The crime on June 28th, 2011 made headlines and brought news crews to a quiet neighborhood on Palmer Drive in the City of Oneida. State Police had busted a meth lab inside a home and were forced to rope off the area. The manufacture of methamphetamine is a highly explosive and dangerous process.
Equally shocking was the fact that a brother and sister were charged with the operation. Now, 19 months later, Robert Scott Atkinson is serving a 30 month term in federal prison. His sister, 43-year-old Melissa Dager, pleaded guilty to "aiding and abetting the possession of pseudoephedrine" and is awaiting sentencing.
Dager confessed to supplying her brother with quantities of over-the-counter pseudoephedrine so he could manufacture meth.
Before she goes before a federal judge and possibly off to prison, Dager talked exclusively with CNY Central's Jim Kenyon in hopes that others could learn from her experience.
"At that point in my life, I didn't love myself very much. So I think I went looking for love from other people and attention and the drug came along with it."
Dager explained that she became depressed after the death of her mother and other personal problems, She says she became vulnerable to the drug culture that had grown around the City of Oneida. She said her brother would supply her with meth.
"I just got caught up in it. I was around people when it was available and when I tried it, I felt better and immediately. The first time, I became addicted. I wanted more."
Before long, Melissa Dager was living a double life. To her family and friends, she appeared to be a normal middle-aged working wife and mother of two children. But at night, Dager says she would leave her home and feed her habit with other meth addicts.
"I was pretty sneaky... I turned into a sneak... a dishonest person." Dager said with tears in her eyes.
Her husband, Kevin Dager, said he had no idea his wife was part of the meth drug culture until the day she was arrested. "Never thought something like that would come into my life," he said.
Looking back, Melissa says the arrest saved her life. With federal authorities looking over her shoulder, she's undergone drug rehabilitation and counseling, secured a responsible job with a future, and has made amends with her family.
"If my family hadn't forgiven me and given me the love and support that I had... if my true friends hadn't stood behind me for the past year and a half, I can't even think of where I'd be."
Kevin says despite the turmoil his wife's criminal behavior has caused his family, he continues to stand by her "Because I love her. We've been together for years, two kids together. She wasn't the real person she is. This drug changed her, now that I think back."
Dager's lawyer, Robert Wells, supports her decision to go public. He says it is a cautionary story that can restore hope for others caught up in the world of methamphetamine.
"This is important that people hear... that there's hope. That there's a chance that there's a way, no matter how deep they're in, that they may find their way back. That they may heal, They may recover," Wells said.
Melissa Dager says she's prepared to face the consequences when she appears before a federal judge for sentencing, scheduled for next month, but the guilt over her past life continues to haunt her.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Dager said, "I can't fix what I did... so all I can do is the right thing. It's in God's hands and hopefully I'll get rewarded someday for trying to make it right. I've done everything I can to make it right."