Zeno sentenced to life in prison

Leesville Daily Leader, leesvilledailyleader.com
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Leesville, La

District Attorney Asa Skinner and Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft display $13,000 worth of crack cocaine and $40,000 in cash that was confiscated in 2008 as part of a multi-agency investigation between the Vernon Parish Narcotics Task Force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The crack cocaine shown here, known as "cookies" for their resemblance to the treat, were found in a birthday gift bag in car of Courtney Zeno, who was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday for charges resulting from the investigation. The street value of one "cookie" is about $500, depending upon weight. Some of the crack had been pre-cut into quarters. Three evidence bags worth of cash, bundled in $1,000 stacks to make drug transactions less conspicuous, according to the agent, were found in the vehicle during the initial search, while the majority of the cash was found in a safe at a residence connected to the investigation. The cash will be held at the district attorney's office until it's been approved to be distributed. Then, it will be divided among three entities: the sheriff's office will receive 60 percent to be used for drug enforcement; the district attorney's office will receive 20 percent; and the parish court systems will receive 20 percent. Leader photo by TAMMY SHARP

LAFAYETTE–Courtney Donell Zeno, 39, of Leesville, was convicted by a federal jury Thursday following a two-day trial for distribution of crack cocaine and possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute, Acting United States Attorney William J. Flanagan announced.

According to court testimony, Zeno sold more than 120 grams of crack cocaine to undercover agents on six separate occasions in Leesville. Evidence also showed that on the day of Zeno’s arrest, November 13, 2008, 129 grams of crack cocaine was found in a car Zeno used which was parked at his residence. The cocaine was found in a birthday gift bag on which agents discovered Zeno’s fingerprints.

In addition to the cocaine, agents seized more than $40,000 from Zeno.

Due to his multiple prior drug trafficking convictions, Zeno now faces a mandatory life sentence in federal prison.

The case was investigated by agents of the Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Gang Task Force. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney J. Collin Sims.

Zeno had two prior convictions for drug trafficking according to Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft, one each in Louisiana and Texas. At the time of his arrest in Vernon Parish, Zeno was on probation for his Texas offense and was being supervised in Louisiana.

"He is a career criminal," said Craft. "And we are glad to get him off the streets."

The conviction came even after evidence in the case came under scrutiny for being compromised.

Just days after Zeno's arrest, the Vernon Parish Sheriff's Office evidence room was burglarized by inmates of the parish jail. The break-in was discovered on Nov. 19 when employees noticed that a ceiling tile in the room was broken and had been pushed aside, said Calvin Turner, chief deputy.

"After we got to looking around, we discovered that someone had been in (the room)," he added.

"Immediately following the discovery of the burglary, I assigned members from the VPSO Criminal Division and the VPSO Narcotics Task Force to the case," Craft said.

"We don't believe the integrity of (any) evidence has been damaged," said a narcotics agent assigned to the case, including the $13,000 worth of crack cocaine from the Zeno case.

Craft said he was certain that the two inmates, who have already been charged with the crime, were after drugs and that they did get to some of the drug evidence and use it before being caught. No drugs were recovered nor found on the persons of the inmates charged with the theft.

Leader photo by TAMMY SHARP



Leader photo by TAMMY SHARP



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