Greenbelt, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus sentenced Jose Joaquin Morales, age 37, of Baltimore, Maryland, today to life in prison for using a cell phone to arrange the murder-for-hire of Robert Long, who was a cooperating witness in a case pending against Morales in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Morales is currently serving two consecutive 262 month sentences for drug convictions in Maryland and Texas.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Assistant Special Agent in Charge Gary Tuggle of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Baltimore District Office; and Colonel Michael Kundrat, Chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.
“Thanks to outstanding law enforcement work, Jose Morales will spend the rest of his life in federal prison for murder, and a wrongly convicted man was exonerated,” said U.S. Attorney J. Rosenstein.
“Today’s sentencing of Jose Morales not only closes the book on a career offender, it slams shut the prison cell door,” stated Gary Tuggle, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Baltimore District Office. “This case as well as the prior drug case against Morales strongly illustrates DEA’s commitment to target career offenders. Due to the combined efforts of law enforcement agencies along with the United States Attorney’s Office, Morales will never see the light of freedom again.”
According to evidence presented at his two week trial, Long and Morales were co-defendants in a series of theft cases in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Long had agreed to testify against Morales less than two weeks before he was shot. Detectives used Long’s information to obtain a search warrant at Morales’ home and seized a large amount of stolen construction equipment. Six days later, on March 24, 2008, Long was dead. Witnesses testified that Morales ordered the murder to prevent Long, who was also an employee of Morales, from testifying against him.
The jury learned that three weeks after the murder, Morales confessed to his attorney, Stanley Needleman, that he paid Dead Men Inc. (DMI), a prison and street gang, $20,000 to kill Long. Needleman testified that he had learned that Long was cooperating against Morales and reported that fact to Morales on March 20, 2008. Long was last seen about 15 minutes before his murder walking with a DMI member.
Trial evidence was presented that Morales was arrested on unrelated drug trafficking charges I August 2008 in Texas. He was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison. At the time of his arrest, he purported to cooperate against Needleman, advising federal agents that Needleman was involved in drug trafficking and that Needleman told Morales that he (Needleman) “took care” of Morales’ co-defendant by having him killed by DMI. Needleman testified that he did not learn about the cooperation until Needleman was the subject of an April 2011 federal search warrant that yielded over $1.2 million dollars in unreported cash in his home. Needleman subsequently pled guilty in September 2011 and agreed to testify, and did testify, against Morales.
The jury also heard testimony that Morales learned in 2011 that federal authorities were investigating Long’s murder. In order to convince federal agents in Maryland to proffer him in order to reduce his Texas sentence, Morales stated that a DMI member and the member’s brother shot Long in the head twice. Morales also made incriminating statements about his knowledge and involvement in the murder to two other inmates who also testified at trial.
Stanley Needleman, age 71, of Pikesville, Maryland, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and structuring financial transactions to avoid reporting large cash receipts and deposits. Needleman was sentenced on December 15, 2011 to a year and day.
The prosecution of Morales resulted in the exoneration of Demetrius Smith, who was serving life in state prison for the murder -- a crime he did not commit.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the DEA and Maryland Transportation Authority Police for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Sandra Wilkinson and Martin J. Clarke, who prosecuted this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case.