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First trafficking defendants make court appearances

ALBANY, Ga. -- The first three defendants in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy case brought by the federal government appeared in court Tuesday.

Crystal Palmer, Raymond Brown and Curtis Donaldson are each charged with various counts in a 15-count indictment stemming from an ongoing investigation into cocaine, marijuana and crack trafficking throughout Southwest Georgia.

The indictment, which is still under seal by the court, names at least six other co-defendants who have yet to be arrested.

The three made their initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Thomas Langstaff in Albany Tuesday, learning for the first time the maximum penalties they face if convicted.

All three are charged with count one of the indictment, which alleges a conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, marijuana and crack. If convicted, the three face between 10 years and a life term in federal prison and a $10 million fine.

Palmer faces an additional count of distributing a cocaine base, which carries up to 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

Donaldson bears the majority of the indictment, charged with 13 total counts whose individual penalties max out at life in prison and a $10 million fine.

If the defendants are found to have committed a previous drug offense, the court could enhance the penalties should the defendants be found guilty.

The government, represented Tuesday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Crane and Leah McEwen, asked that the three be detained until trial.

Because the government intends to use evidence collected via wiretaps, the three defendants have the option of delaying their detention hearings up to 10 days. Because Palmer and Donaldson didn't have attorneys present for the initial appearance Tuesday, Langstaff set a tentative detention hearing for them for 9:30 Friday morning, a hearing that he said he would delay should whomever is appointed to represent the two choose to push for the 10-day rule.

Brown, who was represented at the hearing by defense attorney Gerald Williams, asked for his hearing to be set for Tuesday at 10 a.m.