Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Drug defendant linked to Mayor Shirley Franklin's ex-son-in-law pleads guilty, will cooperate with feds

Posted By on Tue, Mar 11, 2008 at 9:14 PM

GREENVILLE — A drug associate of Mayor Shirley Franklin's ex-son-in-law pleaded guilty to federal charges today, bringing an abrupt end to his trial on cocaine trafficking.

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As part of his plea deal, Ernest Watkins agreed to cooperate with federal authorities "about all criminal activities [of] which he has knowledge."

Watkins has been identified in federal documents and in open court as the person who supplied Kai Franklin Graham's then-husband, Tremayne Graham, with a gun that was later used to kill Graham's co-defendant, Ulysses Hackett, and Hackett's girlfriend, Misty Carter. No arrests have been made in the 2004 double-murder of Hackett and Carter, who were killed as they lay in bed inside Carter's Highland Avenue townhouse.

Like Watkins, Kai Franklin Graham — the mayor's daughter — also signed a cooperation agreement when she pleaded guilty in December 2007 to minor charges related to her ex-husband's crime ring.

Franklin Graham is scheduled to be sentenced Monday in federal court in Greenville on charges that she made structured financial payments to avoid federal detection. She, Graham, Watkins and more than a dozen other defendants linked to Graham have had cases brought in South Carolina, where Graham's drug ring delivered multi-kilo shipments of cocaine from Atlanta.

Tremayne Graham currently is serving a life sentence in a maximum-security federal prison for his role in a large-scale cocaine enterprise that the government has tied to the Atlanta-based Black Mafia Family. Graham was married to the mayor's daughter when the indictment against him was handed up in April 2004. The couple divorced in 2005, after Graham became a fugitive.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore would not comment on whether a murder indictment might be brought against Graham or whether Watkins' and Franklin Graham's cooperation would be sought in that investigation. "I can't talk about possible indictments," Moore said.

According to testimony offered during Graham's April 2007 sentencing, Graham suspected Hackett was a threat.

"Tremayne had concerns about Hackett being able to finger him," Scott King, another one of Graham's co-defendants, testified at the hearing. Moments later, King told the court that Graham "discussed getting a gun from Ernest [Watkins] to take care of the murder."

King testified that Graham later told him he had in fact been given a gun by Watkins, and that he in turn gave the gun to the head of their cocaine ring, Jerry "J-Rock" Davis. According to court documents, an associate of Davis', Jamad "Soup" Ali, was spotted by a witness leaving Misty Carter's townhouse shortly after she and Hackett were killed.

In addition to pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, Watkins admitted to making false statements to the government, a charge that stemmed from his 2006 appearance before a federal grand jury that was investigating Graham.

Though Watkins lied to the grand jury to protect Graham, he allegedly faced retribution for his actions. According to a document filed in Watkins' case late last year: "The United States ... has evidence that Watkins' arms bear burn marks and scars as the result of his kidnaping [sic.] and torture by drug dealing acquaintances of co-conspirator Tremayne Graham."

Watkins denied that he was tortured, claiming that the scars came from a motorcycle accident. As a result, the government hired an expert to examine the scars in an attempt to prove their origin. Results of the examination have not been made public.

"We never resolved that issue one way or another," Moore said.

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