Baltimore Police Missteps Prompt Dismissal of Federal Charges in Two Separate Cases

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 1, 2014

Credibility issues involving Baltimore police officers prompted federal prosecutors to dismiss charges against two men yesterday. The exonerated defendants had been charged in separate cases.

One, Kevin T. Jones, was charged and tried earlier this year before a jury for being a felon in possession of a firearm, but a mistrial was declared after the jury couldn’t return a verdict. As the retrial approached, earlier police testimony about the circumstances leading to Jones’ arrest was shown to be so conflicted that, as the defense put it in a motion, it raised “well known credibility problems associated with the Baltimore City Police Department.” The government’s motion to dismiss Jones’ charges was filed yesterday by assistant U.S. attorneys Jason Medinger and Bonnie Greenberg.

The other, Robert Lomax III, was charged last year in a heroin-conspiracy indictment, facing counts for being a felon in possession of ammunition and maintaining a drug-involved premises, but evidence against him was obtained through an unconstitutional warrantless search of trash on his property. Assistant U.S. attorneys Christopher Romano and Seema Mittal filed Lomax’s dismissal motion, stating that “the Government now believes that the trash pull conducted at Defendant Lomax’s residence ran afoul” of constitutional protections.

In Jones’ case, three officers’ conflicting testimony on the stand during a pre-trial hearing was made even more dubious when their case agent, Det. Edgar Allen, was questioned during the trial about official notes he wrote describing Jones’ arrest. The arrest, on Jan. 19, 2013, occurred after police approached Jones while he was leaning in through the open drivers’ side front door of his van, handling some clothes over the console area, and when the officers spoke to him, he tossed the clothing to the passenger-side seat, and a gun tumbled out. Three officers testified at trial, including James Kostoplis, and all three said Kostoplis saw the gun first, and seized it. But Allen’s notes contradicted that account, saying the gun was first seen and seized by a fourth, non-testifying officer, Steven Langjahr.

“This discrepancy reflected in Detective Allen’s notes,” Jones’ defense attorneys, federal public defenders Deborah Boardman and Joseph Evans, wrote in a motion, “relates directly to the credibility of the officers and the integrity of their account” and “raises the significance of the other inconsistencies in their testimony by challenging the core version of events.” Allen, they wrote, “recognized the central significance of the discrepancy when he testified” that the case “would have never come through” for federal prosecution if the officers had first said it had been Langjahr who seized the gun, then “came back later and said, ‘Oh, no, it was Kostoplis.” The defense attorneys added that “this was a stunning admission” by Allen that “the discrepant account was central to the case and central even to the original decision to authorize the matter for federal prosecution.”

Lomax, meanwhile, was indicted last fall in a 14-member heroin conspiracy headed by Antoine “Twizzy” Wiggins. The case made headlines because one of the defendants is Marlow Bates, the son of a famous Baltimore gangster who pleaded guilty to a 2009 Black Guerrilla Family prison-gang racketeering indictment, and because it involved the seizure of a small fleet of high-end luxury vehicles, including a Bentley convertible and an Aston Martin, and a 33-foot power boat. From the very beginning, though, Lomax’s attorney, Nicholas Vitek, sensed problems with police tactics involving his client.

“There are serious legal issues” with the warrant issued to search Lomax’s home, Vitek said at a Sept. 30, 2013, hearing in the case. “There is to my mind not sufficient probable cause. And even if there was sufficient probable cause, it was done in a way that violated Mr. Lomax’s rights. So there are serious legal issues with whether or not what can be recovered in the home can actually be used against him.”

Turns out, Vitek was right. The warrant was “defective because the probable cause for the warrant is premised on an illegal search that took place when the police entered Mr. Lomax’s property for the express purpose of obtaining information,” he wrote in a motion to suppress evidence filed in June. “The police crossed the curtilage of Mr. Lomax’s property and seized bags of trash without a warrant,” he continued, adding that “this warrantless search requires not only the suppression of the evidence directly obtained from the trash bags, but also all evidence that is the fruit of the poisonous tree.”

What’s more, Vitek asserted that police included in their application for the warrant to search Lomax’s home “intentional false statements or statements that were made with reckless disregard for the truth” which “misled the issuing judge, the Honorable Nathan Braverman of the District Court of Maryland, into believing that a trash pull that was conducted from Mr. Lomax’s house had been lawfully conducted when, in fact, it clearly had not.” Applying for the warrant, according to court records, were Baltimore Police detective Julie Pitocchelli and Sgt. Steven Olson.

Romano had already indicated that Lomax’s dismissal was in the works. In a massive response to defendants’ many motions contesting issues in the government’s case, which he filed on July 28, Romano wrote in a footnote that “the Government will not be responding to Lomax’s motion to suppress” because it “intends to move for dismissal of the counts in which Lomax is named as a defendant.”

Best Intentions: The list of Baltimore’s drug-dealing gang-interventionists grows

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Aug. 8, 2012

Back in 2007, Brian Morris, then Baltimore City’s public schools board president, was impressed by Kevin Foreman. At the board’s Aug. 28, 2007, meeting, Foreman declared that he’d “left the private industry to come back and work . . . to service these children, these gangs, this issue with education, the drop-out rate and what have you” via a group Foreman had started with a former Baltimore City policeman, Trevor Britt. Morris responded, “We do need to find a way to plug you in.”

Earlier that year, Foreman and Britt were listed in incorporation papers as the two directors of Continuous Growth Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit that set out to provide “education, counseling, and mental health services to at-risk and/or disadvantaged youths,” ages 12 to 21. Britt also formed Continuous Growth, LLC, a business that provides “education and reclamation for high school dropouts in addition to counseling services,” according to its incorporation papers.

Four years later, in July 2011, Continuous Growth, LLC was indeed “plugged in” to the school system, having clinched a three-year contract for conflict resolution and extended learning services for city students. But Foreman was in big trouble: On June 16, he had been caught in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation, while trying to close a 10-kilogram cocaine transaction with someone he thought was directly linked to a Mexican drug cartel.

