Court Docket Sees 2 Notable Drug Cases

By Bill Dries

For now, Federal Judge Hardy Mays has decided that the last two defendants in the biggest drug case ever brought in Memphis federal court will not be shackled when the jury begins hearing the case.

The trial of Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis is scheduled to begin Feb. 6 with selection of an anonymous jury bussed into Memphis from the Jackson, Tenn., area. As the trial date has neared, security precautions to be taken by the U.S. Marshals Service have become more evident.

And attorneys for the Lewises are concerned they might lead jurors to make some conclusions at the outset about their guilt.

Prosecutors contend the extra security is warranted because the Lewises are accused of being hit men for a powerful drug organization headed by Craig Petties that wasn’t at all averse to killing, bribing and/or otherwise keeping witnesses from testifying against its members even in state murder cases.

Petties and others in the organization have already pleaded guilty, a pattern in such high profile drug cases that have made their way through Memphis federal court.

As the Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis case was moving toward trial late last year, Eric Bovan, the man who headed the drug organization thought to be the largest in the city 20 years ago was heading toward another sentencing date with no fanfare at all.

After an attorneys conference for the Lewises before Mays, Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly took an elevator two doors down to the sentencing hearing for Bovan before Federal Judge Thomas Anderson.

Like Petties, Bovan also pleaded guilty early in his 1989 federal court trial. He quickly faded into obscurity as he added new less noted entries to his criminal record.

Bovan’s drug organization had a direct connection to illegal drug suppliers in California, according to testimony during the 1989 trial of his co-defendants, at which Bovan testified. Some of those in the “Bovan family” organization took the name Bovan as an indication of their status.

Bovan was a drug kingpin who insisted he had never touched any of the cocaine that he trafficked. Federal agents, at one point, put a tracking device on his car and then watched nearby as someone walked from Bovan’s house and removed it from the car.

But the case included none of the murder-for-hire allegations that caused federal prosecutors to consider but ultimately reject seeking the federal death penalty against the Lewises as well as Petties and two other codefendants who have since pleaded guilty.

The timeline in the seven sets of federal indictments against Petties and his organization begins in 1995. Petties worked directly with the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico. He fled to Mexico from Memphis in 2002 and remained there until his capture in January 2008, directing operations in Memphis and the multi-state area around Memphis including the murders for hire.

Bovan, a kingpin by ‘80s standards, was sentenced in November after pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy involving the illegal trafficking in prescription drugs.

Federal authorities were already watching Dr. Daniel Fearnow who was the primary target of a long-term Drug Enforcement Administration investigation when Bovan literally drove into the investigation, picking up a batch of prescriptions from Fearnow handed out the back door of the doctor’s office.

Bovan and his attorney, Arthur Horne, told Anderson that Fearnow ran across Bovan when Bovan was hospitalized for one of several strokes Bovan has had in recent years. Horne attributed the health problems to Bovan’s “every other day” use of cocaine for years.

DEA agents stopped Bovan as he left Fearnow’s office in October 2009 and found 25 prescriptions for Xanax, Lortab and Hydrocodone in 10 different names. Bovan was a middleman, getting the prescriptions from Fearnow for $45 each, filling them and then selling them at a mark up to dealers who in turn may have sold to other dealers.

Gilluly told Anderson that Bovan began cooperating immediately.

“Him being caught probably saved his life,” Horne said, adding Bovan has been drug free since his arrest. “He has managed to clean his life up. … But I think his drug addiction caught up to him.”

A month after he was stopped by DEA agents near Fearnow’s office, Bovan had another stroke.

Anderson sentenced Bovan to three years in prison, saying, “It is somewhat unlikely that he will commit additional offenses.” But he added that because of Bovan’s past history “it is always a possibility.”

Anderson also agreed to include a recommendation for a drug rehabilitation program in prison as well as a prison medical facility because of Bovan’s other medical issues.

His final advice to Bovan was, “Stay away from people like Doctor Fearnow.”