Drug dealer pleads guilty

Defendant called a central figure in 1980s drug ring

He fled to Brazil

Fugitive pursued for 12 years, arrested in Amsterdam

October 13, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A 52-year-old Israeli national who was considered a major drug dealer before he fled from federal authorities in the 1980s to carve out a new life as a coffee merchant in Brazil pleaded guilty yesterday to a felony drug charge in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Reuven Tenamee, sought for the past decade as the leader of a ring that imported cocaine from Miami and New York, pleaded guilty before Judge J. Frederick Motz to one count of distribution of cocaine.

He was apprehended in November by authorities checking his passport at the airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he had flown on business, his lawyer said. He has been in federal custody in the United States since February.

"He had gotten into the coffee business. That's what he was doing in Europe," said William B. Purpura, Tenamee's Baltimore-based attorney.

Motz could give Tenamee up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 9. He'll remain in federal custody until then.

Purpura said yesterday that Tenamee hopes for a lesser sentence because he waived extradition, pleaded guilty and will agree to be deported to Brazil after he serves any sentence imposed.

Tenamee, who speaks four languages, is one of 15 children and the father of three, and values his relationships with his family, Purpura said.

"Even after 12 years outside this country, he saw no reason not to come back and face the charges," he said.

In court affidavits, prosecutors and federal agents said Tenamee was at the center of an elaborate drug operation that from 1985 to 1989 supplied much of the cocaine brought into Baltimore.

Court records show that 22 suppliers, couriers and dealers were prosecuted as part of the ring, including Tenamee's sister, Ruthie Tenamee, and Ronald E. Reed Jr., who owned three homes and six sports cars at the time of his arrest in January 1989.

Reed, described by prosecutors in the 1980s "as a midlevel dealer," routinely bought kilograms of cocaine from Tenamee from 1985 to 1989 and sold it to other dealers. He pleaded guilty to drug-related conspiracy and money-laundering charges in 1989.

Ruthie Tenamee was sentenced to six years in federal prison after she led police on a 100-mph chase near Syracuse, N.Y., in November 1986 in a limousine she had rented to drive 15 kilograms of cocaine - wrapped in "brick-shaped packages" - from New York City to Buffalo.

She told New York state troopers after her arrest that she had agreed to drive the cocaine to Buffalo for her brother, according to a statement of facts filed with Motz yesterday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Norman.

Reuven Tenamee was arrested in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1990 and confessed to his role in the operation to U.S. agents who went to Brazil to interview him, according to a court affidavit.

Tenamee escaped from police in Brazil a short time after the 1990 interview, prompting a search by U.S. marshals. They monitored relatives' phone records and visited schools where they thought Tenamee's son might be enrolled.

Federal authorities got a break in the case late last year, when Tenamee traveled under his own name and Amsterdam officials learned from checking his passport that he was wanted in the United States.

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