Tuesday, October 19, 2010

TOP STORY > >Cabot Mafia case in court

Leader staff writer

George Wylie Thompson — the Cabot man indicted more than a year ago on multiple federal charges, including bookmaking, drug trafficking and gun dealing — went on trial in Little Rock on Monday, along with his alleged co-conspirator Ralph DeLeo from Summerville, Mass., near Boston.

This is the first case with alleged Mafia ties to be prosecuted by the U.S. attorney for Arkansas’ Eastern District, but that reference, which conjures images of wise guys and Tommy guns, has not been used at the trial. Judge Leon Holmes has ruled that the term is prejudicial.

Instead, the 12 women and two men who make up the jury plus two alternates have heard testimony from several witnesses and parts of the conversations taped during a three-month wiretap of Thompson’s phone that started in early December 2008 and led to at least eight arrests and the drug-trafficking conspiracy charges for which Thompson and DeLeo are on trial now.

The wiretaps were authorized as part of an investigation into the bookmaking that Thompson now admits to. He was a good bookmaker, one of his attorneys said Monday, but he wasn’t guilty of drug trafficking.
FBI agents monitored almost 6,000 calls during a three-month period, including the 51, which are in evidence in the drug-trafficking case.

Thompson also has been indicted on federal charges along with DeLeo and two others in Massachusetts and on federal charges involving former North Little Rock Alderman Cary Gaines, who allegedly participated in a kickback scheme involving a city contract to pay a gambling debt owed to Thompson. Those cases have not gone to trial.

On Monday, the jury was seated and the prosecutors and defense attorneys made their opening statements.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Hoey said she would present evidence that Thompson asked his employee, Tri Cam Le, a Vietnamese refugee, to pick up 2.2 kilos of cocaine (about 4.5 pounds) in San Francisco and take it to DeLeo in Boston.

She also would present evidence that DeLeo sent Le $50,000 by Federal Express to pay for the cocaine.

The taped conversations between DeLeo and Thompson before and after Le was arrested in Lonoke on Dec. 12, 2008, with the cocaine in the trunk of his car showed that both were part of the conspiracy, she said.

Defense attorneys Blake Hendrix and Jason Files for Thompson and Dale West and Gary Corrothers for DeLeo, said the money that DeLeo sent to Le was a loan. They said they would show a connection between the $50,000 and investments, which included a Chinese restaurant, manufacturing boat parts and gold coins.

Hendrix said although a crime may have been committed, there was no evidence that Thompson was part of it. Most of the evidence was against DeLeo, he said.

West said DeLeo talked to Le only twice, from September 2007 to December 2009, and that there was no evidence from the recorded phone calls that DeLeo knew anything about the cocaine. Le initially said he bought it from a black man in Little Rock and was paid $2,000 to deliver it to Memphis.

West pointed out that by recanting and implicating Thompson and DeLeo, Le was not prosecuted for other crimes such as tax evasion, illegal gambling and Social Security fraud. He also avoided federal charges and a federal prison sentence where parole is not possible.

The phone conversations taped during the wire tap that were played on Tuesday started with brief updates of Le’s progress during a trip he was taking in early December 2008. There was no mention of a deal or drugs, only updates such as Thompson’s report to DeLeo on the evening of Dec. 7, 2008, after Le made it back to Arkansas. “He made it in. Says he’s going to rest. He’s real tired now,” Thompson said.

Later in the conversation, DeLeo says, “The way it was done, I think there is too much of a paper trail. Maybe we can work something out.”

Some of the conversations between Thompson, DeLeo and Le on Dec. 8 were about driving directions so Le could deliver something to DeLeo at a restaurant in Boston.

But also on that date, Thompson told DeLeo that Le was exhausted from the trip.

“It looks like he’s on pins and needles,” Thompson said. “He’s wore out.”

DeLeo responded, “We’ll do something a little different…We can do this like once every two or three months will be OK.”

On Dec. 10, 2008, the FBI started surveillance of Le and  testimony showed he did not meet a black man in Little Rock to pick up cocaine.

At about 4 p.m. on Dec. 12, 2008, Le was stopped on I-40 by an Arkansas state trooper with a drug dog who had been told by the FBI that Le was coming through and likely had some sort of contraband.

That evening, Thompson told DeLeo, “We got a problem…He got pulled over.”

“Did they find anything?” DeLeo asked.

Later conversations were about the possibility that Le was arrested for immigration problems and about waiting until the weekend was over to bond him out of the Lonoke County Jail. Bail was set at $50,000.Thompson would have to pay a bail bondsman $5,000 to get him out.

“If it was something serious, there would be no bond,” DeLeo said.

“They say it’s just the normal possession deal. It can’t be what we think it is,” Thompson said.

Then Thompson learned from a bail bondsman what the trooper had found.

They got it,” Thompson told DeLeo. “She knew exactly how much was there. She said 2.2 kilos.”

“I don’t know what we do from here,” DeLeo said.

“Bail him out,” Thompson responded.

The conversation continued showing that the two were still doubtful that cocaine was found in the trunk of Le’s car because the bail was smaller than they thought it should be.

“They caught me with six grams (of cocaine) and charged me $100,000 bond,” Thompson said.

Le is serving 14 years in a state prison. The Thompson-DeLeo trial is expected to last up to a week. Both men are in their mid-60s.  If convicted, they face up to 40 years in prison.