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NEWS IN BRIEF | Official Business / COURTS AND GOVERNMENT

National Narcotics Ring Members Are Convicted

September 17, 1998

Four members of a nationwide narcotics ring that operated undetected for several years were convicted Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court.

The ringleader, Michel Withers, 40, of Chino Hills was found guilty of 11 felonies, including running a continuing criminal enterprise, which carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Withers' organization distributed heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines throughout Southern California and in cities in the East and Midwest.

"They were able to operate with impunity because they fell into the middle level where they were below the radar screen of foreign suppliers and above street-level dealers," U.S. Atty. Nora Manella said when the ring was broken up in November.

Withers ran the operation from a carwash he owned, authorities said. He and 81 other people in Los Angeles and in the East were indicted after an 18-month investigation by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. A tip to a Los Angeles police anti-gang unit led to Withers' operation.

Also convicted Wednesday were Melvin Hudspath, 23, of Hesperia; James Edward Coleman, 59, of Los Angeles, and Latrella Stevenson, 33, who is the mother of Withers' child.

The jury acquitted Shannon Culver, 23, of Los Angeles on conspiracy charges and could not reach a verdict on money laundering charges against Withers and his uncle, Johnny Ray Withers Sr., 55, also of Chino Hills.

Michel and Johnny Withers will be retried on the money laundering counts next month, prosecutors said. Most of the other suspects in the case had either pleaded guilty or were convicted previously.

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