Rodney "Rocco" Williams, charged as the Baltimore connection in a major Altoona cocaine ring, was found guilty by a Blair County jury Friday night of nine drug-related offenses including several crimes he persistently denied.
Williams and his attorneys, Philip M. Masorti and Robert Donaldson, admitted that he was the "middle man" in a Nov. 3, 2011, cocaine deal that led to the breakup of the Altoona-based drug ring operating out of the Corner Bar and Grille at 1001 Eighth Ave.
But the defense denied Williams, 37, was part of the drug ring, and that on Nov. 3 he was only helping out his childhood friend, Damion "Benny" Floyd of Baltimore, the alleged leader of the Corner Bar gang, by allowing his home to be used as the place where an Altoona woman, Shonda Hicks, 27, could pick up the cocaine and transport it to Altoona and the Corner Bar where it was to be processed for street sale.
Despite the frank admission that he was "guilty" of the Nov. 3 drug delivery, the defense fought charges that Williams was part of a corrupt organization, that he engaged in criminal use of a cellphone, dealing in unlawful proceeds of drug sales and conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine between July 15 and the early morning of Nov. 4, 2011, when the arrests occurred.
Masorti, in an emotional plea to the jury, asked the jury to find Williams not guilty of all the other charges against him except for the one count of possession with intent to deliver cocaine in November.
The jurors came back twice with questions, asking Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron to re-read legal definitions of corrupt organizations, conspiracy and dealing in illegal proceeds.
In his closing argument, Masorti crumpled up a written version of an Oct. 31, 2011, recorded phone call between Williams and Jermaine "Shawn" Samuel, who managed street sales of cocaine out of the Corner Bar.
An agent of the state Attorney General's Office, Albert Adams, said that the coded conversation was actually the setup for the November drug deal.
Masorti said it had nothing to do with drugs but was instead a discussion of Monday night football and an Oct. 21 Puff Daddy-P. Diddy homecoming concert at Howard University in Baltimore.
Masorti tossed the crumpled summary of the conversation to the courtroom floor.
He tossed other pieces of paper on the floor as he attempted to discredit the prosecution case.
He pounded on the dais in front of the jury box to make his points, and he emotionally said he "loved" his client and considered it an honor to represent him.
The defense attorney appeared to be choking back tears as he told the jury, "I care about the constitutional issues. I care about justice ... or injustice."
To Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman, Masorti's bombast and admission of guilt to one charge was "smoke and mirrors" designed to minimize Williams' responsibility for the many kilos of cocaine coming into Altoona between July 15, 2011, and Nov. 4.
Those dates were the parameters set by the prosecution as it sought to show that Floyd, the drug ring leader, began to serve a four-year jail term on July 15. The prosecution contends it was at that point he turned over his drug operation over to Samuel, Natasha Miller, his girlfriend, Williams and Hicks.
The plan, Gorman argued, was to continue the flow of drugs into Altoona, with Floyd operating his drug business from his prison cell at the state correctional institutions at Camp Hill and then Pine Grove.
Adams presented a letter from Williams to Floyd, written on Sept. 27, 2011. Jurors, during deliberations, asked Milliron if they could review the letter. It was flashed onto a screen in the courtroom and the jurors stood around it and read the communication.
Shortly after reading the letter, the jurors returned with verdicts finding Williams was part of the organization: guilty on charges of possession with intent to deliver for drug deals between Oct. 5, 2011, and Nov. 4, 2011, drug deals between July 15 and Oct. 4, 2011, an Oct. 15 drug deal and the Nov. 3 deal.
He was found guilty on two counts of participation in a corrupt organization and one count each of conspiracy, dealing in unlawful proceeds and criminal use of a community facility.
When the jury returned its verdict, Williams sat calmly with his arms folded in front of him. Masorti patted him on the shoulder and the two shook hands. Williams shook hands with Donaldson.
Milliron said Williams will be sentenced Aug. 2.