The parties took place in a penthouse suite of a midtown Manhattan hotel. There were $200 bottles of Cristal champagne to wash down the lobster, steak, and hors d'oeuvres, and an open bar if your taste in beverages went in another direction.
The parties took place in a penthouse suite of a midtown Manhattan hotel.
There were $200 bottles of Cristal champagne to wash down the lobster, steak, and hors d'oeuvres, and an open bar if your taste in beverages went in another direction.
Sixty or 70 people would gather, friends and associates of Maurice Phillips, the drug kingpin sentenced Wednesday to life in prison after an eight-year run atop the cocaine underworld.
Channell Cunningham, his Philadelphia girlfriend and business partner, set up the parties. She figures they cost $10,000 to $20,000, barely a day's income for Phillips, whose distribution network stretched from Mexico to New York.
Cunningham, 37, made drug pickups, collected cash, and counted the money. For a stash house, she and Phillips used a home they had built in Sicklerville, Camden County, in a middle-class suburban neighborhood across the street from a middle school.
Authorities estimate that Phillips' business generated more than $30 million from 1998 to 2007. But testimony at his trial on charges of drug dealing, money laundering, and murder in U.S. District Court this year suggests he made much more.
"It's a conservative estimate," said Assistant U.S. Attorney L.C. Wright, who prosecuted the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney.
Cunningham, who became a government witness, told the jury that Phillips had said he socked away $11 million.
In addition to the Sicklerville house, he owned properties in North Jersey, Darby, Delaware, Maryland (where he lived with his wife), and Atlanta. He had at least two girlfriends. A wardrobe more GQ than ghetto. Fancy cars. About a dozen bank accounts.
Most of that is gone now, seized by the government.
But "we don't know where all his money is," said Wright.
On Wednesday at his sentencing, Phillips showed little remorse, lashing out at a "flawed and tainted" justice system and denying involvement in any murders.
Handsome, charismatic, soft-spoken, and college-educated, Phillips did not fit the prototype of a kingpin. He was taste and style rather than flash and glitter.
"But he was the real deal," said Wright.
Phillips, 38, grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Roselle, N.J., near Newark. His father was a public school administrator, his mother a businesswoman.
He went to college, splitting time between the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Kean University in Union, N.J. He made the dean's list one semester at Kean, where he graduated in January 2000 with a business degree in accounting.
By all accounts, he was a natural entrepreneur - a talent he used, authorities say, to build a "multimillion-dollar cocaine trafficking empire."
Maurice Phillips, Wright said simply, was about one thing: money.
At a birthday party at the Time Hotel in Manhattan, Cunningham arranged to have a cake for Phillips decorated with the letters MSM. These were the initials of Phillips (Maurice) and two of his close friends, she said.
But the letters also stood for what Cunningham said was Phillips' mantra: "Music, sex, millions."
Ramon Alvear, a Mexican drug dealer based in Texas, testified that he had provided Phillips with 1,400 to 1,600 kilograms of cocaine.
Phillips was buying the kilos for $16,500 and selling them for $26,500. The math suggests that from that one dealer, Phillips generated $14 million in profit.
The money helped support what prosecutors said was a "lavish lifestyle."
The music never stopped.
Phillips stayed at the best hotels, took expensive vacations, bought houses and rental properties, and drove fancy automobiles. Land Rover, Mercedes, and Lexus seemed to be the brands of choice.
He also plugged into a drug-underworld social system, showing up at the right parties with the right people.
One example: Each year he and his entourage attended the NBA all-star weekend wherever the gala event was staged. Athletes, celebrities, and, according to testimony, some of the biggest drug dealers mixed and mingled.
Phillips met Cunningham, who grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, in New York during all-star weekend in 1998.
There also were trips to the Super Bowl and to major prize fights in Las Vegas, and a cruise around the Mediterranean.
Part of the Maurice Phillips investigation sounded like a soap opera.
Two girlfriends testified against him. One, Cunningham, emerged as a drug-underworld femme fatale.
By her account, she has two children from two Philadelphia-area dealers and had affairs with several others.
Cunningham said she had begun "dating" dealers at 15.
