June 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Fugitive drug brothers captured with large amounts of cash

Kingpin found with $750K; third man remains on the lam

Carlos Powell (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Two fez-wearing drug dealers were not wearing fezzes when federal agents arrested them Wednesday night following a three-week manhunt.

Drug kingpin Carlos Powell, 39, of Washington Township was, however, caught at about 10:45 p.m. with $750,000 in cash and a firearm when agents found him hiding in the basement of a house near St. Louis, Mo., said Deputy Robert Watson of the U.S. Marshals Service. His brother, drug ring member Eric Powell, 36, of Franklin, was arrested and found with $10,000 in cash during a simultaneous raid near Atlanta.

Again, no fez, Watson said.

“I think they ditched those when they went on the run,” Watson told The News, which broke news of the arrests early Thursday. “It makes you a little more conspicuous.”

Carlos Powell didn’t make any statements during his arrest, Watson said.

“He didn’t say anything, really,” Watson said. “I can imagine he was feeling a mixture of relief, that he wasn’t having to look over his shoulder any more, but also realizing you’re caught.”

Watson would not identify the St. Louis homeowner because he said the person is under investigation.

A third convicted drug dealer, Earnest Proge, 38, of Detroit is still missing after the three men disappeared last month ahead of guilty verdicts in their drug trial.

The arrests capped an intense manhunt launched after Carlos Powell, 39, brother Eric Powell, 36, and friend Earnest Proge, 38, of Detroit disappeared before jurors in their drug trial reached guilty verdicts May 12. The three men were free on bond, a decision that led to finger-pointing among federal officials who prosecuted the men in one of the biggest drug cases in metro Detroit history.

The case was notable for the size and scope of Carlos Powell’s drug ring and because the three men wore fezzes in court every day during the two-week trial.

The men said they were members of the Moorish Science Temple of America. One court filing, on Moorish Science Temple of America letterhead, alleged the Powell brothers were not subject to U.S. laws and offered to pay money to settle the criminal charges. U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy dismissed the letter as frivolous.

A local Moorish Science Temple of America leader said the men were not members and wore the fezzes in a bid to sway jurors.

“They wore fezzes without comment from me,” Murphy said in court after the men fled. “I thought it was highly offensive and disrespectful.”

Carlos Powell faceda 3 p.m. extradition hearing in St. Louis. Eric Powell had a brief hearing in Atlanta and is expected to be returned to Detroit soon.

Eric Powell’s lawyer, Sanford Schulman, expects to talk to his client once the drug dealer is brought back to Michigan.

He did not know any details surrounding Eric Powell’s capture or why he was in Atlanta.

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Schulman said.

He does not expect Eric Powell will be freed on bond again.

“Bond? No, I don’t think I will ask for bond,” Schulman said. “I don’t think it’s realistic.”

The brothers face charges of bond jumping, which could add up to 10 years on top of their drug convictions. The men, and Proge, were facing up to life in prison.

“We are grateful to the Marshals Service and DEA for their diligent work to capture these fugitives," U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade said Thursday.

The Marshals Service did not specify what led to the arrests, but credited tips from people who followed media coverage of the case and “good old-fashioned” investigative work.

The Powell family has ties to the Atlanta area, where Eric Powell was arrested by agents Wednesday night.

In December 2010, federal prosecutors asked a judge to order Carlos Powell's luxury condominium in a hip area of Atlanta forfeited to the government. The condo was purchased with proceeds from the drug ring, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Beck wrote in the forfeiture complaint.

Carlos Powell ran one of the most prolific and profitable drug rings in Metro Detroit history. His operation generated tens of millions of dollars and was responsible for importing hundreds of kilograms of heroin and cocaine, and thousands of pounds of marijuana from Mexico, prosecutors said.

During a years-long investigation headed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, agents seized 66 pounds of heroin, 12 kilograms of cocaine, 1,000 pounds of marijuana and more than $21 million in cash.

Carlos Powell’s drug ring allegedly laundered profits and purchased $800,000 worth of jewelry, real estate in Michigan and Georgia and luxury vehicles, including two Bentleys, a Ferrari, a Rolls Royce and boats. Most have been seized.

When Carlos Powell learned there was a verdict May 12, court officials said he cut his ankle tether and disappeared.

Murphy was outraged after learning the three men had fled before jurors returned those guilty verdicts that could lead to life in prison.

“No bond. No exceptions,” a red-faced Murphy said, pointing at a deputy U.S. marshal inside a courtroom filled with lawyers, prosecutors and federal agents. “These guys are into the wind. I think it’s outrageous.”

Before calling jurors into his courtroom, the judge stood at his bench, pointed at lawyers and demanded answers.

“Where’s Carlos Powell?” the judge asked Deday LaRene.

“I can’t answer that,” the lawyer said.

“I want the government to get three bench warrants immediately, and I want the marshals to go get these guys,” the judge said.

The government offered $7,500 for information leading to Carlos Powell’s arrest and $5,000 for information leading to arrests of Eric Powell and Earnest Proge.

The judge was frustrated the three men would stand trial for almost two weeks and then apparently flee before the verdict.

“What’s that say about these three?” Murphy said. “I’d like these three arrested today without exception. No bond. Understand?”

The Powell brothers and Proge were released on bond in 2012 despite a history of running from police, violating probation or committing crimes while free on bond. Federal prosecutors did not ask a judge to jail Carlos Powell, the drug kingpin, or request temporary detention.

The three men wore fezzes to court each day.

Eric Powell (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Earnest Proge (David Coates / The Detroit News)