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VOL. 127 | NO. 32 | Thursday, February 16, 2012

Court Hears Details Of Drug Org

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays has been balancing other cases on his schedule with the Craig Petties drug organization trial that began Feb. 6 with jury selection.

That was how Mays found himself Tuesday, Feb. 14, taking a guilty plea from Derek M. King during the extra half hour he gave the jury for lunch.

King and eight others were indicted in May 2010 on drug conspiracy charges.

King was almost clinical in describing his role in bringing approximately 100 kilograms of marijuana into the Memphis area in a little more than a year’s time.

The mechanics were similar to those described by Orlando Pride, a central witness for the government so far in the Petties trial.

Like Martin Lewis and Clinton Lewis, the two defendants on trial in that case for drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder for hire, King opted for dress pants and a dress shirt. He was a bit younger than the Lewises and volunteered a lot of information, quickly rattling off how the operation worked.

Unlike them, King described in detail how he waited for phone calls and then made arrangements. When Mays asked him how many shipments were involved, King reached for a ledger sheet he had made out and counted off 31.

The guilty plea by King and the trial testimony by Pride point to a factor that is not the point of either proceeding but which is central to both – demand.

The section of West Dison and West Person avenues where Petties and a group of his childhood friends began their drug empire was called “The Track” by them and others.

“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.

This week the jury heard a lot about how the group of grade school-aged boys in the Riverside neighborhood in South Memphis selling rocks of crack cocaine for $10 and $20 became a violent multi-state drug operation with direct ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico.

Much of the testimony came from the day and a half that Pride spent on the witness stand. And Pride’s testimony indicated the group never had a problem selling marijuana and cocaine. The Memphis market devoured the illegal drugs so quickly that handlers from Mexico waited three to four days for their money at local motels and often got what they were owed after a day.

As quickly as the drugs were sold, there was a new supply.

The organization was selling so much that suppliers in Mexico were already asking the middlemen supplying Petties and his group about them, according to Pride.

“They wanted to meet Craig and know who he was,” he testified.

Pride was present at a meeting in Mexico between Petties and the Sinaloa drug cartel boss Edgar Valdez-Villareal, also known as “La Barbie” when Valdez became the direct supplier of Petties’ multi-state marijuana and cocaine operation.

Valdez began supplying Petties after Reuben Laurel of Laredo, Texas – the last middleman – was arrested and charged by U.S. authorities.

The Memphis group, led by Petties, drove to Little Rock, Ark., and flew from there to Laredo, according to Pride. They were met there by a group of “heavily armed” men who drove them across the border to the meeting with Valdez.

“Everybody got a machine gun and M16s and they drove real fast,” Pride said, adding that the entourage “had some kind of pull” at the border that allowed them to speed right through without being checked.

The testimony has also raised questions about how so much money and such large amounts of drugs could move in the city without someone in officialdom looking the other way.

Yet, fears of getting stopped by police were among the major concerns of Petties along with being robbed by rival drug dealers and members of the organization getting caught by police and becoming informants.

The event that signaled the decline of the organization was a hang-up 911 call in April 2001 from a stash house on West Emory Road. Memphis Police detective Patrick Fox, who now works for MPD’s 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 another 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.

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