The investigation into Foreman’s drug-dealing activities began in January 2011, according to court records. That’s when one of Foreman’s co-conspirators, David Humphries, introduced him to someone Humphries thought was a Mexican drug-dealer, and Humphries had told the Mexican that Foreman was the “man with all the money.” Foreman told the Mexican that he could handle transporting shipments, as his drug organization “already had vehicles that had concealed compartments”—two of them, with a combined capacity of 30 kilograms. Foreman drove to meet the Mexican in an Audi SUV registered to Continuous Gro, LLC, at 2119 St. Paul St., two blocks south of Foreman’s apartment.

Though Foreman had told the Mexican in January that “he was currently out of cocaine and had many customers waiting,” and that he had enough money to buy 17 kilograms immediately, the deal was delayed until June 16, 2011, when Foreman and another co-conspirator, Andre Carter, went to the Fairfield Inn in White Marsh to meet the Mexican. They shelled out $150,000 for 10 kilograms of cocaine, with the remaining balance of $125,000 to be paid after the coke was sold.

The Mexican turned out to be a DEA confidential source, and Foreman and Carter were immediately arrested after the transaction took place. A search of Foreman’s Charles Village apartment turned up a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, 15 rounds of .45-caliber ammunition, a money counter, a digital scale, a kilogram of suspected cocaine, Foreman’s Continuous Growth business card, and a document reflecting that Britt owed money to Foreman’s landlord.

Foreman pleaded guilty, and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence, as is Carter. The two were caught as a result of a joint investigation involving the DEA, the FBI, and the Baltimore City Police Department, that also snared two other major drug-dealing operations, one of which caught former Baltimore City cop Daniel Redd, who is awaiting his sentence on a heroin-conspiracy conviction. Foreman has a prior federal conviction for wire fraud and, in 2004, was sentenced to three years of probation and nearly $40,000 in restitution.

According to David Barney, a publicist representing Continuous Growth, Foreman has a master’s degree in education “as well as years of classroom experience.” In an e-mail, Barney describes Foreman as a “dedicated and passionate professional whose genuine concern for providing support and guidance . . . made him a valuable asset to the organization.”

As for Foreman’s criminal conduct, Barney says Continuous Growth “can’t always be with our employees every minute of every day” and “cannot control what a person might do or has done outside of the organization. Just like the youth we try and reach, we know that we will not change the lives or direction of each and every youth that we look to serve. We can only do our best at providing skills and dedication needed to help bring about a change of habit and direct them in making a conscious decision to adopt new behaviors.”

After Foreman was arrested, Britt tried to convince the federal judge on the case to allow Foreman to keep working at Continuous Growth, though the motion to allow him to do so ultimately was withdrawn.

In a July 22, 2011, e-mail that was submitted as part of the court record, Britt called Foreman “an indelible part of our program,” and that, if allowed to continue working, he would “help the company conduct interviews, perform staff trainings in crisis prevention and intervention, negotiate services with schools, compose manuals concerning protocol as it pertains to services rendered, and solicit new services to principals in the Baltimore City public school system.”

Foreman joins several others in Baltimore who, in recent times, while working to help solve the problems faced by at-risk kids in Baltimore’s streets and schools, were accused and convicted of committing the same kinds of crime they ostensibly sought to prevent. Three men indicted and convicted for their parts in the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang—Rainbow Williams, Todd Duncan, and Ronald Scott—were so employed; Williams worked as a mentor for at-risk Baltimore City public school kids through a company called Partners in Progress, while Duncan and Scott were outreach workers for a West Baltimore group called Communities Organized to Improve Life. In addition, BGF leader Eric Brown incorporated Harambee Jamaa, a nonprofit that sought to promote peace and betterment in Baltimore’s poverty- and crime-stricken communities.

Black-Booked: The Black Guerrilla Family prison gang sought legitimacy, but got indictments

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 5, 2009

“I’m a responsible adult,” 41-year-old Avon Freeman says to Baltimore U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge James Bredar. The gold on his teeth glimmers as he speaks, his weak chin holding up a soul patch. He’s a two-time drug felon facing a new federal drug indictment, brought by a grand jury in April as part of the two conspiracy cases conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Maryland involving the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang (“Guerrilla Warfare,” Mobtown Beat, April 22). Now it’s July 27, and Freeman, standing tall in his maroon prison jumpsuit, believes himself to be a safe bet for release. He’s being detained, pending an as-yet unscheduled trial, at downtown Baltimore’s Supermax prison facility, where he says he fears for his safety.

The particulars of Freeman’s fears are not made public, though Bredar, defense attorney Joseph Gigliotti, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Clinton Fuchs have discussed them already during an off-the-record bench conference. Danger signs from prison first cropped up in the case immediately after it was filed, though, when Fuchs’ colleague on the case, James Wallner, told a judge on Apr. 21 that the BGF had allegedly offered $10,000 for a “hit placed out on several correctional officers” and “all others involved in this investigation, and that would include prosecutors” (“BGF Offers $10,000 for Hits, Prosecutor Says,” The News Hole, April 23).

In open court, though, Gigliotti has said only that Freeman feels “endangered” by “conditions” at the Supermax, that “several of his co-defendants” also are housed there, and that “at a minimum,” Bredar should “put him in a halfway house, or at home with his sister under electronic monitoring.” The judge disagrees, but Freeman–against Judge Bredar’s adamant warning that it’s a “bad idea” and that “any statement you make could be used against you”–still wants to speak.

“I did have a job–I was working,” Freeman says of his days before his BGF arrest, and says of his family and friends, about 20 of whom are watching from the benches of the courtroom gallery, “I got the kids here, responsible adults here.” He declares he’s “not a flight risk” and says he “always come[s] to court when I’m told.” He stresses, “I am a responsible adult.”

