A federal judge in Alexandria yesterday sentenced four members of a Northern Virginia-based cocaine distribution ring to prison terms as some of the defendants wept and relatives in the courtroom sobbed openly.
"There was no reason in the kingdom of heaven for you to have been in the business you were in," U.S. District Court Judge Oren R. Lewis told the defendants. The four were convicted July 26 of running a multimillion dollar drug network, partly from an apartment three of them shared in a posh Arlington condominium. None held regular jobs during the year-long period covered by their indictment, according to court testimony.
"You are all intelligent, and you come from good families," said Lewis, 77, who presided over the four-day trial during which a District of Columbia police detective testified he had successfully infiltrated the ring while posing as a pornographer.
Defense lawyer R. Kenneth Mundy told Lewis that the defendants were "not bad people. There was no violence here.... They were misled, misguided, perhaps by the folly of youth or the appearance of easy money."
But Lewis said, "the public has a right to be portected, and know that their children will not be subjected to cocaine, phenobarbital, and all these other dope pills.
"Why, drug use is increasing in grade school because of people like you," Lewis said as the defendants sat with bowed heads in front of him. No evidence was presented at the trial that the ring sold drugs directly to minors.
"I can imagine getting high one night, I was a boy once myself, but you did it for a long time...you did it for a mundane thing called money," Lewis said, his voice dropping.
"I wish I didn't have to sentence any of you to prison, but such it is...." he added.
Lewis then sentenced Michael F. Tillery and Wayne M. Hargrove to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Defendant William B. Robinson received a seven-year sentence and Paulette Ashton received a four-year sentence.
As the sentences were read, members of the defendants' families, who had crowded into Lewis' second-floor courtroom, burst into tears. One woman sobbed so loudly that a U.S. marshal asked her to quiet herself so the court proceedings could continue.
In addition to their conspiracy convictions, Tillery, Hargrove and Robinson also were convicted of illegal distribution of cocaine, and illegal use of a telephone. Lewis sentenced them to three years in prison for each of those counts, but lived up to an earlier promise that all sentences could be served at the same time.
Conspiracy to distribute cocaine carries a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
A fifth convicted defendant, Marian Starr, was ill yesterday and is scheduled to be sentenced next week, her attorney said.
Tillery, 30, told Lewis he was "truly sorry for any inconvenience caused to my loved ones and friends and family" by his drug activities. But Tillery vehemently denied a previous statement made in court by D.C. police detective Michael E. Hubbard that Tillery had continued selling cocaine from his Alexandria home after his indictment.
Lewis revoked bond for all five defendants after their July 26 conviction.
Ashton, 29, the mother of two small children, told Lewis in a quaking voice that the time she had spent in jail since her conviction "has tought me a great lesson." She promised Lewis that he would "never again have a problem with me.... I want to go home to my children," she said.
Hargrove, 26, had the hardest time addressing the court.
"I've caused my mother, and my father, especially, great humiliation," he said, struggling to maintain his composure. "Miss Ashton was with me when we had a love for one another. She should be judged for that and not for anything else," he said.
Hargrove and Ashton had lived together in a $850-a-month apartment at the Representative condominium building in Arlington during the year long period covered by the indictment. Tillery had also lived at the apartment, and Robinson was identified as a "courier" of cocaine for the ring.
Robinson, 23, expressed "sorrow" for his actions.