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BMF - BMF’s judgment day

BREAKING NEWS: Meech pleads guilty

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Photo credit: Wayne County, Mich., jail
Big Meech pleads guilty

Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory had a certain style of doing things: way over the top.

When he traveled, his entourage numbered in the dozens. When he threw parties, he stocked them with high-priced champagne, ice sculptures and zoo animals, and enough eye candy to cause a stomachache. Inside the sprawling DeKalb County home where investigators say he lived, the walls were hung with framed photos of mob boss John Gotti and fictitious drug lord Tony Montana. One of his alleged associates – who’s now a convicted cocaine dealer serving a life sentence – was Mayor Shirley Franklin’s son-in-law.

Even some of the crimes of which Meech was suspected (though never indicted) have been of mythic proportions: the 1997 murder of a federal witness the day after the witness was released from custody, the 2003 death of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ former bodyguard in a gun battle behind a Buckhead club.

But perhaps the most outsized of all is Meech’s reputation – whether legit or not – as a ruthless yet magnanimous don, one who frightened his enemies and lavished generous rewards on his friends. His defense team will try to deconstruct that image, but one thing can’t be disputed: No matter what the occasion, Meech did it big.

His federal trial, scheduled to begin Nov. 26 in Detroit, will be no exception.

Court documents filed by the prosecution allege that with Flenory and his younger brother at the helm, the organization they created – the Black Mafia Family – was one of the country’s most prodigious cocaine rings. (Meech and his alleged criminal enterprise were the subject of a three-part series published last year by CL.) BMF is believed to have moved thousands of kilos of coke each month and laundered more than a quarter of a billion dollars in drug proceeds. Along the way, the organization was aided by a strict code of silence that blanketed crew members – at least for a time.

In an attempt to prove a “historical conspiracy” that dates back to the late ’80s, the government has amassed more than 11,000 pages of evidence – an unusual amount of documentation, according to Drew Findling, an Atlanta-based attorney who represents Meech.

“In a non-white-collar case,” Findling says, “that’s huge.”

The government will draw on evidence that Meech and his brother, Terry “Southwest T” Flenory, got into the drug trade in their native Detroit when they were teenagers. Prosecutors will attempt to show that a decade later, BMF had expanded to L.A., where cocaine shipments were smuggled in from Mexico, and Atlanta, where the coke was delivered by private jet or vehicles outfitted with secret “traps.” And they’ll hope to prove that by 2003, the Flenory brothers had built BMF into a complex web of drug distribution and money laundering – an enterprise that used violence to enforce its rule.

Meech is accused of running BMF’s hub in Atlanta, where he created a name for himself as a flashy hip-hop entrepreneur and legendary partyer – the antithesis to his more understated brother. He also drew heat to BMF by bragging that he spent $50,000 in a single visit to nightclubs such as Vision and Compound, and by traveling with a crew that caused trouble. Among other violent crimes, BMF associates have been implicated in a stabbing inside a Buckhead restaurant, a fatal shooting in the parking lot of a Midtown club, and a double homicide of a prospective federal witness and his girlfriend.

Only one of the suspects in the murder investigations has been charged. BMF’s alleged third-in-command, Fleming “Ill” Daniels, was indicted in Fulton County earlier this year for what witnesses call the “senseless” killing of nightclub patron Rashannibal “Prince” Drummond.

No arrests have been made in the murder of the prospective witness and his girlfriend. But in April, federal agents identified a suspect in open court: Mayor Franklin’s ex-son-in-law, Tremayne Graham. Federal agents also testified that the mayor’s daughter, Kai Franklin, is being investigated for what she might have known about her ex-husband’s cocaine ring.

When the Flenory brothers and their co-defendants go on trial, they will not face charges of any violent crimes. Instead, Meech and Terry were indicted for running a “continuing criminal enterprise,” a federal statute created to take down organized crime rings. If convicted, they face a mandatory life sentence.

The trial will come two years after the Flenorys were arrested and held without bond. It will cap a 15-year DEA investigation into what ultimately became a 41-person indictment. And it will pit at least six of those co-defendants, who broke BMF’s code of silence and struck deals for lesser sentences, against the few alleged conspirators left standing.

