TAMPA — One February day in 1989, police arrested Rene Garcia Myles, a crack cocaine dealer heralded as "a thorn in the side of West Tampa." Myles had already amassed 10 felony convictions by his 22nd birthday.
The U.S. Attorney's Office sent him to prison for life under a law that made federal cases out of repeat crack offenses.
Prosecutors called a news conference to make an example of Myles.
But next month, a different set of prosecutors will ask Chief U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich, who locked Myles away for life, to shave time off his sentence.
What changed in 20 years?
Prosecutors say Myles, now 41, has come to their aid.
They say he helped authorities nab five corrupt prison guards and several other corrupt workers at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County. Myles told investigators that the guards, a counselor and a cook were paid to bring contraband into the prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Authorities charged them in January with accepting bribes of up to $20,000 to smuggle cigarettes, drugs, cell phones and a knife to inmates.
Investigators also used his leads to dismantle a 16-person marijuana ring and to implicate 11 prison gang members in a heroin conspiracy.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined through a spokesman to comment about Myles' assistance, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss the case outside of court.
In a written motion to reduce Myles' sentence, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Adams said Myles helped the FBI with five criminal investigations that led to information about other illegal activity. He has incriminated other prisoners — including members of the Latin Kings, white supremacists and the Texas Syndicate — in other crimes, say court documents.
This from a man once described in the late 1980s by a Tampa Police Department deputy chief as "the kind of nightmare that's been haunting public housing for years."
Court-appointed defense attorney Grady Irvin offers an explanation for the transformation.
"Two decades in anybody's prison and seven children, some who you never got to see take their first steps, will make you say, 'What have I got to lose? I have everything to gain,' " Irvin said. "'Maybe someday, I'll get to see them on the outside.'"
Back when Judge Kovachevich sentenced Myles to two concurrent life sentences, she cautioned, "Others on the streets better take heed that this is the will of the people of this country."
Prosecutors seek to reduce his sentence to a range of 27 to 34 years. He has been in prison for about 19 years. It's unclear from the motion whether prosecutors intend to ask that Myles be given credit for time served.
Irvin said Myles showed promise at an early age, excelling so much in elementary school that he skipped fifth grade.
But the tragic death a year later of an aunt, his primary caregiver, followed the next year by the death of his great-aunt, who also served as a mother figure, seemed to derail him.
As Myles grew, so did his arrest record. Police said he often sold crack to juveniles. They arrested him on charges that included burglary, robbery, aggravated assault with a weapon, sexual assault and possession of cocaine, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Authorities serving a search warrant at Myles' Chestnut Street home in Tampa arrested him for the last time on Feb. 27, 1989, after finding 63.6 grams — more than 2 ounces — of crack cocaine, a 9mm handgun, more than $2,000 in cash and 3 grams of marijuana.
Most crack cocaine cases in the 1980s were handled in state courts.
Under a federal statute at the time, anyone with two or more prior felony convictions for drug offenses who is then convicted of possessing and intending to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine received a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Also arrested on cocaine charges after the search was Myles' girlfriend, Alice Delores Young. She pleaded guilty and got a five-year federal prison sentence.
"At the time of his sentencing, you had a man who, it was not beyond reason to believe, thought he was above the law," Irvin said of Myles. "His life has been turned around."
Myles has fathered seven children, who range in age from 18 to 21. Irvin said they communicate regularly with their dad through letters.
Myles has tried on his own to have his sentence reduced. But each time, he failed.
"It's our hope that will all be changed on Friday," Irvin said.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story, which used information from Times archives. Kevin Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.