By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Jan. 14, 2009
Visitors to Liberty Ford in Randallstown would probably have a hard time imagining Robert W. Koopman, a bespectacled, gray-haired customer service manager, mixed up with an alleged international drug trafficker. Sitting behind his desk inside the service bay, Koopman, with his quiet demeanor and warm handshake, seems more grandfather than gangster.
But through his acquaintance with a woman named Querida Lewis, who was indicted with two co-conspirators in Maryland last July for running a marijuana-trafficking operation from Mexico to Baltimore via Texas, Koopman’s life has become complicated. After buying a house in Owings Mills from Lewis in 2004, Koopman says Lewis got him to rent the house to Milton Tillman Jr., a politically connected bail-bonds impresario and two-time felon with a fearsome reputation who is under investigation by the IRS, the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Now Koopman is suing Tillman. In a case filed late last year in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Koopman alleges that Tillman, who is listed as the sole lessee, owes him $12,400 for four months of unpaid rent at 9833 Bridle Brook Drive, a two-story home in the upscale Rolling Ridge subdivision. Yet public records show that after Lewis sold the property to Koopman, she continued to use the house as a residence and business address into 2008. Forfeiture documents springing from the criminal case against Lewis state that “drug traffickers very often place assets in names other than their own to avoid detection.” Tillman allegedly stopped paying rent in August, right after Lewis was arrested.
Court records show that Lewis was involved in a drug operation that extended to Corona, Calif.; McAllen, Texas; St. Paul, Minn., and Philadelphia. The investigation has led to seizure of more than $100,000 in cash and a car belonging to others tied to the alleged scheme, some of whom have not been charged. An unindicted co-conspirator has a trucking company that leased a warehouse and back lot at 300 South Kresson St. in East Baltimore, which wire-taps show were used to move drugs.
Lewis’ alleged activities, spelled out in court documents and other public records, also involved cocaine trafficking (though she is charged only with marijuana); residences on two coasts; a trucking company; a courier service; a Reisterstown Road funeral home; her mother, who has a church and nonprofit foundation; and a FedEx driver who handled drug packages addressed to Johns Hopkins University, where his wife works as an administrator. Lewis’ trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore was scheduled to start Jan. 20, but has been delayed. She did not return calls for comment. Law-enforcement documents in the Lewis case do not indicate that Tillman is part of the drug investigation
After Lewis was arrested, Koopman posted a $50,000 bond for her in August, helping to secure her release pending trial. She has no criminal record, although in the mid-1990s her name came up in court documents when her then-husband was charged as a drug dealer, fled, and later was convicted.
“You’ll have to talk to my lawyer,” Koopman says when reporters visit him at Liberty Ford, where his colleagues seem amused by his plight. He says he is aware of Tillman’s reputation, which includes a history of ties to drug dealers, but won’t say much more. “I’ve read all the articles in City Paper” about Tillman, he says.
Tillman’s attorney Greg Dorsey, who has requested a jury trial in the lawsuit against Tillman, declines to discuss the relationship between Tillman, Lewis, and Koopman. “Those questions should be posed to Mr. Koopman,” he says. When reached by phone, Koopman’s lawyer, Norman Polovoy, hangs up.
After Koopman bought the Bridle Brook Drive house and listed it as his principal residence, state records show that Lewis’ mother, Beverlie Woodland, ran Arrival Messenger Couriers, a company Lewis started in 1994, out of the house. Though Woodland is not charged in Lewis’ case, court records state she “is aware” of her daughter’s criminal activities and “is taking an active role in collecting and hiding” Lewis’ drug money. In August, Lewis was released to Woodland’s custody pending trial. The U.S. Attorney’s Office would not comment.
Woodland and her husband, Bishop Robert F. Woodland, are incorporators of Destiny of Hope Apostolic Ministries and officers of the nonprofit Talent Exposition Foundation, which works with children. They answered the door at their Pikesville home on Jan. 7 wearing robes, and referred questions for this story to Koopman. As for the now-defunct messenger service, Beverlie Woodland says “I took it over when Querida moved to California in 2004. She said ‘Mommy, please.'”
On June 16, court records say, Lewis began orchestrating nationwide drug transactions from Corona, Calif., including instructions to have her mother handle the drug money. “They need to be very careful on who was giving us money,” Beverlie Woodland told her daughter on a wiretapped call, after bank officials had spotted two counterfeit $20 bills among the deposited cash.
Lewis and a Pennsylvania woman, Inga Bacote, then traveled in a motor home to McAllen, Texas, near the Mexican border, where Lewis owned one stash house and was looking to buy another. Once in Texas, court records state, Lewis shipped marijuana to Baltimore from a Kinko’s FedEx store, where Ruben Arce let her use his employee discount to ship the drugs. Bacote and Arce are also indicted in Lewis’ case.
Back in Baltimore, on July 8 FedEx driver Robert Wilson prepared to receive an 80-pound shipment of Lewis’ marijuana at a Johns Hopkins University address, according to court documents. Wilson’s wife, Amanda Wilson, works for Hopkins as an education assistance program manager. Investigators concluded that Wilson used his wife’s business address and described him as an “active co-conspirator” in the Lewis case.
Amanda Wilson tearfully denies any knowledge of these matters in a conference call, during which her husband admits delivering “packages” to Lewis. Though Robert Wilson is not charged in the case, investigators seized $78,490 in cash from the Wilsons’ Abingdon home.
Koopman’s life has been disrupted by Lewis as well. On a second visit to Liberty Ford, he steps outside his office to speak with reporters and says he is unclear about how he got tangled up in Lewis’ affairs.
“She came in to buy a car about eight years ago,” he says, declining to explain why he posted a $50,000 bond on her behalf when she was arrested. “I never knew [Tillman] before all of this,” Koopman says. “Ms. Lewis made all the arrangements.”