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VOL. 126 | NO. 37 | Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Petties Guilty Plea From 2009 Unsealed

By Bill Dries

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Alleged drug kingpin Craig Petties has pleaded guilty to 19 counts of racketeering, drug and murder for hire conspiracy, drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

In a surprising twist in the largest drug case ever tried in Memphis federal court, Petties guilty plea was unsealed Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays who took Petties guilty plea in December 2009. The guilty plea was sealed by court order until Tuesday’s public release of it.

Twelve of the 19 counts Petties pleaded guilty to carry either the potential of a life sentence in prison or a statutory minimum of life in prison. That includes charges related to the murders of four people.

Petties will be sentenced by Mays on those counts at an April 1 hearing as well as an earlier guilty plea to one count of having a weapon while in federal prison.

Federal prosecutors considered seeking the death penalty against Petties and four codefendants for the murder for hire charges involving the murders of six people, some of whom were cooperating with federal authorities in the investigation of the drug organization.

Justice Department officials in Washington decided last year not to seek the death penalty against the other four but never said anything about a decision on Petties.

Petties was first charged in the case in 2002 and fled to Mexico that same year where he ran the Memphis-based drug organization from exile over the next six years until his capture in Mexico in January 2008.

Petties had direct ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel, a violent drug organization whose leadership splintered in a bloody feud about the time of Petties’ capture.

Mexico’s attorney general, at the time, specifically mentioned Petties’ key role in helping the cartel perfect its drug distribution system during his time in Mexico.

While in Mexico, the federal drug investigation in Memphis grew beyond the initial charges against Petties that involved several hundred pounds of pot seized in a house in the Riverview-Kansas neighborhood. The charges were revised several times over the years to included additional defendants and additional charges including the murders, millions of dollars in drug money and tons of marijuana and cocaine shipped in tractor trailer rigs. More than 40 people, charged and uncharged, were named in the indictments.

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