The US government agreed to a plea bargain with confessed drug trafficker Roger Khan in part to protect information about other targets of the investigation, who are yet to be arrested, according to US Attorney Benton Campbell.
In a letter to Judge Dora Irizarry, dated September 29, Campbell recommends that the court sentence Khan to a 15-year jail term, saying among other things the agreement allowed the government to protect information from cooperating witnesses about the other targets.
In keeping with the agreement, Khan pleaded guilty in March to three charges, being conspiring to import cocaine to the US, conspiring to obstruct justice and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The agreement stipulates a sentence of 15 years imprisonment, five years supervised release, a $300 special assessment as well as any fine and restitution to be imposed in keeping with the law. Campbell also requests that the court impose a fine as it sees appropriate, but not greater than US$4,000,000.
Khan is due for sentencing on October 16 and while Judge Irizarry has accepted Khan’s plea, she has stated that she has the final say on how many years he serves. One person, the cousin of slain TV talk show host Ronald Waddell, has objected to the sentence, calling it too lenient for Khan’s crimes in Guyana, including the murder of her cousin.
While noting that the agreed upon sentence is below the applicable life sentence, Campbell defended it, explaining that the disposition of the case without the need for a lengthy or costly trial would conserve substantial judicial and US government resources, while avoiding litigation risks for both sides. He noted that the US Government had anticipated calling numerous witnesses at the narcotics trial, many of whom are Guyanese citizens. In anticipation, the prosecution took steps to protect the witnesses from retaliation or intimidation by not disclosing their identities to the extent possible, relocating certain individuals and delaying or avoiding deportations to Guyana. “Because the defendant pleaded guilty prior to the exchange of 3500 material or a witness list, the government avoided disclosing the identities of its prospective witnesses or the substance of their testimony,” Campbell explained, adding, “Also, by disposing of this case by plea, the government has protected information provided by the cooperating witnesses about other targets of the investigation who have not been arrested.”
He said Khan was taken to the US to face serious narcotics charges, which could have resulted in mandatory indictment if he was convicted of all charges in the superseding indictment. However, he said Khan conducted his narcotics business entirely from abroad and, for the most part, insulated himself from direct contact with the recipients if his drug in the US district. And while the police in Guyana had seized documents and equipment from locations associated with Khan, Campbell said it would have been a challenge to establish the necessary foundation to admit that to evidence at the trial or use it to connect the defendant directly to narcotics trafficking. “The most powerful evidence against the defendant in the narcotics case would come from the government’s cooperating witnesses, who also tie the defendant to the government’s other evidence. Building a case through the use of cooperating witnesses, while often successful, is not without risk,” Campbell pointed out. He noted that the witnesses would have been involved in narcotics trafficking and many had extensive criminal histories and while the government had confidence in its evidence of Khan’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, there was always the possibility that a jury could question the testimony of the cooperating witnesses based on their criminal histories.
Campbell noted that at least one third party objected to the plea disposition, believing “15 years is too lenient” based on allegations that the defendant was involved in multiple murders or other bad acts in Guyana.
On August 21, Sheila Waddell wrote to Justice Irizarry and pleaded with her not to accept the plea bargain, saying that Khan was implicated in the murder of Ronald Waddell and the murders of many others.
However, Campbell said he had not been charged with murder in the US. “To the extent that the defendant is responsible for other crimes in Guyana, he may face additional charges after he is deported to Guyana if local law enforcement officials decide that is appropriate,” he said.
According to Campbell, by accepting the plea agreement the US government has saved enormous judicial and prosecutorial resources by eliminating the need for at least one and possibly up to three trials, including a lengthy trial on the narcotics charges encompassing several different narcotics investigations. “The plea here results in substantial savings of judicial and government resources,” Campbell said, adding that the defence had indicated its intentions to pursue foreign depositions involving still more resources involving potential disputes over the admissibility and relevance of that testimony, as well as a potential rebuttal case by the government.
Giving a background to the case Campbell said, as set forth in the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), on November 29, 1993 Khan was arrested in the District of Vermont and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm after he purchased three firearms from a federal agent in exchange for two ounces of marijuana. After he was released on bail he fled to Guyana in 1994 and while he lived openly here, he remained a fugitive on the gun charge until his arrest in 2006. Campbell said that while in Guyana, Khan worked in the construction industry as he told the Probation Department that he was always self-employed in construction. “The defendant’s mother stated that he worked for another construction company and then opened his own construction company in 2002, as well as other businesses,” Campbell said in the letter.
It was beginning in or around June 2001, according to Campbell, and continuing until his arrest in June 2006 that Khan imported kilogramme quantities of cocaine into the US. He said that as set forth in the PSR, the government seized a drug ledger which indicated that Davendra Persaud, a Guyanese narcotics trafficker based in the US, received over 150 kilogrammes of cocaine from Khan’s narcotics organisation in early 2003. Persaud was subsequently gunned down on Main Street outside the then Palm Court Restaurant and Bar. Before they had accepted Khan’s guilty plea the prosecutors had accused him of murdering Persaud.
“Over time, as the defendant’s narcotics operation became more profitable, it appears that the defendant became one of the more successful drug traffickers in Guyana,” Campbell said.
Khan was charged with conspiring to import cocaine into the US over a five-year period, from January 2001 to March 2006. The US government has also said he was the leader of a cocaine trafficking organisation based in Georgetown that was able to import huge amounts of cocaine into Guyana, and then oversee exportation to the US and elsewhere. It charged that a significant amount of the cocaine distributed by Khan went to the Eastern District of New York for further distribution. As an example, it cited a Guyanese drug trafficking organisation based in Queens, New York, which it said was supplied by Khan. The Queens organisation was said to have distributed hundreds of kilos of cocaine in a two-month period during the spring of 2003.