EAST ST. LOUIS — Former East St. Louis Police Detective Orlando Ward was sentenced to 60 months in prison Friday for conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
Ward, 42, pleaded guilty last year to the federal charges.
He could have faced between 10 years -- or life -- but he received a reduced sentenced under the "safety valve" provision of federal sentencing guidelines.
Ward, who already served six months in jail, told U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan that he was "very, very remorseful" for what he did.
"I was honest about everything I've done. I did stay locked up for six months. That was the hardest time of my life. I missed my anniversary, my son's graduation. All of this comes back to me. Orlando Ward did this," he said.
The courtroom was packed with Ward's friends, family members and former teachers. Ward hugged some of them on his way into the courtroom.
Ward's attorney, Jim Gomric, pointed to the large crowd of people who had gathered in the courtroom in support of Ward and told Reagan, "This speaks volumes about Ward."
One of those in the crowd was Ward's mother, Mary Ward. She was pleased her son was not going to be in jail for a long time.
Sherry Madison, Ward's cousin, said Ward made a mistake. "But, he is a good person."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kit Morissey, the lead prosecutor on the case, noted that Ward was a high school graduate who graduated from the police academy in 2001, served in the U.S. Army for seven years and received an honorable discharge before joining the East St. Louis Police Department in 2007. She said Ward has three children and he was an integral part of their lives.
Morissey told Reagan about Ward's crime:
"It involved the movement of a very large shipment of cocaine through East St. Louis -- a regular weekly shipment of cocaine in East St. Louis if it went well," she said.
Morissey told Reagan that Ward's role was to provide his co-conspirators, particularly Martez Moore and a federal undercover agent, with information on whether there was a heavy police presence and if it was clear to move the cocaine from where it was stashed. He was going to run license plates and people's names if there were any concerns about a vehicle members of the conspiracy observed.
Ward's connection and recruitment to the conspiracy was through Moore, a four-time convicted felon and self-proclaimed head of the Metro Disciples gang, Morissey said.
"Mr. Ward engaged in serious criminal activity while under the cloak of being a law enforcement officer -- hypocritical," Morissey said.
"The law abiding citizenry of East St. Louis deserve a police department that operates honestly and with integrity at every turn. They deserve to be proud of their police department," she said.
Before the sentence was pronounced, Reagan requested the prosecution and defense to be prepared to discuss whether Ward was eligible for sentencing under the "safety valve."
At issue was whether Ward was in possession of his duty weapon when he met with the undercover agent who he deemed to be a drug trafficker and if the weapon was used in the drug conspiracy.
Morissey said the government had no evidence that the undercover agent saw a weapon on him on the three occasions he met with the undercover agent and in their conversations, there was never any reference to a weapon. Morissey said Ward wore plainclothes as a detective and drove an unmarked police car and was off duty each time he met with the undercover agent.
Gomric agreed with Morissey.
"We thoroughly vetted the facts and circumstances to make sure we didn't get ourselves over the handlebars in this thing. It is entirely fair for the court to make inquiry of us and how we came to this conclusion."
Gomric said Ward's task "was to provide intelligence -- intelligence he didn't have. It was probably the most unintelligent thing he ever did."
Reagan concluded that he had not seen any evidence that proved Ward had the weapon and used it as part of the conspiracy.
Ward faced 10 years to life in prison, but the safety valve changed the federal sentencing guidelines to between 87 and 108 months.
Morissey said, prior to Reagan's announcement of 60 months for Ward, "seven years and three months -- it's a long time for someone who has never spent a day in prison."
"He's going to lose his pension. He's never again going to be a police officer," she said.
Morissey told Reagan that in the 26 years that she has been a federal prosecutor, she has never seen anyone as remorseful as Ward.
"He's a good man with a conscience. For whatever reason, he chose to make some extra money in a criminal way," Morissey said.
Reagan said Fridays are not a good day of the week for him.
"I hate it. I put a lot of the black youth of America in prison." He said many of those who come before him wear the title convicted felon like it is a badge of honor. He told Ward he was different and that he believed there was more good than bad in him.
"Here's a 42-year-old East St. Louis police detective who provided an undercover agent and co-conspirator with law enforcement intelligence to allow 10-12 kilograms of cocaine in East St. Louis on May 7, 2013, who is eligible for the safety valve. He abused his position of trust," Reagan said.
"The time you serve won't be easy time. You made a real bad short-term mistake for which you're going to have to pay dearly," Reagan said. He also told Ward that the six months he already spent locked up would be knocked off the 60-month sentence.
Reagan acknowledged the high crime rate in East St. Louis.
He said the city does not have enough officers to handle all of the crime there and that East St. Louis Police Department cannot afford to lose the Orlando Wards of the department.
"I consider all of the facts in sentencing Orlando Ward in this case. I never heard this prosecutor, a seasoned one with 26 years, say that she has never seen a defendant as remorseful as Mr. Ward. That weighs heavily on me," Reagan said.
Ward must serve three years of supervised release, pay $5,000 restitution for the federal money he took from the undercover agent and pay a $100 special assessment fee. Also, Reagan ordered Ward to perform 750 hours of community service, 250 hours for each of the three years he is on supervised release.
Reagan allowed Ward to remain free on bond and report when the U.S. Marshals Service contacts him.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton said no one is above the law. "Orlando Ward did a lot of good. He was a good officer, but he made a very bad mistake. And this mistake is going to cost him five years of his life.
"We hope that the five years imposed in this case sends a clear message to members of law enforcement who wish to engage in criminal activity," Wigginton said.
East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Floore described his former detective as a "go-getter."
"He was a good officer," Floore said. "He made a mistake. I pray for him, and his family. I look forward to him coming back to the city as a productive citizen. And, I am confident that he will."
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.