Brian Tribble, who was acquitted in 1987 on charges of supplying the cocaine that killed University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, was sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday in an unrelated drug case that caused the judge to question federal sentencing rules.
Tribble, 31, could have received as many as 27 years in prison for selling more than 100 pounds of cocaine. But in the three years since he pleaded guilty in 1990 to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, he has provided investigators with information leading to the convictions of more than 20 people, said prosecutors, who recommended the lighter sentence.
U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson in Baltimore followed their recommendation. But he said it troubled him since the sentence was more lenient than the sentences for some people who were less involved.
Others prosecuted in the case received sentences ranging from one year to life in prison.
"It has given me considerable concern because of my perception of Mr. Tribble as more of a leader than a follower," said Judge Nickerson. He said federal sentencing guidelines limited him from considering information about Tribble's role, which was discovered after he'd signed a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Prosecutors say those convicted in the case made up a loose-knit organization that trafficked in hundreds of kilos of cocaine in Washington and Prince George's County over six or seven years. They described Tribble as a leader of the group who received drugs, then distributed them to others for street sales.
But they said he had earned the lighter sentence. "He saved the government an enormous amount of time and energy," said Assistant U.S. Attorney E. Thomas Roberts.
Tribble was arrested in August 1990 after he agreed to buy 4 kilograms of cocaine for $120,000 from a confidential drug informant.