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Cocaine secreted in strawberries and a hefty take for the feds

Drug TraffickingJustice SystemHomicideBankingMichael KorsU.S. Postal Service

Federal prosecutors in August 2012 announced that two men, Bryan Eammon Williams and Lawrence Lee Hayes, had been sentenced to 11 years and 15 years respectively for their roles in a cocaine distribution conspiracy.

The details of the case are rather fascinating if you keep reading, and even moreso if you start connecting dots. 

The press release about Hayes' and Williams' sentences includes a canned quote from Ava Cooper-Davis, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Washington field office, calling the case "drug interdiction at its best."

“This investigation took a lot of cocaine off the streets; cocaine which was secreted in a load of strawberries was seized by good old fashioned police work,” she said. 

While strawberries-as-drug-concealment is interesting, the amount of drugs is eye-popping - the case stems from a traffic stop in Illinois in which state troopers pulled over a tractor trailer carrying 136 kilograms of cocaine. If you don't sell cocaine or chase people who sell cocaine, authorities translate that to a wholesale value of $4 million, and a street value of $13.6 million. That's a lot of coke. 

Federal authorities seized not only the $4 million worth of drugs during the stop, but found $279,000 in cash in Williams' vehicle, which prosecutors said was payment for the courier. 

Delving further, the Williams case appears to have been a cash cow for the federal government. In a superceding indictment, authorities said they wanted Williams to forfeit $5 million - in addition to the following:

-$1.6 million in cash seized from a Randallstown home

-$318,000 cash seized from an apartment on Park Avenue

-$219,000 in cash seized from an apartment in The Belvedere hotel (which is now apartments)

-$189,000 cash seized from a home on Laurel Avenue in Baltimore

-$153,000 seized from a Forest Hill home

-$143,000 from an M&T Bank account

-$100,000 in cash seized from a U.S. Post Office

-$67,000 cash seized from a Los Angeles apartment

-$50,000 cash from an M&T Bank account

-$48,700 from a BB&T checking account

-$25,000 cash seized from a man named Lyle Monroe

-$11,900 from a Bank of America account

-$10,600 from a SunTrust checking account

-a 1972 Chevy Chevelle Malibu convertible

-Seven homes in Georgia - Atlanta, East Point, College Park, Fairburn and Hampton owned by Williams

-Jewelry, including Gucci, Breitling, Rolex and Michael Kors watches

-No less than 12 additional cars

According to his plea, Williams gave up everything except the Chevy convertible and one apartment in Fairburn, Ga. And the scope of the searches indicate that there's more than meets the eye when it comes to this case.

Here's how the case unfolded, according to charging documents: On April 3, 2011, DEA agents arrested Robert Nyakana in Illinois after finding the cocaine in his semi-truck. Nyakana told them that he worked for Williams, loading cocaine onto a truck in Los Angeles and driving the product to Baltimore. Williams would fly to Maryland and meet Nyakana for the drop offs. 

Nyakana said he got $2,000 per kilogram, getting $8,000, $30,000 and - twice - $100,000 for deliveries. For the delivery during which he got arrested, he was due to receive $270,000. 

DEA agents let Nyakana complete the delivery while under surveillance, and moved in, arresting Williams on April 4, 2011 in Jessup and recovering $270,000 from his rental car. Though Williams ran a Maryland corporation called Bryan E. Williams Enterprises, he said he had no legitimate source of income, which a girlfriend in Georgia also corroborated. 

Nyakana, meanwhile, ran a trucking company based out of Richmond, Va. His arrest was big news in his home country of Uganda: A Ugandan web site reported that he is the brother of a Ugandan politician and skipped town after his arrest and had been on the lam for more than a year when he was picked up by Interpol in June of this year. He was listed as one of the Washington DEA's "Most Wanted" during his time on the run. Court records confirm that he made his initial appearance on the charges on June 4. 

"According to snoops, Nyakana has been living a high life in Kampala, splashing cash on expensive cars," the Ugandan site said.

Several other men - Richard Anthony Wilford, George Lamar Plunkett, and Mark Anthony Hawkins - were also ultimately charged in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Hayes, Plunkett and Williams have pleaded guilty so far. Wilford is set to go to trial in May 2013. 

How are Wilford and Hawkins connected? It's not entirely clear, but according to documents filed in that case, Wilford also owned a trucking company, called R.A.W. Enterprise (his initials), along with a storage facility and fenced-in lot in the 300 block of S. Kresson St. 

A previous case involving Wilford and Hawkins alleged that they were importing cocaine from Texas by way of Mexico, through a co-conspirator named Querida Neudemma Lewis. The CityPaper has reported that she has ties to Milton Tillman, the "politically-connected bail bonds impresario and two-time felon" who has since been convicted in an IRS investigation. Wilford was an unindicted co-conspirator in Lewis' case, and it's not clear how all the investigations came together.

It's not Wilford's first time being charged by federal authorities. Records show he was charged in 1992 case along with Walter Ingram, who had been charged in 1991 with Kenneth Antonio Jackson, owner of the El Dorado strip club and an iconic figure in Baltimore, in a murder in New York. Both were acquitted, which was not uncommon for Ingram at the time: the CityPaper reported he had "already flouted prosecutors’ attempts to convict him for three murders, two attempted murders, two drug conspiracies, two armed robberies, and two cases of assaulting police" prior to that case. But in the 1992 case, Ingram ended up receiving a 210 month sentence and was released in 2007.

Ingram, for his part, was charged again in 2010, and court documents indicate a plea deal is being worked out. 

jfenton@baltsun.com

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