If the thousands of pages of court documents filed in the case against the Flenory brothers are any indication, Meech will have to overcome several hurdles to avoid conviction.

One of them is Southwest T.

The brothers suffered a major falling-out in 2004, a year before they were indicted. To make matters more confusing, Meech and his brother will raise “potentially conflicting defenses,” according to a document filed in September by Meech’s attorneys.

Documents and interviews with lawyers and investigators indicate that the government will attack BMF with a wide range of evidence: six months of wiretaps, 25 vehicle stops, the seizure of 500 kilos of coke and $6.5 million cash, and the statements of as many as 30 former BMF members and associates.

At least half a dozen co-defendants are expected to testify against BMF in exchange for reduced sentences. Another 21 pleaded guilty without striking a deal. And only six are scheduled to accompany the Flenory brothers to trial. The rest likely will plead guilty at a later date, and they could still choose to cooperate with the prosecution.

Of those potential witnesses, few have knowledge of the Flenory brothers working together, according to the September document filed by Meech’s defense.

“Most of the witnesses are specifically aimed at either one brother or the other,” the document states, “and very few are aimed at both.”

Yet two witnesses identified in the court file have offered potentially incriminating statements against the two brothers:

•  Benjamin Johnson – A childhood friend of the Flenorys who was indicted with them, Johnson has described to the feds the brothers’ cocaine ring in its formative years, in the late ’80s, through its evolution in the mid-’90s.

•  William Marshall – A star witness for the government in several BMF investigations, Marshall claims to have picked up 10 kilos a week from “the White House,” a 5,000-square-foot DeKalb County home where investigators say the Flenorys lived. Marshall says he occasionally got the drugs from Terry Flenory, though not from Meech. Marshall also told investigators that he secured an Atlanta townhouse for Meech that doubled as BMF headquarters, and that he witnessed the July 2004 murder of “Prince” Drummond. According to Marshall, Meech was ushered from the parking lot where Prince was killed moments before the shooting.

In fact, Meech has been traced to the scene of more than one violent crime. He therefore could face a different kind of challenge than his brother.

As Meech pointed out in an August letter to U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn, the indictment against him “doesn’t have any violence in it.” He also called himself “a God fearing man of honor.” Still, BMF’s alleged violent acts could be used against Meech to establish motive or opportunity in expanding his criminal enterprise, according to federal rules.

Investigators also claim that Meech’s rumored propensity for violence served for years to scare off potential witnesses. As a result, the U.S. Attorney’s office is keeping some of its evidence against him secret. “The materials being withheld are relatively few in number,” according to a document filed by the prosecution in September, “and are limited to certain witnesses where the government believes there is a potential risk to their safety.”

Despite at least one documented threat, however, witnesses against Meech have been identified:

•  Marc Whaley – An Orlando auto broker who helped BMF lease luxury cars, Whaley “provided information to authorities in Georgia, New York and Michigan about BMF members,” according to a document filed in Florida. As a result, “Mr. Whaley has recently had violent threats made against him.” The document goes on to say, “The nature of Mr. Whaley’s cooperation cannot be specifically disclosed.” Yet court documents filed in Detroit describe at least some of information Whaley shared with the feds: Whaley said he bought $300,000 in jewelry for Meech, to hide that the jewels were purchased with drug money.

•  Karream Sheard – Like Whaley, Sheard told investigators that he helped Meech purchase jewelry – again, to hide the fact that the $125,000 in bling was bought with cocaine proceeds. Sheard dealt with the same New York diamond purveyor that Whaley did: Jacob “the Jeweler” Arabov. Two weeks ago, Arabov – who’s designed diamond-studded pieces for celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Jay-Z – pleaded guilty to falsifying documents and lying to feds on behalf of the Flenory brothers. He faces up to 46 months in prison.

Terry Flenory’s ties to the jeweler Arabov are even stronger than his brother’s, according to witnesses. In fact, most of the witnesses with dirt on Terry have had more to say than those with dirt on Meech.

At least two witnesses have described Terry’s relationship with Arabov – and the liberties the jeweler took to cover for the alleged kingpin:

•  Damon Thomas – A Grammy-nominated music producer, Thomas lied to authorities to cover for Terry after police found $5 million in jewelry, designed by Arabov, in Terry’s possession during a traffic stop.

