“Somebody’s gotta get smacked in the head with a gun,” warned drug kingpin White Boy Chris. A government wiretap caught the warning—and the statement reemerged in a federal courtroom to haunt prosecutors using White Boy Chis as their star witness.
That moment added a new twist Wednesday to the first in a series of trials of alleged New Haven Tre Blood dealers arrested in Connecticut’s largest-ever federal drug-gang sweep, called “Operation Bloodline.”
“White Boy Chris” is Chris Morley, one of 105 people arrested in May 2012 as part of Operation Bloodline—and, according to testimony in U.S. District Court on Church Street, a man who called himself the “great white hope” of the city’s drug trade.
The government claimed the operation took down a massive crack cocaine drug ring allegedly affiliated with the Dwight-Kensington neighborhood’s violent Tre Bloods gang.
Morley is a confessed ringleader of a drug operation dismantled by Operation Bloodline. He’s now the key to the government’s case against two of his former underlings, Tylon “Bucky” Vaughn and Michael Thompson, who are charged with conspiracy. Their trial, being heard this week by federal Judge Ellen Bree Burns, is the first to come out of Operation Bloodline.
Many of the 105 alleged co-conspirators arrested in the federal sweep have pleaded guilty, including Morley. Morley is now cooperating with prosecutors trying to convict Vaughn and Thompson. The case against the two alleged drug dealers rests largely on Morley’s testimony, along with recordings of wiretapped phone calls. Click here to read about Morley’s detailed description of the New Haven drug trade during Tuesday’s courtroom drama.
On Wednesday, defense attorneys Jon Einhorn and Sebastian DeSantis (pictured outside the courthouse)—representing Thompson and Vaughn, respectively—sought to destroy Morley’s credibility. In aggressive cross-eaxmination, the lawyers tried to convince the 12-person jury that Morley is a self-serving career criminal who will do or say anything to get the upper hand in any situation, including by making up whatever story the feds want to hear to make their case against Vaughn and Thompson.
Morley and the government haven’t always cooperate fully in the Operation Bloodline investigation. When Morley tried to get out on bond after his arrest in May 2012, the government vehemently objected, citing a vicious threat that Drug Enforcement Administration officers recorded Morley making on one of 22 phones that were tapped as part of the Bloodline investigation.
On the call, Morley was trying to get some money he was owed by drug dealer who was selling oxycodone pills for him.
“Listen, nobody can do what I do. Nobody can move what I move,” Morley said, according to the government’s transcript. To get people to pay debts, Morley said, “it doesn’t work with a phone call. It’s gotta be—somebody’s gotta get smacked in the head with a gun and they gotta bleed a little bit and then they gotta cry and then they go to their mother and father and then they write me a check.” A few sentences later, Morley suggested he might kidnap a child to ensure he’s paid.
In a document objecting to Morley’s release, government prosecutors wrote, “This call establishes the defendant’s willingness to employ violence in furtherance of his drug trafficking activities.”
On Wednesday the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Silverman, promoted a different interpretation of Morley’s violent statement. Under Silverman’s direct examination, Morley said that he had just been blowing smoke on the phone, trying to scare the oxycodone dealer into coughing up the cash he owed him.
Silverman didn’t shy away from asking about Morley’s extensive criminal past. Some highlights emerged under direct examination:
Since he was a teenager, Morley was a fence for stolen goods, including selling $1.4 million-worth of hot diamonds on 47th Street in New York.
He was a part-owner of a nightclub between 2001 and 2004, and avoided liquor taxes by pouring tax-free booze into taxable bottles. He then got into bookmaking, and would take bets on football games, making tens of thousands of dollars.
Morley also worked as a bail bondsman for couple of years, but ended up going to prison after he started pocketing bond money that was supposed to go to insurance companies. He later paid his court-ordered reparations by selling drugs.
The day after Morley got out of prison, he started selling drugs again, he said. He also took up insurance fraud at the North Haven car dealership where he worked.
Morley, who’s 35, has never paid any income taxes.
When his drug operation was in its heyday, Morley moved millions of dollars in drug proceeds. He said he spent it nearly as fast as he got it. He put a lot of it back into the drug business and also “partied, gambled, lived the lifestyle, had many girlfriends.”
