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Monday, November 19, 2007

Meech pleads guilty

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DETROIT — After spending two years awaiting trial, Demetrius "Big Meech" Flenory pleaded guilty Nov. 19 to laundering drug money and running a continuing criminal enterprise. His plea ended a 15-year investigation into his role in the $270 million multistate cocaine ring the Black Mafia Family.

Meech, a 39-year-old hip-hop entrepreneur and Detroit native who ran BMF's Atlanta hub, stood with his hands clasped behind his back and admitted to U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn that he "supervised" the drug ring. (BMF was the subject of a three-part series published by CL last year.)

"I was the leader of a few individuals that was involved in this case," he told Cohn in a low, soft voice.

While a conviction on a continuing criminal enterprise charge carries a mandatory life sentence, Meech's guilty plea means he could face as little as 20 years. A sentencing date wasn't set.

The plea deal didn't include a cooperation agreement, meaning he won't be called to testify against his remaining co-defendants, including his brother, alleged BMF co-leader Terry "Southwest T" Flenory.

Only the Flenory brothers were charged under the continuing enterprise statute. BMF's second-in-command, Chad "J-Bo" Brown, pleaded guilty in April to cocaine and money laundering; he was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison. Brown's is the most stringent of any sentence handed down in the case so far. Like Meech, Brown refused to sign a cooperation agreement, which would have landed him a reduced sentence.

Meech is the 26th defendant to plead guilty in an indictment that charged 41 alleged co-conspirators. His brother and five other co-defendants are scheduled for trial Nov. 26. The remaining co-defendants are expected to plead guilty at a later date.

At a separate hearing held hours before Meech's plea, Cohn discussed the upcoming trial with prosecutors and defense. One of the issues defense attorneys raised is the government's intent to keep some of its witnesses secret. Terry's attorney, William Daniel, asked if the identities of three of those witnesses would be revealed. Assistant U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison replied that she would identify them a week before their scheduled testimony in the trial, which is expected to last six weeks.

"It may be that you should re-examine that," the judge said.

Soon after, Ison pointed out that most of the witnesses already had been identified in a document shared with defense attorneys. "There's a veritable wealth of witnesses already included on the government's list," she said.

Only three of the co-defendants who've pleaded guilty have agreed to cooperate. In addition, at least three others who haven't pleaded guilty are expected to cooperate. And BMF associates charged in other jurisdictions, including Atlanta, cut deals in exchange for testimony, too.

To date, more than 150 alleged BMF associates have been charged in more than a dozen indictments in at least seven states. Two of those cases were brought by the U.S. attorney's office in Atlanta, and one is in its early stages. Among those charged in that indictment is the rapper Barima "Bleu DaVinci" McKnight, and BMF's alleged third-in-command, Fleming "Ill" Daniels. Daniels also faces a murder charge out of Fulton County.

BMF associates have been arrested in connection with at least three violent attacks in Atlanta, including the 2004 shooting in the parking lot of a Midtown club with which Daniels is charged. That case has not yet been scheduled for trial.

What's more, Mayor Shirley Franklin's ex-son-in-law, who was sentenced last year to life in prison for cocaine charges related to BMF, is under investigation for his alleged role in the murder of his co-defendant and the co-defendant's girlfriend. The mayor's daughter is also being investigated for what she might have known about her then-husband's cocaine ring.

(Photo courtesy DeKalb County Sheriff's Office)

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