VOL. 127 | NO. 30 | Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Petties Associate Testifies On Drug Ring's Origins and Growth
By Bill Dries
The violent multi-state drug organization headed by Craig Petties began with a group of eight and nine-year-old boys in the Riverside neighborhood of South Memphis selling rocks of crack cocaine to those in cars who would drive down their street, West Dison Avenue, in the neighborhood.
And it became a big time drug operation when Petties and two of his friends from the neighborhood retrieved $450,000 in drug money locked in the trunk of a car on a car impound lot.
That was the testimony from Orlando Pride Monday, Feb. 13, in the first day of testimony in the drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder for hire trial of Clinton and Martin Lewis.
Pride, who is serving a 21-year 10-month sentence on federal drug conspiracy charges, linked both of the Lewises to the drug organization that grew to have direct ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico.
His testimony on direct examination will continue Tuesday before Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays.
“It was just an avenue of traffic,” Pride said, describing the traffic of drug users through their neighborhood as they sold crack for older adults who supplied them individually. “It was whoever got to the car first.”
Pride was Petties’ next door neighbor.
Eventually, they began selling for a dealer nicknamed “Smiley” from Arkansas.
The big break for the organization was when a dealer was arrested and his car impounded with $450,000 in cash in the trunk that police apparently never found. Pride said the dealer called Petties and he and Pride and Antonio Allen jumped the fence at the impound lot, took the money and split it.
“He went straight haywire with his,” Pride said of Petties. “He went straight to the drugs. We started off with weed.”
They got it and later large amounts of cocaine from Reuben Laurel, a connection in Laredo, Texas. When Laurel was arrested with 100 kilos of cocaine, “for a second it dried up,” Pride testified.
But by then Laurel’s Mexican suppliers were already expressing some interest in meeting Petties, according to Pride, because of the amount of drugs Petties was selling in the region.
“They wanted to meet Craig and know who he was,” he testified.
The organization had long since started stashing the huge amounts of drugs brought in in tractor-trailers in houses away from the neighborhood. Petties became concerned when so much marijuana was stashed in an apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue that neighbors could smell it and the smell created fears someone might steal it.
The new stash houses were in the suburbs – East Memphis, Collierville and Bartlett.
“We never had no cars in our names. We never had no houses in our names,” Pride said before then recalling, “Craig was the only one who went off and bought a house in his own name.”
Petties had two cars make the drug pick-ups on motel parking lots or “wherever truck stops are,” according to Pride, with one trailing the one that was going back with drugs. If police stopped the first car, the driver of the second car was to create some kind of diversion even if it meant causing a wreck.
The Mexican connection would wait at the motel for the money three or four days. And Pride said the Petties organization never had a problem paying what it owed in much less time.
Petties would buy the pot for $50 to $75 a pound and sell it for $275 to someone who would in turn sell it again for $400. Pride estimated the organization was selling 1,200 pounds to 1,300 pounds a week.
Cocaine was $17,500 for a kilo and resold for $20,000.
Jurors heard much more about Petties than they did about Clinton or Martin Lewis.
Prosecutors are expected to continue with a broad portrait of the drug organization.
“We are here today because of choices that Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis made,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly told the jury in his opening statement. “They chose the value of money over human life.”
Defense attorney Anne Tipton, representing Clinton Lewis, however, told the jury to pay close attention to the criminal backgrounds of many of the witnesses like Orlando Pride who had prominent roles in the organization.
“They’ve cut their losses and put them (investigators) onto someone else,” she told the jury in her opening statement. “Who ran things and who controlled things? Who’s driving fancy cars and who is living in big houses?”
Defense attorney Marty McAfee, representing Martin Lewis, told the jury they would hear “mountains and mountains of proof about what lots of other people did.”
“Some people did all of these horrible things,” he added. “Ask yourself who did these things. … They are all the government’s witnesses.”
The first witnesses called by the government were relatives of five of the six men allegedly killed by the organization because they were suspected of being informants or because they were considered competition for the drug organization.
Defense attorneys questioned them closely about the victims’ lifestyles and whether they held regular jobs. They also questioned them about other suspects in the murders.
Yolanda Woodard, the sister of Antonio Allen, read from his funeral program following his murder in April 2001. Petties was listed as one of the pall bearers along with others just below him in the organization’s ranks.
Allen, according to indictments in the case, had been cooperating with police and recording conversations with others in the drug organization.
The event that signaled the decline of the organization was a hang up 9-1-1 call that same month from a stash house on West Emory. Police Detective Patrick Fox, who now works for the police Organized Crime Unit, was a patrol officer who was dispatched to the house where Petties eventually answered the door.
Fox didn’t know Petties was under investigation, he testified, but he and other patrol officer searched the house after sorting out a fight between Petties and his girlfriend that caused her to dial the emergency number and hang up. They found 600 pounds of marijuana in duffel bags in a closet and $29,000 in cash.
“I had never seen him before in my life,” Fox said of Petties who would flee Memphis a year later following the first federal indictment in the case – one that named only Petties as a defendant. Later versions of the indictment expanded to include a rotating cast of eight other defendants and named over 40 people – charged and un-charged – in the 13- year saga of the organization.