May 12, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Carlos Powell. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Federal agents launched a manhunt Monday for three fez-wearing drug dealers who disappeared before a jury returned guilty verdicts in one of the biggest drug cases in Metro Detroit history.

Drug kingpin Carlos Powell of Washington Township; his brother, Eric Powell of Franklin; and friend Earnest Proge of Detroit, who were free on bond, failed to appear as ordered before the jury returned its verdict about 1 p.m. The verdict followed a nearly two-week trial in federal court; all three face up to life in prison and $10 million fines.

The men’s disappearance outraged U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy, who ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to find the three.

“No bond. No exceptions,” a red-faced Murphy said, pointing at a deputy U.S. marshal inside a courtroom filled with lawyers, prosecutors and federal agents. “These guys are into the wind. I think it’s outrageous.”

The size, scope and profits of Carlos Powell’s drug ring places him among the most prolific drug dealers in Metro Detroit history. During a years-long investigation, agents seized 66 pounds of heroin, 12 kilograms of cocaine, 1,000 pounds of marijuana and more than $21 million in cash.

Powell’s drug ring allegedly laundered profits and purchased $800,000 worth of jewelry, real estate in Michigan and Georgia and luxury vehicles, including two Bentleys, a Ferrari, a Rolls Royce, and boats. Most have been seized.

Carlos Powell, 39, appeared in court early Monday but cut his ankle tether at 12:33 p.m. — 18 minutes after the jury was supposed to read the verdict, according to courtroom testimony. Eric Powell and Proge could have fled as early as Thursday night, the judge said.

All three should be considered armed and dangerous, prosecutors said. Anyone with information is asked to call the U.S. Marshals Service at (313) 234-5656.

The three men were standing trial in federal court alongside the man prosecutors say helped Carlos Powell hide and spend his millions: former state Rep. Kenneth Daniels, D-Detroit. Daniels, 54, was convicted Monday of a financial crime related to the caseand faces up to five years in prison.

The jury deliberated for about three days before reaching a verdict early Monday on various drug and firearm offenses. Defense lawyers and defendants were supposed to be in court by 12:15 p.m. but only Daniels, defense lawyers and prosecutors appeared.

‘Go get these guys’

Before calling jurors into his courtroom, the judge stood at his bench, pointed at lawyers and demanded answers.

“Where’s Carlos Powell?” the judge asked Deday LaRene.

“I can’t answer that,” the lawyer said.

“I want the government to get three bench warrants immediately, and I want the marshals to go get these guys,” the judge said.

The judge was frustrated the three men would stand trial for almost two weeks and then apparently flee before the verdict.

“What’s that say about these three?” Murphy said. “I’d like these three arrested today without exception. No bond. Understand?”

Carlos Powell’s lawyer tried to defend his client, saying he never fled during a prolonged investigation and prosecution.

“There was absolutely no indication (the men would disappear),” the lawyer said.

“That’s because they’re smart criminals,” the judge said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Randon released Carlos Powell on $50,000 unsecured bond in February 2012. Powell also was ordered to wear a tether.

Randon was recently named a new bankruptcy judge in Detroit.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub, meanwhile, released 36-year-old Eric Powell and 38-year-old Proge on $10,000 unsecured bond in February 2012.

The bonds were extremely low, particularly for Carlos Powell, said criminal defense lawyer Keith Corbett, a former chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Organized Crime Strike Force in Detroit.

“Given the nature of the offense and access to huge amounts of cash these guys had, unsecured bond is a joke,” he said.

Unsecured bond, which does not require a defendant to produce any cash up front, is common in federal court in Detroit, Corbett said.

“They let virtually everybody out on bond,” he said. “As a prosecutor, I thought that was crazy.”

Prosecutors can appeal to a federal district judge but the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not in this case. “The prosecutor’s office, in essence, becomes complicit by failing to object,” Corbett said.

Drugs and money galore

The case featured epic amounts of drugs and money.

During a raid of Carlos Powell’s home in northern Macomb County, agents found $3 million in cash. The money was found on top of drawers, in drawers, behind drawers, under drawers, in the kitchen pantry and under the TV.

“It was almost as if he was running out of places to put the cash,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Gabel told jurors during opening statements.

Carlos Powell, his brother and Proge cast an unusual profile in court. Murphy allowed each man to wear a fez hat in his courtroom. Carlos Powell’s hat was black. Proge’s, too. Eric Powell’s was deep red. Each featured a long tassel that hung to the shoulder.

The men said they were members of the Moorish Science Temple of America. One court filing, on Moorish Science Temple of America letterhead, alleged that the Powell brothers were not subject to U.S. laws and offered to pay money to settle the criminal charges. The judge dismissed the letter as frivolous.

Another court filing indicated the fez the men wore each day to court was “a religious headdress that must be worn for distinction.”

“They wore fezzes without comment from me,” Murphy said after jurors were escorted out of his courtroom Monday. “I thought it was highly offensive and disrespectful.”

The men’s arrests in early 2012 capped a six-year probe. The probe was revealed in a forfeiture complaint filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Beck in December 2010 that summarized the cash seizures and described an alleged drug and money-laundering operation.

The drug ring arranged for large amounts of cash from drug sales to be hauled to Phoenix, Ariz.; Mexico; and elsewhere to buy more drugs, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The drugs were distributed in semi-trucks and vehicles customized with hidden compartments for marijuana, cocaine, heroin and cash, according to prosecutors. Large-scale heroin seizures are rare. Since March 2010, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents involved in the Powell investigation have executed at least 16 search and seizure warrants across Metro Detroit.

rsnell@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2028

Eric Powell and Earnest Proge. (David Coates / Detroit News)

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140512/METRO08/305120104#ixzz31dbt464j

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