Couple plead guilty in prison heroin ring

February 02, 1994|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore couple who operated a heroin ring in one of America's toughest prisons -- by smuggling in drug-filled balloons while they kissed -- have pleaded guilty to narcotics charges in Indiana, federal law enforcement officials said.

Michael Leroy Barnes, 39, and Cheryl Denise Barnes, 37, pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute heroin Monday before U.S. District Judge Larry J. McKinney in Indianapolis. Cheryl Barnes also pleaded guilty to possessing more than 2 pounds of high-quality cocaine in her Pikesville apartment last August.

Michael Barnes, imprisoned on a drug conviction since 1991 at the U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Ind., distributed drugs to other inmates, according to court documents. Authorities said his wife was the smuggler, passing drug-filled balloons to him while they kissed. Cheryl Barnes also mailed her husband narcotics, sometimes in the lining of clothing. The couple used a prison telephone to conduct their business, a source close to the investigation said.

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of eight years, which will be added to the time Barnes is serving.

In 1991, Michael Barnes began serving a 17-year sentence after he was arrested in Baltimore carrying three-quarters of an ounce of heroin and a gun. Authorities said he was a lieutenant for Robert B. Dowdy, a major drug trafficker who was convicted after his street business was smashed by federal agents.

The maximum-security prison in Indiana holds 1,500 inmates, many of them organized crime figures and drug violators with long sentences. A federal source said many "had lots of time on their hands and a large appetite for heroin and cocaine."

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