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Mobtown Beat

Stuck in the Middle

Hollywood in a Bottle defendant is convicted on co-defendants' testimony
joaquin "el chapo" guxman-lopez, alleged head of the sinaloa cartel.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/26/2009

In the course of his cocaine career, William Leonardo Graham has endured a 30-foot plunge off the Jones Falls Expressway and a debt-collection visit from a 6-foot-7, 350-pound gang member. Suffering from a herniated disc and a hernia, locked up in a prison hospital for the past year, this small, hapless 42-year-old node in the international drug conspiracy now faces life without parole in federal prison. After deliberating for just two hours, the jury convicted him on Aug. 19 of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.

"I should have taken the stand," Graham tells his wife, Bonnie, as he's led into the courtroom to hear the bad news.

Graham was the last of the eight defendants convicted in what City Paper coverage dubbed the Hollywood in a Bottle case, a cocaine ring that stretched from California to Baltimore and linked exotic cars, and a planned documentary about Baltimore's mayor, City Council president, comptroller, and state's attorney to characters like Devon "Big D" Marshall, an imposing member of the Black Guerilla Family gang, and operatives of Mexico's cocaine-dealing Sinaloa Cartel. The bust was part of Operation Xcelerator, a 21-month long multi-state investigation of cartel activities ("Mexican Connection," Mobtown Beat, March 4).

The day after Graham's conviction, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder held a press conference announcing the indictment of 43 more Mexican drug cartel members, including Sinaloa boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guxman-Loera.

"[Graham] wasn't at the top, he wasn't at the bottom," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Giblin told jurors. "He was in the middle of it."

That was not a good place to be. Graham was the only one of the eight who did not plead guilty. He still maintains his innocence and plans to appeal, according to his court-appointed lawyer, Richard Bittner. Graham was convicted largely on the word of three co-conspirators--Marshall, a tattooed, goateed giant of a man whom he has known since he was a teenager; Lawrence Schaffner Reeves, a bald and well-dressed man, who had been one of his cocaine suppliers during the summer of 2007; and Justin Santiago Gallardo, a life-long drug dealer who grew up in Arizona and worked for both sides of the drug war.

Testimony during the three-day trial established links between this conspiracy and another Baltimore drug organization with political and Hollywood ties. Under cross-examination by Graham's lawyer, an investigator in the case admitted that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) learned about Marshall via a wiretap during an investigation of Anthony Leonard, the former owner of the Downtown Southern Blues restaurant on North Howard Street. While Downtown Southern Blues hosted political players, Leonard was involved in a murderous cocaine ring investigators dubbed the Rice Organization ("Wired," Mobtown Beat, March 2, 2005; "Star-Crossed," Mobtown Beat, Feb. 16, 2005).

In 2008, Reeves partnered with former Hollywood stuntwoman and Baltimore native LaVern Whitt to form Hollywood in a Bottle, a seminar company supposedly dedicated to helping young people learn the entertainment business. Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt sponsored Hollywood in a Bottle's Baltimore debut in July 2008 ("The Company You Keep," Mobtown Beat, Sept. 10, 2008). Whitt has said she had no idea that Reeves, whose previous drug- and weapons-related convictions date to his college days in the mid-1990s, was involved in drugs. Pratt and other city officials say they had no idea either.

Although the group eventually sold more than 300 pounds of cocaine in Baltimore, the initial run was a small, four-kilo load driven from Arizona to Baltimore by Gallardo, a Nogales, Ariz., native who testified that he had been in the drug game since the 10th grade. Having never been to Baltimore before, Gallardo called a number he was given and connected with Reeves, who guided him in from the highway to the Brookshire Suites Hotel on Lombard Street. Gallardo stayed for three days in July 2007 while Reeves sold the kilos to others, including Graham, who in turn passed them to Marshall and others for street sales. Gallardo counted the money, sealed it in vacuum bags, and drove it back to a garage in Tucson.

During the next six weeks, a half-dozen more loads followed, becoming larger each time. Graham paid for the second and third transactions, weighing nine kilos each, at the City Café on Cathedral Street. Gallardo testified that his boss--a Sinaloa Cartel member named Armando "Juni" Rosas, charged $23,750 per kilo. Reeves charged Graham $26,750.

The group began using big dual-wheeled trucks and trailers with secret compartments under the floorboards. At least one load went directly to Graham's modest Essex home and rolled back to the garage, Gallardo testified: "We unloaded the snowmobile, took out the planks, and unloaded the drugs."

Gallardo kept detailed notes about who got what kilos and how much money they owed. He did this, in part, as insurance, he testified. He had already been a paid informant for law enforcement, though he had stopped working for them when they stopped paying and asked him to take a polygraph test.

Eventually, Marshall hooked up with Reeves, cutting out Graham and his markup on the two or three kilos a day he was buying. Gallardo, meanwhile, "had a little breakdown" and stopped keeping track of the kilos, which allowed Reeves to burn Rosas for several hundred thousand dollars. Gallardo threw his cell phone away and moved to Washington, D.C., to lay low. Graham somehow ended up owing money to Reeves as well, and Reeves called Marshall to help collect.

It was Reeves and Marshall laughing about Marshall's debt-collection effort that drew investigators' attention to Graham, who was out of the game by the time the wiretaps went up in 2008. "He said, fuck you, he ain't paying nobody shit," Marshall tells Reeves on wiretap recordings played for the jury, relaying Graham's message. "I said, that ain't good to say."

"That's the sort of thing make me want to go out and get a dude," Reeves replies, laughing. "Oooooh."

On the stand, Marshall said that not only was he not an "enforcer" for the Black Guerilla Family, the feared prison gang recently subjected to federal indictments ("Black Booked," Feature, Aug. 5), but that he had rarely gotten in fights at all. He says he went to Graham's house as a friend, not to beat him up. He said he is no longer a BGF member because you can't be a member and cooperate with prosecutors.

During his trial, lawyers argued about how much jurors would be told about Graham's criminal past. They were finally told of a 2005 cocaine conviction, but did not hear testimony about the details.

According to a police report, on Aug. 18, 2005, Graham jumped off the I-83 overpass about a quarter mile south of Cold Spring Lane while trying to elude officers. The highway there is about three stories off the ground. Police recovered three zip-locked bags of cocaine, plus 20 pills and more than $2,200 in cash, according to the report. Graham was convicted and sentenced to three years' probation.

At last week's trial, Graham asked Judge William Quarles to help him get medical care and pain medication for a back injury, which he said corrections officials were allowing to go untreated.

Neither his wife nor his lawyer, Richard C. Bittner, would explain how he was injured.

"He fell from a height," Bittner said.

Additional reporting by Van Smith and Jeffrey Anderson

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