Accused drug dealer, representing himself, hears prosecutors open their case

January 25, 2013

As prosecutors laid out the case against him, Antoine Jones took copious notes, loudly tearing sheets of paper from a notebook as he filled each page.

Jones, a former nightclub owner and suspected high-level cocaine dealer, is representing himself in what is his third trial on a drug conspiracy charge. If Friday’s brief proceedings in the District’s federal court were any indication, the next several weeks of arguments and testimony will provide several more memorable moments.

The allegations against Jones, 53, are serious. In her opening argument, federal prosecutor Courtney Spivey Urschel said he funneled hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, worth as much as $21,000 apiece, into the Washington area from Mexico, storing the drugs in Prince George’s County and elsewhere.

When FBI agents eventually moved in on Jones’s operation in October 2005, Urschel said, they seized 97 kilograms of cocaine from one stash house alone.

“They are very high up the distribution line,” Urschel said of Jones and his Mexican suppliers.

Jones, dressed in a baggy blue suit, with a U.S. marshal standing close behind him, occasionally glanced up from his notepad and smiled during Urschel’s opening argument. When she concluded, jurors were sent home to avoid weather-related travel complications.

With jurors dismissed, Jones, who is not trained as a lawyer, bantered with courthouse personnel. Arguing a minor evidence matter, he told U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle — who had previously urged him not to represent himself — that “the ruling that you made is perfect,” drawing a laugh from the dozen or so spectators in the courtroom.

He also complained that his meals in jail were inadequate and interfered with his ability to prepare for the case.

“This is new to me, and I been up studying, and the lunch that they give us is just bologna sandwiches,” Jones said.

Huvelle told a U.S. marshal to ask his supervisors whether Jones’s family members could bring him lunch, although she joked, “We’re not running a Marriott here.”

Jones has been in jail since FBI agents broke up the alleged operation in 2005. His first trial ended with the jury deadlocked. The Supreme Court reversed a conviction from the second trial, saying that Jones’s rights were violated when law enforcement officials attached a tracking device to his vehicle without a warrant.

Jones rejected a government plea offer that might have allowed him to serve as few as eight more years behind bars.

In this trial, prosecutors are seeking to connect Jones to the Fort Washington stash house and drugs without evidence from the tracking device. Urschel told jurors that they would be able to listen to recorded phone conversations between Jones and his suppliers, in which the men use poorly executed code language to hide that they are discussing cocaine.

Jurors will hear the men referring to drugs as “music” or “tickets,” Urschel said, sometimes citing “1 1 / 2 tickets” and “whole tickets.”

Urschel said that some of Jones’s Mexican suppliers will testify against him as part of plea deals, and jurors will see cellphone tower data that put Jones near the Fort Washington stash house.

Jones is expected to present his own opening argument Monday morning. His trial is expected to last several weeks.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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