Former drug lord receives 22-year prison term

`Career Criminal' statute turns handgun charge into lengthy sentence

March 03, 2000|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams -- one of the biggest drug lords in Baltimore history -- was sentenced yesterday to nearly 22 years in prison after a federal prosecutor denounced him as living a life of "constant criminal behavior."

Williams, 58, received the lengthy no-parole sentence in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, where he was prosecuted under the federal government's Armed Career Criminal statute. The law provides stiff sentences for any criminal with multiple convictions for drug trafficking or felony crimes of violence.

The crime that sent Williams to prison for perhaps the rest of his life wasn't drug dealing but felony possession of a handgun.

That, coupled with three previous convictions for drug-related activity, qualified him as a career criminal.

A jury convicted Williams in October after hearing that he had used a 9 mm handgun to beat a man on a West Baltimore street during a dispute over a $500 debt on a bail bond policy Williams had written.

Williams -- who during the 1960s and 1970s ruled over a heroin ring that employed as many as 200 street-level dealers -- said yesterday that witnesses had lied about the beating.

His lawyer and two community leaders who spoke in his defense yesterday urged Judge Marvin J. Garbis to show leniency, pointing to Williams' age and his involvement in Young Fathers, a community mentoring program that aims to set Baltimore youths on a path away from drugs and crime. Williams was an occasional guest speaker at the program.

"I think it's a travesty to send him to jail for the rest of his days," testified Cameron Miles, a coordinator in the program. "He's trying to help another generation from making a mistake. They respond to him. Many came to me after he spoke and said, `I'm putting down my 9 mm,' or, `I'm giving up drug dealing.' "

But Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Webster III said it was ludicrous to spare Williams jail time on the basis that he was helping fight the drug problem.

"Melvin Williams was one of the biggest drug dealers in Baltimore for 20 years and is as responsible for the drug culture that is dragging this city down as anyone," Webster said. "He doesn't deserve a break. He doesn't deserve leniency."

Webster also said he didn't think that Williams' age made him any less dangerous, noting that the man he allegedly beat was 30 years younger.

At one point, Webster asked Miles, "Did he tell the young people at the meeting about the best way to pistol whip somebody on a street corner in Baltimore?"

The investigation was handled by federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents under Project Disarm, a joint federal and state effort that targets violent criminals and drug traffickers for federal handgun charges.

At the time of the alleged beating in March 1999, Williams had been on parole for 2 1/2 years from a 24-year federal heroin trafficking sentence he received in 1984. The federal prison system has since abolished parole.

Williams' attorney, Michael E. Marr, called the stiff mandatory federal sentencing guidelines "mean-spirited" and said Williams should have been eligible to receive a sentence enabling him to be released by age 70.

"That would be more than enough punishment for what he's been convicted of," Marr said.

Prosecutors had tried to convict Williams in September 1999 for the same offense, but the case ended in a mistrial after one juror refused to find him guilty. During that trial, notables such as state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV of West Baltimore testified on his behalf.

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