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Guilty Verdict in Cocaine Conspiracy and a Conspiracy to Launder Drug Money

JUN 30 (PITTSBURGH) – After a trial that began on June 9, 2014, a federal jury deliberated for just the afternoon on June 26, 2014 before finding Robert Russell Spence, a previous resident of Duquesne, Pennsylvania who is also known as “Slick” or “Little Russ”, guilty of taking part in both a cocaine conspiracy and a conspiracy to launder drug money, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today. USA Hickton indicated that this conspiracy appears to involve the largest amount of cocaine ever prosecuted in the Pittsburgh area.

Like dozens of his co-conspirators, Spence’s case was held before United States District Judge David Cercone in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

According to Assistant United States Attorney Ross Lenhardt , who prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States, the evidence presented at trial established that Spence was the fulcrum of the entire drug trafficking organization due to his role as the main Pittsburgh area recipient and trafficker of multiple kilograms of cocaine from California. AUSA Lenhardt indicated in court filings that the overall conspiracy involved approximately 2000 kilograms of cocaine, valued at over $200 million dollars on the street. This amount of cocaine is enough for every man, woman and child who is currently a resident of Pennsylvania to have their own dose of cocaine. These doses of cocaine are commonly snorted in “lines” when it remains in powder form and “rocks” of crack cocaine are commonly smoked in pipes after being easily converted into that form in a microwave or over an open heat source such as a stovetop.

The testimony revealed that Spence was initially obtaining cocaine from California by use of common couriers such as DHL, Federal Express and the US Mail until law enforcement made seizures of both cocaine packages coming to the Pittsburgh area and drug money headed back to California. The conspiracy thereafter changed the mechanism of transportation multiple times from tractor trailers and other vehicles, to flights from the Oakland airport, to flights from the San Francisco airport, and ultimately to one way private jet flights costing approximately $40,000 each- paid for with bags of cash delivered by members of the conspiracy. Spence also conspired to launder his drug money in multiple ways including making purchases of vehicles, prepaid credit cards, hotels, houses, flights, drug processing materials and businesses in the names of other people, as well as depositing cash in amounts less than $10,000 in order to avoid federal laws which require banks and others to report such transactions.

Spence testified that he had paid for and fired numerous prominent local and out-of-state criminal attorneys, then he fired the attorney appointed by the court to represent him free of charge, and ultimately waived his constitutional right to counsel and represented himself throughout the trial with the assistance of Attorney Thomas Brown as his “stand-by” counsel.
The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the final charge against Spence and the United States Attorney’s Office will soon decide whether to request that another jury decide whether he is also guilty of that offense.   

Judge Cercone indicated that sentencing will occur after the preparation of a Presentence Investigation Report by the United States Probation Office detailing Spence’s background including his criminal, familial, employment, educational and other histories. For cases involving these large amounts of cocaine, the law provides for a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison, in addition to a fine of up to $4.5 million.  Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based on the seriousness of his crimes and the prior criminal history of the defendant.

The defendant has been in jail awaiting trial, in part because these crimes were committed while Spence was on state parole for previous convictions involving his sale of a firearm and “cloned” phones to an undercover state Trooper. Pending sentencing, the court continued Spence’s incarceration.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) agents joined forces as the lead investigators in the case that led to the prosecution of Spence. The investigation also involved the valuable assistance of many other federal, state and local agencies including the West Homestead Police Department, the Cleveland Police Department, The Las Vegas Metro Police Department, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Oakland (California) Police Department and the Frederick (Maryland) Drug Task Force.

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