Freeman’s doing what many people in his shoes do. He may be accused of being caught on wiretaps arranging drug transactions and of being witnessed by investigators participating in one. The prosecutor may say a raid of Freeman’s home turned up scales and $2,000 in alleged drug cash. But Freeman is still claiming to be a hard-working family man, a legitimate citizen, as safe and reliable as the next guy.

The details of the more than two dozen defendants indicted in the BGF case, filed against a Maryland offshoot of BGF’s national organization, suggest Freeman is not the only one among them who craves legitimacy. Information from court records, public documents, and the defendants’ court appearances over the past three months make some appear as “responsible adults” leading productive lives–or at least, like Freeman, as wanting to be seen that way.

Bredar sides with the government on the question of letting Freeman out of the Supermax. “There’s a high probability of conviction” based on the evidence against Freeman, Bredar says, adding that, given Freeman’s well-established criminal past, he poses a danger to society. So back Freeman goes to face his BGF fears. “I love you all,” he calls out to his 20-or-so family members and friends in the gallery, as U.S. marshals escort him out of the courtroom. “Love you, too,” some call back.

Take, for instance, Deitra Davenport. For 20 years, until her April arrest, the 37-year-old single mom worked as an administrator for a downtown Baltimore association management firm. Or 42-year-old Tyrone Dow, who with his brother has been running a car detailing shop on Lovegrove Street, behind Mount Vernon’s Belvedere Hotel, ostensibly for nearly as long. Mortgage broker and reported law student Tomeka Harris, 33, boasts of having toy drives and safe-sex events at her Belair Road bar, Club 410. Baltimore City wastewater technician Calvin Renard Robinson, 53 years old and a long-ago ex-con, owns a clothing boutique next to Hollins Market. Even 30-year-old Rainbow Lee Williams, a recently released murderer, managed to get a job working as a mentor for at-risk public-school youngsters.

The trappings of legitimacy are most elaborate, though, with Eric Marcell Brown, the lead defendant in the BGF prison-gang indictment. By the time the DEA started tapping his illegal prison cell phones in February, the 40-year-old inmate and author, who was nearing the end of a lengthy sentence for drug dealing, had teamed up with his wife, Davenport, to start a non-profit, Harambee Jamaa, which aims to promote peace and community betterment. His The Black Book: Empowering Black Families and Communities came out last year and, until the BGF indictments shut down the publishing operation, it was distributed to inmates and available to the public online from Dee Dat Publishing, a company formed by Brown and Davenport. Court documents indicate that at least 700 to 900 copies sold, at $15 or $20 a pop. The book has numerous co-authors, including Rainbow Williams.

According to the BGF case record, though, they’re all shams. Davenport, for instance, helps smuggle contraband into prison, prosecutors say, and serves as a “conduit of information” to support Brown’s violent, drug-dealing, extortion, and smuggling racket. The Black Book and Harambee Jamaa, the government’s version continues, are fronts for Brown’s ill-gotten BGF gains, which, thanks to complicit correctional employees, are derived from operating both in prisons and on the outside. As a result, the government contends, Brown appears to have had access to cigars, good liquor and Champagne, and high-end meals in his prison cell.

The alleged scheme has Dow supplying drugs to 46-year-old Kevin Glasscho, the lead defendant in the BGF drug-dealing indictment and the only one of the co-defendants who is named in both indictments. Freeman and Robinson, meanwhile, are accused of selling Glasscho’s drugs. Williams, the school mentor, is said to oversee the BGF’s street-level dealings for Brown, including violence. Harris is described as Brown’s girlfriend (even while her murder-convict husband, inmate Vernon Harris, is said by investigators to be helping Brown, too); among other things, she helps with the BGF finances. Most of the rest were inmates already, or accused drug dealers, smugglers, and armed robbers, except for the three corrections employees and one former employee who are accused as corrupt enablers, betraying public trust to help out in Brown and Glasscho’s criminal world. Only one, 59-year-old Roosevelt Drummond, accused of robbery and drug-dealing, remains at large.

Looking legit allows underworld players to insinuate themselves into the shadow economy, where the black market, lawful enterprise, and politics come together. Sometimes, though, people look legit simply because they are legit, even though they’re criminally charged. If that’s the case with any of the BGF co-defendants, they’re going to have their chance to prove it, just as the prosecutors will have theirs to prove otherwise. An adjudicated version of what happened with the BGF–be it at trial or in guilty pleas–eventually will substantiate who among them, if any, are “responsible adult[s].”

Glimpses of Brown’sleadership style are documented in the criminal evidence against him, including a conference call last Nov. 18 between Brown and two other inmates, “Comrade Doc” and Thomas Bailey, each on the line from different prisons.

“Listen, man, we [are] on the verge of big things,” Brown said, and Bailey assured him that “whatever you need me to do, man, I’m there.” “This positive movement that we are embarking upon now . . . is moving at a rapid pace,” Brown continued, and is “happening on almost every location.” He exhorted Bailey with a slogan, “Revolution is the only solution, brother,” and promised to send copies of his book, explaining how to use it as a classroom study guide.

The Black Book is a self-described “changing life styles living policy book” intended to help inmates, ex-cons, and their families navigate life successfully (“The Black Book,” Mobtown Beat, May 27). Its ideological basis is rooted in the 1960s radical politics of BGF founder George Jackson, the inmate revolutionary in California who, until his death in 1971, pitched the same self-sufficient economic and social separatism that The Black Book preaches. Throughout, despite rhetorical calls for defiance against perceived oppression and injustice, it promotes what appears to be lawful behavior–with the notable exception of domestic abuse, given its instructions that the husband of a disobedient wife should “beat her lightly.”

