WESTMINSTER — The state's drug kingpin law was misapplied in its first use in Carroll, defense attorneys and the county state's attorney agreed last week.
Westminster attorneys Stephen P. Bourexis and Judith Stainbrook, who represented a former Taneytown couple charged under the kingpin statute with distributing cocaine, claimed for months their clientswere not major drug dealers and did not come under jurisdiction of the statute.
County prosecutors maintained that Fernando A. and Bonnie Hernandez, now of Sykesville, were the Carroll connection in a cocaine ring importing large amounts of the drug from Florida.
But now that thecouple and a Miami man have pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to distribute cocaine, county State's Attorney Thomas E.Hickman says the drug kingpin charges were dropped because they didn't apply to the case.
"We took into account that they were only ounce transactions," said Hickman.
"In the future, we are looking touse the statute in cases where the people are dealing in pounds and kilos."
According to a statement of facts read in Carroll Circuit Court Thursday, Fernando Hernandez sold 6 ounces of cocaine to an undercover officer in the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force between Sept. 29 and Nov. 13, 1990.
Task force officers said they found another 6 ounces of the drug when they stopped the Her
nandez family van on its way back from picking up Henry Hernandez, Fernando's brother, at Washington National Airport on Dec. 18, 1990, court records show.
The 12 ounces equal 336 grams, far less than the 448 grams required for prosecution under the kingpin statute, which carries a mandatory sentence of 20 years in jail.
Hickman said Fernando Hernandeztold the undercover officer that he could get a pound of the drug, and that that's why the group was charged under the law.
Hickman said the charges were dropped after prosecutors took into account that the defendants were first offenders. Bourexis and Stainbrook tell a different story.
"The reason they dropped the drug kingpin charges is because there was absolutely no basis for them," said Stainbrook. "And they gave us absolutely nothing by dropping them."
Stainbrooksaid Fernando and Bonnie Hernandez were coerced into pleading guiltythrough incorrect information about the plea agreements that Hickmangave to the media early last week. She said the initial plea agreements stipulated that the Hernandezes would plead not guilty, preserving their right to appeal.
She said Fernando Hernandez agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute only after he was assured that the state would seek no more than 12 months in jail for his wife.
"I am appalled at the way this case was handled," said Stainbrook. "It was an absolute travesty of justice."