•  Eric Bivens – A passenger in the car during the stop, Bivens claims the arsenal of diamonds was destined for a Young Jeezy video shoot. He also told the feds he flew to New York with Terry the next day to meet with Arabov – and do some damage control.

Other witnesses can tie Terry to money laundering and cocaine trafficking:

•  Harold Wilcox – Wilcox is expected to testify about his scheme to launder drug money with Terry using lottery tickets.

•  Charles Parson ­– A BMF courier, Parson likely will testify about drug shipments he hauled for Terry.

•  Arnold Boyd – A regular visitor to the “White House,” Boyd claims he can place Terry in the same room as 100 kilos of cocaine – with a street value of $10 million. Boyd also told the feds he went with Terry in 2003 to meet Graham – then the mayor’s son-in-law – at Graham’s Cheshire Bridge Road car dealership, which the feds determined was a front for the cocaine trade. Days later, Boyd says, he loaded $250,000 of Terry’s cash into Graham’s vehicle while they were at the White House.

Based on the evidence hinted at in the court record, the case against Terry Flenory is more sweeping than the one against his brother. In addition to witnesses who allegedly received cocaine from and laundered money with Terry, there are 900 pages of typed transcripts of wiretaps that span five months of his cell-phone calls.

During those calls, Terry mentions his brother on several occasions – but only in reference to the rift between them, according to court documents. “We don’t even speak,” Terry said of Meech, during one conversation with a friend who called from federal prison. “He lost his mind.”

Authorities weren’t able to secure a wiretap on Meech. And nowhere in the 800 filings in the Detroit case has a witness placed Meech in the same room as a sizable amount of drugs – at least not in the past 10 years.

Some of the most damning evidence that could be used against Meech was discovered during a 2003 search of the “White House” – a search that Meech’s attorneys now argue was unconstitutional.

Acting on a DeKalb County search warrant, investigators turned up three firearms (including a machine gun), a money counter, ledgers listing suspected drug transactions, and paperwork for vehicles that authorities thought were used by BMF associates. In fact, over the next year, four of those vehicles were stopped, and investigators found nine kilos of cocaine and as much as $500,000 hidden inside.

Earlier in 2003, local investigators had tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain a search warrant for the White House. Among the evidence presented in the first warrant application was a statement from a confidential informant who claimed Meech was behind the Halloween 1997 shooting death of a federal witness.

The witness, Dennis Kingsley Walker, had given the DEA information on an alleged drug associate of Meech. The day after Walker was released from federal custody, he was shot dead in his car as he exited I-85 onto the Buford Highway Connector. Three months later, the informant told DEA agents that “‘Meechie’ killed ‘Dennis’ because of the latter’s cooperation,” according to the warrant.

But court documents say the informant’s story never checked out. “Despite intensive follow-up investigation by APD and DEA, detectives and agents were unable to develop any further evidence linking Flenory to the Walker murder,” according to a document filed by Meech’s attorneys last month. To date, the case remains unsolved.

What’s more, the informant’s statement wasn’t enough to convince a judge that Meech was a dangerous drug dealer whose suspected home should be searched. But the judge ruled differently several months later, after Meech was arrested for a double homicide behind a Buckhead club that left P. Diddy’s former bodyguard and the bodyguard’s friend dead.

After the shootings, investigators added information about the Buckhead killing to the application for the warrant. The judge then approved it.

Yet Meech, who also was shot in the Buckhead gun battle, never was indicted for the murders. His lawyers claim he was a victim. As a result, they’re arguing that investigators rushed to conclusions when seeking the warrant – and that, had all the facts about the Buckhead killings been known at the time, the warrant would never have been issued.

The federal judge in Detroit hearing the case against the Flenorys is expected to rule next week on the admissibility of the White House warrant and other evidence. If the judge throws out the warrant and two others that Meech’s lawyers are contesting, a sizeable amount of evidence prosecutors have amassed against him will disappear.

To date, no BMF member has been convicted of a violent crime — despite associates being linked to at least five murders. Two Atlanta homicide investigations could change that.