"I guess I just wanted more," she said when asked why she had gotten into the drug game. "I'm really into clothes, shoes, bags, stuff."
After she started dating Phillips, she introduced him to several local dealers, two of them former lovers. They became major customers.
Phillips gave her cars, houses, cash, and jewelry and set her up in a high-end clothing boutique in Atlanta.
Here was Cunningham on the stand describing photos that showed the inventory:
"In the righthand corner, some Fendi sweaters . . . two different types of Fendi suits. On the glass is a Versace shirt. The bottom picture, Dolce & Gabbana boots and bags . . . two fur coats. Louis Vuitton bags. Gucci shoes. Up top it looks like some Versace. . . . On the left some Prada shoes . . . Christian Dior bags and boots . . . Chanel jacket . . . Christian Dior leather . . . a black Gucci jeans jacket."
In 2005, she said, she learned that Phillips had married another woman, even while he continued to support and sometimes live with her.
She found out, she said, by breaking his cell-phone code.
There, she said, she saw "pictures of naked women . . . of him having sex with women. Text messages."
Cunningham called several of the numbers and eventually had a lengthy conversation with Phillips' new wife.
They discussed "Maurice and all the lies he told over the years," she said.
Still, she continued her relationship with him.
It is difficult to put a dollar figure on the Phillips network. So much cash flowed through the business that sometimes even he couldn't keep track.
Anecdotal incidents, described in trial testimony, provide some insight.
There was the time, for instance, when two men broke into Phillips' home in Roselle and robbed him, taking about $160,000 and his Land Rover. Phillips later told an associate that the men had missed $2 million in the house.
One witness described how he and Phillips had spent nearly two days counting cash stockpiled in the basement of another North Jersey home.
Even with counting machines, the effort was daunting. The cash was scattered around the basement in shopping bags and other containers, gross revenue from wholesale and retail sales that ultimately ended with Phillips, the head of the operation.
There were $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills. In all, $3 million.
Cunningham said she had taken part in similar counting sessions and routinely made drug pickups - duffel bags containing 50 to 100 kilos of cocaine - from trucks and cars that came up from Texas and made prearranged stops on the New Jersey or Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The money and drugs were often stashed at a house on Mullen Drive in the Cobblestone Farms section of Sicklerville that Phillips had built for Cunningham and her two children in 2000.
Cunningham said Phillips' rule of thumb while they were counting money was that the $100 bills went into a separate bag. These he kept for himself, his "savings." The rest was used to pay for his lifestyle or was rolled back into the business.
Cunningham also introduced Phillips to Chineta Glanville, a Wyndmoor woman who was a whiz at money laundering. She described Glanville, known as "Chi," as her "aunt." In fact, she was a family friend.
Glanville, 50, who had past arrests for fraud, was known as a "street accountant," someone with the ability to create false documents - W-2 forms, driver's licenses, college diplomas - that dealers used to legitimize themselves and their cash.
She helped Phillips and Cunningham set up companies, buy properties and cars, and arrange bank loans.
But in May 2002, the FBI raided Glanville's home and confiscated her computers and records. When Phillips heard about the raid, Cunningham said, he "came undone," convinced that Glanville was cooperating.
"Mo has a very calm demeanor," she said. "He was the one who comforted me and kept me from being excited. But it was like the other way around. He was . . . like, 'What the hell is going on?' "
A month later, Cunningham, who was working at their Atlanta boutique, got a call from her mother. Glanville had been killed, along with her 29-year-old godson, who was at her house. Authorities called it an execution.
Cunningham said that she suspected Phillips, but that it would be nearly four years before he admitted that he had had Glanville killed.
" 'I had to,' " she said he had told her in bed one night. " 'I couldn't see you going to jail. I did it for you.' "
Cunningham told the jury that she had decided then to end her relationship with Phillips.
They broke up in 2006. A year later, they and seven associates were indicted. Facing a possible life sentence, she agreed to cooperate.
From the witness stand she said, "I still love him." But she also told the jury that she hoped to get less than 10 years in exchange for her testimony.
She is to be sentenced Tuesday.
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