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Mobtown Beat

British cocaine conspirator gets four years

Editor's Note: This article first appeared on Citypaper.com as a News Hole blog post.

Sarfraz Patel, a British national who allegedly remortgaged his home to raise money for an unlikely drug deal arranged by undercover police in Baltimore, was sentenced to 48 months in prison on June 22 after a 45-minute bench conference before Federal District Court Judge William D. Quarles. Bench conferences are held in open court, but out of earshot of the public.

“The bottom line is 48 months,” Robert Bonsib, Patel’s lawyer, told a reporter afterward. He declined to comment further.

Christopher Romano, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, said Bonsib requested the bench conference to discuss matters he had filed under seal. Patel’s sentence will run concurrent to his pre-trial detention and end with three years of supervised probation, Romano said, adding that the probation is “academic because he will be deported when released.”

Patel was arrested in May 2009, along with Mehtab Khan, another British national who had previously served time for tax fraud. The two had tried to set up a connection in Baltimore to purchase kilo quantities of cocaine for export to London, but a government informant introduced them to law enforcement officers who were posing as drug dealers, and they documented the deal by wiretap and video. The young Brits agreed to pay the police about twice the going wholesale rate for cocaine, according to a witness in their British extradition hearing. They ultimately transferred about $64,000 to a bank account the police set up. Khan agreed to forfeit that money as part of his sentence.

Patel’s sentencing hearing began just after 1 p.m. in Courtroom 3A, where Khan was sentenced in March to 78 months in prison. Bonsib approached the bench and could be seen gesturing to the judge, after which Romano spoke, then Bonsib again. Quarles smiled and held his hands up. At the defendant’s table, Patel first motioned for an earbud so he could hear what was being said. After about 10 minutes, Bonsib called for a young man in the gallery to approach the bench. He was Narwaz Patel, Sarfraz’s brother. Narwaz Patel spoke to the judge for more than 15 minutes while his mother sat, palms upturned, and appeared to pray.

Narwaz Patel shook his head as he returned to the bench, and his mother began weeping as her son held her. Sarfraz Patel, meanwhile, was summoned to Quarles’ bench and held forth for another 10 minutes or so before the judge abruptly ended the session with a recess.

As the lawyers packed up the case files and the clerk checked the spelling of names, Bonsib and Romano conferred briefly and asked Narwaz Patel to take his brother’s suitcase home when he returns to England.

“You’ll probably have to pay extra to check it” at the airline, Bonsib said, smiling. “You may decide it’s not worth it.”

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