by Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Feb. 3, 2015
Dec. 8, 2011, was the beginning of the end of Eugene Arnell Thomas’ second career as a major drug trafficker. That’s when a young man, Christopher Alves, was murdered in Edgewood, Maryland. Thomas had nothing to do with Alves’ demise, and in fact was living in Atlanta at the time. But it still was a turning point in his life, which had already been marked by a 2000 federal coke-and-crack conviction.
The murder investigation prompted wiretaps on phones of persons of interest who, it was discovered, were drug dealers. Through twists and turns and some major busts that resulted in federal charges against 23 people in two separate cases in 2012 and 2013, the resulting drug investigation uncovered the big connect: Thomas, in Atlanta, using couriers to bring in bricks of coke and heroin to Baltimore, and carry money back.
Thomas was indicted in 2013, was arrested and pleaded guilty in 2014, and on Jan. 27 U.S. District judge Richard Bennett announced his sentence: eight years, followed by 10 years of supervised release. Not bad, for a federal two-timer. By comparison, another defendant in one of the related cases, Eric Winder, is serving nine years, his first time in. As prosecutor John Purcell said at Thomas’ sentencing hearing, “Winder was nothing compared to what the defendant was doing,” noting that one of Thomas’ couriers “moved kilos two or three times a week” into Baltimore.
“I don’t want people to fail, and he clearly has failed,” Bennett said of 42-year-old Thomas from the bench, after a lengthy, sealed bench conference after which Thomas’ advisory sentencing range had gone from 168 to 210 months down to 87 to 108 months. Bennett also called Thomas’ return to federal court for a second conviction “extraordinary” and “very, very rare.”
Despite Bennett’s suggestion that second-timers were rare in his courtroom, the path of the probe that eventually landed at the doorstep of Thomas’ fancy Georgia home is littered with return offenders. Antoine Wiggins was Thomas’ main sidekick in his 2000 conviction, and got 135 months in prison. Brian Drake was sentenced on a federal gun charge in 2010, only to return for another sentence in 2013 for distributing Thomas’ drugs. Marlow Bates, the son of the same-named famous Baltimore gangster who is said to have inspired the Marlo character on “The Wire,” pleaded guilty in 2009 for his part in a major Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang drug-trafficking conspiracy. Anthony Miles, who supplied Bates with Thomas’ heroin, in 2005 got 96 months in federal prison for gun-and-drugs crimes. That makes five previous federal offenders in the probe that ended with Thomas, out of 24 charged in all.
To some extent, this was a family affair: Bates’ sister Keya Dean got caught up in it, for instance, as did Thomas’ brother-in-law Edward Kearney and Miles’ cousin Enzo Blanks, whose girlfriend Rebecca Belete was also indicted. Mostly, though, what’s striking about the facts that come to light in the court documents in the three cases is how they map the detailed interconnectedness of it all.
Heroin sold by Bates’ street-level crew at Edmondson Avenue and Kingston Road in far West Baltimore’s Westgate neighborhood got there via Miles connecting with higher-ups on downtown Baltimore streets, including in front of Norma Jean’s strip club on the Block and near Lexington Market and the Redwood Apartments, where Blanks lived. Above those suppliers were Wiggins and Drake, receiving the bricks from Thomas in Atlanta and stashing them in swank places such as McHenry Row in South Baltimore and Domain Brewers Hill in Canton.
Those at the top had nice rides. Blanks and Wiggins drove Bentley convertibles, and Miles, when he wasn’t being chauffeured by the probe’s most prolific informant, cruised around in a Mercedes-Benz Brabus. Thomas had an Aston Martin Rapide to use when he was in Baltimore. Thomas and Wiggins co-owned a 33-foot Doral powerboat kept in a slip at Baltimore Marine Center at Harborview, and frequently met on the boat together, along with Blanks.
Bates and Miles were caught on wiretaps discussing the money that was being raked in. “I wipe my ass with ten grand,” Bates said at one point. At another, Miles “raised up a large stack of cash, holding it with both hands, and screamed that he just made $20,000 in an hour.” Yet “the money that he was making selling heroin was ‘chump change’ compared to the money” coming to Blanks, who he claimed “was making $150,000 a day ‘with his eyes closed.’”
