville Police Department, Blount County Sheriff’s Office, and Alcoa Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kelly A. Norris and Tracy L. Stone represented the United States at trial.
Following sentencing on Oct. 9, Schaeffer will be returned to Sevier County authorities to stand trial for a deadly automobile collision which occurred on Sept. 16, 2012, as well as a burglary charge.