Leader of city jail drug ring sentenced to 17 1/2-year term; Jones, 58, first imprisoned in 1973 in federal drug case


John Edward "Liddy" Jones, who dominated the city's heroin trade in the 1960s and early 1970s, was sentenced yesterday in federal court to 17 1/2 years in prison for running a drug ring in the Baltimore City Detention Center.

U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson imposed a sentence on Jones, 58, that was in the middle of the range of 15 years and eight months to 19 years and seven months called for under complex federal guidelines that take into account such factors as a defendant's criminal history and the quantity of drugs distributed.

Nickerson said it would have been "inappropriate" to sentence Jones to the high end of the range given his age, or the low end given his history. "His life reflects in essence a life dedicated to crime," the judge said.

Nickerson waived a fine, which could have ranged from $17,500 to $2 million.

Dressed in blue jeans, a gray long-sleeved knit shirt and white tennis shoes, Jones insisted on his innocence. "I'm definitely not guilty of the charge," Jones told the court. "It's a trumped-up charge. I feel good about my [chances on] appeal."

Jones' attorney, Gary A. Ticknor, said he would hand-carry to the court this morning a notice of Jones' intention to appeal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith, the lead prosecutor in the case, had asked Nickerson to impose a sentence at the high end of the range under federal guidelines. "It would be appropriate to recognize the life work of Mr. Jones," she said.

Jones had been in the city jail for violating his 1994 parole from a 30-year federal drug sentence he received in 1973 when a government informant tipped prosecutors to the jailhouse drug ring in the fall of 1997.

Two months of FBI wiretaps produced dozens of taped phone calls Jones made from prison that prosecutors contended were laced with coded conversations about drugs. Those conversations formed the core of the government's case against Jones in a month-long jury trial that concluded in April with drug conspiracy convictions against Jones and three co-defendants.

Yesterday, one of those co-defendants, James A. Cromer, an inmate convicted of helping Jones sell drugs in jail, was sentenced to 4 years and nine months in jail.

Sentencing for the other two will be completed next month. They are Joyce Y. Cottom, the girlfriend of Jones, who arranged to buy the drugs and smuggle them into the jail, and Aaron Liles, the boyfriend of Cottom's granddaughter, who collected money from friends and relatives of jail customers.

Five others entered guilty pleas in the case, including a former jail guard who testified for the government.

Pub Date: 9/23/99

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