Lawyer says drug defendant “almost unemployable” in tight labor market

Thirty-seven-year-old Kamal Cooper of New London wants to support his five children, but he has made bad choices that have left him "almost unemployable," according to his lawyer.

Cooper arrived in Superior Court Tuesday in a gray sweatshirt and sweatpants, knowing he was about to be sentenced to prison time for selling crack cocaine. He exchanged hugs and kisses with family members and friends who had come to see him off, then stood before Judge Hillary B. Strackbein, who sentenced him to two years in prison.

"I regret the choices I have made through my life," Cooper said. "It was a mistake on my part."

In a local economy that last year shed thousands of jobs, defense attorney Herman Woodard Jr. said it is difficult for somebody like Cooper, who has two prior drug convictions, to compete with others looking for entry-level work. According to the state Department of Labor, the Norwich-New London area had 7.5 percent unemployment in December 2013, which is the last month for which statistics were available.

Cooper had plenty of jobs in the past, his attorney said, but lately he has been helping out at home by providing day care so that his partner could work. Now that he is going to prison, the family will be scrambling to find another child care solution, Woodard said. Cooper is a genuinely caring man, Woodard said, and the two of them have talked about such things as the high cost of shoes for growing kids — one of Cooper's children is just 10 months old — and Cooper's desire to attend the upcoming graduations of two of his older children.

Strackbein acknowledged Cooper's concerns about his children but said he had, on an ongoing basis, been "selling poison to someone else's child" in order to make money.

"You're supposed to be a role model for your children," Strackbein said. "If they think (selling drugs) is the easy way to make money, that's what they're going to do."

Cooper was one of more than 100 people arrested in April 2013 following a 15-month investigation by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies into cocaine trafficking operations that stretched from southeastern Connecticut to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

According to New London prosecutor Paul J. Narducci, Cooper sold crack cocaine to a confidential informant on several occasions. Cooper, who pleaded guilty to sale of narcotics, will be on probation for three years following his release from prison, during which the judge ordered him to find full-time work. Civil court records indicate that two women have gone to the court system in recent years seeking child support payments from Cooper. Neither could be reached for comment.

Back in the courtroom, the judge noted the number of people who showed up for Cooper's sentencing.

"Look at all the people you let down," she said.

k.florin@theday.com

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