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Man 'hedging his bets' in drug case guilty plea; Prosecutors agree not to seize property of 'Little Will'


It didn't take William E. Franklin long to get back in business.

One of Baltimore's biggest heroin dealers in the 1970s and 1980s, the man known as "Little Will" was released from a federal prison in January 1997 after serving nearly nine years for running a drug ring.

By November, according to federal authorities, he was involved in a similar enterprise: transporting cocaine and heroin from New York to Maryland.

Monday, just before jury selection in his federal criminal trial was to begin, Franklin, 56, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute drugs.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz immediately sentenced him to 10 years and one month in prison.

Prosecutors declined to discuss the case in detail because Franklin's alleged co-conspirator, Steven Angelet of the Bronx, N.Y., is at large. But they said they are pleased with the outcome.

"We regard him as a significant offender," said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning. "The sentence he got was consistent with that view."

Under the plea bargain, prosecutors agreed not to try to seize any of Franklin's personal property or his son's Northeast Baltimore liquor store, where Franklin gave tens of thousands of dollars to a courier to buy drugs in New York, according to court papers.

Robert Simels, Franklin's New York-based attorney, derided the government's case as a "one-witness case" but acknowledged that "it's often very difficult to overcome an informant's testimony when there is any form of corroboration."

He said Franklin, a resident of the 2800 block of Scarborough Circle, west of Woodlawn, pleaded guilty in part to protect his family and in part because he preferred the certainty of a 10-year term to the possibility of a life sentence a conviction could have brought.

"Will was hedging his bets," Simels said.

The case against Franklin -- who has been in jail since his indictment and arrest in late July -- began early June 3 last year when a New Jersey state trooper pulled over Janice McCoy, 42, of East Baltimore because she was driving slowly. Because McCoy seemed exceptionally nervous, the trooper asked whether he could search the trunk of her car, and she consented.

According to court papers, he found 13 kilograms of cocaine, 1 kilogram of heroin and "numerous papers in the name of William Franklin."

It was a name familiar to federal authorities.

In 1977, the 5-foot-8 Franklin, described then as Baltimore's top heroin dealer, pleaded guilty in two drug distribution cases and was sentenced to concurrent 12-year terms.

After he was paroled to a halfway house in 1982, authorities said, he immediately began operating a new heroin ring. The ring was the first large-scale drug operation to be investigated here by the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which had just been created.

The four-year investigation culminated in 1987 in the indictment on drug charges of Franklin and Phillip A. "Phil Boy" Murray, owner of Odell's, a North Avenue nightspot.

In 1988, Franklin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Murray pleaded guilty and received a five-year sentence.

After McCoy's arrest in June, the FBI began investigating Franklin.

"The evidence gathered -- including the statements of three confidential informants, hotel invoices, credit card receipts, parking tickets and other records -- establishes that Franklin and Angelet had been transporting cocaine and heroin from New York to Maryland since November, 1997," prosecutors wrote in court papers.

Prosecutors alleged that Angelet was the "middleman" between Franklin and Juan Jose Pujana, a Colombian national living in Spain whom they described as a "high-level drug trafficker."

Franklin met Pujana at the Federal Correctional Institute in Fairton, N.J., where they were housed in the same unit and were orderlies in the same detail, court papers said. Pujana was released from the prison in 1995.

Between November 1997 and June 1998, McCoy, who was prepared to testify for the government, made at least six trips to New York and at least one trip to Northern Virginia to pick up drugs from Angelet and deliver them to Franklin, prosecutors said in court papers.

On two occasions, a confidential informant reported to investigators that Franklin had given McCoy a total of $80,000 to give to Angelet, according to an FBI affidavit that is included in the court record. Another time, an informant reported that McCoy drove Franklin, who was carrying $136,000 in cash in small bills, to New York, the affidavit said.

Prosecutors said in court papers that Franklin had arranged "numerous" drug deals with sources in New York and Spain and used couriers in an attempt to distance himself from his operation.

"Even after his arrest, conviction and incarceration for conspiring to distribute heroin, he reverted to his criminal ways and resumed selling heroin and cocaine," they said.

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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