By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Feb. 5, 2014
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Warwick had choice words for admitted drug trafficker Garnett Gilbert Smith on Jan. 30, when Smith appeared for sentencing before U.S. District Judge William Quarles. Warwick called Smith a “predator” who “perpetuated, encouraged,” and “fueled” Baltimore’s drug-driven violence by delivering to Baltimore’s streets “over a ton of cocaine” and “kilogram quantities of heroin” in 2010 and 2011.
But when Smith – a large, broad-shouldered 44-year-old who dropped out of school in eighth grade, the court was told, but later got a GED and two semesters of college under his belt – rose to speak on his own behalf, he said, “I am not the monster that I’m depicted to be.” Rather, Smith explained, “I wouldn’t hurt a soul,” adding that “you got to give good to get good” and “I’m on the path of righteousness.”
Smith ended his colloquy by saying, “I want to thank the prosecutor and the [Drug Enforcement Administration] agents” whose work was about to put him behind bars for decades.
Smith’s attorney, federal public defender Teresa Whalen, emphasized that Smith “has another side” to his character, referring to numerous letters written to the court on Smith’s behalf which describe him as “very generous” and “giving” in his “attempts to help other inner-city youth.” Whalen pointed out that Smith “was not just donating money, but was hands-on” in his support of community efforts to help those less fortunate.
Whalen also referred to the high regard in which Smith is held by Adrian Muldrow, who was the vice president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP and the program manager of the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation when he wrote a letter to the court saying he’s known Smith “all my life,” and that Smith, who is “very giving to various causes,” has worked “to genuinely help people, including me when I was incarcerated.”
Echoing the glowing review of Smith’s other side was Antonio Hendrickson, an ex-convict who started a prison program called Lead by Example and Reverse the Trend, which seeks to reform inmates. Hendrickson, testifying as a character witness for Smith during the hearing before Quarles, claimed the program has “brought down the violence” at the Chesapeake Detention Facility (CDF), where Smith has been held for 17 months since his arrest. He said that Smith helped him build up the program, which he credited with rehabilitating 400 inmates.
Smith “did do good things in that institution,” said Hendrickson, who in 2012 pleaded guilty in a federal heroin-trafficking conspiracy that included famed Baltimore gangster Walter Ingram, and who last fall was sentenced to time served since his 2010 arrest.
Warwick, though, cast a different light on Smith’s time at the CDF, saying he received $3,500 in money orders while in jail and that he “paid for thousands of dollars of consumer items which were delivered to the jail,” where he would “pay correctional officers to deliver lavish meals to him.” Warwick added that Smith “has engaged in significant harassment of former girlfriends” while in detention, and that his generosity in supporting community causes amounts to “a pittance compared to the money he made selling drugs.”
Warwick’s sentencing letter to Quarles adds that Smith, despite being under court order not to “transfer or diminish his assets,” “can be heard in numerous recorded jail calls encouraging third parties to help him hide and liquidate assets not already seized by law enforcement.”
The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office went to unusual lengths to alert the media to Smith’s sentencing, emailing to reporters copies of Warwick’s sentencing letter – a court document that typically is only publicly accessible at the courthouse computer terminals – and a Powerpoint presentation about Smith’s drug-derived assets. The presentation included photographs of $4,800-per-month condominiums Smith rented in McLean, Va., and Beverly Hills, Calif.; $1.6 million in jewelry seized from Smith’s Studio City, Calif., condominium and home in Gambrills, Md.; and vehicles he bought worth more than $1.1 million, including a $262,300 Lamborghini Murciélago and a $165,000 Aston Martin.
Smith’s seized jewelry and vehicles now belong to the government, pursuant to his guilty-plea agreement, along with more than $2.4 million in cash, the contents of four bank accounts, and his interest in two companies, described in court documents as “ASA Enterprises LLC” and a real-estate investment trust called “Tryad Group LLC (Ridge Goodman LLC).” Also in government hands are three pieces of real estate: a parcel in Durham, N.C.; a residential property in Georgia, south of Atlanta; and a condominium at 414 Water St. in downtown Baltimore.
(Federal authorities are currently seeking to take ownership of another 414 Water St. condominium owned by Paul Eugene Sessomes, who’s been indicted in New York for drug-money laundering involving Colombian heroin traffickers. Yet another condo there, meanwhile, is co-owned by former criminal defense attorney Robert Simels, who’s currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for witness intimidation, and Rosalie Jackson, the mother of Kenneth Antonio “Bird” Jackson, a longshoreman with a drug-world past who heads Four One Four LLC, which owns the strip club at 414 E. Baltimore St. on the nearby Block.)
The method they used-secreting cocaine and cash in hidden compartments in vehicles transported to and from Maryland and California by a truck car-carrier-mirror those in a separate case in which investigators allege George Sylvester Frink Jr. and Gerald Lamont Jones, the owner of Pimlico Motors and the Gold’s Gym in Owings Mills, moved between 2,050 and 2,990 kilograms of cocaine from California to Maryland between 2008 to late 2010.
Frink was charged last fall as a result of that investigation, while Jones has not been publicly charged-though prosecutors filed a lawsuit in December, seeking to let the government take ownership of 10 pieces of Jones’ real estate in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Florida, claiming they are assets tied to drug trafficking or money laundering. Jones’ attorney in the forfeiture case, Kobie Flowers, declined to comment.
In addition to the two cases involving Smith and Frink, federal law enforcers took down several other high-volume cocaine-trafficking organizations that operated in the same time frame.
A cocaine conspiracy allegedly tied to Jones, and involving his fraternity brother Charles Dwight Ransom Jr., shipped 400 kilograms of cocaine to Baltimore from California in late 2010, when it was brought to an abrupt end with a California indictment. In early 2011, a conspiracy involving Richard Anthony “Richie Rich” Wilford was stopped with the seizure of 150 kilograms of cocaine brought to Baltimore from California. In the second half of 2009, meanwhile, a case with direct links to Mexican cartels-the men prosecuted in Baltimore included Wade Coats and Jose Cavazos-involved the delivery of between 240 and 360 kilograms of cocaine to Baltimore.
The sum totals of cocaine involved in these five cases are astounding: Between 2008 and late 2011, according to court documents, they accounted for between 3,920 to 5,340 kilograms of cocaine-the equivalent of between 110 to 150 kilograms per month. And that’s just the flow that was stemmed by law enforcers.
Still, the end of these operations must have had a significant impact on the availability of cocaine in Baltimore-and court documents indicate that in early 2012, a shortage was indeed in full effect. In January 2012, Edward Neal Ellis – who would soon, along with his co-conspirators, be charged for the attempted armed robbery of what he thought was a drug trafficker in what was actually a sting operation set up by law enforcers – explained to a cooperator involved in the sting “that cocaine was increasingly scarce in Baltimore City and, as a result, the opportunity to steal a bulk quantity of cocaine would be particularly lucrative.”
Smith’s piece of the cocaine-trafficking action leading up to this shortage was significant, with Warwick describing him in the sentencing letter as “one of the largest cocaine and heroin dealers to be prosecuted in Baltimore in recent history.” Smith put more than a ton of cocaine “in the hands of drug dealers and addicts in this city – and all of this occurred during a period of less than two years. Smith’s activities made him wealthy and arrogant, enabling him to support a lifestyle of luxury and excess.”
Quarles sentenced Smith to 25 years in prison, saying “he’s not a monster” but “an amalgam of good and bad.”