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Three strike plea deal in cocaine sales case

They will testify against others accused of being part of a massive drug ring in southern St. Petersburg.

By JOUNICE L. NEALY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


Three suspects in a multimillion-dollar drug ring have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against co-defendants, according to documents released Monday by federal prosecutors.

Lee Wright, Danny Thomas and Darrell Kelly signed agreements with the U.S. Attorney's Office last week. They each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute at least 5 kilograms, or 11 pounds, of cocaine and at least 50 grams, or 1.75 ounces, of crack.

Wright and Kelly distributed drugs in the St. Petersburg area since 1997, according to federal records. Thomas had been involved since 1994 and operated in St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs, prosecutors said.

Each of the men faces a maximum life sentence, $4-million in fines and five years' probation.

Despite their cooperation, they will not be guaranteed leniency during sentencing, according to the deal.

In March, the three were among 20 people indicted by federal officials and accused of participating in a drug operation. The crack cocaine ring did more than $8-million a year in business, authorities said.

The federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Officials began investigating the ring in June 1993.

Five years later, the alleged leader, Elrick Bernard Wynn, and several others were named in a federal indictment. At that time, a prosecutor in court called the operation the "Microsoft of south St. Petersburg."

Wynn fled St. Petersburg and has not been found. Federal officials also have been unable to locate a Wynn associate, Santana D. Cooper of St. Petersburg.

Last May, a federal jury returned guilty verdicts against six of the defendants named in the 1998 indictment.

The March arrests were the result of a second round of indictments in the ongoing federal investigation being conducted by the DEA, FBI, U.S. Marshal's Service, IRS, St. Petersburg police and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

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