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Scope of drug case causes court problems

Judge to split 62 defendants into three groups

A courtroom packed with attorneys and 21 of the 62 defendants tied to a massive Oxycontin distribution ring between Spokane and Los Angeles appeared in court today as a federal judge tried to set guidelines for how the complex case will move forward.

At this point of the case, defense attorneys said they have no information from the government supporting charges against their clients stemming from 30 raids in Los Angeles and 16 locations in the Spokane area. As of last week, some 20 of the 62 defendants remained at large.

“It’s terrible being in the dark,” said defense attorney Frank Cikutovich of Spokane, who is representing Kevin B. London from Los Angeles.

As a result of the logistics problems posed by simply transporting inmates to court, U.S. District Court Judge Frem Nielsen broke the 62 defendants into three groups. Defense attorneys raised concerns about how legal arguments made to one group would apply to all.

“We have to be a little innovative here,” Nielsen said. “We are going to feel our way along here a little bit at first. But we want to provide continuity for all. Everybody has to be heard.”

Defense attorney Gerald Smith suggested that Judge Nielsen require all 62 attorneys be available for hearings for all three groups of defendants.

“I think that needs to be seriously considered,” Smith said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Van Marter said the case is based on more than 20,000 recorded telephone conversations between the defendants. Those wire taps alone will take up to 300 discs, for which the government has to make 62 copies. The evidence is so voluminous that Van Marter said it will be turned over to defense attorneys in three phases.

Defense attorney David Partovi said evidence showing the justification federal agents had to conduct the 41 raids in Los Angeles and Spokane won’t be available until the end of next week. The search warrant alone could be up to 500 pages, he said.

Although many of the defendants face multiple charges, all are charged with conspiracy to distribute Oxycontin in the investigation that began in 2008.

Those appearing today were London, Brandon L. Chavez, Marlon D. Johnson, Katriel M. Bulley, Harry J. Johnwell, Amber C. Branch, Ashley B. Arredondo, Arvin T. Carmen, Mercedes L. Reeves, Sally B. Guthrie, David E. Colbert, Leslie P. Martin, Jessica L. Clinton, Angela B. Collins, Nacrissa L. Ramzy, Jehveairr M. Maiden, Antoinette A. G. Sanchez, Daniel J. Hunka, Nicholas S. N. De Caro, Lanae T. White and Tinoah A. J. Bragg.

Most remain in custody.

Judge Nielsen set a tentative trial date for Dec. 2. “Speedy trial rules have to be flexible because of the complexity of this case,” he said.

Andrea George, the executive director of Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, told the judge she’s concerned about a no-contact order that bars the defendants from communicating with each other.

“I understand the need not for talking about the case,” George said. “But we are talking about guys stuck in the Spokane County Jail, and in some cases, the same pod. It’s completely unworkable and you are setting up defendants for failure.”

Van Marter responded that the no-contact order allows inmates the ability to communicate for such things as changing television channels or procedures during transport, but they are barred from discussing the criminal case.

“Until we get everybody in custody, it’s inevitable that some defendants will be housed together,” she said. “And in those instances, they are prohibited from discussing the case.”

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