When Craig Cesal heard the judge condemn him to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, he felt relief. Despite the ludicrous prosecution he had just endured, Cesal thought there was no possible way a judge on appeal could ever let a first time offender, who did nothing more than repair trucks that had been used to transport marijuana, serve a life sentence. Craig Cesal was wrong.
Cesal co-owned a company that towed and repaired semi-trucks. The company was usually hired by leasing companies to retrieve abandoned and damaged trucks. Some of the trucks he was called on to retrieve had been used to smuggle drugs.
It is for this behavior, and this behavior alone, that Craig Cesal earned his life sentence.
Difficult as it may be to believe, that is how conspiracy laws in this country work.
The truck Cesal recovered had no marijuana in it when he was called to retrieve it – that cargo had been seized at the Mexican border while en route to North Carolina while Cesal was still at home in Chicago. Nonetheless, he was charged with “Conspiracy to Distribute” marijuana in violation of Title 21 USC 846, 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A).
Cesal was indicted with eight other people who received sentences ranging from 60 months to 130 months (for those that had prior convictions). The drivers from the trucking company who “cooperated” by telling agents that Cesal was in on conspiracy, never spent a day in prison, nor did they have to give up their illegal gains, despite the fact that they never gave official testimony or signed statements. But the Chicago truck mechanic with no prior felony convictions, who fought against conviction and took it trial because he knew he had not done anything wrong, remains behind bars where he will spend the rest of his life and where he will die if he does not receive a sentence commutation.
Craig Cesal was arrested in Gainesville, Georgia on March 23, 2002 when he went to retrieve an abandoned truck. He was held “incommunicado,” meaning without access to a phone, mail or his lawyer.
Prior to the trip, Craig had called a number at the leasing company to get directions to the abandoned truck. Craig was unaware he was actually speaking to an undercover DEA officer posing as an employee of the leasing company. That agent asked Craig to meet with him to join in the “Sun Hill venture.” Sun Hill Trucking owned the abandoned truck.
Craig refused, telling the agent that he would NOT become involved with Sun Hill operations, that we did not trust them, and that his interests and activities were strictly limited to servicing trucks.
Based on that conversation, federal authorities obtained an arrest warrant and later an indictment by alleging that the conversation showed Craig knew of the marijuana distribution scheme.
Government agents located Craig’s long estranged father, who Craig had not seen for decades following a family schism. Charles Cesal agreed to assist the government in any way that would result in his son Craig Cesal’s imprisonment.
Charles Cesal paid $25,000 to attorney William Morrison. The prosecutor obtained a court order that Craig must be represented by Morrison in order to protect the government’s ongoing marijuana sting operation. When Craig threatened Morrison with a lawsuit, he resigned. Charles Cesal then hired former prosecutor Craig Gillen.
Craig was confident if the recordings of his conversations with the undercover DEA agent, where he that disavowed his involvement, could be played for the jury he would be cleared. Once the jury was selected, however, Gillen informed him that he and the prosecutor had erased all recordings between Craig and federal agents.
According to Craig Cesal, Gillen’s accountant/investigator met with Sun Hill Trucking principles. They paid Gillen (who was supposedly Craig’s defense attorney) $75,000 to protect them from any potential allegations Craig might make to reduce his sentencing exposure.
Gillen also secured a deal with the prosecutor that the government would not seize Craig’s business or other assets and that, providing he made no effort to undermine the government’s case, Gillen himself could keep them.
Left with no defense, Craig panicked and plead “guilty,” albeit without admitting guilt. Later that day, he motioned the court to withdraw that plea, citing Gillen’s conflicting interests in being hired by others, and that his actions did not constitute the guilt of the charge. It took the threat of playing an incriminating conversation of Gillen in court, to finally get him removed as counsel.
The next attorney hired by Craig’s father attempted to have Craig declared “mentally disabled and unable to communicate” in order to steal his assets. While the court issued an order to sell Craig’s home, a court appointed psychologist found Craig Cesal sane and stable. (Side note: Craig’s children never received any payment from the sale.)
The court denied the withdrawal of Craig’s guilty plea and he was sentenced to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, for conspiracy to possess marijuana with the Sun Hill Company. It was his first and only felony conviction.
To no avail, Cesal has subsequently challenged the legality of his conviction and sentence, since it was heavily influenced by attorneys who could steal his assets if he were convicted, which he was and which they did.
Even though Craig Cesal is serving a life sentence because he was convicted of a “marijuana crime,” the government never alleged he ever had anything to do with marijuana. Craig Cesal did not buy, sell, grow, possess or even smoke marijuana, yet he received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. His appeals and habeas petitions are exhausted. His last remaining hope lies with Presidential clemency.
How You Can Help
Craig asks that supporters sign the petition started by his advocates, asking for President Obama to grant group clemency to nonviolent drug offenders serving life sentences (support the Change.org petition), and to periodically check out his website, www.FreeCraigCesal.com, or Facebook page, for news and updates and how you can help with letters of support for new appeals and release efforts.
Craig loves getting cards and letters from supporters. Write to him here:
Craig Cesal #52948-019
P.O. BOX 5000
GREENVILLE, IL 62246
Want to help more? Here’s how to put money directly onto a prisoner’s books — no middle man, all contributions go directly to the prisoner – to be used for phone calls, email, legal expenses, food, personal hygiene items, etc.:
Send a postal money order (yes it must be a POSTAL money order or the Bureau of Prisons will not accept it) to:
Federal Bureau of Prisons
Inmate Name, Inmate Register Number
(in this case Craig Cesal #52948-019)
Post Office Box 474701
Des Moines, Iowa 50947-0001
or go to Western Union (westernunion.com) and find the link on the bottom of the page “send money to an inmate.”
Cheri Sicard is a dedicated cannabis activist, the author of “The Cannabis Gourmet Cookbook (2012 Z-Dog Media) and the upcoming “Mary Jane: The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women” (Seal Press, release date 4-20-15). Her blog is www.CannabisCheri.com.