Originally created 01/29/97

Arguments completed in multistate drug case



AIKEN - Jurors begin deliberations today on the fate of two men accused of being drug kingpins in a multistate drug operation that shipped cocaine and marijuana from Florida to Pennsylvania with a regular stopover in South Carolina.

Elmore Moncrieft of Bamberg County and Albert Shaw Nelson of Miami are charged in a 1995 federal indictment with distributing and possessing with intent to distribute marijuana, cocaine and crack cocaine in Barnwell, Bamberg and Orangeburg counties. They are also charged with conspiring to launder money from their drug proceeds.

In addition, Mr. Moncrieft is charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

In closing arguments Tuesday, Mr. Moncrieft's attorney, Jerry Screen, accused federal prosecutors of working with junkies and drug dealers who cut deals with the government for reduced sentences on their own charges.

The government's deal was to tell these people, "If you want to tickle me, tickle me something about Elmo (Moncrieft)," Mr. Screen said. "Tell me a hustle. I'll cut you a deal. (Federal prosecutors) got right down in the dirt with them."

But U.S. Assistant Marvin Caughman said the government is never going to find any Mother Teresa's to testify about the drug trade.

"(Drug dealers) are the people the government is obligated to go out and interview and get the inside scoop. .. You get a lot of information that way," Mr. Caughman said.

Mr. Nelson took the unusual step of firing his attorney, Lourie Salley, and delivering his own closing arguments to the jury. However, Mr. Salley remained as co-counsel to assist Mr. Nelson.

Mr. Nelson immediately drew an objection from Mr. Caughman when he accused FBI agent Jim Skrak, seated at the prosecution's table, of threatening to put him in prison for life if he didn't cooperate with the government's drug investigation.

"I haven't committed a crime since entering an agreement with this government," Mr. Nelson said.

The defendant pleaded guilty to 1990 federal drug charges in Savannah and served 32 months in prison. Mr. Nelson and Mr. Salley have argued that the drug charges in Georgia and South Carolina are connected to the same drug conspiracy, and Mr. Nelson shouldn't be tried twice for the same crime.