[As Tony Papa has pointed out elsewhere, those most likely to be imprisoned in NY on drug offenses are located in 7 targeted (mainly poor minority districts) in NYC.  Our prison population — mainly minority — reflects this manifest example of lingering racism in this country.  It is long past time for reform of our punitive drugs laws.  All too often drugs are the ‘anti-depressants’ of our residents living in poverty.
Ed Kent]


Subject: Will Drug Lord Do Less Time Than the Average American Nonviolent Drug Offender?
Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2007 10:12:04 -0400
From: Tony Papa
To: Tony Papa

Will Drug Lord Do Less Time Than the Average American Nonviolent Drug

By Anthony Papa, AlterNet
Posted on September 27, 2007, Printed on September 28, 2007

The U.S. government recently praised the arrest of Colombia’s top drug
lord Diego Montoya when he was captured earlier this month. Law
enforcement and military officials say it was a powerful blow to
Colombia’s most powerful drug cartel, comparing it to the capture of Al
Capone during Prohibition.

Montoya, who had been on the FBI’s top ten most wanted list, is said to
be responsible for providing as much as 70 percent of all the cocaine in
the United States. In 1999, a $5 million bounty for his capture and
extradition was offered after he was indicted in a federal court in

There is much talk about how this capture will affect the drug trade and
the flow of drugs into the United States. But the question on my mind is
how much time will he serve when he is brought to the United States to
stand trial for the death and destruction he has caused? I would be
willing to bet that he will get less time than many Americans who are
now serving extraordinarily long sentences, many for low-level,
nonviolent drug law violations under the notorious mandatory minimum
sentencing laws. Some would ask how would I come to this conclusion.

If you look at the recently completed federal sentence of former
Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who served a 17-year federal
sentence for drug trafficking, it might give you a hint what is in store
for Montoya. In Noriega’s case the U.S. attorney negotiated deals with
26 high-level drug dealers, including drug lord Carlos Lehder. They in
turn received a package of perks that included leniency and cash
payments, and were allowed to keep their drug earnings in return for
testimony against the infamous general who was once a strong United
States ally before he fell from grace in 1989, when the U.S. invaded

There are many Americans in prison that are serving sentences of more
than 17 years in prison for simple drug crimes. These are marginalized
offenders that don’t have the bargaining chips to establish deals. For
example, Elaine Bartlett, a mother of four, served a 20-to-life sentence
under the Rockefeller Drug Laws for seven ounces of cocaine. Her
husband, Nathan Brooks, was sentenced to 25 years to life. The list goes
on and on. There are an estimated 500,000 Americans locked up because of
the drug war. Many of them are serving lengthy sentences because of a
30-year government campaign to demonize illicit drug use and implement
mandatory minimum sentencing.

In 1986, mandatory minimum sentencing laws were enacted by Congress,
which compelled judges to deliver fixed sentences to individuals
convicted of certain crimes, regardless of mitigating factors or
culpability. Federal mandatory drug sentences are determined based on
three factors: the type of drug, weight of the drug mixture (or alleged
weight in conspiracy cases), and the number of prior convictions. Judges
are unable to consider other important factors, such as the offender’s
role, motivation and the likelihood of recidivism.

The push to incarcerate drug offenders has been further exacerbated
through the current federal sentencing law that punishes crack cocaine
offenders much more severely than offenders possessing other types of
drugs, for example, powder cocaine. Distributing just five grams of
crack carries a minimum five-year federal prison sentence while
distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. This
100:1 sentencing disparity has been almost universally criticized for
its racially discriminatory impact by a wide variety of criminal justice
and civil rights groups, and in Congress. Although whites and Hispanics
form the majority of crack users, the vast majority of those convicted
for crack cocaine offenses are African Americans.

Because of the war on drugs, which mandates mandatory minimum
sentencing, average drug offenders are routinely elevated to kingpin
status and condemned to serve out long prison sentences that should be
reserved only for actual drug kingpins, not individuals that are
fabricated to that level. It’s time to end these draconian laws and
implement a sentencing structure that promotes fairness and justice.

Anthony Papa is the author of 15  to Life: How I Painted My Way to
Freedom and a communications specialist for Drug Policy Alliance. He can
be reached at: anthonypapa123@yahoo.com.

(c) 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/63662/

Anthony Papa

Communications Specialist

Drug Policy Alliance

70 W36th Street, 16th Floor

New York, NY 10018

w. 212-613-8037

c. 646-420-7290

f. 212-613-8022


“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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