Feds: Fez-wearing drug dealers deserve life in prison

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Two fez-wearing drug dealers who fled ahead of guilty verdicts should be sentenced Friday to life in prison for running one of Metro Detroit's largest and most lucrative drug rings, prosecutors said.

In urging U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy to send drug kingpin Carlos Powell of Washington Township and brother Eric Powell of Franklin to life behind bars, prosecutors offered new details on how the men were captured in June following a nationwide manhunt.

The manhunt and case drew national attention because of the size and scope of the drug ring and because the brothers and fellow drug dealer Earnest Proge of Detroit wore fezzes to court every day. The men said they were members of the Moorish Science Temple of America but a temple leader said the fezzes were a failed attempt to influence jurors.

The sentencing is scheduled five months after the men enraged Murphy by fleeing just before the jury in their drug trial announced guilty verdicts.

"For years, Carlos and Eric Powell ran a multi-million dollar drug trafficking operation, importing staggering amounts of drugs — including hundreds (if not thousands) of kilograms of heroin, some of which was over 90% pure," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Cares wrote in a sentencing memo late Monday. "Their illegal drug business caused immeasurable blight and decay in this city and region."

Life in prison is justified, he argued, because Carlos Powell was involved in selling more than 1.1 million kilograms of marijuana. The weed weighed as much as 1,000 automobiles, he said.

Carlos Powell should receive a 15-year sentence, defense lawyer Deday LaRene wrote.

Such a sentence and probation "would allow for the possibility that Mr. Powell could have some hope for a meaningful life after prison, and would be an appropriate exercise of the court's sentencing discretion," LaRene wrote.

Eric Powell, meanwhile, should go to prison for less than 30 years, his lawyer Domnick Sorise wrote Tuesday.

The government's filing provides new details about the Powell brothers' weeks-long escape in May.

When Carlos Powell learned there was a verdict May 12 that could lead to life in prison, court officials said he cut his ankle tether and disappeared. The ankle tether was found blocks from federal court in downtown Detroit.

Federal agents learned the same day that Eric Powell and Proge had disappeared, too.

Carlos Powell was captured in a home in St. Louis, Mo., on June 4. He had more than $750,000 in cash on him and numerous cellphones, Cares wrote.

Eric Powell was arrested by a fugitive task force at a hotel in Atlanta, Ga., the same night as his brother. He was carrying more than $50,000 cash and a fake birth certificate, the prosecutors wrote Monday.

Proge was arrested June 18 in St. Louis. He will be sentenced Dec. 5.

The Powell brothers and Proge were able to flee because they 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 or request temporary detention.