WESTMINSTER — After hearing emotional pleas for mercy from the family and friends of 28-year-old Fernando A. Hernandez, a Carroll Circuit judge yesterday sentenced him to 14 years in prison for possession of cocaine withintent to distribute.
His wife, Bonnie Hernandez, 28, received a suspended three-year sentence and was placed on probation on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to distribute cocaine.
In sentencing Fernando Hernandez, Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.said he took into consideration that Hernandez never had a drug problem and dealt drugs only to make money.
The case against the couple drew attention because it marked the first attempt by the Carroll State's Attorney's Office to use the state's drug kingpin laws.
Defendants convicted under the drug kingpin law face a mandatory 20-yearsentence without chance of parole.
Westminster attorneys Stephen P. Bourexis and Judith Stainbrook, who represented the Hernandezes, claimed for months that their clients were not major drug dealers.
But county prosecutors maintained the couple provided the Carroll connection in a cocaine ring importing large amounts of the drug from Florida.
Prosecutors dropped the kingpin charges when the Hernandezes pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges in September.
Court records show 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 6ounces of the drug when they stopped the Hernandez family van on itsway back from picking up Henry Hernandez, Fernando's brother, at Washington National Airport in Virginia on Dec. 18, 1990, records show.
During the sentencing hearing, Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III told Burns the Hernandezes made a cold-blooded decision to be "purveyors of poison" to make money.
But about 15 family members and friends of the Hernandezes appeared in court yesterday to tell Burns that Fernando Hernandez is a changed man no longer obsessed with material wealth.
Allen Gillis, who employs Hernandez in his auto garage, said it had been many years since he met a man as hard-working and trustworthy.
Gillis said he believed that because Hernandez's family in Colombia, South America, was very poor, he wanted material things when he came to the United States as a young man.
Susan White, of the Carroll Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Corp., testified that while Hernandez was not addicted to drugs,he was "addicted to the good life."
She said the family got into financial trouble when its gas station started to fail and a child was born with expensive medical problems.
Bonnie and Fernando Hernandez pleaded withBurns to have mercy on them.
"I don't know how to pay my family,"Fernando Hernandez said, sobbing. "I failed them."