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    4 convicted in link to $8-million drug ring

    Three men used their businesses as fronts, prosecutors say. A woman was found guilty of money laundering.

    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 23, 2000

    TAMPA -- Three St. Petersburg men accused of running an $8-million-a-year cocaine ring were convicted Friday in federal court.

    Also, a St. Petersburg real estate agent was found guilty of laundering money for the accused ringleader, who remains at large.

    A jury deliberated for eight hours Friday before returning the verdicts.

    The convicted crack dealers were Bennie L. Phillips, 46, owner of 31st Street Auto Body; Rashie Witcher, owner of Nikko Car Rental; and Arthur Coston, a grocer and recovering crack addict. Each was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

    Federal prosecutors said the men's businesses were fronts for the drug trade. A federal grand jury indicted the men in March, accusing them of conspiring to distribute at least 11 pounds of cocaine and at least 1.75 ounces of crack since mid-1993.

    Real estate agent Bibi Bacchus, 54, was found guilty Friday of four counts of money laundering. She was accused of laundering money for St. Petersburg resident Elrick Bernard Wynn, accused of being the group's ringleader. Wynn, 31, has been indicted, but he fled in 1996 before authorities could arrest him. He remains at large.

    Bacchus was released on bail Friday. U.S. marshals took Phillips, Witcher and Coston into custody. All four are to be sentenced March 9, according to U.S. Judge Richard A. Lazzara.

    The length of their prison sentences will depend on the severity of their prior criminal records.

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