For the first time since he operated one of the most profitable crack cocaine empires in the nation’s capital, former drug kingpin Rayful Edmond III on Wednesday apologized to District residents for the wave of addiction and violence he helped bring to their city.
He testified for about 23 minutes, under oath, in front of U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, often shifting in his chair to face the judge as he asked for a chance to someday walk free.
Gone was the cocky 30-something who once defiantly told a jury that he never forced anyone to use crack and that if he did not provide the drugs, “someone else would.”
Now 54 and balding, having spent 30 years in prison, he spoke of mentoring troubled youth, regrets of “letting down” his loved ones and community, and his hope of reconnecting with his family.
“If I am released, I would love to go back to into the community to help kids change themselves. I feel like I would be making up for my wrongs, to get people to go down a different path from me,” Edmond said.
Federal prosecutors say Edmond has cooperated with authorities for two decades, helping them convict other drug dealers and investigate murder cases and, in exchange, deserves to have his life sentence cut short. They have asked that his sentence be reduced to 40 years.
Edmond’s lawyer, Jason Downs, argued that his client deserves a much bigger break: a 15-year sentence. If Sullivan agrees, some of Edmond’s time behind bars would then be applied to a separate 30-year sentence he has yet to begin serving for dealing drugs out of a prison in Pennsylvania. Prosecutors there say they have not decided if they will seek a reduction in that sentence.
Sullivan, a D.C. native, called the case among “the most difficult and challenging” of his judicial career. Members of Edmond’s family and spectators filled his courtroom Wednesday.
A day before the hearing, new details about Edmond’s life in prison, his drug-selling career and his years as an informant were made public in 79 pages of court documents that Sullivan ordered unsealed.
The documents provided an inside glimpse into Edmond’s world, how he worked with prosecutors and police, and how authorities sought to keep the extent of that ongoing relationship secret for his protection.
Edmond was once held under an assumed name in a local jail in Pennsylvania. Another time, he was placed in solitary for six months, which “helped convince the inmates that he was not cooperating and that he was being punished by prison officials,” prosecutors said.
Edmond provided information that allowed authorities to obtain multiple wire taps and to secure convictions of more than 100 drug dealers. He helped authorities solve two murders that occurred in the prison where he was housed.
On the witness stand Wednesday, retired FBI agent Steve Benjamin recalled meeting Edmond in 1994 and confronting him about his drug dealing behind bars. He said Edmond broke into tears, shocking him and his colleagues.
“It was the most extraordinary moment of my career,” said Benjamin, who had started at the FBI in the 1970s. “We were all stunned. He told us he was ready to stop [dealing drugs] but didn’t know how.”
Benjamin testified that he told Edmond then he would not be able to offer any type of incentive for his cooperation. “But I told him I could offer him an opportunity to be able to sleep at night for the first time in his life. He realized he was in over his head and this was his only way out.”
In addition to his other help, Edmond revealed loopholes in an inmate phone system that allowed him to deal drugs from within the prison, and he worked with authorities to overhaul it.
Two preachers and a D.C. youth leader spoke at the hearing about how, in 1997, Edmond telephoned from prison into a meeting to mediate a peace treaty between two rival teenage gangs in Southeast Washington.
Edmond, steered by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dominguez during monthly telephone conversations over a period of years, provided authorities details about the lives of murder suspects and victims, describing street rivalries and friendships that helped focus investigations.
Dominguez wrote in one draft filing that detectives had “closed out several” homicides with Edmond’s help but that there was “no official way” of counting such closures or how the cases were closed. Last week, the new lead prosecutor on Edmond’s resentencing, John Crabb Jr., wrote in a filing that Edmond’s information never led to any arrests.
The newly released documents, which date more than a decade, detail how Dominguez in recent years had pushed for a bigger break for Edmond than the 40-year sentence the U.S. attorney’s office ultimately requested. In an undated draft motion, Dominguez wrote that Edmond’s sentence should be immediately cut short to the time he already had served.
Downs contends those communications amount to a promise by federal prosecutors that should be honored. In a motion, he argued the U.S. attorney’s office delayed seeking a reduction for fear of “potential negative publicity or media attention.”
But federal prosecutors say Dominguez made clear his drafts were merely recommendations that required approval from the U.S. attorney. U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu ultimately sought the resentencing, which was also considered by her two predecessors. Liu made a brief appearance at the hearing.
In one 2017 email to Edmond’s attorneys, Dominguez wrote that “there is a considerable body of federal prosecutors — not all — who firmly believe that Rayful Edmond III deserves to die in prison.”
Edmond, who was convicted in the District in 1989, oversaw an operation that brought up to 1,700 pounds of cocaine a month into the city. 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.
In a Nov. 21, 2010, typed letter to Dominguez, Edmond outlined some of his work with authorities.
He first cooperated to secure the early release from prison of his mother, Constance “Bootsie” Perry, who worked as part of his drug operation. In the courtroom during the hearing, Perry sat along with about 30 other members of Edmond’s family.
Edmond also wrote that in 1999, he was accepted into the federal witness protection program and then sent to a prison in Minnesota. “For the last 17 years, I have dedicated myself in helping assist many law enforcement agencies, in the metropolitan area of Virginia, Maryland and D.C. I will continue in my assistance until my cooperation is no longer needed,” Edmond wrote.
In a filing that was never submitted to the court, Dominguez said that seeking a reduction to Edmond’s sentence in the mid-1990s was not an option because the city “was still reeling from a dramatic increase in drug-related murders, which the media, politicians, community leaders and others attributed directly or indirectly to Edmond’s introduction of crack cocaine.”
Dominguez wrote that Edmond only continued to sell drugs out of the Pennsylvania prison because he feared that if he stopped, he would be killed in retaliation.
In court Wednesday, Dominguez spoke fondly of Edmond and repeatedly said how Edmond is a different person than the man he prosecuted in 1989.
“He made a decision to show everyone that he had changed and that he was no longer the same 24-year-old that I prosecuted and who I argued in 1990 should be put in jail for life,” Dominguez said.
Sullivan asked Edmond how he got into dealing drugs. “Based on everything I read about you and your business acumen, you could have been the head of a distribution company somewhere like Amazon,” the judge said.
Edmond, who graduated from Dunbar High School, said he had been around drugs his entire life and “chose the wrong path.”
Sullivan said he will issue a written ruling in the coming weeks. He then asked Edmond if he was worried about his life should he be released.
“I can’t be concerned about my safety. I wasn’t concerned when I was out on the streets, and something could have happened to me quicker then,” he said. “God has a plan for my life.”
With a letter of support from Kim Kardashian-West, D.C. man convicted of murder gets a second chance