The dying leader of a 30-year-old heroin-peddling ring was sentenced to seven years in federal prison yesterday, as his lawyer charged prosecutors had done nothing more than break up "the Old Dopies' Mutual Aid Society."
Robert A. Neverdon Sr. looked decades older than his 54 years as he stood before District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin to face the consequences of a long-standing addiction that prosecutors said led him to sell $1,000 worth of heroin a day in West Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore.
"The only thing I gained from it is hardship and bad health," he told the judge, peering through thick glasses and standing shakily on thin legs.
Neverdon once ran the drug operation out of his apartment at Fremont Homes, a section of the George B. Murphy Homes public housing development on George Street that is primarily reserved for the elderly and the handicapped.
A yearlong state and federal investigation of the organization, involving more than 3,000 wiretapped telephone conversations, resulted in charges against 36 people, ranging in age from 25 to 62. Most have pleaded guilty, including Neverdon's second-in-command, Douglas E. Donahue, 61, who is to be sentenced in Baltimore Circuit Court in June. Five other alleged participants are on trial in Circuit Court.
Neverdon, his wife Vondalear Neverdon, 44, and associates Marshall Harold, 64, and Ray Fields, 54, pleaded guilty to federal drug-trafficking charges in February. Vondalear Neverdon, Fields and Harold each drew about five years in prison yesterday from Judge Smalkin after lawyers described their roles as minimal.
None will be eligible for parole.
Yesterday, defense attorneys repeatedly criticized the case against the group. "This is a group of old men who were strung out and didn't have two nickels to rub together," said Neverdon's lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Gary W. Christopher.
A doctor who has supervised Neverdon's treatment at the Baltimore City Detention Center told the court Neverdon has lost the use of both kidneys and requires dialysis three times a week, and also suffers from pancreatitis and malnutrition, all exacerbated by addiction. He has a 25 percent chance of dying within a year, the doctor said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith pointed out that Neverdon has drug convictions dating back to 1964. In addition to using and dealing heroin, she said, he drank three or four pints of wine each day while free.
By keeping Neverdon away from drugs and alcohol, prison "may add years to his life," Ms. Smith said.
Judge Smalkin said he wished he could sentence Neverdon to visit every school in the state as evidence of the ravaging duration of heroin addiction. "It has a certain amount of pathos, I will agree with that," the judge said of the case. Of Neverdon's infirmities, the judge said: "He has sentenced himself to death."
Ms. Smith acknowledged that while the Neverdon ring was not the kind of violent street organization that has been the focus of the war on drugs, it still dealt a large enough quantity of heroin for a long enough time to merit the complicated investigation and prosecution. "To hide behind their ill health and their age -- obviously, they weren't completely successful," she said.
Watching Neverdon limp out of court using a cane, a neighborhood acquaintance -- who had come to watch the sentencings but would not give her name -- shook her head. "They got the small potatoes covering up the big potatoes," she said.