Facebook’s Phone Sale Almost Sent Innocent Albany to Jail

ALBANY — An innocent man escaped a potential decades-long sentence in state prison earlier this month after prosecutors conceded they couldn’t prove he was part of an extensive drug ring.

Last June, State Attorney General Letitia James stood at the State Capitol and announced that 47 people had been charged in connection with raids that took down two separate drug rings in the city. .

“These individuals are believed to have flooded our streets with dangerous narcotics and are responsible for many of the shootings that have been at the center of this devastation,” she said.

The raid, dubbed Operation Crosstown Quarantine, was significant, gunning down suspected dealers who operated throughout the capital region as well as a group of young men police believe were responsible for some of the worst gun violence in the city.

But he also ensnared at least one innocent man, whose case prosecutors had based on evidence that quickly crumbled under scrutiny.

Frederick Williams, 33, had his charges dismissed earlier this month and prosecutors asked that his records in the case be sealed.

Williams was initially charged with several drug-related crimes that carried lengthy prison sentences.

“I am grateful to have been able to help someone who is obviously innocent and could have spent the rest of his life in prison for something he did not do,” said this week. Williams’ attorney, Vincent Uba.

Uba was drawn into Williams’ case by chance.

When the state attorney general’s office made the arrests, dozens of suspects suddenly needed attorneys to accompany them on their first arraignments.

The court first called Uba for another defendant. But when he got to court, he was assigned to Williams instead.

Prosecutors claimed Williams sold 250 grams of cocaine to Jamar Brayboy, the alleged leader of one of the two drug distribution rings.

Uba had doubts from the start. A chart at James’ press conference that described the two drug rings showed Williams was linked to Brayboy but not to other defendants. Uba asked how prosecutors could have linked Williams as a major drug dealer to Brayboy for selling more than half a pound of cocaine but no one else.

Uba recalled Williams vehemently insisting on his innocence, including during a bail hearing that nearly earned him a contempt of court citation.

Once the couple got the find in the case, Uba realized there were serious holes in it.

“Even as I pushed, further evidence of his innocence became apparent,” Uba said.

According to Williams and Uba, much of the prosecution case against Williams was based on a taped telephone conversation. In it, a man prosecutors suspected of being Williams was overheard telling another man he couldn’t meet him for a drug deal because he was on parole and wearing an ankle monitor.

The problem? Williams was not on parole. And he’s never been on an ankle monitor. He had been on probation before, but it had ended months earlier.

Yet prosecutors insisted in court that they believed it was Williams during the phone call. They played call for Williams’ wife and others. All told investigators the recording was not of Williams’ voice. Uba said investigators have spoken to other defendants in the case and none of them have linked Williams to selling drugs.

It would turn out that the Attorney General’s case against Williams was based on a sale of used phones.

Months before his arrest, Williams bought his wife an iPhone 6. But she told him she didn’t need it, the money could go towards their bills. So he posted it on Facebook Marketplace for $100.

The man who bought it was the man investigators caught on a wiretap talking about drug sales, Uba said. Williams never took her name off the phone, meaning when investigators tracked down the number, it was taped to her.

After nearly six months behind bars, Williams was released from county jail in October while prosecutors continued to review the case. By then, he had lost his job at a restaurant and missed his daughter’s back surgery. People who knew he was arrested in connection with the raid looked at him funny and he couldn’t find another job due to the high profile coverage of the drug raids, said he declared.

Uba continued to push prosecutors to dismiss the case, sometimes filing two motions. He believes prosecutors were reluctant to admit they made a mistake, but credited them with ultimately taking Williams’ claims seriously.

Finally, on February 9, the state Attorney General’s office asked Acting State Supreme Court Justice Roger D. McDonough to dismiss the case and seal Williams’ records. relate to it. The attorney general’s office did not return a request for comment on Williams’ case.

For Williams, however, the end of the criminal case was no guarantee that he would get his life back.

He already felt judged because of previous felony convictions, including one for attempted robbery more than a decade ago, he said. He is just beginning to rebuild after working to get his life back together.

The state’s criminal justice system automatically puts defendants at a disadvantage, he said. While he was nominally innocent until proven guilty, it was nearly impossible to fight his case while he was in the county jail on $50,000 bond. He spent money on another attorney who took his fees and never showed up to see Williams.

But the long-term impacts go beyond the financial effects.

His wife reminds him daily not to act as if he were in prison, that he is free to do what he wants. When he walks down the street and sees a policeman passing by, he automatically turns away without thinking. And his young children are traumatized to the point that he is considering sending them to therapy.

“Right now my kids won’t even let me go out without them,” he said. “They won’t let me go anywhere; they see a police car and they start crying.

He took at least a break, though. Kizzy Williams of Allie B’s Cozy Kitchen helped him find another job. But he didn’t move.

“My mindset is still not that I’m free,” he said. “I feel like they are watching me.”

He never received a formal apology from the state attorney general’s office and is seeking an attorney to file a lawsuit following his arrest.

“A lot of people who don’t have crimes or anything else don’t understand,” he said. “I got to the point where I’m good in my life and then they kicked me out of my life. So now I’m coming back, I’m trying to rebuild everything and it’s harder now than before because I I already had a system. Now it’s like I have to rebuild a system.