By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, May 1, 2009
When defense attorney Gerald Ruter was first appointed on Apr. 16 to represent Rainbow Lee Williams, a 30-year-old co-defendant in the Black Guerilla Family prison-gang federal-conspiracy case, Ruter sounded like he thought there was more to Williams than met the government’s eye.
“I have him working for a nonprofit, helping kids,” Ruter told assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner, just before Williams’ first court appearance began.
“That may be,” Wallner responds, “but he’s still indicted as a leader of the BGF.”
Five days later, Ruter said he had the verified facts about Williams’ employment, and presented them to U.S. District Court magistrate judge Beth Gesner while arguing for Williams’ conditional release pending trial. Williams, he explained, works for the nonprofit Partners in Progress Resource Center. Since shortly after his release from prison last September, when his murder sentence ended, Ruter said, Williams had been working for Partners in Progress four days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., for $1,200 per month. Partners in Progress, he explained, serves a high school called the Achievement Academy at Harbor City High School, located on Harford Road.
Ruter said he got all of these facts confirmed by Partners in Progress’ director, Bridget Alston-Smith, who, he said, is “aware of Williams’ criminal history, and she says he works on the campus itself as a mentor to individuals who have behavioral difficulties and is hands-on with all of the students.”
City Paper‘s attempts to reach Alston-Smith at the phone number Ruter gave in open court were unsuccessful. According to Baltimore City Public Schools’ guide to high schools, the Achievement Academy at Harbor City is “an alternative school designed to provide under-credited students with an accelerated program of study,” has an enrollment of 383 students in 9th through 12th grade, and Partners in Progress is listed among the schools partnerships.
The Black Book, a locally published self-improvement guide for those involved in the BGF movement, features a back-cover blurb written by Alston-Smith, in which she states that men in the movement “lead well because they listen well. As they continue on the path of self-improvement they will help improve the conditions of our families and communities.”
“I find it ironic that Mr. Williams is a mentor for disaffected youth,” Wallner told judge Gesner. Wallner’s prosecutorial assessment is based on what federal investigators found out about Williams in the course of their wire-tap probe into the BGF, which provided enough evidence to support a raid of Williams residence, as well as the grand jury’s charges against him. Wallner also told the judge that Williams was in possession of ammunition for a .357 caliber firearm when he was arrested.
Williams is “one of the leaders of BGF,” court documents state, and “is a lieutenant who handles the day-to-day drug distribution network and is also involved in the smuggling of contraband into correctional facilities.” A confidential source described Williams as “an extremely violent BGF member” who “has committed multiple murders, including numerous assaults/stabbings while in prison,” and he’s “loyal to, and takes orders from, [imprisoned BGF leader Eric] Brown.”
The court documents also recount intercepted phone conversations with other alleged BGF members, in which crimes-from hits to smuggling to drug-dealing-are discussed. In one, co-defendant Marlow Bates calls Brown in March, and the two discuss how Williams failed in his attempt to transfer tennis shoes, which allegedly contained contraband, to Brown while visiting him in prison. Williams kept the shoelaces untied, to facilitate the transfer, but they were so lose that “you could see that shoe lace, like hanging. That just look like a dead give-away,” Brown explained, and as a result a guard “knocked off” the shoe transfer. “Rainbow fucked that up,” he says.
In early April, phone calls between Williams and prison inmates were intercepted, in which prison violence and the rules of BGF conduct were discussed. In one, Williams calls inmate Lance Walker to talk about the Apr. 1 stabbing murder of inmate Nathaniel King, for which inmate Kelly Toomer is the suspect, according to court documents. But Williams tells Walker that Toomer is saying he did it under orders from Williams. Williams denies this, and says the rumor puts him in danger with BGF higher-ups.
The next day, Apr. 5, Williams is called by an unidentified prison inmate, who tells him that Willliams is believed to have passed on Eric Brown’s order to hurt another inmate named “Coco.” A conference call with other BGF members ensued, to go over the rules of the BGF, and the penalties for breaking them. In other calls, Williams acts as a mediator, trying to settle beefs between rivals in the BGF drug game.
Wallner also fingers Williams as “one of the leaders” of the BGF meeting in Druid Hill Park, held on Apr. 13 and attended, according to court documents, by about 100 people described as BGF members. “Following this incident,” court documents state, “calls were intercepted over the wiretaps in which Eric Brown chastised Rainbow Williams for holding the meeting in such a manner as to draw the attention of law enforcement. Brown stated in a scolding manner, `I been tellin’ you and tellin’ you, and you ain’t listenin.’ In reference to being stopped by the police, Brown added, `Ain’t nothin’ good about that, yo.'”
All of these activities ascribed by investigators to Williams occurred while, according to Ruter, Williams was employed by Partners in Progress as a youth mentor. Despite Ruter’s best efforts–and despite Williams’ boyish, fresh-faced looks, which he indignantly flashed in response to Wallner’s allegations–judge Gesner ordered Williams detained pending trial.