Though no violence was charged in the cases, Miles touches on the possibility. There was “a rumor going around that someone was going to rob [him],” the court documents state, but “if anyone did try to rob him he was ready” because “he had an M16 with a ‘fifty round clip’ inside of his house.” He “bragged that if they came to rob him he would go outside shoot them and then go back in and rest,” and talked of having an “auto-loading shotgun” that “you don’t need to pump.”
The brashness of some of the defendants belies a failed commitment to keeping a low profile. When Wiggins, for instance, was pulled over in February 2013 in his brand-new black Honda Accord, and police were awaiting the arrival of the canine unit, he just up and drove away “at a high rate of speed and began throwing a large quantity of gel capsules” filled with heroin “out the car window.” About 15 minutes later, the police found the Honda abandoned in front of a house in Parkville, with gel capsules next to the driver’s side door, and “they followed the path through the lawn and discovered more.” Similarly, Miles was pulled over in November 2012, and when police asked him to step out of the car, he pushed the officer to the ground and fled on foot, tossing heroin out of his pockets as he ran.
The key moment for Thomas was a raid and arrests in and near the Domain Brewers Hill apartments at 1200 S. Conkling St. in Canton. It happened on April 19, 2012, after investigators had learned Kearney, Thomas’ brother-in-law, was coming up from Atlanta to meet a customer, Edward Harris. Agents had seen Kearney at Unit 416 of the luxury apartment complex, before he was driven by Thomas’ courier, Tara Sneed, to the meeting at a nearby parking lot. Kearney gave Harris a backpack with 1.5 kilos of coke in it, and they were arrested. The same day, they raided the apartment and found Drake, who they arrested, and two kilos of heroin, one kilo of coke, and $71,000 in cash.
Six days after the Canton raid, agents executed a search warrant at Thomas’ home in Georgia. Among the items they found there were two “jack presses” in the garage. These were used to “re-compress ‘bricks’ of diluted kilos of cocaine and heroin in order to make them appear as originally packaged,” after Thomas and others would “break up packaged bricks” and “dilute them with various cutting agents.” This was also done “at stash houses maintained in Atlanta,” the court documents explain.
Before Thomas’ current legal troubles, according to his wife and mother, who spoke at his sentencing hearing, his life took a dark turn after the death of a co-defendant in Thomas’ 2000 case, Clinton Wallace, who they described as Thomas’ brother. Wallace, according to news reports at the time, jumped off a boat at the mouth of the South River in the Chesapeake Bay in 2009 to go swimming, got caught up in the wind and currents, and drowned. Thomas’ wife, Nicole Thomas, said after that “freak boating accident,” Thomas “just changed.” His mother, Deborah Canty, said, “I really worried about him” after “my son died in 2009.”
Thomas’ attorney, Christopher Nieto, saying there was “no excuse” for Thomas’ conduct, argued that nonetheless “there is an explanation.” When Thomas’ prior sentence ended in 2008, he explained, he was not granted six months in a halfway or any re-entry services to reassimilate, but just came home. After he moved to Georgia to escape the “poisonous environment” in Baltimore, a “litany of incidents” befell him, including his brother’s death and failed attempts at legitimate business. So, in “an ignorant attempt to try to provide” for his family, “he fell back into a business he knew would succeed.” Then the two related cases came down, with Winder and Wiggins on the top of each, and drugs and cash were seized, and he was “now on the hook for an outstanding debt” in the neighborhood of $180,000 to $200,000. The man he owed had “significant connections to a Mexican drug cartel,” and it is “still outstanding,” Nieto explained, so that was the “reason for the continued activity” after his co-conspirators were taken down in succession.
“Not everything that is done for money is done for greed,” Nieto said. But Purcell adamantly dubbed Thomas “a dealer in death” who “did it for piles and piles of money,” and predicted that “if he were released today, he’d be selling cocaine or heroin by Friday.” Thomas should be about 50 when he’s released, leaving plenty of time to do it again or learn the lesson the government’s trying to teach: that along with the short-lived glitz and street cred come “victims who are not in the courtroom,” said Bennett, so the game just isn’t worth it. “The whole thing,” Bennett added, “is a tragedy.”