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PA ex-recruit gets 6 years in drug plot

The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
BYLINE: PETER SAMPSON, For the Star-Ledger

Passaic County, NJ

A former Port Authority police recruit who trained and managed professional boxers was sentenced yesterday to more than six years in federal prison for conspiring with a Passaic County sheriff's officer to distribute 43 kilos of cocaine stolen from an evidence vault.

In imposing a 75-month term, U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares said Henry Cortes, 35, of Mahwah had arranged to "distribute poison" on the very streets where he was actively mentoring inner-city youth interested in boxing in an effort to keep them out of trouble.

Calling it a sad case, Linares noted Cortes' career is over; he is facing financial ruin and has lost the good reputation he once enjoyed in the community.

In an emotional plea for leniency, Cortes told the judge he "made the biggest mistake" of his life when he agreed to help a childhood friend, Alan Souto, a former detective sergeant in the Passaic County Sheriff's Department, take evidence that had been scheduled to be burned and sell it to drug dealers.

"I was stupid and he manipulated me," Cortes said, occasionally weeping as he apologized and pleaded for "a second chance."

"The shame and embarrassment is unbearable because I was brought up as a man of pride and honesty and integrity," he said, adding he could not understand how he allowed himself to get into this situation.
Defense lawyer Ronald Fava told the judge that Cortes was a "good person who screwed up royally."

"This was an aberration an insult to his family and contrary to his whole upbringing." added co-counsel Thomas Liotti, arguing for a sentence of community service rather than prison.

In February, Cortes pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the theft and distribution of more than 94 pounds of cocaine and more than a pound of heroin that was stolen by Souto from the sheriff's evidence vault between August 2007 and July 2008.

During that time, Cortes was a cadet at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Police Academy, as well as a manager of world champion boxers, including former junior welterweight champ Kendall Holt of Woodland Park.

Souto, who later cooperated with investigators, was sentenced in May to more than seven years in prison. Holt pleaded guilty in April to one count of money laundering, admitting he handled the money generated from the drug sales.

Cortes was "desperate to cooperate," and although he initially feared reprisals from gang members, provided information to authorities, his lawyers said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Gramiccioni said his information was "stale" or already known to law enforcement, and thus he did not warrant a sentence reduction.

The defense lawyers said Souto recruited Cortes because Holt was best friends with a Paterson drug dealer known to authorities. Cortes refused numerous times, but eventually gave in to the pressure and contacted Holt, Fava said. Cortes also allowed a Haledon warehouse he owns to be used as a stash house where the drugs and cash were exchanged.

Souto would place the cocaine in a lockbox outside the warehouse, from which it was later retrieved by the dealer. Payment for the drugs was later delivered by Holt to the lockbox, the lawyers said, arguing that Cortes' role in the distribution scheme was minor.

Grammiccioni, however, said Cortes played a pivotal role by providing the connection to the drug dealers and in ensuring that the drug proceeds were delivered to Souto.

Cortes, who volunteered his time with the Paterson and Bergen County Police Athletic League and coached four world champs from the Joe Grier Boxing Academy in Paterson, previously acknowledged that his share of the drug proceeds was at least $200,000. But in court yesterday, his lawyers said Holt received most of that money. Souto admitted his share of the pilfered narcotics was at least $250,000.

Peter J. Sampson writes for the Record. He may be reached at Record staff writer Monsy Alvarado contributed to this article.

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