Man given 41 months in unique drug case

Merchant sold dealers sweetener for heroin

November 02, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

In a case that is a legal first nationwide, a Pikesville businessman was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison yesterday for selling a candy sweetener to drug dealers who used it to dilute up to $500 million worth of heroin.

Abdelhamid Ouaffi, 45, a U.S. citizen and native of Morocco, had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison after pleading guilty last year to the drug kingpin statute.

But U.S. District Court Judge Benson E. Legg agreed to give Ouaffi a reduced sentence yesterday after prosecutors said that his testimony helped convict three major players in Maryland's drug trade - including the two men who were in business with him.

"I have never had this level of cooperation from a single defendant," Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Clarke told Legg yesterday.

The case is unique, because the federal drug kingpin law had previously been applied only to those who sold drugs, and not to anyone who provided dealers with their supplies, Clarke said.

"The hope is that through the convictions that were secured with the help of Mr. Ouaffi's testimony, this case will create some sort of national deterrent in the future," Clarke told Legg.

Ouaffi, John David Anderson of Columbia and Ronald Eric Marshall of Aberdeen were charged under the federal kingpin statute with selling 12,000 grams of mannitol - the powdery sugar found on gum wrappers - at stores they operated under the trade name H&J Wholesale.

H&J had two retail stores in the 1800 block of N. Charles St. and warehouses in Aberdeen and Glen Burnie and was a leading East Coast supplier of 1-ounce packages of mannitol, called "blocks." The stores also sold other drug paraphernalia, including glass vials, gelatin capsules and plastic bags.

Anderson and Marshall, who are brothers-in-law, were convicted by a federal jury in December and were each sentenced to 20 years after Ouaffi testified against them.

Clarke told Legg yesterday that Ouaffi began cooperating with prosecutors shortly after his arrest, acknowledging that he helped run the company.

Legg, who presided over the trial for Anderson and Marshall in December, said he considered Ouaffi's testimony a key to the government's case.

"It was crucial that someone on the inside of the business testify that they knew who the customers were and knew how the product was being used," Legg said.

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