Defense lawyers question wiretaps in drug trial

February 26, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Defense attorneys for nine men on trial for distributing the drug China White said yesterday that prosecutors failed to show their clients participated in any of the more than 100 phone conversations presented as evidence after a two-month wiretap investigation.

That defense came during closing arguments yesterday in the drug conspiracy trial of the men in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in the courtroom of Judge Frederic N. Smalkin.

Carlos Ortiz, 27, of New York, is charged with being the kingpin of an organization that distributed the synthetic narcotic fentanyl, which is known as China White, and heroin.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate used during surgical procedures, was blamed for the deaths of 30 people in Maryland last year.

Also charged in the conspiracy are Male Lewis, 31, Turonn Lewis, 25, Michael Moore, 23, Adrian Scott, 20, Ronald Williams, 22, and Arnold "Putt" Murdock, 20, all of Baltimore; and Henry "Kenny" Jones, 25, and Frankie Sanchez, 28, of New York.

Each of the nine men is represented by his own attorney.

Paul M. Weiss, the lawyer for Mr. Ortiz, told the panel of 12 jurors and five alternates that federal investigators did not prove that his client was the same person whose voice was recorded on telephone conversations that were wiretapped.

Prosecutors played tapes of conversations that investigators said involved members of the conspiracy. They said Mr. Ortiz used the aliases "Los," as in Carlos, LL, and Carlos DeLarge, and directed the drug ring.

Prosecutors say Mr. Ortiz and the other defendants operated a ring from Columbia apartments, distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars of fentanyl in the Baltimore area each week.

But Mr. Weiss said prosecutors had the wrong man.

"The government has not shown that the Los referred to in these calls is my client," he said. "The government owes you more, but they didn't give it to you."

Other attorneys used the same argument. They also attacked the government's case by saying prosecutors did not use undercover police officers to make drug buys and did not present cooperating witnesses to testify against the defendants.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent J. Gurney said potential witnesses were afraid to cooperate, fearing that they would be killed.

Mr. Gurney dismissed arguments that investigators had the wrong people when they arrested the nine defendants. "It defies common sense to believe there's an evil twin group of people involved in this drug conspiracy," he said.

Several jurors appeared to have been taking copious notes during closing arguments. They wrote on their pads whenever lawyers from either side referred to one of the wiretapped conversations, which are the heart of the prosecution's case.

Mr. Gurney said telephone conversations and photographs taken outside Columbia apartments -- described as "stash houses" -- provided enough evidence to show all the defendants were part of the conspiracy.

Linwood Hedgepeth, the attorney for Turonn Lewis, said prosecutors and the more than 100 investigators who worked on the case "hyped the evidence" against the defendants. He said police did not use a reliable method to identify voices in phone conversations.

Mr. Hedgepeth said there was evidence that his client had cocaine when he was arrested in a Columbia apartment last May, but that he did not sell fentanyl or heroin. He asked the jury for an acquittal.

"Cocaine is not fentanyl or heroin," he told the jury. "Turonn Lewis is not charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He's not charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He's not even charged with possession of cocaine, even though it looks like that is what was going on."

Yesterday's summations ended nearly six weeks of testimony and arguments in a case that was expected to last eight weeks. Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Monday.

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