Jury selection begins tomorrow in the federal drug trafficking trial of a former Philadelphia record-company mogul charged with heading a multimillion crack and cocaine distribution network.
Authorities allege that Alton "Ace Capone" Coles used his rap music label, Takedown Records, and his role as a music industry promoter as fronts for a $25 million drug operation.
Five others, including Coles' music business partner, Timothy "Tim Gotti" Baukman, and James Morris, a reputed cocaine supplier based in South Jersey, also are to be tried.
The jurors selected to decide their fate - Coles and Baukman face potential life sentences - will be anonymous.
Last month, U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick, who will preside over the trial, approved a prosecution motion asking that the jurors' names, addresses and places of employment not be made public.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard A. Lloret and Michael J. Bresnick argued that the "violent nature of the Coles Cocaine Gang" and the "threat they pose to the public and potential witnesses" required steps to safeguard the jury and the trial process.
Anonymous juries have been used in several recent high-profile drug-trafficking and organized-crime cases in federal court in Philadelphia.
Once they are selected, the jurors will be escorted to and from the federal courthouse at Sixth and Market Streets each day by U.S. marshals. But they will not be sequestered.
Coles, 33, has been jailed since Aug. 10, 2005, when authorities raided his new $480,000 house just outside Mullica Hill in Gloucester County.
In a series of 6 a.m. raids that day in Philadelphia, South Jersey and suburban Pennsylvania, authorities confiscated more than $800,000 in cash, more than two dozen weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Coles faces drug-dealing, conspiracy, money-laundering and weapons charges.
In a telephone interview from prison last month, he denied the allegations in a 197-count indictment, claiming overzealous investigators had fabricated a conspiracy.
"I'm not the guy that they allege me to be," Coles said. "I'm not no boss of a street organization running a big, giant drug conspiracy."
Federal authorities contend that the Coles network moved a ton of cocaine and a half-ton of crack between 1999 and the summer of 2005.
The drugs allegedly were sold on the streets of Southwest and North Philadelphia and in several other communities, including Chester and West Chester.
Although there are no murder charges in the case, investigators have alleged that the Coles organization was responsible for 21 shootings and seven homicides.
Two reputed members of the drug ring have been convicted in Common Pleas Court in two drug-related shootings, according to Philadelphia court records.
Targeted in 2004 by a task force headed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Coles was described by investigators as a street-smart entrepreneur who took on the trappings of a record company executive to disguise his drug dealing.
He drove a Bentley and other expensive cars, owned several properties, including a new luxury home outside Mullica Hill, and was considered a major promoter in the local rap music world. He also sponsored and attended dozens of stop-the-violence, anti-drug rallies at the time investigators allege he was a major drug trafficker.
That is the picture of Coles that prosecutors are expected to use in presenting the case to the jury.
Prosecutors also hope to play a 31-minute rap music video called "New Jack City: The Next Generation." Produced by Takedown Records in 2003, the video is the fictitious story of a Southwest Philadelphia drug gang that controlled crack distribution through fear, intimidation and murder.
Coles, as "Ace Capone," and Baukman, as "Tim Gotti," starred in the video as leaders of the drug ring.
Investigators said the video underscored the audacity and arrogance of the Coles organization. Coles insisted that the video was just a film, and not based on his life.
Hundreds of hours of wiretapped conversations, testimony from investigators and cooperating witnesses and drugs and guns confiscated during an intense two-year investigation are expected to be part of the evidence introduced during the trial.
The jury selection process that begins this morning is expected to take several days. Jurors will then be excused for the holidays. A panel of 12 jurors and at least six alternates is to be chosen.
The other defendants in the trial are Aysa Richardson and Monique Pullins, who have been described as girlfriends of Coles', and Thais Thompson, the woman with whom Morris was living.
Morris is charged with being a major cocaine supplier for the Coles network. When authorities raided the South Jersey home where he was staying in August 2005, they recovered $559,361 in cash stashed in shopping bags, dresser drawers, suitcases and duffel bags throughout the house.
The home, in Quinton just outside Salem City, belonged to Thompson, according to authorities. Sixteen other defendants have also been charged in the case.
Most are awaiting trial; several have pleaded guilty and are expected to testify for the government, including another Coles' girlfriend in whose home outside of Woodstown, Salem County, authorities found $114,780 on the day of the raids. The money, hidden in a floor safe and wrapped in bundles secured by rubber bands, belonged to Coles, investigators charged.
For video of Ace Capone and articles about his rap life and charges against him, go to