A federal jury has found a local man guilty of trying to sell about 25 pounds of cocaine worth $1 million to undercover agents here at the Georgia Welcome Center in Columbus in 2017.
After just 90 minutes deliberation in a trial that started Monday in U.S. District Court in Columbus, the jury on Wednesday found 51-year-old Kenneth James guilty of possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute it. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison when Judge Clay Land sentences him in July.
James has a previous federal conviction on that same charge from December 1999 in Alabama, authorities said.
James was arrested with a Columbus man, Marcus Marshall, 35, after a police undercover agent in September 2017 determined Marshall was a major dealer. Marshall, in recorded phone calls, agreed to meet with the agent to sell 10 kilograms of cocaine at $27,500 per kilo, investigators said.
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On Oct. 16, 2017, agents documented James’ meeting Marshall at a motel to transfer a large box containing the cocaine bricks from the trunk of his 2001 Mercedes Benz S-5Z to Marshall’s 2011 BMW X-5 sport-utility vehicle. James and Marshall drove to meet the undercover officer at the Welcome Center, where they were arrested during the transaction.
Columbus police afterward said it was one of the largest drug busts in the department’s history. Besides the cocaine, they seized both the suspects’ vehicles, $24,000 in cash, and four guns — an automatic rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and two pistols.
Federal authorities said that like James, Marshall also had a previous conviction, in July 2004, for distributing cocaine base, for which he was sentenced to 6½ years in prison.
In this 2017 case involving James, Marshall pleaded guilty in December 2018 to possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute it and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Besides Columbus police, the Drug Enforcement Agency joined in the investigation. The prosecutors were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mel Hyde and Chris Williams.