The BGF is not mentioned by name in The Black Book, which instead refers to “The Family” (or “Jamaa,” the Swahili equivalent), explaining that it is not a “gang” but an “organization.” The back cover features printed kudos from local educators, including two-time Democratic candidate for Baltimore mayor Andrey Bundley, now a high-ranking Baltimore City public-schools official in charge of alternative-education programs. His blurb praises Brown for “not accepting the unhealthy traditions of street organizations aka gangs” and for trying “to guide his comrades toward truth, justice, freedom, and equality.”

Tyrone Powers, director of the Anne Arundel Community College’s Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute, and a former FBI agent, offers back-cover praise for The Black Book, describing it as an “extraordinary volume” and calling Brown and his co-authors “extraordinary insightful men and leaders.”

Powers says in a phone interview that he knows Brown “by going into the prison system as part of an effort to deal with three or four different gangs.” Powers is “totally unapologetic” about endorsing The Black Book.

“The gang problem is increasing,” Powers explains, “and we need to have direct contact with the people involved, or who have been involved. We need to be bringing the gang members together and tell them there’s no win in that, except for prison or the cemetery. Gang members can be influential in anti-gang efforts, and we have got to utilize them. Are we calling them saints? No, we are not. My objective is to reduce the violence, and I don’t think sterile academic programs work as well as engaging some of our young people, like Eric, as part of a program.”

In early May, nearly a month after Brown was indicted, Bundley explained his ties to the inmate to The Baltimore Sun. “I’ve seen [rival gangs] come together in one room and work on the lessons in The Black Book to get themselves together,” he was quoted as saying. “I know Eric Brown was a major player inside the prison doing that work. The quote on the back of the book is only about the work that I witnessed: no more, no less.”

The DEA’s original basisfor tying Brown to BGF violence came from a confidential informant called “CS1” in court documents. A BGF member who’s seeking a reduced sentence, CS1 starting late last year gave a series of “debriefings” that lasted into early 2009. The investigators say in court records that CS1’s information has a track record of reliability, and the story checked out well enough to convince a grand jury to indict and a handful of judges to sign warrants as the case has progressed.

“BGF is extremely violent both inside and outside prison,” investigators recounted CS1 saying, “and is responsible for numerous crimes of violence and related crimes, including robbery, extortion, and murder for hire.” But “historically BGF has not been well-organized outside of prison,” CS1 asserted, and now the BGF “is attempting to change this within Baltimore, Maryland by becoming more organized and effective on the streets.” Brown “is coordinating and organizing BGF’s activities on the streets of Baltimore” and The Black Book “is a ploy by Brown to make BGF in Maryland appear to be a legitimate organization and not involved in criminal activity,” CS1 said, even though “Brown is a drug trafficker” and the BGF “funds its operations primarily by selling drugs.”

If CS1 is correct, then Brown is not as he was perceived by his supporters. Could it be that yet another purported peacemaker is actually prompting violence? It happened in Los Angeles last year, when a so-called “former” gangmember who headed a publicly funded non-profit called No Guns pleaded guilty to gun-running for the Mexican Mafia prison gang. It may have happened in Chicago last year, when two workers for the anti-violence group Ceasefire, which uses ex-gangmembers as street mediators, were charged in a 31-defendant gang prosecution.

Brown, with his book and his non-profit organization, wasn’t up and running at nearly the same scale as No Guns and Ceasefire, and there’s no evidence he was grant-funded. He was only just beginning to set up his self-financed positive vibe from inside his prison cell. But his is the same street-credibility pitch as in Los Angeles and Chicago: redeemed gangsters make effective gang-interventionists because the target audience will respect them more. Clearly, the approach has its risks, and Brown may end up being another example of that.

“It’s a dilemma,” Powers says of the question of how to prevent additional crimes from being committed by gang leaders who claim redemption and profess to work for reductions in gang-related violence and crime. “It has to be closely monitored.” As for Brown’s indictment, the lessons remain to be seen: “I don’t know if I can make it make sense,” Powers says.

For dramatic loss of legitimate appearances, Tomeka Harris may take the cake among the BGF co-defendants. She’s been on the ropes since late last year, when in December she caught federal bank-fraud and identity-theft charges in Maryland, in a case involving Green Dot prepaid debit cards that turned up later as the currency for the BGF’s prison-based economy. But from then until her April arrest in the BGF case, Harris had been out on conditional release–and making a good impression in public.

Media attention had been focused on Club 410, at 4509 Belair Road in Northeast Baltimore near Herring Run Park, because the police, having noted that violence was on the rise in its immediate vicinity, were trying to shut it down. At a March 26 hearing on the matter, Harris fought back, and The Sun‘s crime columnist, Peter Hermann, wrote that she “handled the case pretty well, calling into question some police accounts of the violence.” Herman described her as a “law student representing the owners,” and Sun reporter Justin Fenton, in his coverage, called her “the operator and manager” of the club. Not in the stories was the fact that she’s out on release, pending trial in a federal financial-fraud case in Baltimore.

Club 410’s liquor-board file lists as its licensees not Harris, but city employee Andrea Huff and public-schools employee Scott Brooks. Harris is referred to as its “owner” only in a March 3 police report, in which she “advised that she and her husband are the current owners of Club 410” and that “she has no dealings with the previous owners for several years.” Making matters murkier is the fact that “Andrea Huff,” whose name is on the liquor license is Harris’ alias in her BGF indictment. No wonder Sun writers were confused–Harris seems to have wanted it that way.

Harris made another public appearance before the BGF indictment came down in April. This time, it was in connection with John Zorzit, a local developer whose Nick’s Amusements, Inc., supplies “for amusement only” gaming devices to bars, taverns, restaurants, and other cash-oriented retail businesses around the region. The feds weren’t buying Zorzit’s non-gambling cover, though, and, based on a pattern of evidence that suggests he’s running a betting racket, in late January they filed a forfeiture suit and sought to seize as many of Zorzit’s assets as they could find. In the process, they raided his office on Harford Road, and there in the files were documents pertaining to Tomeka Harris and Club 410. Turns out, a Zorzit-controlled company owns Club 410, and ongoing lawsuits indicate Harris and Zorzit have had a falling out (“The 410 Factor,” Mobtown Beat, April 22).

