The drug-conspiracy trial of Linwood "Rudy" Williams has begun in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in an atmosphere of heavy security, as a prosecutor gave the jury details of a well-organized street corner distribution network fed by international smuggling.
A dozen defendants are on trial in the case, which began in court Monday with a marathon jury selection that ended about 11 p.m. and continued yesterday with opening remarks from Assistant U.S. Attorney Katharine J. Armentrout and four of the defense attorneys.
Williams, 35, is charged in 12 counts of a 36-count indictment. Specifically, he is charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, six counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute it, two money-laundering counts, use of a firearm in a drug felony and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
The other defendants all are charged with conspiracy and a variety of other offenses.
Armentrout, in her opening statement, said Williams bought cocaine from Pakistani sources who funneled it to him through Kenya, Brazil, New York and Washington, D.C., and laundered money to buy more through relatives and a local bail bondsman.
The gang is alleged to have sold up to 110 pounds of heroin a year in Baltimore, and a relatively small amount of cocaine, between 1986 and early 1990.
"Each individual in the conspiracy had a different role to play," Armentrout said.
She alleged that Williams' cousins, nephews and friends operated the distribution network; that his wife, Lisa, and sister, Debra, wrote checks and laundered money; and other defendants sold drugs on the streets.
Members of the gang used mobile telephones, which they thought could not be tapped by federal agents, but were, and dealt heroin out of stash and cutting houses all over town, Armentrout said.
The government's evidence, said the prosecutor, will include guns, drugs and cash seized in orchestrated raids when gang members were arrested last April; tape recordings from the wiretaps; and testimony from city police, federal agents and other witnesses, some of whom were involved in Williams' alleged conspiracy.
Among them, at least four co-defendants already have pleaded guilty. Two did so in plea bargains that were sealed. Another pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count with the stipulation that he would not be called to testify against Williams.
The fourth apparently pleaded guilty to conspiracy at a sealed court hearing.
In his opening statement yesterday, William B. Purpura, Williams' defense attorney, called the case "vindictive prosecution" by the federal government because his client won acquittals in drug and weapons cases in Baltimore Circuit Court.
James J. Nolan Jr., who represents Williams' nephew, decried Armentrout's reference to a group of alleged enforcers called "the Killing Group." Nolan said that "could be the name of a rap group."
The trial is expected to last three or four months.
Court officials ordered extra security that includes nearly a dozen deputy U.S. marshals in Senior Judge Frank A. Kaufman's courtroom.
Amid government allegations that Williams is prone to violence, people entering the courtroom must pass by a guard at the door with a hand-held metal detector in addition to passing through the usual metal detector inside the building's main entrance.
In the courtroom, the first row of gallery seats is reserved for the press and court officials.