Published: August 3, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - After his motion for acquittal failed last month, Vernon Fagan on Wednesday became the latest defendant to be sentenced in a 2005 drug bust known as Operation Red Ball.
Fagan was convicted of drug conspiracy charges after federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents saw him make at least two suspected drug drops in 2005 affiliated with a drug ring led by Gelean Mark, according to court records. The government also used wiretaps to record Fagan and others discussing "bricks" and circumventing U.S. Customs and Border Patrol boats to make deliveries.
Two individuals also testified that Fagan knowingly participated in cocaine deliveries, according to court records.
"The evidence presented at trial shows that Fagan agreed to pick up cocaine that Mark had delivered to the shores of St. Thomas on at least two occasions," U.S. District Judge Curtis Gomez wrote in a July memorandum upholding Fagan's conviction.
The evidence also supported the conclusion that Fagan followed Mark's orders to surveil Customs and Border Protection boats, took delivery of and measured several bricks of cocaine, and intended to purchase some of the cocaine from Mark in order to sell it himself, Gomez wrote.
"The evidence that Fagan and Mark were discussing when a third person could go demonstrates that Fagan knew he was part of a larger organization and not a mere receiver and storer of cocaine," Gomez wrote.
Fagan and others were convicted in 2009 on the drug charges, and Fagan originally was scheduled to be sentenced July 10. The hearing was delayed after Fagan's attorney, Michael Sheesley, raised issues about how many and what types of drugs Fagan could be held responsible for. He said the "baggies" of drugs entered into evidence included various weights of powder cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana, and it was never clear what Fagan was responsible for transporting.
The government and Sheesley eventually agreed that Fagan could be proven responsible for 27.9 grams of narcotics, as opposed to the 225 grams originally charged, according to Sheesley.
Sheesley also argued on Wednesday that Fagan did not have a leadership role in the conspiracy, and therefore should not receive a harsher sentence.
Gomez expressed some impatience with the argument, saying he had heard evidence in the Red Ball case "four times at least."
"Mr. Fagan is not someone who just picked up something," he said.
Gomez ultimately upheld a sentencing enhancement that placed Fagan "definitely not in the highest level of management, but certainly not outside of a leadership role."
Both Sheesley and the government asked for a 70-month sentence for Fagan, who was found guilty of possession with intent to distribute and conspiracy to import controlled substances, according to court records.
The sentence Gomez eventually handed down - two 80-month terms for each conviction, to be served concurrently - will have little effect on his total jail sentence because they will be served concurrently with the 14-year sentence Fagan already is serving in a separate Red Ball case.
The defendants in the Red Ball cases were identified by prosecutors as members of a multinational drug organization that moved cocaine from South America to the United States mainland. Several people were arrested in October 2005 during a roundup in Savan near the former Red Ball grocery store, which closed in January 2005.
In a separate move, the government notified the court on Monday that it intended to appeal Gomez's July 10 ruling that overturned the conviction of Walter Ells, another Red Ball defendant.
Ells' attorney, Carl Williams, said he is confident the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will uphold Gomez's "very well-thought-out" decision. "Certainly, my client and I are disappointed with the government's decision to do that, but we are fully committed to taking our argument up to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals," Williams said.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.