Brian Lee Tribble, acquitted in 1987 of supplying the fatal dose of cocaine to University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, narrowly escaped from federal agents during an undercover drug operation late Thursday night at a Prince George's County hotel, police said.
Coincidentally and unbeknownst to federal drug agents, it was the same hotel where the jurors in the drug and perjury trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry have been sequestered, authorities said.
Authorities were preparing a warrant for Tribble's arrest yesterday on charges that Tribble arranged with federal undercover agents to buy a kilogram of cocaine and have it delivered to an accomplice in the parking lot of the Sheraton Inn in New Carrollton, said Peter Gruden, special agent in charge of the Washington field office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Alternately portrayed as the mastermind behind a plot to sell cocaine to Maryland athletes and a scapegoat for a friend's death, Brian Tribble became synonymous with the scandal that plagued the university in the wake of Bias's cocaine-induced death.
A failed University of Maryland student who spent hours with his collegiate friends, Tribble was known for his fancy clothes, cars and apartment. After his 1987 trial and a remorseful television interview, he dropped from the public eye but remained a subject of interest to narcotics investigators. Investigators suspect he has been a major trafficker in the Washington area for several years.
Tribble, who was watching the Thursday night transaction from another part of the hotel parking lot, fled as DEA agents moved to arrest his alleged accomplice, Daniel D. Thomas, 29, Gruden said. Thomas, of the 7700 block of Gambier Drive in Upper Marlboro, was charged wth possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
"The transaction was made to Thomas, per Tribble's directions," said Gruden. "Tribble was in his vehicle and when he saw something he didn't like, he sped from the scene."
Tribble, 27, led FBI and DEA agents and Prince George's County police on a brief but fast chase before abandoning his Nissan 300 ZX and escaping on foot near Route 450 and the Capital Beltway, authorities said.
DEA agents who saw Tribble speed from the lot ran after him. An FBI agent, attempting to stop Tribble, rammed his car into the speeding Nissan during the chase, authorities said.
Police using helicopters and dogs combed the area for Tribble for more than two hours before abandoning the search.
Thomas C. Morrow, Tribble's attorney, said yesterday that he was making arrangements for Tribble to surrender to federal authorities. Morrow said he did not know Tribble's whereabouts but had been in contact with him by telephone.
"I advised him that he had a legal obligation to surrender, regardless of what he thought of the charges," Morrow said. "He has agreed to do that, if not today then as soon as we can on Monday."
The drug operation was discussed at a hearing yesterday afternoon in the Barry case. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said he had been informed by an official with the U.S. Marshals Service that the jurors "were oblivious to the event that took place."
Barry's attorney, R. Kenneth Mundy, said, however, he still would like the judge to question each juror at some point to determine the extent of their knowledge of the incident.
U.S. Marshal Herbert M. Rutherford said yesterday that the jurors were unaware of the undercover operation.
Mundy later told reporters that he had been told the jurors had been moved to an undisclosed location.
Gruden said that federal agents would have selected another location for the sting if they had known the Barry jurors were staying at the hotel.
Tribble and undercover agents negotiated a deal for him to purchase four kilograms of cocaine, the first of which was to be delivered on Thursday night, Gruden said. During the negotiations, Tribble arranged for the delivery to be made to Thomas, Gruden said.
Morrow, Tribble's attorney, said the current drug charges are the first that he is aware of that have been brought against Tribble since he was acquitted in the Bias case.
Tribble's name has surfaced several times in recent years in connection with allegations of drug dealing, most recently during the cocaine-conspiracy trial of Rayful Edmond III. Prosecution witness James Minor testified that Tribble was present in one of the District's drug market areas in 1988, and pointed out a woman who allowed them to place cocaine in her car.
In October 1989, two District men driving a 1979 Mercedes-Benz owned by Tribble were arrested by DEA agents during an Alexandria sting operation, and later were convicted of possessing 15 kilograms of cocaine with the intent to sell it.
Staff writer Elsa Walsh contributed to this report.