Rap promoter testifies at drug kingpin trial

February 11, 2008 6:38:32 PM PST
By any standard, he was a hustler. Either Alton "Ace Capone" Coles pieced together a $100,000-a-year, all-cash income from his inner-city barber shop, water-ice stand, day care center and later, his work as a rap promoter.

Or, as federal prosecutors allege, he made it selling $25 million of crack and powder cocaine in the Philadelphia region from 1997 to 2005.

Coles, 34, of Philadelphia, made the unusual decision to testify Monday in his federal "drug kingpin" trial, to battle charges that he led a violent empire with more than a dozen underlings and enforcers.

"I always hustled," Coles told jurors Monday as he described his entrepreneurial start in the late 1990s cutting hair and selling marijuana and cocaine "at times."

Coles acknowledged several minor arrests in those years, but says his income was legitimate by the time federal agents raided his Chester barbershop - which Coles described as a hangout for neighbors, children and drug dealers alike - in 1998.

"At this time, things were going swell," Coles said.

Defense lawyer Christopher Warren has said that Coles' small record label, Take Down Records, and weekly dance parties financed a lifestyle that included a $466,000 suburban home, a $220,000 Bentley and the support of five children by several women. Coles is expected to elaborate on his music business when his testimony resumes Tuesday.

However, prosecutors label Coles one of the city's biggest cocaine dealers in recent years. The 194-count indictment charges that he moved a ton of powder cocaine and a half-ton of crack cocaine through the city, and prosecutors blame the group for more than 20 shootings.

Agents who spread across the area in August 2005, arrested Coles and a girlfriend in their Mullica Hill, N.J., mini-mansion. That same day, agents raiding the homes of his alleged underlings found more than a half-million dollars in cash at the Quinton, N.J., home of co-defendant James Morris, authorities said.

Coles testified Monday that even in the late 1990s, he kept the thousands of dollars a week he says he made in cash from the barbershop and his various other endeavors in a safe in his closet.

Yet in a taped phone call played in court, an enraged Coles can be heard screaming profanities at a girlfriend, co-defendant Aysa Richardson, because of $1,000 missing from a checking account she used to pay some of their bills.

Richardson herself called Coles "a major drug dealer" in a protection-from-abuse order she sought against him, a document that is expected to be introduced in court.

The prosecution rested Monday after about three weeks of testimony. The defense portion of the trial, given the five co-defendants on trial, could last another week or more.