By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Feb. 29, 2012
When Jeremy Landsman was robbed at gunpoint at a Greektown poker game in 2006, along with 20 other people, he said he hadn’t been playing poker. “I’m in real estate,” he said, explaining the $900 the robbers took from his wallet, which the cops quickly got back for him (“Luck of the Draw,” Mobtown Beat, June 7, 2006), “so I always carry a lot of cash.”
That was 2006, when people in real estate were expected to have fat wallets—but as the real estate market crashed and the Great Recession ensued, Landsman, who’ll turn 32 in March, continued to expand his portfolio. His indeterminately large family of LLCs, many if not most of which have “JBL” in their names, manages and lists for sale others’ properties, and owns or co-owns commercial, storage, and residential properties of its own. The most recent indicator of its near-decade of success was Landsman’s planning-committee role in the International Conference of Shopping Centers (ICSC) conference at the National Harbor on Feb. 21 and 22, with The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol as the keynote speaker.
But even as the ICSC conference was winding down, Landsman’s star was darkening. Since December 2010, he’d secretly been a defendant in a partially sealed marijuana-conspiracy indictment in which the federal government seeks to allow the federal government to take ownership of $30 million worth of allegedly ill-gotten gains. On Feb. 22, this fact was revealed in the court docket, and the next day City Paper obtained a copy of the fully unsealed indictment.
The conspiracy case had been populated by nine named and six unnamed co-defendants accused of moving pot grown in Canada and Northern California to warehouses in Maryland, where it was divvied up for sale in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kansas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, and elsewhere. The scheme the indictment describes was vast and enduring: From at least 2001 until June 2009, the conspirators moved pot and cash using “aircraft, tractor trailers, commercial carrier, trains and other vehicles, including at least one vehicle containing a trap device to secrete items for transport.”
Landsman “distributed marijuana, brokered other conspirators’ purchases of marijuana and maintained several properties used for marijuana distribution,” the indictment alleges.
In addition to seeking forfeiture of $30 million in assets, the indictment aims for the government to keep more than $70,000 in cash seized by law enforcers in 2009 and 2010 and to gain forfeiture of real estate in Sonoma County, Calif., and two properties in Baltimore, including garages behind Keswick Avenue in Hampden owned by JBL Keswick LLC, one of Landsman’s many real estate companies.
“I have no comment,” Landsman, whose legal name is Jeremiah Brandon Landsman, told City Paper over the phone on Feb. 23, before abruptly hanging up.
Barry Pollack, an attorney who says he represents Landsman, sent an e-mailed comment on Feb. 24, stating, “Jeremy Landsman has operated a successful real estate business in Baltimore for nearly a decade. He takes this matter very seriously and has asked me to represent him. We will not comment further until the case has been resolved.”
Early last year, JBL partnered with David Berg, of the Berg Corporation demolition firm, in purchasing the downtown property that houses Sonar, a sizable nightclub across from the Hollywood Diner near City Hall. The purchase occurred after the indictment was handed down but before Sonar’s main owner, Daniel McIntosh, was revealed as a co-defendant in the case (The News Hole, July 8, 2011 ). McIntosh also co-owns McCabe’s Restaurant, a popular eatery on Falls Road in Hampden; JBL is McIntosh’s landlord there too.
The indictment describes McIntosh as a large-scale pot distributor who allegedly “picked up,” “delivered,” and “unloaded large shipments” once they arrived in Maryland. McIntosh and another defendant—Anthony Marcantoni, an alleged large-scale distributor on supervised release for a prior federal pot felony—are the only two whose businesses are named in the indictment. While Marcantoni’s business, a martial-arts studio in Owings Mills called Ground Control, is described in the indictment as having been used in the scheme, McIntosh’s are not.
Marcantoni is facing a possible life sentence if convicted, and is being detained pending trial. His lawyer, Steven Levin, has been fighting—so far unsuccessfully, but with an appeal pending—to have him released to await trial. “Mr. Marcantoni maintains his innocence,” Levin says, “and is looking forward to regaining his freedom pending trial.”
