A courtroom packed with attorneys and 21 of the 62 defendants tied to a massive Spokane-Los Angeles OxyContin distribution ring appeared in court Thursday as a federal judge tried to set guidelines for how the complex case will move forward.
Defense attorneys said they still have no information from the government supporting charges against their clients, who were rounded up in dozens of raids on Feb. 28. 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, of Los Angeles.
Logistics problems posed by transporting inmates to court prompted U.S. District Court Judge Frem Nielsen to break 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 to be available for hearings for all three groups of defendants.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Van Marter said the case is based on more than 20,000 recorded telephone conversations between the defendants. Those wiretaps alone will take up to 300 discs, of 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 raids in Los Angeles and Spokane won’t be available until the end of next week. The search warrant alone could be as long as 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 Thursday 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.
Nielsen set a tentative trial date of 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.”