D.C. Assault co-founder Curtis Malone was sentenced to 100 months in federal prison in U.S. District Court on Wednesday after pleading guilty in March to distributing large amounts of cocaine and heroin.
One of six co-defendants in the case, Malone had previously admitted responsibility for at least five kilograms but fewer than 15 kilograms of cocaine and heroin as part of a narcotics conspiracy that prosecutors alleged dates from at least August 2012 and may have spanned the East Coast.
In front of a courtroom full of supporters, Malone, 45, expressed remorse and regret for his actions after Judge Ellen S. Huvelle asked him: “Why do this? It’s a big fall, a real double life.” Malone explained his role in the conspiracy was the result of having too much pride to ask for help upon encountering “a couple financial situations I put myself in.”
“I’m standing in front of you with no excuses . . . I thought this was a quick way to fix the issue,” Malone said in his first extended public comments since being arrested last August. He then referenced the three months he spent in prison because of a 1990 conviction on charges of possession with the intent to distribute cocaine.
“Twenty years later,” Malone added. “I’m back to what got me in trouble before.”
His arguments for leniency Wednesday hinged on more than 30 letters of support, including ones written by West Virginia men’s basketball Coach Bob Huggins, Drexel men’s basketball Coach Bruiser Flint, DeMatha High Coach Mike Jones, D.C. Assault alumni and parents and current Washington area high school basketball players.
Malone’s plea agreement included a sentencing guideline of five to 10 years. His attorney, Billy Martin, argued Wednesday for a sentence of five or six years. “I’m disappointed,” Martin said after Huvelle’s ruling. “Curtis understands what he did and accepted responsibility. We thought all the good deeds he had done in the community would help him.”
Malone originally faced a mandatory prison sentence of at least 25 years after police recovered one kilogram of cocaine, 84 grams of heroin, a .44-caliber semiautomatic handgun and paraphernalia associated with the distribution of controlled substances last August as part of a year-long Drug Enforcement Agency investigation that included wiretaps on two of Malone’s cell phones and video surveillance of his Upper Marlboro neighborhood. Law enforcement officials also seized one kilogram of cocaine from co-defendant Stephen Williams, Malone’s cousin, after he emerged from Malone’s home that day and $70,000 in cash.
Malone had spent the past 20 years after his release building D.C. Assault into one of the nation’s most prominent AAU basketball programs, producing future NBA players such as Jeff Green, Michael Beasley, Keith Bogans and Nolan Smith, Malone’s stepson.
A pre-sentencing investigation revealed Malone filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and was granted a discharge of more than $884,000 in January 2013. In addition, the Prince George’s County Circuit Court ruled Malone owed $12,178.96 in tax liens in July 2013. In 2008, he was also ordered by a Prince George’s County judge to pay $9,257.39 in back taxes.
Dalonte Hill, a former assistant coach for the Maryland men’s basketball team and one of several former D.C. Assault players and coaches who attended Wednesday’s hearing, also indicated some of the financial strain upon Malone came as a result of a lawsuit Beasley filed against Malone and NBA agent Joel Bell in Montgomery County Circuit Court in 2011.
“He was just trying to keep his head above water,” Hill said of Malone.
But assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Gripkey said in court Wednesday that Malone lived in a 5,000-square-foot home in a wealthy Upper Marlboro neighborhood, once received a monthly allowance of as much as $7,000 from one NBA player who had previously played for D.C. Assault and had a consulting contract that paid him $60,000 per year as recently as the “mid-2000s.”
Gripkey also mentioned Malone’s half-brother had died of a heroin overdose.
“He saw the suffering that it caused . . . and none of that mattered,” Gripkey said.
Malone showed little emotion throughout the proceedings and walked out of the courtroom Wednesday wearing an orange prison jump suit. Many of his family and friends left in tears.
As she sentenced Malone, Huvelle said, “The irony is the very community you sought to help, you hurt.”