In 2006, months after Graham, the mayor’s ex-son-in-law, pleaded guilty to cocaine charges, federal investigators were told by a witness that Graham had ordered the 2004 killing of his co-defendant, Ulysses Hackett. Hackett, who investigators say was considering cooperating with the feds, and his girlfriend, Misty Carter, were shot in the head as they lay sleeping in Carter’s Highland Avenue townhouse.

A friend of Graham’s, who investigators claim is linked to the murder, has since been indicted on unrelated charges. In August 2007, alleged BMF associate Ernest Watkins was charged with cocaine distribution in South Carolina. At his September bond hearing in Atlanta, prosecutors hinted – for the second time in five months – that the Hackett-Carter homicide investigation could be heating up. “It’s alleged that Mr. Watkins is the one who provided the murder weapon,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Phillips told the judge.

Watkins has not cooperated with the feds, and the investigation into the murders continues.

Another probe of an alleged BMF-related murder is closer to resolution. “Ill” Daniels, who’s been described by federal witness Marshall as BMF’s third-in-command, currently is awaiting trial on charges that he gunned down “Prince” Drummond in the parking lot of now-defunct Midtown club the Velvet Room. Though the case is more than three years old, Daniels wasn’t indicted until May – after Marshall gave a detailed account of what happened that night.

According to Marshall and other witnesses (who weren’t linked to BMF and were too afraid to testify against the crew), BMF’s fleet of fancy cars was leaving the club’s parking lot when Daniels’ Porsche SUV started backing into Drummond. A fight broke out after Drummond tapped the SUV to let the driver know he was about to run him over. Both Drummond and his cousin were badly beaten by Daniels and other alleged BMF members who were there that night, according to Marshall. The cousin spent nearly a month in a coma.

Marshall told authorities that Meech was whisked from the scene once the fight broke out. “He was to be protected,” according to a statement by an investigator in the case. “They would keep him away from those type incidents.”

In an attempt to stop the fight, someone in the crowd fired a warning shot into the air. The BMF crew was about to leave the scene – but Marshall says Daniels doubled back. After grabbing a gun from his car, Daniels allegedly returned to where Drummond was lying motionless on the ground. According to Marshall, Daniels shot him dead.

The following day, Marshall claims he got a call, which was corroborated by another BMF member who was with Marshall at the time and is cooperating with authorities. Terry Flenory allegedly was on the line, and he wanted to know what had gone wrong behind the Velvet Room.

According to the investigator’s statement: “Marshall told him that ‘Ill’ did not have to shoot the guy and he was not sure why he did it. [Terry] replied that they were out of control and bringing too much attention to the family.”

Three years after the phone call, the “family” indeed has received wave after wave of unwanted attention. BMF now has been targeted by at least a dozen state and federal investigations involving more than 150 suspects in no fewer than six states. Several of those cases won’t be resolved until after the trial in Detroit, which is the most expansive of the indictments. The trial is expected to last a month.

Even now, two years after the Flenory brothers were indicted, the government’s interest in BMF has hardly waned. In July, a federal cocaine-conspiracy indictment charging 16 BMF members – including Daniels and the rapper Barima “Bleu DaVinci” McKnight – was filed in Atlanta, thanks in no small part to information gathered from Marshall. Two weeks ago, yet another federal indictment against BMF was unsealed, this one out of California. Among those arrested was alleged high-ranking Atlanta BMF member Ameen “Bull” Hight.

With Hight’s arrest, the Black Mafia Family could be nearing extinction. With so many members locked up – and with the Flenory brothers soon to stand trial on charges that could put them away for life – BMF is faced with both a loss of leadership and the dissolution of the code of silence that once protected it.

An investigator who’s followed BMF for years says the arrests have been so plentiful – and the leaks so numerous – that the crew is all but eradicated.

“There’s no one really left who was in the upper echelon of the organization,” says the source, who asked not to be named because of his ongoing involvement in several probes.

He adds that with many members snitching, others are left scrambling to determine where the information is leaking from. The result is that the family has fractured.

Says the investigator: “They don’t know who to trust within their own organization now.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a statement by the attorneys for Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory about a gun battle behind a Buckhead club. Flenory’s attorneys assert their client was a victim in the incident and didn’t have a weapon. Though Flenory was arrested in connection with the killings, he was never indicted.