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VOL. 127 | NO. 60 | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Drug Trial Moves Into Sentencing Phase

By Bill Dries

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The verdicts are in, and the jurors have been polled and dismissed after more than a month of trial.

The long-awaited and just-completed Craig Petties drug organization trial now gives way to sentencing hearings to come for Martin Lewis and Clinton Lewis and some of those who once belonged to the organization and testified against them.

The largest drug organization ever prosecuted in Memphis Federal Court came down to more guilty pleas than defendants on trial. But the testimony covered a lot of ground and filled in some but not all of the questions and blanks in a case that came with numerous sealed documents and closed hearings.

Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis were found guilty of 10 of the 11 federal charges they faced. The verdict came after less than a day of deliberation and five weeks of testimony.

Clinton Lewis was acquitted of the murder-for-hire count involving the 2006 murder of Marcus Turner. But he was convicted of kidnapping Turner as part of a racketeering conspiracy.

Both were convicted of murder-for-hire charges in the 2007 murder of Mario McNeil who was gunned down in a restaurant on Kirby Parkway.

Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis are scheduled to be sentenced by Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays on June 29.

“They were members of one of the largest and most violent, notorious criminal organizations in the history of Memphis and Shelby County.”

–U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton

The Lewises were accused of being part of the violent multistate drug organization headed by Craig Petties that had direct ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico. They were specifically accused of being hit men for the organization in a case that involved the murders of six people.

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton called the organization “nothing less than a cancer to this community – a cancer that spread throughout this region.”

“They were members of one of the largest and most violent, notorious criminal organizations in the history of Memphis and Shelby County, actually throughout West Tennessee,” Stanton said. “We’ll continue to take our streets back one case at a time. ... This high level organization was very cold and calculated and an enterprise that profited millions of dollars that flowed not only through Tennessee.”

Petties pleaded guilty in 2009, a year after he was captured in Mexico following six years in which he ran the drug organization from afar.

Defense attorneys for the Lewises said they will appeal the convictions and continue to question the reliability of government witnesses, most of whom are former members of the drug ring.

“We have to respect the jury’s verdict after sitting here for seven weeks,” said Marty McAfee, representing Martin Lewis. “But we are disappointed and plan to appeal on several issues.”

“This is not the end of the process,” said Anne Tipton, attorney for Clinton Lewis.

Her co-counsel, Howard Manis, said he was happy for Lewis’ acquittal in the murder of Turner.

“But it makes us that much more troubled by the guilty verdict on the kidnapping charge,” he said.

Stanton said the concerns raised by the defense about whether prosecution witnesses had manipulated the legal system were part of a “hard fought” trial.

“The ultimate fact finders were the jurors who sat and listened to all of the evidence,” he said.

They heard a story about a drug organization built among a group of childhood friends in a South Memphis neighborhood. They had been selling rocks of crack cocaine as children to those in the long lines of cars that drove through their neighborhood looking for drugs.

Sometime in the late 1990s, Petties took a big step to selling larger amounts when he and two friends found out about a car on a police impound lot with nearly half a million dollars in the trunk.

They scaled the fence, broke into the car and split the money. Petties was soon drawing the attention of drug sources in Mexico who asked to meet him. Reuben Laurel, the middleman supplying Petties made the introductions shortly after Laurel was arrested on drug charges himself. Petties began working directly with a part of the splintered Sinaloa drug cartel headed by Edgar Valdez Villareal, the Mexican drug kingpin known as “La Barbie.”

Stanton said he hoped the convictions brought some form of closure for the families of the six murder victims whose deaths were an integral part of the case.

“Not only the families of those victims, but we as a community here in Memphis and Shelby County and West Tennessee are all victims as well,” Stanton said. “Hopefully today this will send a message that this type of conduct – callous, brazen conduct at all levels of criminal organizations will be brought down ... and brought to justice in a very swift and severe manner.”

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