Detroit — Two fez-wearing drug dealers involved in one of the most prolific narcotics rings in Metro Detroit history were sentenced to life in prison Friday.
Drug kingpin Carlos Powell of Washington Township and his brother, Eric Powell of Franklin, received the stiff sentences from a federal judge who became enraged in May when the men disappeared ahead of jury verdicts, triggering a nationwide manhunt.
"It's the largest case I've ever seen," U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy said. "There's little else to say without being insulting."
The sentences cap a criminal case that drew national attention due to the drug ring's size, scope and profits and because the men wore fezzes during the trial. The sentences also end an uncomfortable episode for the federal court and prosecutors, who did not seek pretrial detention for the brothers or a third drug dealer despite a history of running from police, violating probation or committing crimes while free on bond.
The brothers apologized Friday for jumping bond. Carlos Powell vowed to turn his life around if given a break.
"I want to say I did not mean any disrespect to the court," Powell, 39, said.
Instead, he got a life sentence and could be bound for the Supermax federal prison in Colorado. That's the most secure federal prison in the country and filled with convicted terrorists, including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Metro Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
The sentencing hearings were tension-filled. Seven deputy U.S. Marshals and security officers flanked the men and closely watched a gallery filled with relatives, friends and agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Powell brothers were dressed in red jail uniforms — no fezzes — and shackled at the wrists and ankles.
Carlos Powell was reflective and apologetic while reading a prepared statement.
"I miss my children," the father of three said. "I will be leaving them in their time of need."
During a years-long investigation, DEA agents seized more than $21 million in cash, 66 pounds of heroin, 12 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana.
"The amounts of drugs this man injected into this region are just staggering. It's just breathtaking," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Cares said. "He knew it was illegal to inject poison into this region."
The Washington Township man'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.
The brothers were free on bond and appeared in court every day for their trial until May 12. That's when they jumped bond and disappeared before jurors returned guilty verdicts.
When Murphy learned of their escape, the red-faced judge ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to find the men and fellow drug dealer Earnest Proge, who also jumped bond.
Carlos Powell was captured in a home in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 4. He had more than $750,000 in cash on him and numerous cellphones, prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Eric Powell was arrested by a fugitive task force at a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, the same night as his brother. He was carrying more than $50,000 cash and a fake birth certificate.
Proge was arrested June 18 in St. Louis. The Detroiter will be sentenced Dec. 5.
The judge was calm and abrupt before sentencing Carlos Powell. Right away, Murphy told the man he would get a life sentence.
"The behavior was long-term, it was entrenched and it was deserving of a life sentence," the judge said.
Unlike his brother, Eric Powell, 36, said nothing.
"He would like to apologize for running away," defense lawyer Dominick Sorise said. "It was panic and fear of a life sentence."
He urged the judge to give his client a break. Eric Powell appeared to be a friendly person, the judge said. Murphy wanted to give the four-time felon a shot at redemption.
"The problem is, I have less discretion," the judge said. "The choices he's made are abominable."
So Murphy sentenced Eric Powell to life in prison. A woman rushed out of the courtroom, crying.
Eric Powell didn't react to the sentence. Instead, he shuffled out of the courtroom, flanked by federal agents.
"I love you Eric," a woman told him as he walked past the courtroom gallery.
"I'll be alright," he said.