Petties Drug Case Suspect Returns to U.S.

By Bill Dries

Chris Hamlet, a high-ranking member of the Memphis-based drug organization headed by Craig Petties, is back in the U.S. and on his way to a Memphis courtroom.

Hamlet was arrested near Mexico City in November 2007 with an AK-47 style assault rifle and $729,894 in cash. At the time, the Justice Department said it would seek Hamlet’s return to the U.S. but there is no further mention of his being released by Mexican authorities or transferred to U.S. custody.

The sprawling drug case has been highlighted by numerous sealed court records and closed court hearings over the last five years.

Court records from Houston federal court this month show Hamlet was arrested by U.S. authorities Dec. 10 and the next day a magistrate judge in Houston ordered him sent to the Western District of Tennessee to face the federal charges.

The legal paperwork from his arrest and appearance before a federal magistrate judge in Houston showed up Monday in the lengthy Memphis electronic case file that dates back to 2002.

Hamlet faces 11 counts of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, murder for hire, drug conspiracy and money laundering in Memphis federal court. The charges are from the fourth superseding indictment in the largest drug case ever brought in Memphis federal court.

The superseding indictment was filed in January 2008. But Hamlet had been mentioned as an unindicted member of the organization in earlier superseding indictments.

Petties and Hamlet fled to Mexico in May 2002. Petties ran the organization from the self-imposed exile, working directly with the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Petties was arrested in April 2001 by Memphis Police in a house in South Memphis with 600 pounds of marijuana. Police were called to the house by a woman Petties was arguing with. She called 9-1-1 and hung up.

Federal drug investigators testified earlier this year that the hang up call and the discovery of the drugs inside the house along with Petties and several others was the beginning of their case. It was a narrative that would come to include more than 40 people – indicted and unindicted. Petties was the only defendant when the first federal indictment was returned in April 2002.

A month after the indictment of Petties, according to the later indictments, investigators saw Hamlet leaving Pettties’ home, stopped him and found 26 grams of crack cocaine. That same day in May 2002 they got a warrant and searched Hamlet’s home in Raleigh and found 710 more grams of crack cocaine.

While he and Petties were out on bond that month, they both fled to Mexico.

The superseding indictments followed and added more detail to the formal portrait of a crime organization that made millions of dollars a day, sold tons of cocaine and marijuana from a Memphis base and killed six people who were either considered a threat or competition, or who were believed to have cooperated with federal investigators.

Petties was captured in January 2008. Hamlet was arrested in Mexico in late 2007 in a series of arrests in the U.S. and Mexico connected to the case.

Petties pleaded guilty to numerous charges about a year after his capture in secret proceedings that were not made public until another year later. He is awaiting sentencing.