Maurice "Papa Joe" Williams guilty of running a drug empire that brought hundreds and possibly thousands of kilos of cocaine to the region over 10 years.Jurors also concluded that Williams, 34, was guilty of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and marijuana, using a firearm during a drug crime and 26 counts of using a phone to distribute drugs.Family and friends of the defendant wept when the decision was announced in U.S. District Court in Columbus. One woman was so overcome that she left the courtroom sobbing as the verdicts were read. Several other supporters followed her.Many in the crowded gallery had attended the entire seven-day trial in the courtroom of Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr."Keep your heads up," Williams told supporters as he was handcuffed and led from the courtroom by deputy U.S. marshals.
Federal prosecutors were "thrilled" with the verdicts, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David DeVillers. He called Williams the biggest cocaine dealer in central Ohio during the past decade.The FBI and Columbus police had been trying to nail Williams and those who worked for him for years and finally charged him after wire-tapping 10,000 phone calls and persuading 11 co-conspirators to testify against him. Thirty people have pleaded guilty for their roles in the operation.The jury began deliberating Wednesday and returned the verdicts yesterday afternoon.The conviction for operating a continuing criminal enterprise, known as the federal "kingpin" statute, carries a sentence of 20 years at minimum to a maximum of life in prison. The other counts carry terms ranging from four years to life. Sargus will set a sentencing date after receiving a presentencing report, which can take about 60 days.DeVillers and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robyn Hahnert had laid out a case against Williams that had the makings of a Hollywood thriller: fancy cars, expensive jewelry, a car chase through Atlanta, drugs stashed in hidden compartments and messages in code.At the center was Williams, who "lived the high life" and had the following of a rock star, prosecutors said."He was easily a millionaire," yet never had a job and never filed an income-tax return, DeVillers said. He had a home on Columbus' North Side and in Georgia, officials said.Williams hardly ever touched the cocaine himself or, later, the marijuana he brought to the area, prosecutors said.
"This sends a message that you can't insulate yourself by using mules," DeVillers said of the verdicts. "You can't just use other people and hope that they'll do the time for you."The government built its case on recorded phone conversations between Williams and his assistants, conversations about "Smokey Robinson" or "nifty," both code words for marijuana, and a "piggie," the code for a pound of drugs.
Police surveillance put Williams at area stash houses where drugs were brought in from Detroit, Atlanta or Houston and distributed to dealers.And co-conspirators with names such as "Little D," "Tone" and "Rabbit" testified that Williams called the shots while carefully ensuring that others did the dirty work of picking up and distributing the drugs.Williams' attorneys, Jeffrey Brandt and Matthew Robinson, called no defense witnesses."The government has created a story that can't be backed up," Brandt said in closing arguments. He contended that the taped phone conversations, evidence found by police and surveillance weren't enough to convict Williams without corroborating witness testimony.And those witnesses, he said, couldn't be trusted to tell the truth because they were trying to minimize their own prison time by testifying against Williams.
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