Federal prosecutors Friday requested early prison release for Rayful Edmond III, the notorious D.C. drug kingpin who oversaw a massive cocaine ring in the 1980s that authorities said fueled the crack epidemic in the nation’s capital.
In a nine-page filing in U.S. District Court, prosecutors said Edmond had been working with the government over many years, helping authorities understand the workings of the drug trade and convict other dealers.
His cooperation “ranged from assisting in the conviction of extremely violent individuals, to assisting in the conviction of ongoing narcotics trafficking to assisting in the institution of prison reforms,” prosecutors wrote.
They did not recommend a specific sentence reduction but asked U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to weigh Edmond’s cooperation and criminal history.
Edmond, 54, is serving life without parole for federal drug distribution convictions as well as an additional 30 years for dealing drugs behind bars.
Prosecutors say Edmond began cooperating with the government in 1997 and continued through 2014.
“The defendant’s cooperation has been both deep and wide,” the filing said. “At bottom, the defendant has made a significant contribution to the investigation and prosecution of others.”
Edmond oversaw an operation that brought up to 1,700 pounds of cocaine a month into the District in the mid-1980s. At one point, law enforcement officials estimated he was raking in as much as $2 million a week. Authorities said his enforcers were linked to as many as 30 slayings, although Edmond was never convicted in any homicides.
Known for his charisma, flashy cars and fancy jewelry, Edmond was feared and revered on District streets. With his name dropped in rap lyrics and his life story told in various films on TV and DVD, Edmond became a symbol of admiration for wannabe gangsters.
“Mr. Edmond’s story is one of transformation and redemption,” said his most recent attorney, Jason Downs. “He is cautiously optimistic that his case is now moving in a fair and just direction. He has paid his debt to society, with interest.”
Two prosecutors involved in the case said he has become a model inmate, mentoring younger prisoners over the years.
Others, though, said it would be a mistake to release Edmond.
Retired D.C. homicide detective Mitch Credle joined the D.C. police force in 1986. He said he believes prisoners who have been rehabilitated should have an opportunity to return to the community to make it better. But Credle said Edmond is not one of those people.
“I can’t see the government giving him a reduction, not the ‘Kingpin,’ ” Credle said. “The government said he was the biggest part of the problem. The government said he was a monster. Now the same government is saying it wants to reduce his sentence. I don’t think so.”
The prosecution’s proposed reduction applies only to Edmond’s life-without-parole sentence for his D.C. crimes. Prosecutors in Pennsylvania are reviewing his cooperation to determine whether to file a similar motion for a reduction in his 30-year sentence in those crimes, according to the D.C. filing.
Edmond, a father of two, grew up in a family in which drug-dealing and numbers-running were common. By the time he was in his mid-20s, he had created what was then the largest, deadliest drug network in the city, prosecutors said in court at the time.
Prosecutors often cited Edmond as a key player in the District’s crack epidemic, a plague that consumed many users, mostly African Americans, and led them to addiction, violence, prison and sometimes death. Many pregnant women also became frequent users, giving birth to underweight infants that were addicted to the drug.
Edmond ultimately downplayed his role, testifying later that he was only supplying what users demanded.
According to court documents and testimony, by 1986, when he was 22, Edmond was living a lavish lifestyle. He would jet to Las Vegas for a Sugar Ray Leonard fight, make frequent trips to boutiques in Georgetown and New York and go on shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. He was known for giving the youths in his M Street NE neighborhood $100 bills as if they were pieces of candy and giving District residents money for rent, medicine and other expenses, especially those whose families worked for him.
And he was a basketball fan who often sat courtside at Georgetown Hoyas basketball games, befriending some of the team’s top players off the court. Then-coach John Thompson famously confronted Edmond and ordered him to stay away from his players.
Edmond based his operation, which at some points involved more than 150 people, in Northeast Washington. On busy nights during that time, his employees carried out as many as 30 transactions a minute, according to court documents, selling Colombian cocaine brought in through Los Angeles.
Authorities said a dozen of Edmond’s enforcers, armed with automatic weapons including Uzi submachine guns, kept rival dealers away, killing those who tried to take over Edmond’s territory.
In 1988, Edmond’s drug empire started to cave when four men were arrested in Los Angeles after offering an undercover officer $1 million for a cache of cocaine. The men eventually led the officers to Edmond. He was arrested a year later.
During Edmond’s reign, the murder rate in the District climbed. In 1989, when Edmond was arrested, there were 434 homicides, more than twice as many in the District last year.
Edmond’s 56-day trial in U.S. District Court was unlike anything Washington had ever seen. The identities of the jurors were kept secret for their protection, marking the first time an anonymous jury was ever used in the District.
On Feb. 13, 1990, as he was handing down Edmond’s life sentence, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey seemed to suggest to Edmond that he may consider cooperating, telling him that “what you do from this day forward may provide basis” for a change in the sentence.
Edmond was sent to a maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania. While there, he continued to deal drugs, using the prison’s phone system to reach his contacts and suppliers on the outside.
Four years later, Edmond and other inmates were caught in an undercover sting. He pleaded guilty and ultimately was sentenced to 30 years in prison. But he also agreed to help prosecutors and ultimately assisted in drug trafficking and homicide cases, the court filing said.
In exchange, Edmond’s mother, who was in prison for her participation in his drug organization, was released early.
At some point, Edmond was placed into witness protection and his name was removed from the Bureau of Prisons public records.
Edmond’s cooperation with prosecutors continued after his mother was released from prison, prosecutors outlined in their filing. For example, over a span of four days in 2002, Edmond testified in the trial of former drug associates whom prosecutors called “the most violent drug trafficking” defendants ever prosecuted in the District. A year later, Edmond testified in another drug trafficking case in North Carolina.
Prosecutors also said Edmond provided “background and associational information” that was used in “numerous” wiretap investigations that helped lead to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of more than 100 drug dealers.
Edmond also helped authorities investigating numerous cold-case slayings, offering details about friendships, rivalries or feuds among victims and suspects. “Such information has helped investigators focus on certain individuals and eliminate others as suspects,” prosecutors wrote.
In addition, prosecutors wrote, he assisted in a Justice Department inspector general’s investigation, spending hours explaining how he and other prisoners had managed to use prison phones and visits to traffic drugs. As a result of that meeting, the Bureau of Prisons, prosecutors say, revamped the inmate telephone system.
A hearing on the request to reduce Edmond’s sentence is likely to be held in coming weeks or months.
Magda Jean-Louis and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.