GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Francis Block, 45-years-old, of Kalamazoo, was sentenced to life in prison on Monday, February 9th, 2015, by Chief U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney for various drug and witness tampering charges. Block was convicted following a four-day jury trial that concluded on October 2nd, 2014.
In 2012 officers of the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team (KVET), with the assistance of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, initiated “Operation Roadblock,” an investigation of methamphetamine trafficking by Block and others known to associate with him.
In January 2013, KVET officers executed a warrant to search Block’s then-residence in Cooper Township, Michigan, and seized methamphetamine lab components, $29,800 U.S. currency, and multiple firearms. Later in 2013, KVET officers learned that Block likely had connections with crystal methamphetamine suppliers from Mexican drug cartels.
In October 2013, investigators executed a series of multi-ounce controlled purchases of crystal methamphetamine directly from Block. On October 23, 2013, KVET and DEA investigators arrested Block during Block’s attempted sale of four ounces of crystal methamphetamine to the informant.
Later that night, the officers executed five search warrants at homes and premises around Kalamazoo, including a storage unit on Stadium Drive where Block and several of his drivers made frequent stops before and after drug deals. At a residence on North Arlington Street, officers located and seized, among other items, more than a pound of crystal methamphetamine, handwritten drug ledgers, and nearly $20,000 U.S. currency.
At the Stadium Drive storage unit they located and seized nine more pounds (over four kilograms) of crystal methamphetamine and a pill bottle bearing Block’s name. The Stadium Drive seizure was KVET’s largest-ever crystal methamphetamine seizure. The street value of the methamphetamine seized during the controlled purchases and raids exceeded $350,000.
The investigation continued and between late 2013 and early 2014, five additional confederates of Block’s were charged with federal and state drug felonies.
One defendant, Scott Webber of Kalamazoo, Michigan, fled prosecution and remains a fugitive. The grand jury later indicted Block and his sister, Elizabeth McNett, on witness tampering charges, after Block and McNett plotted to hire a convicted murderer who shared a cell with Block to firebomb an informant’s car and intimidate government witnesses.
With the exception of Webber, all of Block’s co-defendants pled guilty to one or more federal charges. Chief Judge Maloney sentenced the following co-defendants as follows:
- Jeffrey Starrett, 43-years-old, of Kalamazoo, Michigan: 60 months in custody;
- Michael Head, 39-years-old, of Kalamazoo, Michigan: 84 months in custody;
- Martin McCaul, 52-years-old, of Paw Paw, Michigan: 48 months in custody;
- Elizabeth McNett, 44-years-old, of Lawton, Michigan: 33 months in custody.
In a related case, U.S. District Judge Janet Neff sentenced Ben Alan Phelps, 29-years-old, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, to 36 months in custody.
Block was the only defendant to take his case to trial, which was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Heath M. Lynch and Sean M. Lewis. Following the trial, at which Phelps and all of Block’s convicted co-defendants testified against him, the jury found Block guilty of all charges.
On Monday, February 9th, Chief Judge Maloney sentenced Block to serve life in prison. Judge Maloney stated that the case represented “one of the largest methamphetamine distribution operations in the history of our district, and Mr. Block was the leader of it.”
Commenting on Block’s recorded phone calls introduced at trial as evidence of Block’s witness tampering efforts, Judge Maloney noted Block’s “contempt for the system” and described being “flabbergasted” that Block was “so self-centered and egotistical that he brought his own sister into the conspiracy.”
In sentencing Block to life in prison and denying Block’s motion for a shorter sentence, Judge Maloney stated that he “did not find any mitigating factors” and described Block’s criminal history as that of “an individual who is either unwilling or unable to reform himself.” According to Judge Maloney, no criminal sentence Block previously served “managed to convey to Mr. Block that he should stop dealing drugs.”