A well-known Atlanta gay party promoter has been sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for smuggling drugs including methamphetamine and ketamine.
Chris Coleman, 48, of Chris Coleman Enterprises pleaded guilty to the charges of intent to sell the drugs after a federal investigation found he was smuggling drugs, including to Israel wrapped in packages of candy. Project Q Atlanta was the first to report this story.
It was on June 25, 2013, when agents with the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program (HIDTA), acting on tips from Israeli law enforcement, began its surveillance of Coleman and his home on Wembley Court, according to court documents filed Jan. 1, 2014.
“The Israeli agents had developed evidence that several packages, originating from Atlanta and containing the controlled substances GHB and methamphetamine, had been sent by Coleman,” according to court documents. The agents watched Coleman drive to the U.S. Post Office on Briarcliff Road and mail a package. After Coleman left the post office, agents got a search warrant for the package and and found 12.9 grams of meth inside.
On July 8, 2013, Coleman had told an undercover agent he that he had recently mailed 28 grams of meth and was paid $2,000 via Western Union. Agents located this package at a U.S. Post Office on Moreland Avenue. Inside this package, to be mailed to Israel, were several bags of candy and buried in the candy was a small Ziploc bag containing 28.2 grams of meth.
On July 10, 2013, law enforcement executed a search warrant on Coleman’s home where they found many unused U.S. Postal labels, express mail receipts, customs declaration receipts, bags of candy similar to the ones seized at the Moreland Avenue post office, and FedEx receipts.
Also found: an eye dropper containing Butanediol (similar to GBH and also known as a “club drug” or “date rape drug”), 6.2 grams of cocaine in baggies located in a jacket belonging to Coleman, plastic bottles filled with ketamine, and a sandwich bag labeled “empty capsules & Mollie & Xtacy” that contained empty gelatin tablets.
Court documents show that in July 2013 the federal Drug Enforcement Agency seized $38,400 from an Atlanta Wells Fargo bank safe deposit box and noted the came from “illegal drug distribution” by Coleman.
ACTIVIST: CHARACTER REFERENCE FOR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN, NOT COURT
Coleman at first pleaded not guilty to three drug charges of intent to distribute meth and ketamine against him and a trial was set for July 7; on July 1, Coleman changed his plea to guilty and sentencing was set for Sept. 4. He was sentenced on Sept. 4 by Senior U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell to 41 months in prison, with no possibility of early release, and ordered to pay $300. He reported voluntary to a federal minimum security prison camp in Montgomery, Alabama, on Maxwell Air Force Base on Oct. 13 He will be on probation for three years after his release.
As part of his sentencing, many friends and family members submitted letters to the court on Sept. 3 as character references to ask the judge for a lenient sentence. One letter submitted was from Dino Thompson-Sarmiento, CEO of Spotted Dog Agency and a member of GLAAD Atlanta’s leadership board. Thompson-Sarmiento told the GA Voice the reference was actually meant for a Kickstarter campaign and was written this summer.
What the court received allegedly on behalf of Thompson-Sarmiento states, “Chris Coleman Enterprises can cut through red tape, anticipate potential issues, present workable solutions and, ultimately, keep us and our clients happy. Their results never fail to impress. I have had the great fortune to work with him and his team more than a decade and he has always delivered services that far exceed our expectations. We will continue to engage Mr. Coleman and his company because we care about our clients, he understands our urgency as a Public Relations & Branding firm to facilitate the very best in customer service.”
But Thompson-Sarmiento is adamant he had no idea Coleman had been busted for drugs nor did he submit a character reference to the court on Coleman’s behalf.
“I had no idea about this case. I was not aware of it and I never submitted an email as a reference to this case. That’s a complete lie that I submitted that,” Thompson-Sarmiento told the GA Voice.
“What I did get was a request from Chris Coleman that was a request for a business reference to start a Kickstarter program. I said sure. He had done great work with the community in the past so I had no issue doing that. But the fact that it was used for a court case? I am completely shocked they used that in that capacity,” he added.
