A man federal authorities say was a major heroin supplier to Chattanooga, as well as Knoxville and Atlanta, told a federal jury on Thursday that he did not sell drugs.
James Silas, 50, is charged with a single count of conspiracy to sell heroin in the trial before Judge Curtis Collier.
Silas did tell the jury he was a close associate of Percy "Pooh" Richard, who earlier pleaded guilty in the case and got a 10-year sentence.
He also said he knew Marlon Eberhardt, a Chattanooga drug dealer, who is also in federal prison serving a 10-year term.
During a raid at Silas' home outside of Chicago, agents found photos showing him with Richard, Eberhardt and others charged in the drug conspiracy. Prosecutor Scott Winnie noted that Silas was situated in the middle of the photos.
Some of those in the pictures were flashing gang signs, including Silas. He testified that he had gotten out of the gang earlier. Authorities said those in the conspiracy were involved in the Mafia and the Vice Lords. In one of the pictures, a man was wearing a shirt with "oso" on it. Silas agreed that referred to the last part of Mafioso.
Agents during the search also found a listing of expensive items of jewelry that Silas had gotten appraised. Silas, in contrast to Richard, said he lived "in a small, three-bedroom rented house." He told of being on welfare and getting food stamps.
Silas said he worked as a painter, but prosecutor Winnie said he was only able to produce five receipts for paint jobs.
Silas told the jury he grew up in the same neighborhood as Richard in West Chicago. He said Richard was younger and was like a little brother to him.
He said Richard had moved to Atlanta and opened a motorcycle shop. Under questioning, Silas said he was aware that Richard was also a drug dealer. He said he was with him in his car on one occasion when Richard reached under the seat for a bag, then took it to someone in another vehicle.
Silas said when he visited Richard in Atlanta he stayed at his luxurious house. He said, "Pooh was doing really well. He was a big dog. I was proud of him."
He said Richard also had several houses and apartments in Chicago. He said, "He put women up in some of the places. He had kids all over."
Silas said Richard provided him with phones that were found during the search. He said on one of them "there were a lot of pictures of naked women and sex videos that I deleted."
He denied every visiting Chattanooga, but said he had been to Knoxville.
Silas also told the jury that the voice on the phone in secretly recorded conversations was not his. His step-father, a retired minister, also said it was not his voice.
His attorney, Leslie Corey, said it was possible to "spoof" a phone. She had a voice expert who said the voice was likely not that of Silas. The judge did not allow that testimony to go before the jury.
The prosecution earlier called several of those in the conspiracy who told of buying heroin from Silas. The witnesses referred to Silas as "P" or "Prince." Silas denied anyone had ever called him by those nicknames. Prosecutor Winnie said letters at his home addressed to him referred to him as "the Prince."
Silas said he and his second wife were about to pull away from their home in separate vehicles when about 20 police officers and agents swooped in.
He said, "My wife was crying and they were telling me I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison."
The case goes to the jury on Tuesday.