The drug ringleader who shipped cocaine and cash coast to coast in specially modified cars received a 131/2-year prison term Tuesday -- after telling a judge that seeing the faces of addiction behind bars persuaded him to stop.
"The past years in the Riverhead jail is the first time I've seen addiction at its highest level," William Wright, 35, told state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen, his voice cracking. "I won't do it again. It's been a very eye-opening experience for me."
Suffolk prosecutors said they hope Wright, of West Hollywood, Calif., means what he said -- but they doubt it.
"At the end of the day, he is just a drug dealer like any other drug dealer," Assistant District Attorney Jake Kubetz said in court.
Kubetz said he's skeptical that when Wright gets out of prison he won't return to the illicit trade that allowed him to live in lavish homes, drive a Porsche, fly in private jets, own racehorses and party with celebrities, including Paris Hilton, Mickey Rourke, Playboy models and NFL players. He lived in style from Hollywood to the Hamptons and beyond, the prosecutor said.
"He's addicted to the lifestyle," Kubetz added. "He's addicted to the money."
There was plenty of it before Wright pleaded guilty in June to second-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, second-degree money laundering and other charges.
Police seized several cars, $3.2 million worth of cocaine and $900,000 in cash when they busted the ring, and Kubetz said his office is seeking another $32 million in forfeited property from Wright.
That doesn't include property he owned through shell corporations in California, the shares he owned in race horses or anything he owned in other countries, including Mexico, the source of his drugs, Kubetz said.
Wright's drug dealing record dates to 1996, when he was 18. He was charged then with using underage couriers to distribute marijuana in California, Kubetz said.
In the recent scheme, three Long Island men were also charged. The local leader, Robert Perticone, 48, of North Babylon, is awaiting trial, Kubetz said.
Wright, arrested in Mexico in October 2011, had faced life in prison under New York's major drug kingpin law. Kubetz said the arrests stopped an enormous amount of cocaine from reaching Suffolk's streets.
Wright admitted importing cocaine and marijuana, packing it into secret compartments in cars and shipping them to Deer Park, where co-defendants then distributed the drugs. Cash from the sales was shipped back to Wright in the same cars.
Wright's attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman of Manhattan, said his client was more than a drug dealer. He had interests in the movie industry and horse racing, and is capable of being a successful, legitimate businessman, Lichtman said.
"There's been some growth there" in the Suffolk jail, he said. "He's highly intelligent. He's a colorful guy. He's a very magnetic personality."
Cohen, a former prosecutor, told Wright in the Riverhead courtroom that the defendant's drug ring was the largest he'd seen in 40 years, and it did real damage to Suffolk citizens.
"You are a drug dealer, writ large," Cohen said, adding that he hopes Wright will use his time in prison to figure out how to become something more than that.