Former East St. Louis detective pleads guilty to drug charges

News-DemocratNovember 27, 2013 

— Former East St. Louis Detective Orlando Ward pleaded guilty to drug charges Wednesday morning and could face more than seven years in prison.

Ward, who has already spent 6 1/2 months in jail, was freed on a $10,000 unsecured bond until his sentencing on March 27.

Ward was all smiles as more than 50 family members and friends filled the federal courtroom for his change-of-plea hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan.

Ward, 42, pleaded guilty to a May indictment charging him with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

Federal prosecutors recommended Ward be given a sentence of seven years, three months. Ward was facing 10 years to life in prison, but federal prosecutors believe he qualifies for what they called a safety valve. A safety valve changes the advisory federal sentencing guidelines to between 87 months and 108 months. Reagan said he had to review the case and decide whether he agrees.

Reagan said to qualify, a defendant cannot have more than one criminal history point; the defendant did not use violence or threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon or did not induce another participant to do so in connection with the offense; the offense did not result in death or serious injury; the defendant was not an organizer, leader, manager or supervisor of others in the offense; and lastly, the defendant truthfully provided the government all information and evidence concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan.

The U.S. attorney's office has described Ward as a double agent: a lawman, but a corrupt cop who for $5,000 a month was willing to provide information, police protection and resources to the drug conspiracy he was a part of. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kit Morrisey has said Ward had close ties with a four-time convicted felon who brought him into the conspiracy.

In May, Morrisey said Ward described how federal and local law enforcement agents conducted criminal investigations to an undercover federal agent who he thought was a drug trafficker. Ward also agreed to run license plate names and numbers on behalf of the conspiracy,and on at least one occasion did so, Morrisey said.

Ward resigned his detective post in May after serving the department for 12 years. He was earning about $57,000 a year.

With his guilty plea, he is now a convicted felon. Reagan told him that having the status of convicted felon is like having a noose around his neck. "It follows you forever,'' the judge said.

Reagan told Ward a story of a man he sentenced. The man, after he became a convicted felon, found out that it didn't matter that he had been faithfully paying his credit card debt for five years.

"When the credit card company learned of his status as convicted felon, they canceled his card. He wrote me and told me I was right that convicted felon status follows you forever," Reagan said.

Ward's guilty plea means that he won't be able to vote, serve on a jury, work in law enforcement or carry firearms. He cannot hold public office nor work in any federal agency or do contracting work for any federal agency.

After Ward's attorney, Jim Gomric, and U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton met for six or seven minutes at the side of the judge's bench, Reagan said he was inclined to let Ward out on bond with conditions.

Wigginton told Reagan that Ward had been a good officer in many cases and an exceptional officer in a number of homicide cases. Then, looking at the tremendous amount of family and friend support Ward had in the courtroom, Reagan said he had not had a case "where there's been this much support." He told Ward he didn't think he would be a flight risk.

"The last thing you would want to do is let these people down by running," Reagan said.

Ward must wear an electronic leg bracelet. He cannot leave the state and he can only leave home to go to the doctor, see his attorney, or probation officer.

Ward's father, Rodney Hampton, said Ward "is a good son. We stand by him all of the way -- 100 percent.''

One of his aunts, Lucille Robinson, was pleased after she heard Reagan say he was letting Ward out on bond.

"I am just happy, so happy. He's really a good person. He just made a mistake. But, he's owning up to it. He has 150 percent support from all of his family. We love him," Robinson said.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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