Once he was an auditor for the General Accounting Office.
Later, prosecutors said, Wilfred Sam Bell became a major cocaine and marijuana dealer around Dupont Circle.
Yesterday, Bell, 42, balding, and pale from a year in prison, told U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan how he had been "seduced" by cocaine.
You take some, he said. "You put the curtains down in your room and you withdraw from the world for a little while. You sleep for 16 to 18 hours and then you get up and try to get some more."
"I'm sorry that I was ever involved in any of that," Bell continued. "I wish I could roll back that time, but it cannot possibly be done."
Hogan remarked, "I only wish some of the high school and college students and some of the yuppies that are into cocaine could listen to what you had to say."
Then he imposed the sentence: five to 15 years in prison plus $20,000 in fines for taking part in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine and also selling a substantial quantity of the drug.
Under parole guidelines, Hogan told Bell that he could expect to remain in prison for at least 10 years. "You were a substantial dealer for a long period of time," the judge said. "There are an awful lot of other people who because of your activities became the same as you did, being essentially destroyed as a person for several years."
Bell, who grew up in a small town in Alabama, was convicted in March of taking part in what prosecutors called a "complex, sophisticated and lucrative" cocaine trafficking ring that operated between 1977 and 1982.
Also convicted were Fred B. Black Jr., a former Washington lobbyist, and two lawyers, Robert H. Burns of Miami and John C. Tarantino of East Orange, N.J. All three have been sentenced by Hogan to prison terms ranging from seven to 15 years.
During the trial, Bell was described as the ring's "biggest outlet" for cocaine in the Washington area, receiving one to three kilograms of cocaine a month for $60,000 to $180,000.
Yesterday Bell said he had offered to plead guilty to the conspiracy charge, but prosecutors turned him down because he refused to testify against anyone else. So far seven defendants in the case, including the acknowledged ringleader, Lawrence G. Strickland Jr., have pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government. But Bell said, "It may be old-fashioned. I'm not going to buy my freedom with somebody else's."
Hogan said that sense of honor was "misplaced."
Bell went to England before he was indicted in 1983. He has been in prison here since he was extradited a year ago.