10/22/2014

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Drug runner's massive social media fail

Drug runner's massive social media fail
In this photo taken from KaJuan Ringo's Twitter feed, Ringo is seen firing a handgun. Photo: Justice Department Photo
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SEATTLE -- "Do you shoot wit two hands in the street?"

If you're a violent felon on probation, those are nine words you don't want a federal judge reading.

Particularly when they're the caption you wrote on a photo of you blasting away at a gun range. And you're a key player in a multi-million-dollar pill-dealing operation.

And yet those are among the words penned on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook by onetime football standout KaJuan Ringo in the months before his arrest. Turned out Ringo liked shooting his .40 cal. pistol one-handed, and taking selfies with his gun.

Ringo, 25, was among nine purported drug runners charged with moving large quantities of prescription painkillers north from California for distribution in the Seattle area. At least $5.2 million in proceeds was laundered as part of the operation, which was rolled up in July by federal agents.

Sentenced Friday to 7 1/2 years in federal prison, the California man and his associates brought hundreds of thousands of prescription pills into the Seattle area.

Dubbed the "360 Crew," members of the drug ring sent bundles of oxycodone pills north from Southern California by UPS. The packages were shipped to rooms at low-rent motels in North Seattle, Federal Way and Edmonds, where the drug runners picked them up for resale.

Having sold the pills to Puget Sound-area dealers, the 360 Crew deposited millions of dollars in bank accounts belonging to gang members and others. That money - at least $5.2 million, according to federal prosecutors - was then withdrawn in California.

Having sold to a police informant, the ring was dismantled in July. In addition to oxycodone, the ring appeared to be dealing Xanax and other drugs.

While he's not described as a leader in the scheme, federal prosecutors in Seattle note Ringo lived a "lavish life" on drug proceeds. He paid cash for a new Chevrolet Camaro in March 2013, then bought himself a Porche Panamera the next month. The pills Ringo smuggled paid for jewelry, designer shoes and other "trappings of wealth."

Working backward from the amount of money known to have been moved by the ring, prosecutors believe 360 Crew members moved at least 306,000 pills, assuming a street value of $17 a pill.

It's nearly certain drug proceeds also paid for Ringo's small armory - an AK-47-style rifle as well as .40 cal. pistols by Glock and Springfield. The Springfield was found in a hidden compartment in Ringo's 2010 Dodge Challenger, along with nearly $20,000 in cash.

"Clearly, (Ringo) and the other members of the (gang) were prolific drug traffickers," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Backhus said in court papers. "To make matters worse, (Ringo) possessed numerous firearms in furtherance of his drug trafficking activity. … The combination of firearms and drug trafficking is a potentially explosive one."

Along with a 7 ½-year prison sentence, Ringo has agreed to forfeit the guns, $47,000 and the cars, as well as a 2012 Dodge Charger. He pleaded guilty in January to drug and gun offenses, and has since apologized for his actions.

Early on in the prosecution, though, Ringo, through his attorneys, tried to talk his way out of federal detention by arguing he was not a threat to public safety. Prosecutors responded with photos culled from Ringo's postings on social media - mostly photos of his guns, and one of his large back tattoos depicting robbers from the 1995 film "Dead Presidents."

In a memo to the court, Ringo's defense attorney described him as the child of a mentally ill mother and an incarcerated father. He and his codefendant, Brittany Lemmond, both of Palmdale, California, have a son of their own.

Ringo's sole, significant prior criminal conviction came in 2011 after he beat up a man who'd stabbed him. Apparently, Ringo was at a California hospital being treated for the stab wound when he and his assailant fought.

In a letter to the court, Ringo described himself as a high school football standout who was on a path to play at the University of Washington before a heart condition derailed that dream. He attended Southern Nevada Community College for a short time before dropping out and entering the drug trade, first selling marijuana.

Ringo said he began using oxycodone to deal with the pain after he was stabbed. Then he started dealing the drug, and making real money.

"I closed the door and squandered away my positive opportunities by making poor decisions and allowing it to become a pattern," Ringo said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik.

"I am committing myself to changing my life for the better so that I can be the man and living example for my son," he continued. "I want to be the positive male role model in his life that I didn't have so when life starts to get tough for him I'll be … his compass to help navigate him past the obstacles that got in my way."

Of the nine defendants charged alongside Ringo, three have been sentenced to prison terms while two others - women involved in the money laundering - received probation. Two other codefendants were also sentenced Friday.

Lemmond, Ringo's girlfriend, faced up to a year in federal prison for her role in the scheme; she was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years on probation. Drug trafficker Wesley Williams was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.

Ringo faced significantly more time in prison largely because of the guns he was caught with. As a convicted felon, gun possession carries a mandatory five-year prison term for Ringo; had he not cut a deal with prosecutors, he could be facing a more than a decade in prison.
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