Working Overtime: Correctional officer indicted in prison-gang RICO conspiracy

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 14, 2010

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On Tuesday morning, July 6, Alicia Simmons’ rocky 10-year career as a Maryland correctional officer suddenly got rockier. That’s when she was arrested after a federal grand jury indicted her for participating, along with 14 others already charged in prior indictments, in a racketeering-and-drug-trafficking enterprise on behalf of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang.

The BGF, which federal authorities say is Maryland’s biggest, most powerful prison gang, has been hit with three federal indictments since April 2009. Simmons is the fifth corrections employee to be charged as a result of the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Investigations Group (DEA-SIG). The other four have already pleaded guilty.

Details of what DEA-SIG has learned about Simmons’ involvement with the BGF are contained in a 25-page search-warrant affidavit. The document spells out information obtained from confidential sources, including federal defendants, inmates, and “several sources within the [Maryland] Division of Corrections,” as well as from an intercepted March 2009 telephone call between two inmates.

Among Simmons’ conduct alleged in the affidavit: smuggling cell phones, heroin, and marijuana (including about a pound and a half of pot to one of the inmate sources); receiving payment for contraband smuggling by use of Green Dot pre-paid debit cards; facilitating prison assaults; and telling inmates that a prisoner, who already was the subject of a BGF “hit on sight” order, was cooperating with law enforcement. Among the inmates the affidavit says Simmons’ assisted are several high-profile convicts, including Raymond Stern, David Rich, and Melvin Gilbert. The affidavit also includes information about Simmons being disciplined for inmate fraternization and for allowing inmate assaults to occur.

On the same day as her arrest, Simmons’ Pikesville apartment and her car were searched by federal agents. According to court documents, among the items seized were a host of inmate identification cards (including one for Ronnie Thomas, better known as “Skinny Suge,” the producer of the infamous Stop Fucking Snitching videos whose prison cell phone was seized in 2008 [“Unstopped Snitching,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 24, 2008]) and letters from inmates, BGF-related documents (including copies of the gang’s constitution and code list), a copy of a City Paper article about widespread corruption among correctional officers (“Inside Job,” Feature, May 12), three cell phones, a digital scale, and numerous Green Dot cards.

Two of the Green Dot cards recovered from Simmons’ apartment were in the names of former correctional officer Fonda White and inmate Jeffrey Fowlkes, who were convicted in federal court last year of running an extortion scheme that got relatives of inmates to pay for their loved ones’ safety inside of prison. “Mail in the name of Fonda White” was also seized, according to the court documents.

In a July 6 press release, law-enforcement officials played up the significance of the RICO indictment against the BGF, while emphasizing the need to curtail corruption among correctional officers. “Let this indictment remind all those who engage in drug trafficking,” said DEA special agent in charge Ava Cooper-Davis, “that it does not matter if your wear the colors of a gang or a badge of gold, if your break the law and try to destroy our communities, we will go after you.” Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) secretary Gary Maynard said the indictment serves “notice to those employees who would break the law that you will be caught.” (DPSCS spokesman Rick Binetti says Simmons is currently on administrative leave from the department.)

Simmons appeared at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore July 8, wearing an orange jumpsuit with the letters HCDC on the back. During the brief hearing, she consented to detention pending trial. Her attorney, M. Scotland Morris, declined to comment on the charges.

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