The DEA had been involved in the investigation, so Phillips's case was sent to federal court. At his trial in 2002, Ghent dug up an unsigned, undated police report that hadn't surfaced before. Phillips's attorney fought to have the surprise evidence kept from the jury, but Lenard allowed it. The jury found Phillips guilty of selling the drugs to Ghent, and Lenard sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

"Unfortunately for me," Phillips says, "juries believe cops over guys like me."

The sentence was severe, especially considering Phillips had been found guilty of selling less than a gram of crack, the weight of a paper clip. It isn't difficult to find more serious criminals who receive lesser sentences. Take, for instance, Edgar Vallejo-Guarin, who pleaded guilty to organizing shipments of thousands of kilos of cocaine from Colombia to the United States; this past June, a federal judge sentenced Vallejo-Guarin to 22 years in prison.

Elroy Phillips was known as "Eighty-Six" on the streets of Miami. In prison he's now known as "Law."
Eric Barton
Elroy Phillips was known as "Eighty-Six" on the streets of Miami. In prison he's now known as "Law."
Private investigator Ralph Marston helped Phillips dig up documents and scored a key interview with the government’s lone witness.
Michael McElroy
Private investigator Ralph Marston helped Phillips dig up documents and scored a key interview with the government’s lone witness.

Phillips promised himself that he wouldn't give up fighting. He appealed, and the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2006 threw out his sentence, finding that Lenard had given him a lengthy prison term "based on facts neither found by the jury nor admitted by the defendant." It was a minor victory — Lenard didn't reduce his prison term by much; in July 2006, she gave him 24 years.

As a result, Phillips needed to find new ways to prove his innocence, so he worked on learning the law. He earned a paralegal certificate in October 2007, got a job in the prison law library, and took over his own case from his court-appointed lawyers.

His goal was to collect documents and statements that, once pieced together, would prove he didn't sell Ghent the drugs. "I'm an avid chess player, and in chess, you gotta look at the end game, not what's in front of you. That's what I did here."

For six years, Phillips pored through public records he obtained after opening an account with the West Palm Beach Police Department with money his mom had sent him in 2003. He started low, asking for all department regulations covering everything from payroll to undercover drug buys.

Department policy required officers conducting drug deals to use cash clocked out of the evidence room. Likewise, any drugs purchased or seized were required to be checked into the evidence room. If the clerk was gone, officers could check in evidence using an after-hours locker. So Phillips did something his attorneys had never done: He requested the evidence logs to see what had transpired the night of his arrest.

On May 4, 2009, he received a copy showing 84 times that cops took out "investigative funds" in the days before and after his arrest. Nobody had checked out cash April 6, 2001. Ghent hadn't checked out funds since two weeks before the arrest, and the $40 he had taken wasn't for undercover drug work.

The log from the Property & Evidence Section of the department also showed that the next time anyone checked in narcotics was ten days after Phillips's arrest.

Police department regulations also dictated that all employees must clock in using a system called Oracle Payroll. So Phillips asked for records of officers who had worked on his case. Only one of the five cops working on the case had clocked in that day. Ghent wasn't on duty.

Figuring he might be on to something, Phillips requested Ghent's personnel record and received a copy in early 2010. In it, he discovered that Ghent had been at a hostage negotiations class at Palm Beach State College the night of the bust. Ghent took a final exam that night and later accepted a $50 bonus from the police department for completing the course.

At last, Phillips had hard evidence that cast doubt on Ghent's word. "Ghent is a liar," Phillips says, holding a copy of the personnel record, "and this document right here proves it."

Phillips then dug into the court records on his case. He found one document he'd never seen before. It revealed the name of the CI who supposedly witnessed Ghent buy the drugs. (New Times is not printing the informant's name because she could be the victim of retribution if it were revealed that she worked for police.)

Phillips didn't recognize the woman's name, so using $300 sent from his mom, a retired seamstress in Jacksonville, Phillips hired private investigator Ralph Marston last year. He asked Marston to track down the CI. Phillips hoped the informant could reveal that she was never there.

When cops and the prosecutor on the case heard that Phillips was asking around about the CI, they tried to make sure she didn't change her story.

For years, the CI had been helping the West Palm Beach Police Department pull off undercover drug buys and identify the big players in the local drug trade. She was paid for her services, often thousands of dollars to tag along with undercover cops while they bought crack rocks in the neighborhood west of downtown West Palm Beach.

In July 2010, she received an unexpected call from cops who told her she needed to come down to the station, according to court documents. She had filed an abuse complaint against the father of her child, and she was told she needed to give a statement. She arrived at 7:30 p.m., and she was sent to wait in a second-floor conference room.