At one point, he was put in charge of a “livable trust” for his aging grandmother, who lived in California. When he got $500,000 from selling her house, some of it went to the trust, and some went into the drug business.
Morley said he sold only one gun and was never involved in any violence. Even when people shot at his car in the fall of 2008, he didn’t retaliate. “Wasn’t my style,” he said.
On the stand, Morley told the jury he’s trying to win government support for a 5k 1.1 motion that could help him get less than the sentencing-guidelines recommendation of 14 to 17 years in prison.
“I’m hoping for the most lenient sentence possible,” he said.
“An Honest Man”
When defense attorney Einhorn rose to cross-examine Morley, he went back through Morley’s criminal history.
“I can’t say it’s a pleasure to meet you, ” Einhorn began. “You do know you’re legendary among the New Haven police department for living a life of utter and total disregard for the law. You’ve lived your life doing what you want to do with total disregard for anybody else.”
“I guess so,” Morley replied.
Einhorn asked about Morley’s use of his grandmother’s Westville home as a receiving point for boxes of weed and oxycodone pills, shipped to him from California and Florida.
“You realize, sir, that you could have sent her to jail,” Einhorn said. He asked if Morley is proud of that.
“No,” Morley said. “I did it to make money.”
Einhorn maneuvered Morley into acknowledging the many ways he’d lied during his criminal career, and put his own interests above those of anybody else, including his family.
Einhorn got Morley to admit that he’d sometimes referred to himself in the drug trade as the “Great White Hope.” Morley said he had been “kidding around.”
Morley lived in Westville while his dealers lived in Fair Haven and Dwight. “You’ve got ‘White Boy Chris’ and group of young black kids you had selling cocaine and crack,” Einhorn said.
Einhorn sought to have Morley admit that he’s not “an honest man.”
“I’m not lying here today,” Morley said. “I’m here today to tell the truth.”
“When did this happen? When did you become an honest man?” Einhorn asked.
“Because it benefits me to be honest,” Morley said. If he is found to be lying, it would be a violation of his cooperation and plea agreements, and the government could use all the information he divulged against him.
Einhorn finished up his cross by asking Morley if he’s a thief, liar and drug dealer.
“I do what suits me, yes,” Morley said.
In addition to Morley’s testimony, the prosecution is relying on extensive recordings of wiretapped phone calls as it seeks to convict Thompson and Vaughn. The two are clearly overheard on tape multiple times discussing drug deals.
Neither Einhorn nor DeSantis addressed those calls in their cross-examinations of Morley, who had testified under direct examination about many of the recordings, explicating and decoding them for the jury.
Einhorn said the conspiracy charge against his client will stick only if Thompson is proven to have dealt with significant quantities of drugs. The phone calls don’t mention quantity, he said. “That’s why the calls don’t mean anything. The only thing they have on quantity is Chris Morley’s word.”
After Morley, the prosecution called a series of cops to the stand.
New Haven Sgt. Roy Davis (pictured) testified that he arranged a controlled crack purchase from Thompson on Aug. 7, 2011, then busted him on Jan. 7 2012, with a golf-ball-sized bundle of crack baggies “located in his buttocks area.” Davis said he then found a scale, razor blades, baggies, a small amount of cocaine, and assorted pills in Thompson’s Farnham Avenue home.
New Haven Officer David Rivera testified that he arrested Thompson in his home during the the main Operation Bloodline sweep on May 22, 2012. He said Thompson didn’t open the door immediately. Inside, police found $2,000 cash in an open safe and two scales in the kitchen.
East Haven Officer Lance Helms testified that he arrested Vaughn at his home on Limerick Street during the May 22 sweep. Helms said he found in Vaughn’s home only a bag of smaller baggies and a piece of cardboard with cocaine residue.
Throughout the day of court proceedings Wednesday, supporters of Thompson and Vaughn who have been attending the trial continued to complain about the lengthy sentences the two may be facing, despite the small amount of physical evidence against them, while Morley may have his sentence reduced to as little as five years for cooperating with the government.
“I don’t understand how, if these guys are found guilty, their life is gone,” said street outreach worker David Morales, who said he knows Thompson.
As for Morley, meanwhile, who admitted to whole list of crimes he hasn’t served time for—“He’ll be out free,” Morales said.