Kingpin's girlfriend is freed on appeal

Posted: September 24, 2011

IN JANUARY, the former live-in girlfriend of drug kingpin Alton "Ace Capone" Coles gasped and fell to the floor after she was sentenced to two years behind bars on money-laundering charges.

Yesterday, Asya Richardson's attorney said her client was "relieved, overjoyed and grateful" after a federal appeals court here threw out the conviction.

The three-judge panel, which said the evidence was "insufficient" to support a guilty verdict against Richardson, vacated the conviction and sent the case back to district court for acquittal.

Richardson, 31, is serving a 24-month sentence at a federal women's prison in West Virginia.

U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick ordered her immediate release yesterday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Zauzmer said the government was examining the Third Circuit's opinion before deciding if further review is warranted. The feds have 14 days to petition for a rehearing before the full circuit.

Coles, who is serving a life sentence for running a $25 million cocaine-distribution network, Richardson and four co-defendants were convicted after a trial in 2008. Richardson was accused of helping Coles' launder $114,000 in drug proceeds that was used as a down payment for a mortgage on a $500,000 house the couple shared in Mullica Hill, N.J.

Defense attorney Ellen Brotman argued on appeal that prosecutors had failed to prove that a series of financial transactions involved in the purchase of the home involved drug proceeds.

Brotman had also argued that even if Richardson knew drug money was used to purchase the Mullica Hill home, there was insufficient evidence that she had participated in financial transactions knowing they were designed to conceal the money.

The appeals panel agreed in its 20-page opinion, noting that it was Coles, not Richardson, "who funneled cash through the Take Down Records bank account."

Prosecutors had argued at trial that Take Down Records was unprofitable and was little more than a front to cover up Coles' drug activities.

The feds proved that Richardson had made only one cash deposit - $9,200 - at a PNC branch in Stratford, N.J.

"A single cash deposit of less than $10,000 is not sufficient to establish knowledge of a design to conceal as to the transaction as a whole," the opinion said.

Richardson submitted a mortgage application used to purchase the Mullica Hill home that vastly overstated her income.

But the appeals panel said that was done not to hide Coles' involvement in the purchase but "to get around Coles' bad credit" and that "no jury could have reasonably reached a different conclusion."

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