Alton "Ace Capone" Coles, the rap music impresario who used his hip-hop Philadelphia record label as a front for a multimillion-dollar cocaine distribution network, was sentenced yesterday to life plus 55 years in federal prison.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick imposed the sentence during a brief hearing in which Coles, his voice cracking, said he did not believe he deserved to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
"I never thought it would come to this," said Coles, 35. "I don't think life is deserved for selling drugs."
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Lloret, one of the prosecutors in the case, said Coles "amply demonstrated" that he deserved such a sentence.
Lloret said the amount of cocaine distributed by the Coles network and the "destruction" it brought to the city justified the maximum sentence.
Based on what he called "conservative" calculations, Lloret said, authorities believe that between 1998 and his arrest in August 2005, Coles headed a drug network that brought more than two tons of cocaine and nearly a half-ton of crack into the Philadelphia drug underworld.
In imposing sentence, Surrick said that "the amount of drugs is staggering and the money involved was even more staggering."
Coles, who has been held without bail since his arrest, enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, according to testimony at his trial last year. He lived in a $480,000 home just outside Mullica Hill, drove a Bentley, and owned several other high-priced cars and properties.
Authorities confiscated more than $1 million in cash during the investigation. The money and the properties are now subject to federal forfeiture actions.
Coles, once a burly 250 pounds, appeared thin under his green prison jumpsuit when he was escorted into court in handcuffs yesterday. Coles, a former barber from Darby, told Surrick that he was a "product of his environment" and had been raised "by the streets."
"My father was a crack dealer," he said, his voice breaking. "My mother kicked me out when I was 12. . . . I became a man on my own."
Surrick said the crimes of which Coles was convicted were "horrendous" and required "extreme punishment."
He called Coles a "high-profile drug dealer," and said his sentencing should serve as a warning and a lesson for anyone else thinking about getting involved in the drug trade.
"Everyone in the area knew Ace Capone" and what he did, Surrick said.
Coles and five co-defendants, including two former girlfriends, were convicted last year after a six-week trial in U.S. District Court.
Coles was found guilty of 37 of the 43 counts he faced, including conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heading a continuing criminal enterprise.
The convictions capped a two-year investigation by agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and detectives with the Philadelphia Police Department narcotics bureau.
The investigation included hundreds of secretly recorded conversations and information provided by nearly a dozen cooperating witnesses, including another former girlfriend.
In a sentencing memo filed last week, Lloret said the investigation documented "tens of millions of dollars generated during the course of the conspiracy and the lavish lifestyle led by the defendant."
Coles founded Takedown Records, a rap music company that produced CDs and DVDs. Adopting the trappings of a rap star himself, Coles drove around Southwest Philadelphia in his blue Bentley, hosted after-concert parties for rap and hip-hop stars who performed in Philadelphia, and produced and starred in a rap music video that investigators said underscored his audacious, in-your-face attitude.
The video, called New Jack City, the Next Generation, was a fictional account of a violent drug gang that used murder and intimidation to take over the crack cocaine trade in Southwest Philadelphia.
Coles, as "Ace Capone," and his business partner Timothy Baukman, as "Tim Gotti," starred as the drug kingpins in the video, which was shot on the streets of Southwest Philadelphia.
At the same time, investigators alleged, Coles and Baukman were in fact taking over the crack trade in that area.
Baukman, 34, was one of the five co-defendants convicted along with Coles last year. He also faces a possible life sentence.
In a series of raids executed in August 2005, authorities seized cash, drugs, and guns while arresting Coles, Baukman, and most of their top associates.
Coles was living in a home he had moved into only two weeks earlier when he was arrested Aug. 10. Authorities alleged the $100,000 down payment on the home, which Coles shared with co-defendant Asya Richardson, came from his drug operation. His Bentley was parked in the garage.
Investigators found $114,780 in the home of another girlfriend near Woodstown and discovered $559,000 in a home shared by co-defendants James Morris and Thais Thompson just outside Salem.
Also, $200,000 in cash was found in a bank safety deposit box belonging to Coles after he was convicted, Lloret said yesterday.
Ten weapons and nearly 400 rounds of ammunition were found in an apartment in Lansdowne maintained by Baukman.
Authorities attributed seven murders and nearly two dozen shootings to the Coles drug ring, although none of the murder charges was listed in the federal drug case. Two of the murder cases were tried in Common Pleas Court and resulted in convictions for two Coles associates.
At its height, the U.S. Attorney's Office estimated, the Coles drug operation was putting 100,000 doses of crack on the streets of the city each week.
"It is very difficult to overstate how damaging the defendant's conduct was to the city of Philadelphia and surrounding area," Lloret wrote in his sentencing memo.