Former East St. Louis detective convicted in drug conspiracy seeks shorter sentence

News-DemocratApril 10, 2014 

— A judge has ordered an examination into whether a former East St. Louis police detective who got caught up in a federal drug conspiracy investigation is eligible for a shorter sentence.

U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan issued the order Tuesday saying both the prosecution and defense in the case should be prepared to discuss whether Orlando Ward, 42, should received a reduced sentence under the "safety valve" provision of federal sentencing guidelines.

Sentencing for Ward had been set for Thursday but was rescheduled for May 9.

Ward is facing a statutory minimum sentence of between 10 years to life for the felony offense to which he pleaded guilty. But defense attorney James Gomric is arguing that his client is eligible for a sentence of seven years or less.

To be eligible for the "safety valve" provision, the defendant must meet the following criteria:

* Not have more than one criminal history point.

* Did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon (or induce another participant to do so) in connection with the offense.

* The offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person.

* The defendant was not an organizer, leader, manager or supervisor of others in the offense as determined under the sentencing guidelines and was engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise.

* And not later than the time of the sentencing hearing, the defendant truthfully provided the government all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct of a common scheme or plan.

Reagan's order particularly cites some concern for the second criteria that Ward has to meet. In his job as a police officer, Ward was always armed. And police officers, even off-duty, carry their duty pistols. If Ward had his pistol in his possession during the conspiracy, he would not meet all five of the criteria that would warrant a reduced sentence.

That is the element that the attorneys must be prepared to argue for and against on May 9, Reagan wrote. If the defendant is eligible for the "safety valve," the law allows the judge to depart from the sentencing guidelines.

Ward, who resigned his detective post after he was arrested, was charged with and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. That carries a statutory minimum penalty of "not less than 10 years in prison up to life in prison, not less than five years supervised release, and fines up to $10 million. Ward must also repay the FBI the $5,000 that he took as part of the drug sting.

Ward pleaded guilty on Nov. 27. He has been free on bond since then.

According to Ward's plea agreement the "Government agrees to recommend a sentence and fine at the low end of range ultimately found by the court. But, the agreement by the parties to not seek a variance from the sentencing guidelines is not binding on the court or the United States Probation Office, "and the court may impose any sentence authorized by law," the plea agreement says.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began investigating the lead defendant in the case, Martez Moore, 38, of Belleville, and his associates, including Ward, in April 2013. An ATF agent, identified in court documents as "Agent Jackson," worked undercover from last April through May 7, held a number of recorded and monitored undercover meetings with Moore and his associates, which ended with Moore asking the undercover agent to broker a deal that would bring in 10 kilograms of cocaine from Los Angeles. Moore recruited Ward and at least three others, according to court documents.

Ward was to provide information regarding law enforcement activity in East St. Louis, and other information to which he has access, such as license plate information and good locations for a stash house. Ward also was to assist Moore and his associates in avoiding police and carry forward the drug conspiracy.

The undercover ATF agent was introduced to Ward on April 24, 2013, outside an East St. Louis residence, court documents state. Moore had previously told the agent Ward wanted $5,000 to provide information and assistance. During this meeting, Ward "agreed to provide Moore and Agent Jackson information about planned law enforcement activity in East St. Louis which Ward was privy to as a detective in East St. Louis." The plan was for Moore and his associates to be free to receive and distribute cocaine shipments without any law enforcement interference.

Ward "suggested areas of the city that would be safe for a stash house and areas of the city to avoid because of high police activity," according to court records.

Ward told the undercover agent other ways to avoid police detection. He described how federal and local law enforcement officers conducted criminal investigations in East St. Louis. Ward also agreed to be available to run license plates, names and telephone numbers, according to court documents.

Ward told the undercover agent that "it was a good time to start cocaine distribution because law enforcement was focused on unlawful possession of firearms, not drug trafficking. Ward accepted a down payment of $2,500 for his services.

On April 30, the undercover agent called Ward and asked him to run a license plate. Ward did, and later met the agent at a restaurant and gave him the information. Agent Jackson told Ward that a cocaine shipment had arrived earlier that day from Los Angeles and that another delivery of between 10-12 kilograms of cocaine would be coming into East St. Louis on May 7, 2013.

Ward told the agent that he would know of any planned law enforcement activities scheduled for May 7. He told Jackson to call him then. Ward accepted $2,500 from Jackson. On May 3, he called the undercover agent and told him it was all clear for the anticipated shipment.

Ward was arrested May 7. He provided a voluntary statement acknowledging his involvement in the drug operation.

Besides Moore, others charged in the drug conspiracy were Antwone "Twon" Johnson, 33, of Cahokia; Dewayne Hill, 38, of St. Clair County; Brian "Caine" Matthews, 46, of St. Clair County; Jaren "J" Jamison, 25, of Cahokia, and Bryant Sawyer, 27, of St. Clair County. All face from two to four drug counts plus a charge of possessing guns while engaged in drug trafficking.

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

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