“I never submitted that to an attorney or a judge. If I had, I would say so. I had zero idea that this was going on. No idea whatsoever. I never submitted that reference to any court or any attorney or to anyone regarding this case. I’m just as shocked as everyone else in the community that’s hearing about this. It was a business reference for his business so he could do a Kickstarter program. I’ve contacted his lawyers and my lawyers about how my name was used in this capacity,” he continued.
Coleman’s attorney, Donald F. Samuel, also wrote on behalf of his client, telling the judge that Coleman is considered “loving, trustworthy, and loyal” by friends and family. He included Coleman’s background, including that he was diagnosed with HIV in 1989 and has struggled with depression and drug abuse.
“While Mr. Coleman understands that he must be punished for the actions, he also understands the reality that he will likely be separated from his partner and family. While a term of incarceration may serve as a general deterrent, the devastating effect of being separated from his loved ones and potentially declining in his health makes any sentence imprisonment extremely harsh,” according to court documents.
Attorney Samuel notes that Coleman has worked with the LGBT community for many years, including with such groups as AID Atlanta, Jerusalem House, Joining Hearts, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)—”all causes close to his heart.”
Coleman also cooperated with the DEA in its investigation and “has participated in identifying other culpable persons,” Samuel notes in court documents.
Also included as a letter of reference is one from Coleman’s partner, Joeseph Hutchinson.
To Whom it May Concern: I have known and been in a very Loving relationship with Chris Coleman for a year and 3 months now and am happy to say, still just as Happy and Blessed today as when we first met.
Chris saved me from a Severe Depression and low in my own life in dealing with the unexpected death of my 56 yr. old Mother from a massive stroke, as well as my own diagnosis of being HIV+ only 3 months later. Having been raised strictly religious and due to my gay lifestyle, I already had a very strained relationship with my family and I found myself very Scared, Depressed and Alone to deal with all of this at the ripe young age of 38. I lost my job, my apt., my furnishings and personal possessions were put in storage and later auctioned off. My 4 and 7 year old chihuahuas had to go to a friend to make sure they were well cared for and soon, given away without my knowledge or approval. I was sleeping on a friend’s loveseat, sick, lost and turned to substance abuse to escape though there was none to be found. Enter Chris … A chance meeting and my world was turned around. Not only did he bring love into my life, but in saving me from my own self destruction and misery, he provided me with stability. He gave me a job working with him in the Event Promotional Business. He helped me get off and away from substance abuse, he moved me into his own home and never left my side or pushed me away to my own demise since. I tell him that “He Brought Me Back to Life” and I still mean it. I tell him that I believe my Precious Mama saw me and sent him to save me! He is a Great Man, a Devoted Partner, a Driven Businessman, a Loyal Friend, a Valued Son, Brother and Uncle, but just like all of us, he is Human and has struggles himself that he selflessly at times, puts aside to focus on the betterment of others like Myself. He is My Gift and Valued Blessing. I Need Him, so Many value him and would Gladly Testify of his beneficial impact on their lives. Please, Give him his Justly deserved opportunity to show You his Sincere attempt to Redeem his namesake and Prove to you his humble gratitude of a lesson learned and Leniency in the eyes of an Honorable Judge and Court.”
‘WE’RE IN THE CLUB BUSINESS’
Michael Morrison, COO of Inserection on Cheshire Bridge Road and the Tokyo Valentino men’s club at the location, said he is Coleman’s “best friend” and recently worked with Coleman on promoting the space as well as other events. Morrison told GA Voice that Coleman could have given names up to authorities in exchange for having his sentence completely erased.
“What he didn’t do is take the feds up on their offer and took it on the chin,” Morrison said.
Morrison said Coleman has “adjusted” to the prison camp but he has not intentions of abandoning his friend when he is released.
“We’re in the club business. We don’t participate and condone it, but it does exist. He’s an excellent promoter. I have no hesitation with working with him again. I don’t condone what he did but he made his own choice,” he said.
Just days before reporting to prison, Coleman promoted an event with funnyman Leslie Jordan at Park Tavern on Oct. 9 and also promoted a few official closing parties of Atlanta Pride.
— Patrick Saunders contributed