Two men, one the son of a fired East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s Office employee, admitted Tuesday in the same courthouse where cocaine and guns were stolen from an evidence vault in 2012 that they plotted to extort a judge’s son to take even more cocaine that was locked away.
Colt Weston Bell, 31, of Baker, and Terrance Sloan Ramirez, 31, of Baton Rouge, both pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to commit extortion, and were sentenced to 12 years and nine years in prison, respectively, by retired Judge Marion Edwards.
The judge gave both men credit for the more than two years they have been jailed since their arrests in December 2012.
Bell, Ramirez and four others — including Bell’s mother, Debra Vicknair Bell, of Maurepas, and William “Billy” Bates Colvin, the son of retired Baton Rouge state District Judge Kay Bates — were indicted in 2013 on charges related to the alleged theft of 48 pounds of cocaine and five guns from the Clerk of Court evidence vault at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse.
Colvin, 32, who also worked for the Clerk of Court’s Office at the time, and Debra Bell, 57, were fired from the clerk’s office after their arrests and are charged with malfeasance in office and possession of more than 400 grams of cocaine. Colvin also faces an obstruction of justice charge.
Prosecutor Darwin Miller told Edwards the cocaine that wound up in the possession of Colt Bell and Ramirez was seized by Baton Rouge police during a 2006 traffic stop and kept in the clerk’s evidence vault after the defendant in the 2006 case was convicted in 2009.
Between September 2012 and December 2012, the prosecutor said, Colvin and Debra Bell gained access and removed evidence from the clerk’s vault. The evidence included cocaine and guns, Miller said.
Colt Bell and Ramirez learned of the cocaine theft and gained possession of some of the stolen cocaine with the intent to distribute it, Miller told the judge.
The two men then concocted a plan to extort Colvin to provide them with additional cocaine, and if he refused, they would turn him over to the authorities, the prosecutor stated.
Edwards pointed to the young age of the two men he sent to prison Tuesday and added, “It’s a sad commentary on our times. I hope the remainder of your lives turn out to be better than what I’ve seen so far.”
Miller told the judge that Colt Bell and Ramirez have agreed to testify against the remaining four defendants.
“This is a first step toward a resolution in this case,” the prosecutor said outside the downtown courthouse.
Colvin, Debra Bell, Larry Collins and Deroy Joseph also were in the courtroom Tuesday when Colt Bell and Ramirez pleaded guilty and were sentenced, and will make their next court appearance June 2.
Colvin’s attorney, Frank Holthaus, has said Colvin intends to take responsibility for his actions. Colvin was suffering from severe substance-abuse issues at the time he smuggled the drugs out of the courthouse, Holthaus has said.
Prosecutors have said Colvin faces a minimum of 15 years in prison due to the amount of cocaine involved.
Colvin has admitted smuggling cocaine from the vault and distributing it for profit — to the tune of $200,000. He told detectives he spent $20,000 of the money on a vehicle and $30,000 on assorted jewelry, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Colt Bell’s attorney, Carson Marcantel, declined comment after Tuesday’s court proceeding. Ramirez’s attorney, Sean Collins, said Ramirez’s sentence was lighter than Bell’s because Ramirez had fewer prior convictions.
Collins, 27, and Joseph, 42, both of Baton Rouge, are charged in the case with cocaine possession. Collins has since been charged in an unrelated case with possession with intent to distribute heroin. Edwards increased Collins’ bond Tuesday to $200,000 in light of the new heroin charge.
The Louisiana Supreme Court appointed Edwards to preside over the case after the high court disqualified the entire 19th Judicial District bench from hearing it. He is a former state district judge in Jefferson Parish and also sat on the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna.
Officials have said the case hastened planned changes at the evidence room, including more cameras and locks, written logs and random drug-testing.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said the stolen cocaine and guns had been seized from accused drug dealers and murderers. None of those cases were compromised by the loss of the evidence, he said.