The self-described "godfather" and "four-star general" of a nationwide drug distribution ring, who reportedly told associates that he earned $3 million in three years by providing heroin to illicit drug wholesalers across the U.S., was sentenced to 22 years in prison by a Baltimore federal judge yesterday.
Richard Jack Phillips, 33, of the Los Angeles area called his drug ring "The Family" and conducted extensive training session for its members, according to testimony presented at a five-week trial in Baltimore this summer.
The group's trademark was distributing its Mexican brown heroin, diluted with a special "family" recipe for baked lactose that appealed to its customers, in plastic bags wrapped securely in black electrical tape, witnesses said.
"The package speaks for itself," Phillips reportedly would tell his coconspirators in the narcotics ring in describing his operation as a high-quality network.
Phillips was one of 21 persons indicted in the drug conspiracy last March. Since then three of the defendants have become fugitives including his alleged chief lieutenant, Charles Vincent Wagner; six others were convicted after a jury trial; six others pleaded guilty; charges against one defendant were dropped; three defendants were acquitted after trial, and one defendant was murdered in Michigan in a gangland-style execution.
The murdered defendant, Delano Harris, was cooperating with the government after the grand jury indictments. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert B. Schulman told the court yesterday that Harris would have been "the main witness" against Phillips, and that after Harris' death Phillips reportedly called other witnesses and said, "Now that people are being shot, who's side are you on?"
Phillips' attorney objected to the murder being mentioned at the sentencing, since no charges have been placed in connection with the shooting and no evidence has been introduced linking Phillips to it.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Young said he would ignore the remarks about the murder, but added that he felt a 22-year sentence was necessary because of extent of the drug conspiracy involved.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Schulman and peter O. Mueller had asked that Phillips be sentenced to file imprisonment, calling him a "danger to society" and the mastermind of one of the most sophisticated and complex drug conspiracies brought to court in this area.
The charges against Phillips and his organization were brought after a year-long Drug Enforcement Administration investigation in which three court-ordered wiretaps were used in Michigan, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
As outlined at the trial, Phillips imported drugs from Mexico and used couriers to transport it to "branch" outlets in such far flung communities as Ypsilanti, Mich., Warren and Columbus, Ohio, Flint, Mich., Youngstown, Ohio, Hillcrest Heights, Md., Hampton, Va., Detroit, Forestville, Md., Pittsburgh, Pa., and other towns in Pennsylvania, California, Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Recruits in the organization would be schooled in detail on how to become "players" in what Phillips called "the game" of drug distribution, witnesses said.
Women played a special role in the organization: they were to be under total control of the men. They were ordered to light the men's cigarettes, cook the lactose, make drinks, carry the drugs so the men wouldn't be the ones to face felony charges, and were shared sexually by the men.
Some of the women subsequently became government informants and testified against Phillips and his henchmen.
Since the murder of Harris, at least six witnesses or co-defendants in the case have been placed in the Justice Department's witness protection program and relocated under new names around the country.
According to those cooperating witnesses, Phillips and his top coworkers lived in high style in their various cities around the country - renting high-priced apartments, driving luxury cars and flying from city to city on pleasure as well as business trips. Phillips reportedly spent $5,000 for men's suits in one day, and then rounded out his wardrobe the next day by buying $3,500 worth of shirts, ties and shoes, investigators said.
Phillips, who wore a brown corduroy leisure suit at his sentencing yesterday, admitted during his trial that he was involved in drugs, but portrayed his role as minimal. Fugitive Wagner was the real kingpin and had enticed Phillips into the organization for a brief period of time, Phillips testified.
Several witnesses testified for the government, however, that Phillips was clarly the leader of the organization and that they had seen his operatives with four chunks of herion the size of five-pound bags of sugar.
One witness said that Phillips described Wagner as "his man," and said Phillips urged his distributors to quit any legitimate work they had to "get the way down into the game" and become full-time drug pushers.