Suspected D.C. drug kingpin offered plea deal

January 16, 2013

A suspected D.C. drug kingpin, whose conviction and life sentence were reversed by the Supreme Court last year, is negotiating a plea deal with federal prosecutors that could keep him behind bars for as little as eight years.

Federal prosecutors had been preparing to take former nightclub owner Antoine Jones to trial for a third time next week after the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors had violated his rights when they attached a global positioning system device to Jones’s Jeep without a warrant to allow them to track his movements for a month.

The case addressed sweeping issues about how law enforcement’s use of technology intersects with privacy rights.

In court Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darlene M. Soltys said the government had offered Jones, 53, two deals that could result in sentences of 15 to 22 years, with credit for the seven years he has been in jail. Jones would have to agree to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge.

U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, who also presided over the first two trials, urged Jones to think carefully about the consequences of passing up the government’s offer.

“I know you’ve rejected good advice before,” she said. “It’s your choice, but at the end of the day, it’s life.”

For more than an hour, defense attorneys and prosecutors, including U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, huddled in Huvelle’s chambers, discussing the terms of a possible plea agreement. But back in the courtroom, Jones did not seem inclined to make a deal.

“I said no today,” Jones told the judge. “I’m preparing for trial.”

Prosecutors gave Jones until Thursday, when the two sides reconvene, to consider the offer. Under the first option, Jones would give up his right to appeal and the judge would set a sentence ranging from 15 to 20 years in prison. The second option would allow Jones to preserve his right to ask for a hearing on the admissability of evidence obtained from wiretaps, but the judge would set a sentence ranging from 17 to 22 years.

Defense attorneys have said that the GPS evidence the Supreme Court threw out was critical to the government’s case because it linked Jones to a Fort Washington stash house where law enforcement in 2005 found nearly $1 million in cash and almost 100 kilos of cocaine — an unprecedented haul at the time.

But in recent weeks, Huvelle has twice ruled in the government’s favor, allowing prosecutors to present evidence at trial seized from the stash house and permitting cell tower data that helped law enforcement locate the house. Prosecutors said in court Wednesday that they also plan to call two new corroborating witnesses to help make their case.

Jones has been in prison since 2005, when prosecutors busted what they said was a major drug-trafficking ring with direct ties to Mexico.

In his first trial, jurors deadlocked on many charges against Jones, including conspiracy. In his second trial, he was convicted and given a life sentence that was eventually reversed on appeal.

Huvelle expressed apparent frustration with the lengthy legal wrangling Wednesday when she addressed Jones about the offer.

“You’re a rational guy. Either you can do it tomorrow or today,” she said. “We’re all exhausted.”

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