Former Los Angeles Dodger Derrel Thomas pleaded no contest Thursday to conspiring to buy and sell 22 pounds of cocaine and agreed to testify against a co-defendant in the case, Rickey Ross, an ex-sheriff's deputy.
In exchange for his testimony during Ross' trial, which begins Jan. 4, Thomas will not be sentenced to more than three years in state prison, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jane Winston said.
Thomas, who played 15 years in the major leagues, and Ross, a 17-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, both left their professions in disgrace. Thomas, 42, was head baseball coach at Dorsey High School at the time of his arrest. For Ross, 43, this was his second high-profile arrest.
In 1989, Ross was accused of the serial murders of three South-Central Los Angeles prostitutes--charges that were dropped. He was sitting in his parked car with a prostitute when he was arrested, and police recovered a small amount of rock cocaine in the vehicle. He later resigned from the Sheriff's Department, citing personal reasons.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 19, 1993 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 71 words Type of Material: Correction
Drug case--Cynthia Patterson, who entered a plea of no contest Thursday to conspiracy to possess cocaine for sale, did not agree to testify against a co-defendant in the case, former Deputy Sheriff Rickey Ross, as was erroneously reported in Friday's editions of The Times. As part of her plea, it was agreed that she would not have to testify against any individual involved in the investigation. Patterson's sentence could range from probation to two years in prison, said her attorney, Richard C. Chier.
The investigation of Ross and Thomas began last year when an informant told police that Thomas had allegedly approached him seeking a narcotics transaction, authorities said. Thomas allegedly tried to act as a middleman for Ross, who was seeking to buy cocaine to sell on the street.
After months of negotiations, the transaction changed from a "buy-bust to a reverse sting situation where the agent would sell the cocaine to the defendants," said Winston, who is with the district attorney's Major Narcotics Unit.
Undercover agents set up a meeting with Thomas and an accomplice--who turned out to be Ross--at a Los Angeles McDonald's, authorities said. While Thomas stayed outside, Ross went inside the restaurant with two undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
The agents and Ross returned to his car, where Ross allegedly opened the trunk and pulled out a gym bag, displaying a stack of bills that police said totaled $140,000. Ross went with the agents to their van, where they allegedly showed him 10 kilograms of cocaine. When he asked if he could open it up and take a sample, the agents announced that Ross was under arrest. Meanwhile, agents took Thomas into custody.
Ross faces a maximum of 11 years in state prison. Another defendant, Cynthia Patterson, who allegedly introduced the two men, also agreed to testify against Ross and faces no more than two years in prison. They both will be sentenced after the conclusion of Ross' trial.
After murder charges were dropped against Ross in 1989, he filed a $400-million lawsuit alleging that the LAPD and Chief Daryl F. Gates violated his civil rights. David Herriford, who is representing Ross on the drug charges, said the timing of the undercover operation against Ross is "awfully suspicious."
"Right before that civil case goes to trial, they push this other case," Herriford said. "I don't think these cases are independent of each other."
Thomas, a former baseball coach at Dorsey and at Leuzinger High School, has been a controversial figure since he left baseball in 1985 after a long career with the Dodgers, Angels and a number of other clubs. Thomas was once one of baseball's most versatile utility players, buthis name surfaced during a high-profile federal cocaine trial in Pittsburgh, Pa. He was never charged in the case.
Thomas coached Leuzinger's baseball team for two seasons in 1988-89 and resigned after a walkout by nine players, all of whom turned in their uniforms to protest Thomas' forfeiting of a game at another high school. Thomas had also been criticized for grabbing a player and missing practices.
In April, 1992, midway through Thomas' first season as coach at Dorsey High School, he was arrested with Ross on the cocaine charges. His arrest was the second trauma for the team. In the previous month, senior shortstop Wilfred Wright III died after shooting himself in the head aboard a team bus.
"Derrel Thomas is a good person who has contributed a lot to young people, who got ensnared in something very unwise," said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Verah Bradford. "It was entrapment of sorts . . . a number of facts in the case point to that."