Ernest Daniels -- #03332-017

16 Years -- Cocaine Conspiracy

Ernest Daniels, prisoner of the drug war
I was a single parent struggling to raise my two small children in Miami. Besides working full-time at Dade Community College, I operated a home-based interior decorating service. I received a phone call in December 1993 from a Mr. Bridges who was interested in window treatments. I had never met the man before and agreed to meet him at his home to take measurements and give him an estimate.

Mr. Bridges mentioned an incident concerning a friend of his, Mr. Jeune, who was stopped for a traffic violation just after picking up $16,000 from Mr. Bridges Laundromat business. His friend had no driver's license and no identification so the law enforcement officer confiscated the money. He told me that If I could retrieve the money, he would pay me $4,000 in addition to the window treatment job.

Since his story was so unusual, I called the Escambia Sheriff's Department and spoke with Deputy Vic Phillips and told him I wanted to retrieve the money, and asked if there were any suspicions surrounding its seizure, or if it had been involved in any criminal activity. His reply was no, so we arranged a time that I could travel from Miami to pick up the money, but was told when I arrived that he needed a few days to review documentation. A few days later, I was contacted by the deputy and was told I could come and pick up the money. When I told this to Mr. Bridges, he said he had a change in schedule and would join me on the flight north. To my surprise, we were met upon our arrival by Mr. Jeune, who had a motel and we drove there in a taxi cab. At the motel, Mr. Bridges brought me the telephone and asked if I would dial a number for him. There was no answer and he re-dialed it himself.

Suddenly, the door burst open, the police rushed in, and Mr. Bridges and I were under arrest. Mr. Jeune was a police informer and the taxi cab driver who brought us to the motel was a police officer.

Ernest Daniels with his family
I was charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine base. I was tried, convicted and sentenced. I must serve 15 and 1/2 years in prison followed by 5 years of supervised release. I had no prior criminal history. I learned that Mr. Bridges was the main target of an ongoing drug investigation. Mr. Jeune was part of the drug operation and owed Mr. Bridges $16,000, which he did not have, so, in fear for his life, he went to the police and became an informant.

I was tried with seven other "co-conspirators" -- all testified they never knew me. The only person who could have exonerated me was Mr. Bridges, but my court-appointed lawyer failed to bring him to the witness stand. Mr. Jeune also testified that he and I never had any type of dealings concerning drugs.

It was in December in 1993, and I wanted to give my girls the best Christmas present ever. I made a terrible mistake, used poor judgment and made bad decisions -- and I am paying for it now.

Unfortunately, my daughters are also forced to pay, and for the rest of their lives.

Do the lives of my daughters even matter? Or does the obsession of the government with the drug war preclude any kind of sensibility as to what the real problems are in this country?