Leader Blues

Friday, December 04, 2009

TOP STORY >> Charges grow in federal inquiry

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The federal drug, weapons and public corruption case against a Cabot man who faces life in prison if convicted continues to grow.

U.S. Attorney Jane Duke of the Eastern District of Arkansas and Thomas J. Browne, special agent in charge of the Little Rock Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced this week that Ralph Francis Deleo, 64, of Somerville, Mass., has been added to a pending indictment against George W. Thompson, 64, of Cabot.

The two are charged with possessing with intent to distribute, more than 500 grams (more than one pound) of cocaine, conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and using a telephone to facilitate a felony drug transaction.

The maximum penalties for possessing with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine and conspiring to do the same are normally not less than five years and not more than 40 years imprisonment, and a fine of not more than $2 million.

Those penalties will apply to Deleo if he is convicted.

Since Thompson has two previous convictions for drug trafficking (one federal and one in Arkansas) the U.S. attorney has given notice that it intends to seek statutorily enhanced penalties against him. Thompson, who is in the Pulaski County Jail, faces enhanced penalties of not less than 10 years and not more than life imprisonment and a fine of up to $4 million.

The maximum penalty for using a communication device in a drug crime is not more than years imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than one year of supervised release.

Two North Little Rock alderman, Cary L. Gaines, 63, and Samuel Gaylon Baggett, 58, also have been added to the Thompson indictment.

Gaines is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for a kickback scheme involving contracts and projects for North Little Rock. The profit from the scheme was allegedly intended to pay gambling debts owed to Thompson.

Gaines also is charged with making a false statement to FBI agents regarding conversations he had with Thompson concerning the preparation of Thompson’s tax returns.

The maximum statutory penalty for conspiring to commit wire fraud is not more than 20 years imprisonment. The maximum statutory penalty for making a false statement to federal investigating agents is not more than five years imprisonment. Each offense carries a potential fine of not more than $250,000.

“Public corruption strikes at the heart of good government,” said special agent in charge Browne. “We will continue to commit our resources in the FBI to rooting out corruption at all levels of government. We encourage anyone with knowledge of such abuse by public officials to contact our Public Corruption Hotline at 501-221-8200.”

Duke concurred, “Citizens have a right to expect, and in fact, demand, honest services from their elected officials. Municipal bidding procedures are purposely designed to protect the public health, safety and treasury in the awarding of government contracts. It is intolerable when public officials attempt to circumvent these procedures for the financial benefit of themselves and their friends.”

The charges against Baggett relate to Baggett’s role as a federally-licensed firearms dealer. The indictment alleges that Baggett sold weapons to Thompson even knowing that he was a previously convicted felon, that he didn’t keep accurate records as required and that he made false statements to agents with the FBI and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms officers investigating the case.

The maximum statutory penalties for knowingly transferring a firearm to a felon and for aiding and abetting a felon in possessing a firearm are not more than 10 years imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine and not more than three years of supervised release.

The maximum statutory penalties for false record-keeping by a federally licensed firearms dealer and for making a false statement are not more than five years imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine and not more than one year of supervised release.

Both Gaines and Baggett are tentatively scheduled to appear for plea and arraignment at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15 before U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Ray.

This investigation was conducted by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Arkansas State Police. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura G. Hoey.

Thompson was apprehended in Bangkok, Thailand, where he presumably fled to avoid arrest.

He made an initial appearance in Los Angeles on Nov. 6 and was returned to the Eastern District of Arkansas in the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service.

The charges against him were not made public until he was arrested. He was arraigned before federal Judge Henry L. Jones, Jr. on Tuesday.

Deleo waived identity and probable cause hearings. He is being transported to Arkansas in the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service.