7 drug dealers given life without parole 30 overdose deaths in Maryland are linked to ring

June 15, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A federal judge yesterday sentenced seven members of a drug ring linked to 30 overdose deaths in Maryland to life without parole -- the largest number of defendants to receive life sentences in a single federal drug case, prosecutors said.

Judge Frederic N. Smalkin in U.S. District Court also sentenced two other ring members to 24-year prison terms. All nine ring members were convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate with the street name China White.

The penalties were imposed under federal guidelines and mandatory minimum-sentencing laws that call for life terms because such a large amount of fentanyl -- more than 66 pounds -- was sold and deaths were linked to it.

Judge Smalkin has frequently complained about federal sentencing laws from the bench. But yesterday he did not criticize the mandatory life-without-parole sentences he was required to impose on ringleader Carlos Ortiz, 27, Kenneth Jones, 25, Frankie Sanchez, 29, all of New York; and Turonn Lewis, 25, Adrian Scott, 21, Ronald Williams, 22, and Arnold Murdock, 20, of Baltimore.

Male Lewis, 32, and Michael Moore, 23, both of Baltimore, received 24-year terms.

"They're handing out life sentences like they were handing out candy," said Glossie Lewis, the wife of Male Lewis.

Most of the defendants showed no emotion as Judge Smalkin imposed the sentences. The ring members learned how much time they would receive at a hearing on May 18. Still, several told the judge that they could not understand why the sentences were so harsh.

"I'm not a saint, and I feel sorry for the people who died, but I don't think I should get life," said Jones, who received three concurrent life sentences.

Judge Smalkin said he was bound by the sentencing laws passed by Congress in the 1980s. He criticized the ring members for selling "poison" on Baltimore streets.

"The Congress has decided that people like you who deal drugs like this and cause deaths should spend the rest of your lives in prison," he told Jones, who said that his name is Kenneth Dixon. "They [Congress] passed it, the president signed it, that's the end of it."

When Murdock complained that the sentences showed "real cruelty," the judge replied: "The guidelines say you must go to prison for the rest of your life."

"I don't find any cruel and unusual penalty here," Judge Smalkin said while addressing the lawyer for Turonn Lewis. "The idea is for this to be a general deterrent, to put fear into people who would do this."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent J. Gurney, the federal prosecutor, said this was one case in which there should be no complaints about harsh federal sentences because the fentanyl was directly linked to 30 deaths. He noted that there were no more such deaths after the ring was smashed in May 1992.

He said the organization made $300,000 a month selling fentanyl

in Maryland.

Complaints of genocide

Mr. Gurney dismissed accusations of genocide by the government, which some lawyers said should be brought to either a U.S. or international court.

"There are 30 good reasons why these people should be getting these sentences. If they were still out there, people would still be dying," he said. "If there is any genocide, it was being done here in the local black community by this group."

Fentanyl is used in hospitals as an anesthetic. It is sold sporadically on urban streets as an illegal heroin substitute. However, it can be 50 times as potent as heroin. The drug kills by causing respiratory failure.

Juliet Eurich, acting U.S. attorney, said at a news conference after the court hearing that the tough sentences would send a strong message to would-be drug dealers that narcotics sales "will not be tolerated."

Others await prosecution

More than 30 other people are being prosecuted in Baltimore and Howard County Circuit Courts for their roles in the fentanyl ring. The investigation began in Baltimore and was spearheaded by city police and the FBI.

At the news conference following the sentencings, prosecutors displayed an organizational chart of the drug ring and maps of Baltimore and Columbia to show the ring's operations.

But while officials from the federal government, Baltimore City and Howard County were hailing the stiff penalties as a victory in the war on drugs, defense lawyers were saying they planned to challenge the constitutionality of the tough sentencing laws in their appeals.

Some lawyers said the men convicted in the ring were not high-level dealers and that they were unfairly targeted.

Catherine Flynn, an attorney for Sanchez, said the federal laws have led to the imprisonment of too many minorities while failing to stop the flow of drugs into their communities.

"The war on drugs is an attack against minorities in cities," Ms. Flynn said. "What has resulted is genocide, the taking of lives of members of that community."

Richard D. Paugh, an attorney for Moore, said of the conspiracy members: "These are just kids; they're not bad guys."

Harvey Greenberg, another defense lawyer, said the federal guidelines were unconstitutional because they give judges too little discretion in imposing penalties.

"They are too mechanical. They don't allow more human compassion, and they don't allow for circumstances that are unique to any case," Mr. Greenberg said.

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