Meanwhile, Harris still found the time to be Eric Brown’s girlfriend, according to the BGF court documents, in addition to helping the BGF smuggle, communicate, and arrange its finances. While her husband, alleged BGF member Vernon Harris (who has not been indicted in the BGF conspiracies), was in jail for murder, Tomeka Harris is said by investigators to have conducted “financial transactions involving ‘Green Dot’ cards on behalf of BGF members.” Court documents also say “one of her other business ventures was establishing bogus corporations for close associates so that they could obtain loans from banks in order to purchase high-priced items such as vehicles.”

Despite the vortex of drama that has been Harris’ life of late, she seems calm and collected at her first appearance in the BGF case on April 16. Her straight, highlighted hair hangs down the back of her black hoodie, heading south toward the tattoos peeking out from her low-hanging black hiphuggers; she’s wearing furry boots. She’s unflappable when a parole officer wonders about her claims of being a mortgage broker, when the conditions of her release in the fraud case don’t allow it.

But on June 4, a court hearing is called to try to untangle the various issues involved in Harris’ two federal indictments, and she comes undone. Her wig is gone, as are the boots and street clothes. She’s wringing her hands and holding her forehead as she talks with her lawyer, looking both exhausted and agitated. Finally, as the judge orders her detained pending trial, Harris starts crying.

The historic Belvedere Hotel has had its troubles over the years since is past glories, but it remains a highly visible symbol, like the Washington Monument, of the grandeur of Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. Its presence in the BGF picture is a statement as to how far a prison gang’s reach may extend.

Club 410’s liquor board file contains records of 2007 drug raids carried out at Club 410 and Room 1111 at the Belvedere Hotel in Mount Vernon. The records state that evidence taken from Club 410 (a scale, razor blades, and a strainer, all with residue of suspected heroin) match evidence taken from the secure, controlled-access Belvedere Hotel condominium (a handgun, heroin residue, face masks, a heat sealer). That evidence was traced to a suspect, Michael Holman, with ties to both the Belvedere Hotel room and Club 410. Though it is unclear what, if any, ties the raids have to BGF’s currently indicted dealings, they call to mind instances in the BGF case where the Belvedere Hotel appears.

BGF court documents say Tyrone Dow, drug supplier for Kevin Glasscho’s BGF drug dealing conspiracy, “is the owner of Belvedere Detailers,” which is “located at 1014 Lovegrove Street” in Baltimore. A late-July visit there reveals that it is still operating, and that the property is right next to the rear entrance of the Belvedere Hotel parking garage.

In June 2008, Dow and his brother were highlighted in a Baltimore Examiner business article about the fortunes of Baltimore-area “garage-based premium car-wash services” during an economic downturn. Credited for Belvedere Detailers’ ongoing success is “client loyalty for the business,” which the article says Dow and his brother have operated “out of the same brick garage for more than 15 years.”

Public records of car-detailing shops operating at the Lovegrove Street location, though, don’t list Belvedere Detailers, despite the Examiner article’s claim that it’s been there for so long. In fact, no company by that name exists in Maryland’s corporate records. Instead, Mount Vernon Auto Spa LLC, headed by Hadith Demetrius Smith, has been operating there. Smith, court records show, was found guilty in Baltimore County of drug dealing in 2007, a conviction that brought additional time on a federal-drug dealing conviction from 2000, which itself violated a 1993 federal drug-dealing conviction in Washington, D.C.

City Paper‘s attempts to establish clear ties, if any exist, between Belvedere Detailers and Mount Vernon Car Wash, were unsuccessful. But the BGF investigators maintain in court records that Dow’s detailing shop at that location is tied to the prison gang’s narcotics dealings.

The Belvedere Hotel also figured in BGF investigators’ wiretap of a conversation between two BGF co-defendants, Glasscho and Darien Scipio, about a drug deal they were arranging to hold there on March 24, according to court documents.

“Yeah you gotta come down to the Belvedere Hotel, homey,” Glasscho told Scipio, who said, “Alright, I’m gonna call you when I’m close.” Just before they met there, though, Scipio called back and told Glasscho to “get the fuck away from there” because “it’s on the [police] scanner” that “the peoples is on you,” referring to law enforcers. The alleged drug deal was quickly aborted.

Glasscho, who has a 1981 murder conviction and drug-dealing and firearms convictions from the early 1990s, is accused of being the leader of a drug-trafficking operation that smuggled drugs into prison for the BGF. As the only BGF co-defendant named in both indictments, he alone bridges both the drug-dealing and the prison-gang conspiracies that the government alleges. The contention that Glasscho was a Belvedere Hotel habitu while dealing drugs for the BGF suggests that, until the indictments came down, the prison gang was becoming quite comfortable in mainstream Baltimore life.

CS1, when laying out the BGF leadership structure for DEA investigators in late 2008 and early 2009, gave special treatment to Rainbow Williams and Gregory Fitzgerald. Williams is “an extremely violent BGF member” who has “committed multiple murders” and “numerous assaults/stabbings while in prison,” CS1 contended, while Fitzgerald “has killed people in the past” and carried out “multiple stabbings on behalf of BGF while in prison.” CS1 wouldn’t actually say they were “Death Angels,” the alleged name for BGF hitmen whose identities “only certain people know,” pointing out as well that the BGF sometimes “will employ others to act as hitmen who may or may not be ‘Death Angels.'” Nonetheless, CS1 said Williams and Fitzgerald “are loyal to and take orders from” Eric Brown.

Fitzgerald was not indicted in the BGF case, and though recently released from prison on prior charges, he has since been arrested in a separate federal drug-dealing case. Williams’ fortunes, though, had been rising since he was released from prison last fall after serving out time for a murder conviction.

