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Drug ring defendants hear feds describe double lives

M. Fabini

– They sat in the federal courtroom exchanging looks – a mix of sadness and worry.

His mother, older brother Jason, an ex-NFL player, along with other family and friends – some wiping tears from their eyes as they waited – all looked at Michael Fabini, wearing jail orange, hands cuffed in front of him sporting a sad look of his own.

But what they heard was federal prosecutors describing Fabini, 33, as a member of a large, profitable drug conspiracy ring, one that moved thousands of pounds of marijuana and millions of dollars in cash.

Fabini and his co-defendant Marshall Butler, 33, were in court for their arraignments and detention hearings. Each faces 10 years to life in prison if convicted of the charges against them.

Their family and friends wanted them home, to provide child care for his young daughter in Butler's case, but federal prosecutors argued their role in the conspiracy made them a danger to the community.

The 44-count indictment handed down last week had three counts against both Butler and Fabini, charging them with conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana from September 2007 to December 2012, and two counts of maintaining a place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing or using marijuana.

The rest of the indictment accused Fabini of laundering the money gained through drug trafficking, moving tens of thousands of dollars in cash through area banks, as well as into unnamed businesses.

The hearing shed new details on the drug conspiracy and money laundering case against Fabini, tied by an address to a notable 2008 marijuana trafficking case involving Matthew J. McChesney, now serving 27 years in prison for drug trafficking.

Fabini and Butler are accused of participating in drug trafficking along with McChesney, who was arrested after 6,700 pounds of pot were found at an Antwerp Road home where he lived.

Fabini and Butler are accused of helping to maintain that house as a drug stash house, where guns and more than $1 million in cash was found alongside the bales of marijuana. Drug ledgers were also found, showing an operation handling at least 10,000 pounds of marijuana, with a value of at least $5 million.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Gellar, the drug trafficking conspiracy was anything but "run of the mill."

In the hearings, Gellar outlined the size and scope of the multistate conspiracy, with supply chains in California and Arizona, Gellar said.

At the time of McChesney's arrest, court documents outlined the arrest of another Fort Wayne man driving a pickup truck registered to McChesney, stopped by Arizona police with 700 pounds of marijuana inside.

According to Gellar, an FBI forensic investigation of Fabini's finances showed cash expenditures totaling $1.7 million from 2009 to 2012, with more than $1 million spent in 2010.

The indictment came three months after federal agents and state and local law enforcement officers, raided Fabini's Cherry Hill home. Eight other locations were searched on Dec. 6 and Dec. 7.

Gellar told Magistrate Judge Roger Cosbey that at a search of Fabini's mother's home, agents found a Chevrolet Impala owned by Fabini with 35 pounds of marijuana in its trunk. At another house, they found an AR-15-type rifle and a Mossburg 500 shotgun registered to Fabini, Gellar said.

Fabini's attorney, Randy Hammond, said his client has been in counseling for about 12 weeks and voluntarily turned himself over to officials when news of the grand jury's indictment came down.

Hammond presented about a dozen letters from family and friends – including Fabini's pastor, a retired firefighter and others – supporting Fabini and asking that he be released from custody.

Gellar argued such support was evidence of Fabini's success at leading a double life, and said he earned his living through drug trafficking.

"He has a great deal of sophistication when it comes to hiding things," he said. "I'm sure some of this information is new to his family and friends. He's led another life for a long period of time."

At the conclusion of the hearings, Cosbey ordered both men held without bond while the cases proceed.