- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2013

For a man who once faced life in prison, 15 years is a pretty good deal.

Antoine Jones, a onetime D.C. nightclub owner whose drug conspiracy case resulted in a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court regarding the government’s use of GPS tracking, was facing a fourth trial in the case when he pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in the District.

As part of the plea agreement, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle sentenced Jones to 15 years in prison. Jones, 53, will get credit for time served, prosecutors’ spokesman William Miller said, meaning he has already completed half his sentence because he’s been in custody since 2005 and for the duration of his three trials.

“From our perspective, the important thing is that he’s finally taking responsibility for his conduct,” Mr. Miller said of the plea agreement.

Prosecutors were gearing up for a fourth trial in the case after jurors were unable to reach a verdict earlier this year and a mistrial was declared — an embarrassment for the Justice Department because the drug kingpin had represented himself in court.

News of the plea agreement surprised Jones‘ former attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, who represented him in his first and second trials.

“I fully expected him to go to trial a fourth time,” Mr. Balarezo said. “There’s a lot at stake politically for the government. I never thought they were going to let it go.”

Arrested in 2005, Jones‘ first trial ended in a mistrial and a second trial resulted in a conviction and a life sentence, which the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned.

Prosecutors said Jones bought large quantities of cocaine from Mexican drug suppliers and then sold the drugs, at least partially, through his Northeast D.C. nightclub, called Levels. Authorities seized 97 kilos of cocaine and $850,000 in cash as part of several raids tied to the investigation in 2005.

But Jones was thrust into the national spotlight last year when the Supreme Court weighed in on his case, with justices upholding the decision that authorities had violated his rights by attaching a GPS to his wife’s Jeep in order to track his movements.

In unanimously upholding the reversal of Jones‘ conviction, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the installation of a GPS device “constitutes a ‘search’ ” under the Fourth Amendment and that authorities overstepped their bounds by placing the device on the vehicle without obtaining a warrant.

“For all the courtroom drama over the last eight years, at the end of the day, Jones’s fate will be the same as the hundreds of other drug dealers we have prosecuted in recent years,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement.

As part of Wednesday’s agreement, Jones pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He must also forfeit the approximately $980,000 he was found with when agents searched his property.

Before the start of his first trial, Jones was offered a plea agreement that would have required him to serve 13 years in prison, Mr. Balarezo said. But at the end of the day, the plea agreement benefited both sides. Jones “won by not losing” and prosecutors got a conviction, he said.

“He would have still been detained. He still would have faced life in prison. He had a lot against him,” Mr. Balarezo said. “I don’t think it reflects badly on the government or the case. I think it was a measure of enough is enough.”