2 face fines, jail in drug conviction

Two Vacherie brothers convicted in New Orleans on four federal crack cocaine distribution conspiracy counts face fines up to $13 million and lengthy prison terms at
their scheduled Feb. 21 sentencing hearing, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans brought their cases against Tonta J. Octave, 34, and Kavis Octave, 31, on Tuesday and Wednesday on the strength of drug buys recorded on video by a confidential informant who later was slain.

Before trial, defense attorney Brent Stockstill, who represents Kavis Octave, had sought to have U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk throw out the video recordings because the deceased informant, Aaron Jones, could not be cross-examined.

Africk allowed the recordings to be presented as evidence under an exception to hearsay rules cited by prosecutors that allows jurors to view the conversations between Jones and Octave and hear Jones’ statements for context, court filings show.

Stockstill, however, said Friday that Africk instructed jurors they could not use Jones’ recorded comments for the truth of his statements.

Jones, 39, was shot dead on the front porch of his girlfriend’s home in the Magnolia Housing Complex in Vacherie sometime before the early morning hours of May 11, sheriff’s deputies have said. Jones’ girlfriend, Christina Gale, then 34, also was hit by gunfire, but survived.

Joseph Monroe Johnson, then 26, 10413 Legion Lane, Convent, was arrested and booked May 14 on first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder counts in the shootings and remains in Parish Prison, St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin confirmed Friday.

He said Johnson’s case is still pending.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said Jones’ death was mentioned in testimony at trial but, under evidentiary rules, the circumstances of his death were not explained to avoid any undue prejudice of the jurors.

He said prosecutors consider audio-video recordings in drug cases as being “functionally irrefutable.”

Deputies and prosecutors said the drug buys made in St. James Parish in March and May — conducted jointly by the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — targeted mid- to high-level drug dealers.

The Octaves were arrested May 12, sheriff’s deputies
said.

The Octaves’ two-day trial ended Wednesday with jurors finding them guilty of four counts of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine base, or crack, but innocent of a fifth crack conspiracy count, a verdict form says.

As agents moved in to arrest Tonta Octave in May, he fled his home in a vehicle
with $25,747 in cash that had been kept in a freezer and
was still ice-cold, prosecutors said.

Jurors agreed that the cash should be forfeited as drug proceeds, a verdict form says.

Tonta Octave faces a sentence of up to life in prison, as much as $8 million in fines and eight years of supervised release, prosecutors said.

Kavis Octave faces up to 40 years in prison, fines of up to $5 million and four years of supervised release.