When Williams was named in the BGF prison-gang conspiracy, he had a job. As his lawyer, Gerald Ruter, explained in court on April 21, Williams was working for the nonprofit Partners in Progress Resource Center, a four-day-a-week gig for $1,200 a month he’d had since he left prison. Partners in Progress works with the city’s public-schools system at the Achievement Academy at Harbor City, located on Harford Road. Ruter told the judge he’d learned from Partners in Progress’ executive director, Bridget Alston-Smith (a major financial backer of Bundley’s political campaigns), that Williams “works on the campus itself as a mentor to individuals who have behavioral difficulties and is hands-on with all of the students.”

The contrast between Williams’ post-prison job, working with at-risk kids, and his alleged dealings as a top BGF leader is striking. In early April, for instance, he’s caught on the wiretap talking with Lance Walker, an alleged BGF member whose recent 40-year sentence on federal drug-dealing charges was compounded in July by a life sentence on state murder charges. Williams confides in Walker, telling him that rumors that Williams ordered the Apr. 1 stabbing murder of an inmate are putting him in danger with higher-ups in the BGF. The next day, Williams is again on the phone with an inmate, discussing how Williams is suspected of passing along Eric Brown’s order to hurt another inmate named “Coco.” Court documents also have Williams aiding in BGF’s smuggling operation and mediating beefs among BGF rivals.

And yet, Williams, with his job, was starting to appear legitimate. When law enforcers searched his apartment in April, Williams’ dedication to Brown’s cause was in evidence. Gang literature, “a large amount of mail to and from inmates,” photos of inmates and associates, and a “handwritten copy of the BGF constitution” were found, according to court documents. But they also found 38 rounds of .357 ammo. Now, Williams is back in jail, awaiting trial.

If proven right, either at trial or by guilty pleas, the accusations against the BGF in Maryland would mean not only that Brown’s legitimate-looking “movement” is a criminal sham. It would mean that the prison gang, while insinuating itself so effectively within the sprawling correctional system as to make a mockery of prison walls, was also able to embed itself in ordinary Baltimore life. If not for the indictments, should they be proved true, one can only imagine how long it could have lasted.

Calvin Robinson might have gone undetected. But the city waste-water worker, who owns real estate next to the Baltimore Police Department’s Western District station house and next to the city’s historic Hollins Market, where his In and Out Boutique clothing store continues to operate, instead was heard on the BGF wiretap talking with Glasscho about suspected drug deals. And he was observed conducting them. And when his house was raided, two guns turned up.

Robinson at least made a good show at legitimacy during court appearances in the BGF case, unlike Freeman’s performance before Judge Bredar. His lawyer played up Robinson’s city job, and even had his supervisor, Dorothy Harris, on hand in the courtroom to attest to his reliability at work. He looked poised and professional, with his clean-shaven head, trimmed mustache, and designer glasses. But just like Freeman, Robinson, who has drug convictions from the early 1990s, lost his plea to be released and was detained pending trial.

Of the 25 BGF defendants, five were granted conditional release. All of them women, they include three former prison guards, Davenport, suspected drug dealer Lakia Hatchett, and Cassandra Adams, who is Glasscho’s girlfriend and alleged accomplice. All were deemed sufficiently “responsible adults” to avoid being jailed before trial, so long as they continue to meet strict conditions. They, unlike the rest of their co-defendants, were found neither to be a threat to public safety nor a risk of flight, should they await trial outside of prison walls. Given the sprawling conspiracies, one can imagine why Freeman’s in fear at the Supermax–and why the released women should be breathing a sigh of relief.

Special Treatment: Tracy Love’s killing snuffs out a snitch-filled Baltimore life

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Nov. 20, 2013


When 29-year-old Tracy Robin Love (pictured) bit the bullets in West Baltimore shortly after midnight on Nov. 9, he was nearly two years out of federal prison. How he got there—and the reason he was freed so much earlier than some of his co-defendants—says volumes about the carnage crime causes in a city whose street culture condones assassinating those who cooperate with law enforcers.

Between 2002 and 2006, the “Special” drug organization worked the area just east of where Loch Raven Road approaches Greenmount Avenue, taking in about $25,000 a day selling cocaine and heroin and protecting their enterprise with violence. As the law came down on the crew, which was headed by Melvin Gilbert, suspected snitches were shot dead in hails of bullets—including John Dowery, who, after surviving the shots he took in a 2005 hit attempt, was murdered on Thanksgiving Day in 2006 at the Kozy Korner bar on Bartlett Avenue, smack in the middle of Special territory.

Dowery had testified previously against Love and his younger half-brother, Tamall Parker, two top Special lieutenants who were on trial in state court for murdering James Wise in 2004 after Wise and an accomplice robbed their drug crew.

The Baltimore City jury didn’t convict Love and Parker—but in 2009 the two became snitches themselves, cooperating with authorities. Love testified before a federal jury against their Special co-defendants, fingering them for murder, shootings, and drug dealing.

For cooperating, Love and Parker earned an eventual return to the streets, with Love regaining his freedom in December 2011 and Parker set to follow in November 2016. Those they testified against—Gilbert and the other Special co-defendants who went to trial, James Dinkins and Darron Goods—escaped the government’s desire to put them to death but instead were sentenced to life in prison. (Gilbert, meanwhile, surfaced on wiretaps in the 2009 Drug Enforcement Administration investigation into the Black Guerrilla Family [BGF] prison gang, which recorded his cellphone conversations with BGF leader Eric Brown about corrupt correctional officer Alicia Simmons.)

Back in April 2007, photographs of Love and Parker appeared in The Atlantic magazine’s lengthy, award-winning article by Jeremy Kahn, “The Story of a Snitch.” The piece went deep into Dowery’s tragic experience, detailing how his interactions with Love and Parker ended with bloody retribution for snitching on them, and drove a national discussion prompted initially by the 2004 release of a Baltimore street-culture documentary, Stop Fucking Snitching, which advocated deadly violence to silence witnesses.

