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Mobtown Beat

The End of Impunity

Jose Morales sentenced to more than 20 years in prison

Jose Morales, as photographed in 2008.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 3/17/2010

A Baltimore drug dealer, thief, and firebug whose long and varied criminal career City Paper chronicled ("With Impunity," Feature, June 11, 2008) was sentenced to 262 months in federal prison on March 8 by a federal judge in Texas.

Jose Joaquin Morales, 34, pleaded guilty in the spring of 2009 to a single count of possession with intent to distribute five kilos or more, nine months after federal agents found six kilos of cocaine in a trash can at the Edinburg airport near McAllen, Texas. According to court records, Morales hid the drugs there and was waiting for a chartered jet to arrive for his trip back to Baltimore. The original complaint against him, sworn out by immigration and customs enforcement agents, says that Morales was sent to get the cocaine in Texas to repay a bail bond on another charge.

According to online court records, on July 24, 2008 Morales walked out of a Baltimore City jail on $30,000 cash bail, though he was supposedly being held without bail because he had skipped a court date.

The twists and turns of Morales' federal case were difficult to follow, as neither the prosecution nor defense attorneys would talk to City Paper, and many of the documents in the case were sealed. His sentencing was postponed several times, apparently because of a battle between prosecutors and Morales' defense attorney over his criminal records.

Morales was originally to be sentenced in October 2009. The sentencing date was pushed back to Feb. 24, 2010, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Ferko filed a motion saying she was "awaiting receipt of the defendant's complete State of Maryland Department of Correction penitentiary file which is crucial to the government to address sentencing enhancement issues."

Under federal sentencing guidelines, five kilos generally rates at least 10 years in prison. But a "career criminal" can get a lot more time. Federal sentencing advisory guidelines provide that a "career offender is a defendant who (1) was at least 18 years old at the time the commission of the instant offense of conviction; (2) the instant offense is a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled-substance offense; and (3) the defendant has at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense."

Morales' lawyer, John Teakell, countered with a motion of his own: "The government requests more time to try to obtain records to support the career status enhancement proposed in the Pre-Sentence Report, based upon an old conviction concerning defendant Morales from Maryland," he wrote. "However, due to the manner in which the state of Maryland keeps records/archives of closed cases, it appears that there would be little if any information forthcoming in addition to the information that the United States already possesses."

At the time of his Texas arrest, Morales faced bad-check charges in Howard County, an assault charge in Anne Arundel County, burglary charges in Baltimore County, and three criminal cases in Baltimore City involving grand theft, assault, and threatening.

Maryland Department of Corrections officials sent Morales' "penitentiary packet"--a unique record of his criminal history--to federal prosecutors in December 2008, department spokesman Mark Vernarelli said then.

Judge Randy Crane of the Southern District of Texas heard several sealed (secret) pleadings before the March 8 sentencing. Judge Crane ruled that Morales is a career criminal, but gave him the low end of the sentence range; he could have gotten 327 months. Judge Crane also gave Morales five years probation after his release, and recommended "the defendant be placed in a program for drug-abuse treatment and also placement in an institution closes (sic) to his family," according to the available online documents.

Morales has the right to appeal. Teakell, Morales' lawyer, did not return a call for comment

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Bailed on Murder Charge, He's Arrested for Shooting in The News Hole 8/28/2008

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