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Janesville man could get a second life sentence

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Kevin Murphy
September 17, 2009
— A Janesville man faces life in prison for a second time after jurors in federal court Wednesday convicted him of distributing a controlled substance.

Christopher C. Bell, 34, had been sentenced to life in prison in 1998 after being convicted of running a large-scale crack sales operation in Beloit. Bell later was re-sentenced to 12 years and eight months after Congress retroactively reduced the penalties for crack convictions.


According to documents filed with the court:


Bell became a resident of a Janesville halfway house after his release from prison and befriended Brian Dorenzo, who also had a prior drug conviction. Dorenzo worked as an informant for the Rock County Safe Streets Task Force and told authorities Bell had returned to drug dealing. Dorenzo agreed to record a phone call to Bell to arrange buying crack from him.


On Jan. 13, with police tailing him, Dorenzo met Bell in a Beloit Walmart parking lot, where Dorenzo received a quarter-ounce of crack from Bell. Dorenzo met Bell the next day and paid him $500 for the crack, which he then reported to police.


Police also watched a house at 823 Merrill Ave. in Beloit where they suspected Bell was conducting drug deals. On Feb. 12, police stopped Bell on a traffic matter. Before Bell’s car stopped, the front passenger door opened and a white powder was dumped on the street. Police also noticed two plastic baggies were tossed from Bell’s car while police followed. Police collected eight grams of crack scattered across a half-block in the area Bell was stopped, although it wasn’t introduced as evidence at trial. The tossed baggies that contained a small amount of crack became evidence.


Bell was arrested and indicted in federal court on two drug distribution counts, with one count dismissed before trial.


On Tuesday, after a 1˝-day trial, Bell’s attorney, Alan Habermehl, attacked Dorenzo as a “bought and paid testimony” and told jurors that his client was selling diet pills, not dealing crack.


“Another witness confirmed he was on a weight-loss program. The pills had caffeine in them and you got a buzz off ’em,” Habermehl said in his closing statement.


Bell had taken the stand and didn’t dispute that the baggies contained crack but said it was crack Dorenzo used to try and set up him for an arrest, Habermehl said.


Assistant U.S. Attorney David Reinhard told jurors to remember Bell’s “I’ve got the best dope in the Midwest” statement recorded during the transaction with Dorenzo in the Walmart parking lot.


“He was trying to sell drugs then and today he’s trying to sell you something different, his story,” Reinhard told jurors.


U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb set Bell’s sentencing for Nov. 20 for possession of five or more grams of crack.



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