RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Rule No. 1: Don’t lie to the feds.
Richland County cocaine dealer and money launderer for the Mexican drug mob Maurice “Big Mo” Anderson – who fancies himself a “jailhouse lawyer” – learned that lesson the hard way this week.
An irked U.S. Judge Joe Anderson (no relation) tacked an extra 10 years onto Big Mo’s 12-year prison sentence because he lied to investigators.
What was unusual about this case were two things: the significant extra prison time, and that Anderson’s lies concerned his activity as a jailhouse lawyer who dispensed legal advice to inmates. He did this in recent months while incarcerated at the Lexington County Detention Center and awaiting sentencing on cocaine and money-laundering charges.
“To have that many years added happens rarely, and only in cases of flagrant misconduct,” said veteran Columbia criminal defense lawyer Jack Swerling, who was not involved in the case.
What particularly vexed federal prosecutors was that some of the jailhouse tips Anderson dispensed were “bogus” and impeded federal investigations and trials in several cases, assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore said in a hearing Wednesday at the U.S. Matthew Perry federal courthouse.
“He doesn’t understand the law any better than any vagrant on the street,” Moore told the judge. “He talked about helping people when all he did was give them a shovel and help them dig their own grave.”
In one case, Anderson — who at times would cite a book called “Busted by the Feds” — almost persuaded one defendant to back out of a legitimate plea agreement, Moore said. Another time, he posed as an “assistant federal public defender,” according to a tape recording of an Anderson jail phone call an officer played in court.
Prosecutors were able to ask Judge Anderson for extra prison time, because under an agreement to plead guilty the cocaine dealer had signed on May 2, Anderson agreed to always tell the full truth to investigators in any case he had knowledge of.
In that agreement, prosecutors said they would only seek a 12-year sentence against Anderson because last year, he was crucial in getting another Midlands money launderer in the Mexican drug connection to plead guilty in the case, prosecutors said at the hearing.
That money launderer, Donnell Slade, for years helped Anderson run a Northeast Richland “stash house,” which was a transfer station for Mexican drugs and U.S. cash. The “stash house” was off Killian Road.
“When a defendant enters into a contract with the government, he has to live up to it,” Moore said. “We bargained for full, complete and truthful information – we didn’t get it.”
Near the end of Wednesday’s five-hour hearing, Judge Anderson said jailhouse lawyers who give other inmates bad advice create an enormous problem for federal judges. Every day, Judge Anderson said, he receives in the mail about six handwritten legal petitions from inmates, most of which don’t make much sense. All have to be looked into.
Nonetheless, Judge Anderson said, he based his decision to give the jailhouse lawyer 10 more years in prison not because Big Mo Anderson dispensed dubious legal advice but because he lied to federal officials about doing so.
“Mr. Anderson basically brought this upon himself,” the judge said.
Moreover, the judge said, Anderson had shown himself to be an incorrigible drug trafficker. In 1999, Anderson was first convicted in federal court of cocaine trafficking, served six years in prison, got out and started dealing again, the judge said.
“Cocaine and marijuana are serious problems in the Columbia area,” the judge said.
Anderson’s lawyer, Wayne Floyd of West Columbia, objected to the longer sentence, saying most inmates dispense jailhouse legal advice and Anderson — who has no record of violence — was just a friendly fellow who dispensed more than most.
“He’s a man who tried to be helpful,” Floyd told the judge. “He didn’t charge them any money. He was just trying to help them.”
Moore said that while lying to federal law enforcement officials might seem commonplace and therefore trivial, someone like Maurice Anderson — who might have been a witness in future drug trafficking trials — could put in jeopardy that future case.
“When people are lying, it’s very serious,” said Moore, who is retiring this month after 24 years as a federal prosecutor to go into private practice.
“We have an obligation to find out if a potential witness is a liar to make sure that no one is convicted or prosecuted based on the testimony of a liar.”
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.