Our stories of questionable criminal behavior transit Urbana, Illinois, where previously convicted felon Andrew Bell just picked up a 22-year sentence, partially for his use of rental cars to conduct his drug-dealing scheme. The story is that of a habitual criminal, already convicted in the past of burglary and unauthorized use of weapons. As a result, Bell was forbidden from having weapons (as a convicted felon), subjected to court-ordered searches of his home, and was on one police department's radar (but not their RADAR, as he was forced to stop driving). Facing aggressive sentencing as a habitual offender, he got caught with a firearm and drugs. And while facing charges in the previous incident, he subsequently got caught selling drugs to police informants as a rental car passenger. Why didn't he let Hertz (or another company) put him in the driver's seat?
The Street Crimes Task Force also knew he had a bad reputation.
Let's take a few steps back.
- Already convicted of burglary and weapons charges, he was forbidden from having weapons.
- He had also been popped by the cops for driving without a license and insurance.
His response was to have a weapon and deal drugs but not drive. While this response is rather ingenious in terms of criminal behavior, his plan failed because of the "continue to deal drugs' part and two subsequent felony arrests. The first arrest was in April 2016, after police found a Glock 22 and drugs (8.8 grams of heroin, 9.4 grams of cocaine, a scale and packaging material) in his apartment as part of a court-ordered search. At the time, the Assistant State's Attorney decided not to pursue the drug charges because:
"the offense involving the gun was easier to prove and the penalties for being an armed habitual criminal are harsher"
The story is from Illinois, so he's facing a major felony charge of "felon with a firearm" yet still makes bail. Undeterred, Bell continued his drug enterprise while facing the "felon in possession of a gun" charge. He had drivers with "limited to no prior criminal histories" drive him around in rental cars. That was until he sold drugs to police informants and the police pulled his chauffeured rental car over on November 1, 2016, finding 36 bags of heroin and 18 bags of cocaine, and arrested him for good (no bail this time). The officers on the drug task force -- with no overlap street crimes task force that raided his apartment -- had no idea of the other pending charges until this point.
The obvious question relates to why he relied upon drivers with "limited to no prior criminal histories" as his personal rental car drivers? Believe it or not, that's actually fairly brilliant in a criminal enterprise (well, as brilliant as an illegal enterprise can be).
- If he got pulled over again as a driver without a license and pending trial as a felon, there's instant probable cause for a search.
- If the driver with "limited to no prior criminal history" got pulled over for a traffic infraction, that's the end of the story (no probable cause for a search) unless one of the vehicle occupants flakes out.
Of course, selling drugs to police informants created probable cause for a search. The best laid (bad) plans ...
Now, Mr. Bell was facing an Illinois Class X felony, which is definitely not a desirable position. He was going to jail for a mandatory term of at least six years (his lawyer's request) up to 30 years (the prosecutor asked for 27). The 13 disciplinary reports while awaiting trial didn't help his cause. Nor did his mother's request for sentencing leniency, as he had a 10-month old son he had never met (being in jail for the past 16 months has those types of repercussions). Pulling a solid 22 years, there's some hidden joy that his new cell neighbors will taunt him with some Taylor Swift.