Rodney "Rocco" Williams, the Baltimore connection to a cocaine ring that operated out of the Corner Bar and Grille, 1101 Eighth Ave., was sentenced Friday to 21-42 years in state prison.
That is less time behind bars than Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron gave two other members of the organization earlier this year. The judge sentenced Jermaine Samuel, 33, to 46 to 103 years in prison in April, and Kenneth Jon Piner, 52, to 36 to 72 years in June. According to Milliron, Williams, 33, was "not at the top" of the organization like Samuel or a major mid-level distributor like Piner.
A Blair County jury convicted Williams on nine drug-related offenses including several counts of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, two counts of operating a corrupt organization and one count each of using the proceeds of unlawful activity and criminal use of a communication facility.
Samuel and other leaders of the drug ring went to Williams for their supply of cocaine at least eight times between July 14 and Nov. 4, 2011, police said Friday.
Milliron said he thought long and hard about the Williams case and attempted to impose a sentence that reflected the defendant's role in the organization.
Williams was a good friend of the alleged leader of the organization, Damion Floyd of Baltimore, who reportedly attempted to control the flow of drugs between Baltimore and Altoona even after he was sentenced to a state prison for possession of 500 grams of cocaine, discovered during a 2010 traffic stop in Bedford County.
Milliron told Williams, "The terror and damage you did to Blair County is significant. You destroyed lives. You can't say, 'I'm 200 miles away in Baltimore, and I'm not responsible.' "
Williams has a substantial criminal record that included past drug offenses.
His attorney, Philip M. Masorti, argued that while Williams had a criminal record, he had no convictions since the early 1990s.
In a letter to the judge, Williams asked for leniency, stating he had been off probation since 1996, that he had a steady job prior to his arrest and that he was the father of two children, a 20-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.
During his trial, Williams was depicted as a young man who received few advantages in life. Williams was raised in a tough Baltimore neighborhood, living in a housing project that received cheers as it was imploded by the city to make room for other development.
Several friends of Williams from Baltimore appeared in court Friday on his behalf.
Shakia Gross, a friend for 15 years, called him "a good man," and said, "He's been working."
Charles Leak, who has known Williams for 25 years, said they too came from a "troubled neighborhood" where "you would open the door and police would arrest you for nothing."
"He got caught up in a bad situation," Leak said of Williams.
Damon Marshall said Williams is "a good guy," adding Williams takes care of his kids. He concluded by saying that "sometimes good people get caught up in situations and things like that."
Willie Williams said his brother changed his life as he got older. He raised his kids and cared for his family. Masorti said Williams exercised "sheer stupidity," allowing Floyd and an Altoona woman, Shonda Hicks, who transported the cocaine from Baltimore to Altoona, to use him.
Masorti contended throughout the trial that Williams was only helping Floyd by supplying cocaine to the Altoona group. He argued Williams received no money for his efforts.
During Friday's sentencing hearing, Agent James Walstrom of the Attorney General's Office, cast doubt on the defense theory that Williams acted only out of friendship, stating it was "possible but not probable."
One of the other possibilities was that Williams took a share of the cocaine off the top of the hundreds of grams he gave to Hicks for transport back to Altoona.
In answering questions posed by Blair County Assistant District Attorney Peter Weeks, Walstrom gave a "loose estimation" of the profits the local drug organization garnered between July and November 2011 as $240,000 more or less.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman said Williams was one of the "essential cogs" in the operation of the organization and therefore deserved a sentence similar to those imposed on Samuel and Piner.
Milliron also fined Williams $218,000.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.