Judge sentences conspirators in heroin ring

A dozen defendants have received federal prison terms for their roles in a heroin distribution ring that connected Baltimore to Front Royal.

The 12 people sentenced last week in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg were convicted of trafficking more than 1,000 grams of heroin from Baltimore to Front Royal over a three-year span.

Judge Michael Urbanski handed down punishments in the court last week to the following defendants:

• Sheldon Dominick Berry, 27, no address given, 168 months or 14 years in a federal penitentiary.

• Nicole Renae McNall, 25, of Front Royal, 96 months or eight years.

• Megan Marie McNall, 24, of Front Royal, 108 months or nine years.

• Brittani Monique O’Bannion, 23, of Front Royal, 60 months or five years.

• Da’Shawn Edwards, of Front Royal, 168 months or 14 years

• Keon Hackley, 20, of Front Royal, 36 months or three years.

• Tiara Lachay Bailey, 24, of Front Royal, to 16 months.

• Antwan Cottman, 29, of Baltimore, 180 months or 15 years.

• Antwan Lucas, 21, of Baltimore, 108 months or nine years.

• Adrian Darnell Edwards, 22, of Front Royal, 190 months or 15 years and 10 months.

• Randall Wayne Freeman, 40, of Manassas, 48 months or four years

• Alisha Marie Stocking, 21, of Toms Brook, 48 months or four years.

The judge rescheduled the sentencing hearing for Earl Christopher Magwood, 42, no address given, to May. Magwood recently was convicted of conspiracy to distribute heroin.

An amended sentencing memorandum filed in Berry’s case indicated that the defendant agreed that guidelines called for him to receive a prison term within the range of 168-210 months. Berry argued for a sentence closer to the statutory minimum of 120 months. His attorney Roland M.L. Santos gives some background on his client’s life and involvement as a “runner” in the conspiracy in making an argument for a lesser sentence.

“Few runners sell more, but know less, especially about their bosses, or their customers for that matter,” Santos states. “And, their remuneration for their efforts has not kept up with their exposure. Sheldon is still dirt poor for the amount of heroin that he helped distribute.”

Santos argued that runners like Berry used to earn “good money.”

“But in the 21st century, because of the technology, one poor, worthless person can sell so much more weight than in the past and not even realize it,” Santos states. “And, this scheme keeps them poor. They are expendable.”

Santos goes on to ask the court to recognize the nature of this “boutique version of the drug trade” in which runners do not participate in the same way as “upper-level managers” of the past. Santos also notes that his client quit the drug trade “cold turkey,” unlike many others who the attorney called “unsalvageable.”

Members of Berry’s family also submitted letters to the court supporting the defendant. The judge ultimately sentenced Berry to a term at the low end of the guidelines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Wolthuis prosecuted the cases. Information and evidence Wolthuis presented at previous hearings indicate the conspiracy began as early as 2013. Members distributed on average 1 kilogram of heroin per week during the conspiracy operating between 2013 and April 2016.

Heroin customers in Virginia concealed their identities from the sellers by contacting a phone number in Maryland, either by voice or text, controlled by conspiracy members, according to information provided by authorities in court documents. Conspirators associated the fake name of “Chris” to the number that customers contacted to place heroin orders.

Customers placed an order and received a street address in Baltimore, where they would pick up the heroin. Customers would arrive at the address, and members of the conspiracy would approach the vehicle and conduct the drug transaction, according to the court documents. Virginia customers would travel back to Front Royal. They would make one or more trips to Baltimore per day and, once they returned to Front Royal, used heroin and sold the drug to others.

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Winchester office conducted the investigation with the Front Royal office of the Virginia State Police Northwest Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, the Baltimore City Police Department, the Baltimore County Police Department and sheriff’s offices in Loudoun County and in Frederick and Howard County, Maryland.