Brothers’ keepers

Feb 21, 2007 at 12:00 am

Their attorneys depict them as a couple of regular guys trying to make it in the competitive entertainment industry who were indicted with circumstantial evidence.

The feds say they're the kingpins of a nationwide drug ring that moved millions of dollars of cocaine through Detroit and other cities.

A jury will decide later this year which version to accept during a trial scheduled in federal court for the Flenory brothers and 34 other defendants associated with the Black Mafia Family.

It's an odd homecoming for Demetrius and Terry Flenory who grew up in southwest Detroit and eventually landed in Atlanta and Los Angeles, respectively.

Investigators say it was the brothers' early drug operations in Detroit that launched the nationwide investigation more than a decade ago. The result: 41 people indicted during the past 16 months on multiple counts.

"We had the initial investigation," says Michael Leibson, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Detroit office, explaining why what is alleged to have been a nationwide drug ring is facing trial in Detroit.

One of the defendants has said he knew the Flenorys in the early 1990s in Detroit when they were supplying him with a quarter pound of cocaine on consignment every three or four days. Crack was stored in a hole in the wall above the linen closet door in the Flenorys' parents' home, he told investigators.

Known as Meech and Southwest T, the Flenorys are believed by the feds to have expanded their drug operation from the Detroit house to a nationwide network with other hubs in Atlanta, Los Angeles and St. Louis. Limos, RVs and other vehicles equipped with hidden compartments allegedly ran huge cocaine shipments across the country.

Meech, who is currently in the St. Clair County Jail in Port Huron, is rumored to have built the Black Mafia Family and that means two things: a powerful drug organization known as BMF and an ostensibly legitimate music business called BMF Entertainment, based in Atlanta. But investigators have claimed that BMF Entertainment was financed by what, at its height, was one of the country's major drug trafficking operations.

"The government allegations appear to be that my client originated illegal activities here, and on through months and years it spread to other venues," says William Daniel, Terry Flenory's Detroit attorney. He disputes the government's assertion that his client, who is in the Sanilac County Jail awaiting trial, was involved as the feds claim.

"He's just a regular guy," he says. "He's got absolutely no criminal record. He's never been picked up for anything."

Jim Feinberg, Demetrius Flenory's attorney, says the length of the government's investigation — as long as 15 years — will hurt the prosecution's case. "The evidence they have against him is very old and very stale," he says.

And the five people to date who were indicted but have pleaded in exchange for providing information don't worry him either.

"Whatever is going on by the witnesses, they're basically trading whatever information they think the government needs in order to get a drastically reduced sentence, which is very common," he says. "Instead of just the people that were involved, I think they started charging anyone who was peripherally involved socially, not necessarily criminally."

Daniel, also, isn't concerned about the testimony from these witnesses.

"There are a number of other things that are troubling to me about the charges and the nature of the indictment," he says. "I don't know if I want to go into detail. But some of the quality of the evidence on which they're relying to connect my client to this, many of the people they quote, many of the people they interview and used for reports never met my client. They didn't know him."

Leibson says the government can't discuss specifics of its case outside of what's on the public record. So based on court documents and existing testimony, what the witnesses would be corroborating is the government's belief that Demetrius and Terry Flenory headed a distribution network and laundered money by buying winning Michigan lottery tickets for inflated prices.

Daniel says the length of the investigation will hurt the prosecution's case from the jurors' perspectives as they consider the government's extensive investigative resources of wiretaps, surveillance, informants and other sources of information.

"If that was going on for 15 years over a wide geography and several venues, it would seem to me that somewhere in 15 years they would have had enough evidence or information to charge my client with something, right?" Daniel says. "One of the fundamentals of law enforcement is to stop illegal things from going on. Why would you just watch somebody commit crimes for 15 years before you bust him?"

Meanwhile, attorneys for the remaining defendants are continuing discovery and haggling over how the trial or trials will be conducted in Judge Avern Cohn's courtroom in the U.S. District Court in Detroit.

One defendant, Jacob Arabov, is seeking to have his trial moved to New York where he lives and operates his business. Known as "Jacob the Jeweler" and the original "King of Bling" for his diamond-crusted watches and jewelry favored by the hip-hop set, Arabov reportedly has submitted a celebrity-laden witness list with names like David Beckham, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Mariah Carey who will provide testimony on behalf of their jeweler.

Arabov is accused of accepting cash for jewelry from the Flenorys and failing to file the proper tax forms in an effort to conceal the drug money. Arguments to separate his case from the Flenorys' trial and move it to New York are scheduled for March 26.

Having the remaining defendants tried separately from his "most notorious" of clients would be fine with Feinberg.

"We want a separate trial so the dirt doesn't flow over," he says.

Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or [email protected]. Mara Shalhoup of Creative Loafing in Atlanta contributed to this