Leader of city-based drug gang pleads guilty

He was in­dicted two years ago for head­ing a net­work that crossed the coun­try

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Justin Fen­ton jfen­ton@balt­sun.com

A Ja­maican na­tional in­dicted over two years ago for or­ches­trat­ing a cross-coun­try drug op­er­a­tion head­quar­tered in Baltimore sur­prised au­thor­i­ties by plead­ing guilty this week in U.S. Dis­trict Court.

Richard Byrd had been through sev­eral lawyers be­fore ask­ing to rep­re­sent him­self. Byrd in­di­cated he wanted to plead guilty just days be­fore a weeks-long trial in U.S. Dis­trict Court was to be­gin.

No one in the court­room was quite sure whether Byrd was se­ri­ous.

“Do we have a deal or do we not?” As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney James War­wick could be heard say­ing to Byrd after he was brought into the court­room.

Byrd’s re­sponse couldn’t be heard from the court­room gallery, but it caused War­wick to re­peat: “Do we have a deal or not?”

Byrd, 43, went on to plead guilty Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, sign­ing in the court­room a plea agree­ment that calls for him to re­ceive 26 years in prison for con­spir­acy to dis­trib­ute co­caine and mar­i­juana and con­spir­acy to com­mit money laun­der­ing. He will be for­mally sen­tenced in Fe­bru­ary.

War­wick told U.S. Dis­trict Judge Richard Ben­nett that Byrd had been the leader of a drug dis­tri­bu­tion net­work that ob­tained “multi-hun­dred kilo­gram” amounts of drugs from Mex­i­can sources in Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona, and dis­trib­uted them in Mary­land, Ohio and Penn­syl­va­nia.

The drugs were trans­ported by freight, with couri­ers tak­ing pro­ceeds to At­lanta and cities in Ne­vada, Texas, Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia, where they were used to re-up ad­di­tional drugs. The couri­ers used char­ter jets and com­mer­cial flights to bring the mil­lions in pro­ceeds back, pros­e­cu­tors said.

Pros­e­cu­tors say Byrd amassed mil­lions of dol­lars, and his plea agree­ment in­cluded a for­fei­ture or­der call­ing for him to give up $20 mil­lion, his in­ter­ests in a night­club in Man­hat­tan and prop­erty in Florida.

In an ear­lier bid to win his re­lease pend­ing trial, Byrd’s then-at­tor­ney had ar­gued that he was a high-roller who helped or­ga­nize ma­jor events for brands that drew celebri­ties and ath­letes.

Byrd, who pros­e­cu­tors said was born in Ja­maica, re­ceived five years in prison in the 1990s for a drug con­vic­tion.

In 2011, he was ar­rested in Ari­zona after al­legedly ne­go­ti­at­ing to pur­chase 2,200 pounds of mar­i­juana from un­der­cover of­fi­cers, and au­thor­i­ties seized $267,000 in cash Byrd brought to the deal, and an­other $749,000 seized from his res­i­dence. But vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted by the state led to dis­missal of the for­fei­ture.

Be­fore his plea, Byrd’s five co-con­spir­a­tors, in­clud­ing his brother, who led his Phoenix-area op­er­a­tions, had pleaded guilty. His mother and two half brothers had also pleaded guilty in sep­a­rate cases.

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of fil­ings in the case have been placed un­der seal, and dur­ing his plea agree­ment pros­e­cu­tors and his de­fense at­tor­neys met at the bench for a sealed, “waiver of at­tor­ney-client priv­i­lege mat­ters.”

Byrd has been on lock­down sta­tus at a fed­eral jail in Wash­ing­ton since March based on al­le­ga­tions that he was at­tempt­ing to in­tim­i­date or sway wit­nesses, one of his pre­vi­ous at­tor­neys said in a May court fil­ing, and this fall he pro­cured a cell­phone in a jail li­brary and called War­wick, caus­ing his li­brary priv­i­leges to be re­voked.

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