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California and the West

Classic Car Dealer Indicted in Drug Ring

April 17, 1998|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — Members of the exclusive Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach expressed shock and disappointment Thursday as news spread that one of their own had been indicted as an alleged player in an international drug smuggling ring.

Ronald Franklin Newman, 48, a well-known local car dealer who holds the club's honorary title of governor, faces federal charges of being a "peripheral player" in an international plan that landed nine tons of Thai marijuana on the West Coast in 1995, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

Newman, a Newport Beach resident, stands charged in the indictment unsealed in San Diego this month with conspiracy to smuggle Thai marijuana into Washington state in 1995, Assistant U.S. Atty. Tim Coughlin said.

Newman, who was released on $200,000 bail, was among 19 men and one woman named in the indictment. Coughlin described the longtime Orange County resident as "a guy on the periphery" of a major operation that involved six boats, a trio of stash houses and rental trucks.

"He was clearly involved. He took a role in it," Coughlin said, adding that Newman is suspected of having direct ties to the alleged ringleader, Phillip Edward Hastings, a 46-year-old Australian who formerly lived in Solana Beach.

Newman is accused of traveling to Seattle to arrange for a hotel room, rental car and cellular telephone for a meeting of ring members, according to the indictment.

Newman is co-owner of Westport Inc., a classic car dealership in Newport Beach. He could not be reached Thursday for comment. His attorney, James Riddet of Santa Ana, said the charges are "absolutely, totally false" and that his client was merely "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

News of Newman's arrest has rippled in recent days through the ranks of the historic club, a celebrated part of the Newport Beach society scene. The club bestows the honorary title of governor to longtime members and the local elite, including the late Hollywood legend John Wayne.

Entertainers and politicos have mingled under the white and blue umbrellas of the club's vast marina complex.

The smuggling operation detailed in the federal indictment spanned five states and culminated with the landing of marijuana on the shores of Anacortes, Wash.

Times staff writer Bonnie Hayes and correspondent Steve Carney contributed to this story.

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