At one of Marcantoni’s detention hearings in the case, Maryland State Police Sgt. Lee Link, who worked out at Ground Control, testified as a character witness, calling Marcantoni “a friend” and “confidant” who “has a good heart” but has “made bad decisions in the past,” according to the hearing transcript. The prosecutor contended that Marcantoni “was facilitating his drug activity . . . right under the noses of law enforcement who use that gym.” Link, reached by phone recently at the MSP’s Glen Burnie Barracks, said “I no longer go to that gym” since Marcantoni’s legal troubles “came to light.”
The case has been marked by intrigue from the start, given that so many names had remained blacked out in court documents. As several of the defendants appeared in court last spring and summer, their identities—Andrew Sharpeta, Keegan Leahy, Sean Costello, Ian Travis Minshall, Michael Phillips, Adam Constantinides, and Joseph Spain, in addition to McIntosh and Marcantoni—were revealed, but little else was, other than the general accusations against them.
When Landsman and the five other sealed defendants—Matt Nicka, David D’Amico, Gretchen Peterson, Jeffrey Putney, and Daniel Fountain—were revealed, more came into focus. State court and real estate records show Landsman’s ties to Nicka, who allegedly “supervised and directed” the scheme’s activities, “recruited conspirators,” and “obtained large quantities of marijuana in exchange for bulk currency payments,” according to the indictment; Putney, who allegedly handled logistics by picking up, delivering, and unloading shipments as he “accessed residences and storage units where marijuana was kept”; and two alleged mid-level dealers, Fountain and Minshall.
In 2009, Minshall was arrested when police executed a search warrant at a JBL-owned property at 3835 Falls Road, next to McCabe’s. The raid turned up approximately 32 pounds of high-grade pot that sells for $5,000 per pound, for a street value of $160,000, along with nearly $17,000 in cash, a money counter, a digital scale, and a heat sealer. Two weeks later, Putney was arrested for large-scale pot possession (prosecutors later declined to proceed with the charges), and the case record gives two addresses for him: one in Santa Cruz, Calif., and the other at a JBL-owned property, 3522 Hickory Ave., in Hampden.
In 2008, a JBL company acquired a home at 1207 Weldon Ave., in Medfield from Anthony Thacker—one of the many aliases the indictment ascribes to Nicka, the conspiracy’s alleged supervisor—for free, and then sold it in 2009 for $226,500. The property is two doors down from the house posted as bail for McIntosh’s release pending trial.
Fountain was picked up by the U.S. Marshal’s service in California in late January on the pot-conspiracy charges, and was described in court papers as a fugitive. In 2007, he incorporated DB5K Gallery, an art gallery in Fells Point, using as a contact address a property near the Baltimore Beltway that is co-owned by Landsman. Fountain and Landsman have shared that address—7203 N. Charles St.—in court records, and Fountain has also used in court records another address at a JBL development on Portugal Street in Fells Point.
On its web site, JBL (jbl-realestate.com) describes 10 of its projects. McCabe’s and Portugal Street are two of them. The others are a Fells Point tavern; a salon on the Avenue in Hampden; a shopping center in Lauraville/Mayfield; storage garages in Highlandtown; the LaTerra building in Hampden, which also has storage garages for rent; the Pinkney Manor apartments in Northwest Baltimore; a retail office building in Arbutus that it converted to mixed use with residences; and the Bell Foundry, a Greenmount West building populated by artists and students. JBL’s real-estate agents, including Landsman, currently list 34 office, retail, restaurant, bar, land, or mixed use properties for sale in Baltimore and surrounding areas, including seven in Washington, D.C. (Disclosure: JBL hosted a City Paper photography exhibit at a property it co-owns at 231-235 Holliday St., near Sonar, in June 2011.)
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to say anything about the case, citing its policy against commenting on pending matters. The trial is scheduled to start on Sept. 11 and last for eight weeks.