Rodney Morrison, the former bootleg cigarette magnate on the Poospatuck Indian Reservation in Mastic, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Central Islip federal court to a charge of racketeering conspiracy for selling bootleg cigarettes, possibly ending a case that has stretched on for more than 11 years, officials said.
Morrison, who has been held without bail since his initial arrest in August 2004, will be sentenced to 13 years and forfeit $6.1 million as part of a plea deal. The forfeiture money is from the illegal sale of untaxed cigarettes on the reservation from October 1996 to September 2004.
When Morrison is sentenced in the next several weeks, U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley could hand down a sentence of up to 20 years on the racketeering count. Under the terms of the plea, Morrison would not be able to appeal any sentence of 13 years or less.
Since Morrison already has been in jail for 11 years, he could be released from prison in several months. This assumes he gets credit for many months of good behavior, which officials said had not yet been calculated.
As part of the plea deal, the government also agreed to drop a charge that Morrison had been a felon in possession of a firearm at his office on the reservation. Morrison previously had been convicted of criminally negligent homicide for killing a 6-year-old boy by firing a shotgun blast at a barn as the child stood behind the building.
Morrison simply said “guilty” when he admitted to the racketeering charge Tuesday.
Morrison’s attorney, Kevin Keating of Garden City, said after the plea, “The long odyssey had ended and Mr. Morrison is looking forward to returning to his family.”
Nellin McIntosh, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District, declined to comment.
The complex case wound its way through the courts with appeals, the overturning of some verdicts and an investigation into whether an attempt had been made to bribe a juror.
Morrison had been indicted but eventually acquitted on charges he conspired to use murder, arson, extortion and robbery to control the contraband cigarette sales on the reservation.
The murder charge involved the accusation that Morrison killed Sherwin Henry, a rival smoke shop owner and his onetime protégé, in 2003.
Morrison’s attorneys successfully questioned the credibility of witnesses, many of whom were involved in rival smoke shops and who had committed what the defense lawyers called a litany of their own crimes. Morrison’s lawyers further maintained that these witnesses benefited by putting their rival, Morrison, out of business.
Hurley said after the acquittal that he believed Morrison was responsible for Henry’s death, but he wouldn’t take his opinion into account in sentencing.