By The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Memphis man accused of running a violent drug trafficking operation and fleeing to Mexico to evade arrest has pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy in four murders-for-hire, federal authorities said Tuesday.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Memphis said Craig Petties had pleaded guilty to more than a dozen charges stemming from a 50-count indictment issued in 2002. Petties entered his plea in December 2009, at which time the federal court ordered the plea sealed.
The plea was unsealed Tuesday.
The indictment said Petties worked with a drug cartel in Mexico to move large amounts of cocaine and marijuana into Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina starting in 1995. He fled Memphis in 2002 and was arrested in Mexico in January 2008.
From Mexico, Petties ordered the killings of rivals, suspected informants and others in Memphis and Mississippi, according to the indictment.
Authorities said Petties pleaded guilty to using violent crime in aid of racketeering activity and conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities to commit murder for hire in the deaths of Mario McNeal, Latrell Small, Mario Stewart and Marcus Turner.
Small was slain in August 2004, while Stewart was killed in March 2005. Turner was kidnapped and killed in September 2006 and McNeal was slain in March 2007.
Petties had initially been charged in connection with six killings, but pleaded guilty to charges related to four slayings, according to official documents. He also pleaded guilty to various drug and money laundering crimes.
In December 2010, Petties pleaded guilty to a separate charge of possessing a weapon while in federal prison in Memphis.
He is scheduled to be sentenced in both cases on April 1. He faces a penalty of life in prison on each of the murders.
Petties’ attorney, Ross Sampson, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
Walter Gunn, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton, said Judge Samuel H. Mays ordered the plea sealed in December 2009 but the reasons why he issued such an order were not immediately clear.
Petties began building his drug organization in Memphis in 1995 and remained its leader even while eluding arrest in Mexico, authorities said. Petties relied on kidnapping and murder to keep the drug ring in business, prosecutors charged.
Assets seized from the organization are valued at more than $3 million and include large amounts of cash, two high-priced homes and a string of luxury vehicles, authorities have said.
Petties was arrested by Mexican authorities working with U.S. law enforcement agencies. He was deported from Mexico and returned to Memphis on Jan. 18, 2008.
While fleeing arrest, he was listed as one of the U.S. Marshal’s top 15 fugitives and was also featured on the “America’s Most Wanted” TV show.
Some of his alleged coconspirators also were arrested.