Cocaine trafficker pleads guiltyPublished 7:01pm Monday, May 13, 2013
A Belhaven couple arrested last year on drug charges pleaded guilty to those charges in an arrangement with the state Monday.
Superior Court Judge Russell Duke Jr. handed down two judgments on Carlton Deshawn Rome — one for the consolidated drug charges, the other for the possession of firearms by a felon — a total sentence of a minimum of 47 months, a maximum of 57 months. Rome’s girlfriend, Ella Lawanda Williams, by contrast, was given a six- to eight-month suspended sentence, with 24 months of supervised probation.
In late 2011, series of controlled cocaine buys by a confidential informant for the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office led to the couple’s arrest on Feb. 1, 2012. According to Assistant District Attorney Matthew Rice’s summary of the case, during a search of Williams’ Belhaven home, 75 grams of cocaine was found hidden in the duct of a forced-air ventilation system. Over $9,000 in cash and two firearms also were seized by law enforcement.
Rome was charged with level I trafficking in cocaine, possession with intent to sell, maintaining a dwelling to facilitate the sale of drugs, possession of a marijuana and drug paraphernalia and possession of a firearm by a felon. Williams was charged with possession with intent to sell, maintaining a dwelling to sell drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.
While Williams entered a guilty plea, when Duke asked her if she was guilty, Williams answered in the negative. She said that though her boyfriend was dealing drugs out of her home, she was not aware of the fact, but was advised a guilty plea would be in her best interests because “it would hard to prove to a jury that I didn’t know.”
The confidential informant, however, said that both Rome and Williams were present when the cocaine was purchased, according to the prosecution.
Rome and Williams were cooperative when investigators searched the mobile home, according to Rice. When asked if there were any firearms present, Rome showed them to a closet where two firearms were hidden inside a shoebox. Rome told investigators the guns belonged to his brother who had asked him to hold onto them, Rice said. The seized cash was found in a safe and in Williams’ wallet. Williams has since shown documentation that some the money was from legitimate sources, including some from a FEMA payout after Hurricane Irene, and the documented money has since been returned to her.
“From the very beginning Mr. Rome said the drugs were his and Ms. Williams did not know anything about it,” said Mario Perez, Williams’ defense attorney, adding that Rome signed an affidavit attesting to the statement.“(Williams) has said from the beginning that she was not involved in drugs, but unfortunately she was involved with someone who was,” Perez said.
“I just got caught up in a messed up situation,” Williams said. “I’ve never in been on drugs, done drugs, touched drugs.”
Perez asked the court to consider putting Williams on supervised probation under whatever conditions the judge deemed necessary, which was granted.
Rome, who has spent 15 months in the Beaufort County Detention Center because he never made bail, addressed the court, saying, “Ms. Williams did not know about the drugs or the guns in the house and I am sorry for her and my kids.”