Love’s silence, like Dowery’s before him, now is permanent. Shortly after midnight on Nov. 9, detectives found him in a car on North Athol Avenue, where it separates the new Uplands housing development and Edmondson West-Side High School. He’d taken numerous shots to the head. A survivor, unidentified by police other than to confirm his name is “Allen,” took bullets in the belly.

Prior to this, Love in September had been arrested by Baltimore police and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and escape. He had been scheduled to appear in federal court on Nov. 14 so a judge could review whether his charged conduct amounted to a violation of his supervised release.

U.S. probation officer Toni Duncan, though, on Oct. 22 had advised the court that Love “was found Not Guilty” of the charges, according to court records, and requested that “the pending alleged violations of supervised release be withdrawn.”

That’s the tail end of what had been an intriguing and dramatic series of events.

Love’s arrest occurred on Sept. 19 at the Madison Park North Apartments on North and Park avenues in West Baltimore, and the circumstances were described in court documents written by police officer Peter Johncox.

Johncox and two other officers were in a patrol car near the apartment complex at about 7 p.m., and “observed a large group of persons standing in the open area between the apartment buildings,” Johncox wrote. Among them, “the officers observed a light skinned black male wearing a gray jogging suit and gray hat who the officers know as Tracy Love Jr.,” and Johncox added, “Mr. Love does not live in the apartment complex.”

When Love spied the other two officers coming, he ran—around a corner and right into Johncox, who arrested him and put him in handcuffs, telling him “he was under arrest for trespassing,” Johncox wrote. Then Johncox “noticed a clear plastic bag containing various multi-colored topped vials containing white rock substance, suspected cocaine,” and when he “reached down to pick up” the drugs, Love “pulled away” and “ran.”

Johncox ran after Love, telling him to stop, but Love kept going—even as Johncox “drew his taser and fired” it at Love, but “the probes did not make contact,” so Love “continued the foot chase.”

When Johncox “was finally able to catch up to Mr. Love and drive stunned him in the torso” (“drive stun” means to hold the taser against the body, without projectiles), Love “fell to the ground where he started kicking his legs and flailing,” so Johncox “drive stunned Mr. Love again in the torso” and “was successful in taking him into custody.”

The drama did not end there, though. “Mr. Love was screaming and yelling and a large group of people began crowding around,” Johncox wrote, and as Love was escorted to a police wagon and taken away, his “yelling incited more of a crowd.”

Love was taken to the Central District, according to Johncox’s report, “where he was debriefed by homicide detectives.”

Three days later, Love made $25,000 bail and was released pending trial, when he was exonerated. Despite the drug evidence described by Johncox, Love did not face drug charges.

An unnamed source—the person asked not to be named “due to the caliber of the dudes” in the picture of Love’s life—says the mother of both Love and Parker is Mayreda Henderson, who court records confirm has shared an address with Parker in Essex, where the police say Love lived. Attempts to reach Henderson, including by leaving detailed messages on cellphones believed to be hers and a relative of hers, to ask her for comment on Love’s recent arrest and violent death were unsuccessful.

The mother of Love and Parker has been an important part of their public lives, though, as she was part of their alibi the night James Wise was killed—according to The Atlantic article, they claimed they were at their mother’s hair salon in West Baltimore, across the city from where Wise was murdered. Henderson, court records show, as recently as last year was doing business as Mayreda’s Hair and Nail Salon. It was located at 736 W. North Ave.—an address at the Madison Park North Apartments, where Love was arrested. The 45-year-old is also a federal drug convict herself, having been released in 1999 after a prison sentence for her part in a massive 1980s conspiracy headed by Tommy Lee Canty Jr.

By the time Love testified in federal court against his Special co-defendants on May 26, 2009, his and Parker’s culpability for the Wise murder was clear, exposing the falsity of their alibi. Yet, perhaps to avoid implicating his mother, while on the stand, Love would not admit it had been concocted.

“No,” Love said, according to the court transcript, when Dinkins’ attorney asked him, “You didn’t have your mother say, ‘Oh, the time Mr. Wise got killed, he was at the hair salon with me?’” When pressed, Love said, “not as I recall, no,” adding “that was a long time ago.”

During his testimony, Love also tried to limit his role in Wise’s murder, saying that he only pointed the direction Wise had run so his brother could go do the deed. This scenario, though, conflicts with the version told in The Atlantic article—that right after Wise was shot dead, “I got that motherfucker, six times in the chest,” Dowery heard Love yell down the street for all to hear, including his Special crew. “Next time, one of y’all gonna do it. I’m tired of doing this shit.”

Either way, now that someone else has done it to Love, he’ll never have to do it again.

The Game Remains The Same: Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale’s new charges ring familiar

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 10, 2013

Over the last half-decade or so, City Paper has done in-depth reporting about how Baltimore’s drug game is tied to heroin arriving from Africa, gangsters who double as gang interventionists, the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) gang’s broad reach in prisons and the streets, and legendary old felons getting charged anew. Now, with federal drug-and-gun charges unsealed Nov. 26 against Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, one man embodies all four themes.

The case involves Barksdale’s alleged dealings with co-defendant Suraj Tairu, a man with a 1990s New York conviction for helping to import heroin from Africa, and involves heroin contained in an “egg-shaped object”—a type of heroin packaging that is commonly swallowed and later excreted by so-called “internal smugglers” from Africa who bring them to the U.S. on commercial airline flights. Initially, only Tairu was charged in the case, on Sept. 12, and court documents state that he was supplying heroin to “a long-time, high ranking member of the BGF”—who, once the indictment was unsealed, was revealed to be Barksdale.