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9 comments
P_Nis
P_Nis

Unfortunately police and prosecutorial misconduct is rampant throughout our justice system. Cornell West says "Justice is what love looks like in public". Considering what we've seen in this case and in many other similar cases, that's a pretty sick thought isn't it?

john
john

Beyond a 'reasonable doubt'. It's easy for love-boat to talk with such callousness, as one enjoys' their freedom and privileges. Reverse rolls, and let's see how cavalier they are. Corruption, cover-up, lack of integrity and criminal conduct by the prosecutor and police is not uncommon in our judicial system. I've been involved with the Innocence Projects, and unfortunately there are many, very innocent, individuals in prison. Innocent people have been murdered by the government for crimes that they had no part in. This is a Truth, which reflects poorly upon us. Hopefully we are evolving into a more compassionate society; it appears that love-boat needs to put a little more love in that boat; and a little less contemptuousness. Great story Eric. I'm just coming off of a victory against the Florida Department of Corrections. The DOC charged an inmate with committing 3 crimes, that each had a life sentence. He was 300 yards away from the alleged crime scene, when this offense supposedly occurred. This innocent inmate was thrown into solitary confinement and isolated on the notorious Q-Wing at Florida State Prison, confined with murderers, psychopaths and the criminally insane for 3 years, for crimes that he had no involvement with. We won our case and I believe Elroy Phillips will win his case. Mr. Phillips is a rich man now; he will be a wealthy man upon his release.

loveboat2010
loveboat2010

Both phillips and the dirty cop should be sitting together in a cell. I dont think either one is innocent. Drug dealers ruin communities and attempt to paint this robin hood character.The dealer in this story admitted he did not do street level sales he delt with Colombians, which means he brought trafficking amounts of drugs into the inner city. To say he quit that life to do landscaping is BS. Although, there is a small percentage of corruption I dont think this story portrays the people that risk there lives everyday in extremely violent drug land of south florida. You have to be an idiot to be a corrupt cop eventually, you are caught or turned in by a real criminal.

Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips

My name is Amber Phillips & Elroy Phillips is my father, your comment is ignorant and narrow minded my father does not deny his wrong doings but he has served 10 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. I have not seen my father since i was 8 years old I am now attending college on a full 4 year scholarship and my father from behind bars has been there every step of the way a decade is an extreme sentence for the alleged charges, and drug dealers do not ruin communities but the addicts themselves do. Drug abuse is a self detrimental crime if they didn't get the drugs from my father they would get it from someone else so do not blame him but blame the people who seek out drug and the dealers.

The Pulp Blog
The Pulp Blog

You have a good point, loveboat2010. Maybe he was still a dealer and, the logic goes, deserves his fate. But the justice system simply can't work that way. The cops are supposed to have the evidence to convict you, and when they fabricate evidence, as they may have done here, you ought to be set free.

loveboat2010
loveboat2010

Your right Eric, my point is I dont feel sorry for either one of them. I grew up in the inner city and I know first hand how this life of a drug trafficker is glorified by the media. He chose to live a criminal life, you "live by the sword" and there is a price you pay for that, Karma. Drug dealers live by a "stop snitching" rule which makes the drug industry thrive with violence that plagues communities. On the other hand we have become a society that believes CSI Miami is real life you simply send a hair sample to washington and the facts of any case are revealed. This same menatlity set Casey Anthony free. It is the law to look at the totality of the circumstances. This idiot may be innocent because of a crooked cop but he is not innocent for the life he chose and the harm he has caused hundreds of people that suffer from addictions, not to mention the families he has ruined. Therefore, this attempt to portray a story of poor inncoent man can get to the back of the line of the millions who suffer from addiction and violent crime at the hands of drug dealers. I know one thing growing up in overtown I didnt worry about violence from a police officer but my family did suffer crimes at the hands of local criminals who will do anything for a buck. Guys like this that have a long rap sheets know how to manipulate the system and people who wil read and believe this criminals story.

Lucky Lieberman
Lucky Lieberman

loveboat2010, only a person of ignorance, who has no respect for the democracy of America woukd write such a cold, distorted and hateful comment. Your actions put you in the same category as the arresting police officer and the assistant U.S. Attorney in this case. They are the real criminals.

Lucky in South Beach

ivxx
ivxx

I get it, we should focus on 1 strike and your out then. If you get a speeding ticket, revoke your license.

Obviously this man made mistakes and he's paid for them. Hell those mistakes contributed to the image that the judge and jury saw when he sat in that court room.

"Oh lord, another wanna be gangsta drug dealer."

The difference is this man made his mistakes and moved on, then was dragged into this because god forbid someone make a legit living and live in the ghetto. Do you still live in Overtown? I bet you shot out of there like a bat out of hell once you got some money.

Whether he made bad decisions in his life is irrelevant, this man has been railroaded into the prison system. For you to sit there and insinuate that he deserves this because he "worked with Colombians" is ridiculous.

loveboat2010
loveboat2010

Let me get this straight, I write a comment on The New Times expressing my opinion as provided by the constitution and you are putting me in the same category as a corrupt cop and notorious drug trafficker? wow, you have gone a little above ignorance and into dumb ass category. Put down the bong and admiration for street life which you know nothing about. I grew up in Overtown, I never sold or aquinted myself with drug dealers which thanks to hardwork and drive I have a beautiful family and legal career. You my friend watch MTV and think these rappers actually care about community and live the life they portray. Glorifying the life of a drug trafficker has ruined many cultures and lost youths. When you live in such despair all you know is cold and straight facts. STop watching tv and walk these neighborhoods for yourself.

 
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