Man convicted of moving hundreds of pounds of drugs through L.A. County
A Los Angeles jury found a man guilty Monday of possessing and transporting hundreds of pounds of cocaine and of marijuana through Los Angeles County as part of a large-scale narcotics operation that stretched to the Midwest.
Prosecutors took Derwin Webster, 38, to trial more than six years after he was arrested on suspicion of helping move cocaine into the secret compartment of a tractor trailer in Rowland Heights.
The Moreno Valley man, who acted as his own attorney in the case, frowned last week during closing arguments as he listened to Deputy Dist. Atty. Oscar Plascencia play an incriminating audio recording in which a man talked in code about the fallout from a drug bust.
“Do you recognize that voice?” Plascencia asked after he stopped the recording. One juror nodded vehemently. “Of course you do,” Plascencia continued. “Some people are born with voices that can be a gift or a curse because they’re so identifiable.”
The jury’s guilty verdict came after about three and a half hours of deliberation and two weeks of testimony. Webster was convicted on all six counts, including conspiracy, drug transportation and possession for sale. He will face 32 years in county jail when he returns to court on Aug. 24 for sentencing, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said.
Though prosecutors were careful to keep the focus on Webster during their case, witnesses who investigated the drug ring made reference to a larger operation. The district attorney's office described Webster in a press release Monday as a "top lieutenant" in the drug operation.
During the trial, Plascencia connected Webster to alleged co-conspirator Samuel Vivoros Murrillo and alleged ringleader Steven Montes. He said that in February 2006, Webster spoke with Montes by phone before helping load 175 kilograms of cocaine into a tractor trailer to be driven by Murrillo. Authorities tracked Webster as he drove his Nissan Quest into the Rowland Heights area, grabbed a bite to eat at a Denny’s restaurant and then made the transfer to Murrillo in front of a plastics distributor.
Authorities stopped Murrillo driving the tractor trailer a short time later and discovered the cocaine in a secret compartment. Agents testified that they seized another 175 kilograms of cocaine in Chicago connected to the ring the following month.
Prosecutors first filed the charges in May 2006, issuing a statement that alleged that Webster and the other suspects were connected to a cartel that moved narcotics smuggled from Mexico across the country to the Midwest and the East Coast. Authorities said they seized $28 million worth of cocaine, along with 657 pounds of marijuana, more than $1 million in cash, handguns, tractor trailers and cars connected to the operation.
During a yearlong investigation into the ring, authorities said they used such methods as air surveillance and wire taps to track the suspects. The alleged ringleader, Montes, pleaded no contest to two drug-related charges in 2009 and was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Murrillo was initially arrested when his truck was pulled over, but he was later released and remains a fugitive, authorities said.
Webster, meanwhile, elected to go to trial and defend himself. He struggled as an attorney, pausing for lengthy periods in between questions and asking for side discussions with Superior Court Judge Bob Bowers Jr. so many times that at one point the judge refused.
Friday in his closing argument, Webster apologized for the delays, saying “I don’t know what I’m doing. … I’m a nobody.”
-- Matt Stevens