Former D.C. nightclub owner Antoine Jones was sentenced Wednesday in federal court to 15 years in prison for his role in a cocaine-trafficking conspiracy, ending a long-running case that led to three trials and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the use of Global Positioning System devices for police surveillance.
Until he pleaded guilty to a drug charge, Jones had thwarted prosecutors for several years, most recently in a trial that ended in March with a hung jury after he acted as his own attorney. His first trial also produced a deadlocked jury.
Jones’s conviction and life sentence from a second trial were reversed last year by the Supreme Court in a landmark privacy case that restricted the police’s ability to use GPS devices to track criminal suspects. Investigators had based their case in part on evidence gathered while tracking Jones’s Jeep for nearly a month.
Jailed since October 2005, Jones, 53, faced the prospect of a fourth trial in a case that focused on a pipeline of cocaine from Mexico to the Washington region. He reached a plea deal with prosecutors that won approval Wednesday from U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle.
“This has been a long haul, Mr. Jones,” Huvelle said at a hearing at the D.C. federal courthouse. “Good luck to you, and I hope you don’t have any further problems.”
Jones, who owned the now-defunct Levels club in Northeast D.C., pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. His sentence gives him credit for time already served, so he faces 71 / 2 more years behind bars. Jones also was sentenced to five years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and standing with his hands behind his back, Jones represented himself at the hearing, with backup from a court-appointed attorney. After eight years of legal battles, it was the first time he acknowledged his role in the conspiracy, an accusation he fought vigorously at his last trial.
The deal also brought closure for the U.S. attorney’s office, which had aggressively pursued Jones since his 2005 arrest and had invested heavily in the case.
“For all the courtroom drama over the last eight years, at the end of the day, Jones’s fate will be the same as the hundreds of other drug dealers we have prosecuted in recent years,” said Bill Miller, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. “Jones will spend 15 years in prison because he tried to profit personally by exploiting other people’s addictions.”
Prosecutors noted that Jones was the 11th person convicted in the conspiracy.
In the courtroom, Jones indicated his assent to the terms of the deal as Huvelle read them aloud. “Correct,” Jones said more than once in a subdued voice, adding, “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, your honor.”
Jones acknowledged that he had participated in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine in the District and elsewhere from the end of 2003 until his arrest. A written statement of facts filed with the agreement said, “Jones admits that he is accountable for at least 50 but less than 150 kilograms of cocaine” distributed through the scheme.
Among the terms: He must forfeit his share of more than $980,000 seized from his vehicle and a stash house in Fort Washington.
Jones told the judge he was glad the case had been brought to a close. “Anybody I hurt, I’m sorry,” he said. He asked to be imprisoned near Atlanta to be near relatives.
Afterward, he shook hands with prosecutor Darlene Soltys, an assistant U.S. attorney.
Law enforcement officials seized 97 kilograms of cocaine from the Fort Washington house in 2005. They tried to link the drugs directly to Jones in part by tracking his whereabouts.
In January 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that authorities had violated Jones’s Fourth Amendment rights when they attached a GPS device to his Jeep, without a valid court warrant, to monitor his movements for four weeks. The ruling was considered a victory for privacy advocates and a significant development in the rules for electronic surveillance in the digital age.
This January, prosecutors disclosed in court that they were offering Jones a plea deal. He spurned the offer and decided to represent himself in his third trial, against Huvelle’s advice. Jones is not trained as a lawyer.
At one point in that trial, Jones declared: “This is my first time ever doing something like this. I’m fighting for my life.” He urged jurors to consider him innocent “until this government proves me guilty.”