By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Apr. 30, 2009
It’s not clear whether 45-year-old Nelson Arthur Robinson recognizes his prosecutor, but he should. As Robinson is ushered into a federal courtroom in Baltimore on Apr. 15 by U.S. marshals, set to be arraigned on accusations that he’s part of the sprawling Black Guerilla Family prison-gang conspiracy, assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner is there at the prosecution table. A decade ago, in 1999, Wallner was the assistant Baltimore City state’s attorney who secured Robinson’s guilty plea on a pot-possession charge, for which Robinson got a one-year sentence, all but a day suspended. This time, Wallner’s stone-faced demeanor belies a grim determination to get a bigger piece of Robinson.
When asked by the court clerk to raise his right hand to take an oath, Robinson instead raises his left and has to be corrected. His obliviousness doesn’t fit the profile of a stone-cold gangster, and, in fact, Robinson didn’t even rate enough to make it into the BGF indictments. Instead, he’s a collateral catch.
Robinson was arrested Apr. 15 while agents were busy raiding 12 BGF-linked locations. He was seen leaving an apartment at 1617 Bluffdale Road in Woodlawn, according to the government’s case. The location was under surveillance as part of the BGF take-down because it was associated with Tyrone Dow, a BGF co-defendant believed to be a supplier of drugs for another co-defendant, Kevin Glasscho. Robinson started to get into a truck parked nearby when, as agents approached him, he tossed aside a bag that was found to contain 175 grams of heroin. Robinson had left his keys in the door of the apartment, which was searched and found to contain another 225 grams of heroin, along with pressers and grinders used to process and package the drug.
The charges “smack of a lack of probable cause,” protested Robinson’s lawyer, David Solomon, during Robinson’s Apr. 20 detention hearing before U.S. District Court magistrate judge James Bredar. Solomon added that, though an “indictment may be imminent” against his client, as it stands a grand jury has yet to accuse him, and there “may be problems” with the case. Solomon urged the judge to take into account Robinson’s “relative good standing within the justice system,” given his recently ended “11-year hiatus” from criminal charges, and allow him to be released to the custody of his wife, Florence Robinson, until after the trial.
Instead, Bredar ordered Robinson on 24/7 lock-down at a half-way house, once a bed becomes available. “He gets in line” for half-way house placement, Bredar said. “Until then, he stays locked up.”
One week later, on April 22, the grand jury indicted Robinson.