By William F. West
Attorneys for convicted marijuana trafficker Leon Carmichael reached a settlement with the government Monday in which their client would turn over his 3,000-seat entertainment venue in west Montgomery.
Carmichael also agreed to surrender up to $1 million worth of property surrounding the building and one of his cars.
"We think it sends a message to drug dealers or people who might be inclined to become drug dealers that there's no profit in it," prosecutor Stephen Feaga said afterward.
The U.S. Marshals Service will take possession of the properties, but the deal will remain subject to the outcome of Carmichael's appeal, which one of his attorneys, Susan James, said could take approximately a year to two years.
"It seems to be a fair settlement," defense attorney Ronald Brunson said afterward.
Jurors found Carmichael, a local businessman, guilty of marijuana trafficking and money laundering after just three hours of deliberation Friday.
The government at trial presented evidence showing the Carmichael Center, which opened more than two years ago at a cost of approximately $1.8 million, was paid for with drug money. It also presented evidence showing that the car, a 2001 Honda Accord, was used for illegal business.
The government had wanted a full property hearing Monday, but Carmichael and his attorneys decided not to run the risk of again facing the jury and instead huddled with prosecutors in the courtroom.
James said Carmichael could have lost his trucking company, rental properties and even his home.
After the settlement was reached at approximately 10:20 a.m., Judge Myron Thompson called the jurors into the courtroom and dismissed them. Carmichael's wife, Valerie, declined comment as she left.
Court lasted nine days, and a spectator from beginning to end was the Rev. Albert Sankey of Jesus Christ Missionary Baptist Church.
"I've been saddened all the time," he said.
Greg Calhoun, chief executive of the Calhoun Foods supermarket chain, echoed similar opinions, but was careful not to be judgmental of the jury's verdict.
Calhoun said Carmichael is a shrewd man whom he believed wanted to do some good for the west side of Montgomery. Calhoun recalled going to first-class events at the Carmichael Center.
"I hate that he's in a situation where now his family is going to be judged by his actions," Calhoun added. "And we as businesspeople have to think about more than ourselves.
Charles Kelser, director of the Carmichael Center, said he believes his boss is innocent.
"He's a very giving person," Kelser said. "He's been honest and forthright with me and with his employees, and I know that he has always been vehemently against drugs."
Jurors on Friday also found co-defendant Freddie Williams guilty of distributing marijuana.
Carmichael and Williams each face 10 years to life imprisonment on the drug distribution charges.
Carmichael also faces up to 20 years behind bars for using a Compass Bank personal account in the name of promoter Sherry Pettis to channel drug proceeds.
Carmichael and Williams will be sentenced Aug. 22.
The two were arrested in November 2003 after more than 500 pounds of marijuana and guns were found in Williams' house. Guns and at least $5,000 in cash were found in Carmichael's Honda.
Williams' attorney, Barry Teague, couldn't be reached Monday.
Now that the Byrne Grants have been chopped from drug task force budgets property seizures will become more common. There is no profit in drug dealing...unless of course you are a cop with a license to steal.