Ecstasy supplier gets 22-month term

Former officer avoided stiffer punishment by aiding police inquiries

May 02, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A former Baltimore police officer who became a major local supplier of the club drug Ecstasy while he was suspended from the force in 2000 for disciplinary problems was sentenced yesterday to nearly two years in federal prison.

John H. Wilson, 28, a seven-year veteran who said he "lived and breathed" police work, got two key breaks in his drug case in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that kept him from facing a much stiffer punishment.

By chance, Wilson's arrest in December 2000 occurred just months before Congress sharply raised the penalties for selling the chemical drug, methylene-dioxmethamphetamine, better known as Ecstasy, amid growing national concerns about the drug's use by teen-agers and college students at late-night dance parties.

Wilson, who was convicted in December, also avoided a stiffer sentence by giving authorities detailed information on a range of illegal activity in the city. Most substantially, a federal prosecutor said yesterday, information provided by Wilson led to the federal money laundering convictions this year of three men linked to the Ritz Cabaret nightclub in Fells Point.

In handing down a 22-month prison sentence yesterday, U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin noted Wilson's "extraordinary" cooperation with authorities. Smalkin, who also presided over the separate nightclub case, said Wilson's help "resulted in getting off the streets not only people who had very little regard for the law but also the ability to commit further crimes."

Wilson, former officer in the Southeastern District, told the judge that he loved his work upholding the law and was deeply sorry for his slide into the drug trade that cost him his career.

"I consider myself a pretty verbose person," Wilson said. "And the emotions I have right now go beyond words, even beyond human comprehension."

Wilson and three other men were charged in December 2000 with operating an area Ecstasy ring, which police dismantled using confidential informants, surveillance at Wilson's home in the 1300 block of Bethlehem Ave. and wiretaps on Wilson's home and cellular phones.

A police search of Wilson's home after his arrest turned up 30,000 Ecstasy tablets, each with a street value of $20 to $30. Investigators also said Wilson was conspiring to build an in-house laboratory to manufacturer Ecstasy pills. That venture, which never was launched, could have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Congress enacted tougher penalties last spring for people found guilty of trafficking in or manufacturing Ecstasy, putting the drug in the same sentencing categories as cocaine or heroin. The new guidelines could have doubled Wilson's sentence, but they did not apply in his case because he was charged before the new rules were adopted.

In court yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip S. Jackson said Wilson's sentence should reflect his leadership role in the drug ring and his plans to expand into manufacturing the drug.

"He was trying to more or less create a factory," Jackson said. "He was crowing on the phone about soon they would have this factory up and be able to flood the market" with Ecstasy.

But prosecutors acknowledged that, after his arrest, Wilson quickly agreed to cooperate with authorities and provided a wealth of detailed, critical information about criminal activity, particularly in South Baltimore. Wilson's attorney, Howard Margulies, said his client provided investigators with more than 40 names, addresses and nicknames -- details only a former officer could provide.

Wilson called police work his "identity," saying in court yesterday: "It was my life. I lived and breathed it. ... As far as I was concerned, it was the greatest job on Earth."

He joined the city Police Department in 1993, and he said his troubles started two years later when he said he faced internal retribution for reporting corruption problems. In a lengthy explanation about the inner working of the department, Wilson said in court that he thought his suspension in 2000 for insubordination could be traced to those earlier problems.

While suspended, Wilson went on a paid medical leave. He was fired after his arrest on drug charges.

Wilson declined to comment after his sentencing. In court, he said he hoped that, after completing his prison term, he will find work with the National Guard, return to school "and try to get back a little of what I've lost."

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