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Accused Cocaine Dealers Handling Their Own Defense in Federal Court

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Times Staff Writer

A former leader of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang told a federal jury Wednesday that the government’s attempt to link him to a $2-million-a-month cocaine distribution ring is based on “misconceptions, misinformation and mistaken conclusions of fact.”

James H. (Doc) Holiday, 46, who is serving as his own legal counsel, made the remarks as the government began presenting evidence in the drug-trafficking, money-laundering and conspiracy trial of Elrader (Ray Ray) Browning Jr., 33, the alleged leader of the drug organization. Holiday is a co-defendant in the case.

In an hourlong opening statement in Los Angeles federal court, Assistant U.S. Atty. John S. Gordon used chalkboard-sized charts and diagrams to outline the intricate structure of what he called a major drug ring.

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One witness testified that the organization each month distributed 80 kilograms of cocaine and lesser amounts of heroin in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Inglewood, Oakland and Detroit. Law enforcement officials said the street value of the drugs, depending on how they were cut and sold, probably was between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

“At the very top of the organization is Elrader Browning Jr.,” Gordon said as he pointed to a diagram that named 39 of Browning’s alleged suppliers, customers, lieutenants and foot soldiers. Seventeen of 27 defendants originally indicted in the case have pleaded guilty. Two are being prosecuted elsewhere and four are fugitives. Charges against two others were dismissed.

Browning, who is also serving as his own lawyer, reserved his right to address the jury until after the government completes its case. He is charged with 44 felony counts. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole, said Special Assistant U.S. Atty. Lisa B. Lench.

Holiday, who is charged with conspiracy and three drug-trafficking offenses, spoke to the jury for less than 10 minutes. Although they have the right to wear civilian clothes, both defendants chose to appear in court in blue prison jump suits.

The government’s case against Browning and Holiday is based largely on secretly recorded conversations among Browning’s associates and customers and the testimony of government informants and two of Browning’s former confidantes.

The prosecution’s first witness, Nei Wells, 28, was Browning’s girlfriend and second-in-command, Gordon said. She has pleaded guilty to four drug charges. The government agreed to drop other charges in exchange for her testimony, Gordon told the jury.

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Wells testified Wednesday that Browning organized the drug ring in October, 1985, and that it distributed powdered as well as rock cocaine, known as “crack,” “China white” heroin, and marijuana. Although she did not receive a salary, Wells said, Browning bought her two sports cars and a house in South-Central Los Angeles in return for her services.

Her role, Wells said, was to oversee couriers who regularly were paid $1,000 to deliver kilograms of cocaine to customers in Detroit. Couriers who carried drugs to Oakland on a less frequent basis were paid $500, she said.

Wells testified that Holiday and his associates regularly purchased rock cocaine from Browning, usually in quantities of about half a kilogram.

The operation was shut down on June 30, 1987, when a task force of federal, state and county lawmen who had been monitoring the activities arrested the alleged principals.

In his opening statement, Holiday said, “Nei Wells’ testimony will establish that her implication of me in these charges and crimes are derived from misconceptions, misinformation and mistaken conclusions of facts she derived from others.”

Holiday branded as a “liar” another government witness, John Milan, who agreed to testify against his former associates after an attempt was made on his life.

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“In the end,” Holiday said of himself, “you will have a picture of guilt by association only. You will have a man with blemishes in his past, blemishes in his present, but a man not guilty” of the crimes with which he is charged.

Wells testimony was interrupted for about 1 1/2 hours Wednesday afternoon when Browning moved for a mistrial after the prosecution played a secretly recorded 1986 conversation between Wells and a government informant in which Wells apparently made a brief reference to Browning’s recent release from jail. Jurors are generally not informed of a defendant’s criminal record, although it can be used to impeach the defendant’s testimony if he chooses to take the witness stand.

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson denied Browning’s motion.

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