VOL. 125 | NO. 118 | Friday, June 18, 2010
Petties Indicted on Prison Weapons Charges
By Bill Dries
The alleged leader of the largest and most violent drug organization ever tried in Memphis federal court is accused of getting a weapon twice while in the Memphis Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) last fall.
Craig Petties was indicted Wednesday on two firearms charges by a Memphis federal grand jury.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz declined comment on the indictment when contacted by The Daily News.
A summary of the charges refers to them as firearms charges. But it is unclear whether the weapon was a gun.
The two-count indictment alleges Petties “possessed a prohibited object, to wit, a weapon” on Oct. 16 and on Oct. 26.
The section of the U.S. Code referred to in the indictment defines such a “prohibited object” as “a firearm or destructive device.”
Petties has been moved from Memphis FCI to the FCI in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Tallahassee prison includes an administrative security level facility for men.
The facility is for “special missions,” including “the containment of extremely dangerous, violent or escape-prone inmates,” according to the Bureau of Prisons website.
Petties has been in prison awaiting trial on conspiracy, drug, racketeering and murder for hire charges since his capture in Mexico and subsequent return to the U.S. in 2008.
For a few hearings, he appeared via a video link to Memphis FCI. But he complained to his attorney in February 2009 about not being allowed to appear in court in person. Since then, he has been in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays for the hearings that usually last five minutes or so.
Petties is scheduled for an initial appearance June 29 in Memphis federal court before U.S. Magistrate Charmiane Claxton on the new charges.
Petties was first indicted on federal drug charges in 2002 and fled to Mexico, where he remained on the run for the next six years. By the time he was captured in January 2008, the original single count drug indictment has grown to include six to eight co-defendants in a succession of superseding indictments.
The list of charges also grew to include racketeering and federal murder for hire allegations in the violent deaths of six people over six years. Four were killed allegedly because they were cooperating with federal authorities.
The set of later indictments mapped out the allegations of a multistate drug organization closely tied to the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel that brought tons of drugs into the Memphis area in tractor trailers rigs and made millions of dollars. Over 40 people were named in the charges as part of the organization.
Mexico’s attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora said in April 2009, that while in Mexico Petties “become a broker for the cartel, using his contacts in the United States to speed up the traffic of drugs to the north.”
“Petties is only one example of crime globalization,” Medina Mora said in the speech in San Diego.
The U.S. State Department also investigated an allegation that the part of the cartel Petties reputedly worked for paid a Mexican national working in the American embassy in Mexico City to pass on information from DEA agents searching for Petties.
The cartel faction was headed by Arturo Beltran Layva who was killed in December in a gun and grenade battle with Mexican Navy commandoes near Veracruz.
Because of the murder for hire allegations, Petties and four codefendants could face the federal death penalty. They were notified of the possibility in 2008 and were appointed additional legal counsel
who are experienced in death penalty cases.
Department of Justice officials are currently deciding which defendants they will seek the death penalty against. The process involves “mitigation hearings” where defense attorneys are allowed to argue against seeking the death penalty based on evidence in the case as well as the backgrounds of the defendants.
Two months after the weapons were allegedly found on Petties in prison, U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi began a series of mitigation hearings for all five to make his recommendation to Justice Department officials in Washington.
Prosecutors have said nothing about the mitigation hearings in Washington and have not announced the results.