LOS ANGELES -- William Morgan Hetrick, a major drug dealer targeted in the government sting that eventually ensnared John De Lorean, was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for narcotics trafficking and tax evasion.
Hetrick, 52, pleaded guilty to a variety of felony charges in June 1983 in a deal that spared him prosecution under the penal code's stiffest narcotics law, operating a continuing criminal enterprise. If convicted of that charge, he would have faced a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life.
Instead, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Takasugi sentenced him to a total of 39 years on six different charges, the longest being 10 years for conspiracy, and said the terms should run concurrently.
Prosecutors said Hetrick, who has been imprisoned since his arrest nearly two years ago, when he was described as one of the biggest drug dealers on the West Coast, will be eligible for parole at any time.
Hetrick, dressed in a black suit, spoke only briefly, telling the judge, 'No thank you, your honor,' when asked if he wished to address the court.
Defense attorney Stephen Wilson asked Takasugi, who also presided at the De Lorean trial, to show leniency. 'He is worthwhile,' Wilson said. 'We ask the court with all sincerity to allow him to return to society as quickly as possible.'
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Walsh Jr., De Lorean's chief prosecutor, said Hetrick's guilty plea was 'the first step down the road of rehabilitation' and praised him for cooperating with the government.
But he urged the judge to 'send that message that must be sent, that this kind of activity ... is so terrible and its consequences so large and so destructive' that it must be punished.
Since his arrest, Hetrick has been held in isolation for his own protection, and the site of his incarceration has not been disclosed. It was not known whether the protective custody would continue.
When he pleaded guilty, Hetrick agreed to testify against De Lorean, but was never called to the stand.
Hetrick was still a key 'witness' in the trial, being seen and heard several times on secretly recorded video and audio tapes made during the government's undercover investigation.
De Lorean, 59, was acquitted of nine counts alleging he conspired with Hetrick to import and distribute 220 pounds of cocaine in a failed attempt to pull his dying Northern Ireland car firm from bankruptcy.
A judge dismissed one of the counts and De Lorean was cleared of the other eight after a four-month trial that ended Aug. 16.
Hetrick was arrested Oct. 18, 1982, after supplying agents with 55 pounds of cocaine, the first allotment of 220 pounds he contracted to provide. De Lorean was arrested the next day in a Los Angeles hotel room.
Hetrick, owner of an aviation business in Mojave, Calif., pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine, interstate travel in furtherance of a narcotics transaction, unlawful use of a telephone facility, unlawful transportation of currency outside the United States and tax evasion.
As part of the plea bargain, Hetrick forfeited $3 million worth of property, including his company, several boats, planes and automobiles and bank accounts in California, Nevada and the Cayman Islands.
Prosecutors granted Hetrick immunity from further prosecution and also gave immunity to two of his sons and a stepson.
A third co-defendant in the De Lorean case, Stephen Arrington, 35, pleaded guilty to two criminal counts in June 1983 for acting as Hetrick's courier in the cocaine transaction. He is serving a five-year prison sentence.