Barksdale grew up hustling in West Baltimore’s since-demolished Lexington Terrace projects in the 1970s and 1980s, and by the end of that decade he had become a local criminal legend whose violent exploits were depicted in a 2009 docu-drama project spearheaded by Kenneth Antonio “Bird” Jackson, a stevedore and strip club manager with his own outsize past in Baltimore’s drug game. The project, The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired, claimed Barksdale was the inspiration for Avon Barksdale, a key character on the HBO series The Wire—a claim The Wire’s co-creator David Simon rejects. Two other old school Baltimore gangsters whose identities were used to create Wire characters—Savino Braxton and Walter Lee “Stinkum” Powell, whose names were applied to characters who were enforcers for Avon Barksdale, Savino Bratton, and Anton “Stinkum” Artis—have also faced federal drug charges in recent years and are now in federal prison.

The Baltimore Sun’s reporting on Barksdale’s latest arrest revealed that he’d been working as a gang interventionist for Safe Streets, a publicly funded project managed by local nonprofits that seek to employ ex-felons to diffuse street violence before it happens. The Sun’s coverage quoted Safe Streets’ Delaino Johnson, director of the outfit’s branch in Mondawmin, as saying Barksdale “had a large impact on reducing violence in our targeted area.”

In a wide-ranging City Paper interview in 2009 for a feature about Unwired, Barksdale described how, at that time, he worked “informally” with his nephew, Dante Barksdale, a Safe Streets worker, to help stem violence among the younger generation.

“I try to keep some of them from traveling the same path I’ve traveled,” Barksdale said, noting that, “when I show up, it keeps some stuff from happening.”

Hiring ex-felons as street-violence mitigators has long been proposed and carried out, with mixed results. Radio talk-show host Marc Steiner in 2008, for instance, urged “cities, states, philanthropies, and businesses” to “spend millions” to “hire, train, and supervise hundreds of ex-felons to work in the streets with youth and families.” That year in Chicago, two anti-violence workers for the program after which Safe Streets was modeled, CeaseFire, were indicted and later pleaded guilty to drug dealing, and one of them, according to prosecutors, “promoted controlled violence among gang members in an effort to avoid subsequent and random retaliatory murders.” Also in 2008, the executive director of an anti-gang nonprofit in Los Angeles, No Guns, admitted to gun-running charges and another gang-interventionist pleaded no contest to drugs and firearms charges.

Subsequently, Safe Streets emerged in prior federal BGF cases in Maryland in 2009 and 2010. “Operation Safe Streets located in the McElderry Park and Madison East neighborhoods is controlled by the BGF, specifically Anthony Brown, aka ‘Gerimo,’” court documents in those cases state, adding that “BGF members released from prison can obtain employment from Operation Safe Streets.” Another Baltimore anti-violence nonprofit that previously had received Safe Streets funding, Communities Organized to Improve Life (COIL), employed two men who were convicted in that round of BGF cases: youth counselor Todd Andrew Duncan, who prosecutors described as the BGF’s “city-wide commander” at the time, and outreach worker Ronald “Piper” Scott.

Still, Baltimore’s Safe Streets program is credited with having stopped much bloodshed. A 2012 Johns Hopkins University evaluation of the program concluded that its workers mediated 276 incidents between July 2007 and December 2010, 88 percent of which “involved individuals with a history of violence” and three-quarters of which “involved gang members.”

Barksdale’s name emerged in the 2010 round of BGF indictments, which were investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He was described in court documents as “an active BGF member” and a “B. Barksdale” was thanked in the acknowledgements section of The Black Book, a 122-page, soft-bound self-help guide published by BGF leader Eric Brown that authorities portrayed as a gang-recruitment tool whose sales helped finance the BGF.

“Hell, no!” Barksdale told City Paper at the time, when reached by phone at the number listed in the court documents and asked if he was an active BGF member. “I ain’t no motherfuckin’ member,” he says. “When I was in prison, I mean, yeah—but that was 20 years ago. I’m a filmmaker. I’m pushing 50, man. I’m too old for that. That’s for teenagers.”

In the current case, the heroin-possession charge against Barksdale and Tairu arises from their alleged interactions on June 22—when Barksdale allegedly tried to hoodwink Tairu after a police stop for a seatbelt violation resulted in the seizure of 1 ounce of heroin in the egg-shaped package. The stop occurred shortly after the two met at a Rite Aid parking lot off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, court documents say, though Barksdale was not arrested. About a half-hour later, Barksdale called Tairu to explain what had happened and told Tairu that the police “took both of them.”

“Based upon that conversation,” a federal agent wrote in court papers, “I surmised that” Barksdale “had actually been in possession of two ‘eggs’ of heroin and that the second ‘egg’ was still” in Barksdale’s possession, but that he “misled Tairu into believing that both ‘eggs’ were seized.”

On Nov. 27, Barksdale pleaded not guilty to the charges, which are being prosecuted by assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner, who handled the complex series of cases filed against the BGF in 2009 and 2010. Barksdale’s court-appointed attorney, Nicholas Vitek, declined to comment. The case was initially assigned to U.S. District Judge William Quarles, who scheduled a three-to-five-day trial starting Feb. 24, but on Dec. 6, the case was reassigned to U.S. District Judge George Levi Russell III.

Stop Fucking Snitching’s “Goose” Gets Cooked for Slinging Heroin in Prison

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, June 4, 2014


Sherman “Goose” Kemp, one of the cash-loving, drug-dealing stars of 2004’s anti-rat Baltimore street-culture documentary Stop Fucking Snitching Vol. 1, already had a prodigious list of prior drug-related convictions before he was charged anew in early 2012 with conspiring to smuggle heroin into federal prison, where he was serving a 30-year sentence, and sell it at a huge mark up: two federal convictions in the 2000s and one Maryland conviction in the 1990s. Now, having copped to the new charges, Kemp’s list of priors is even longer.

After signing a guilty-plea agreement in October, Kemp (pictured, in a Stop Fucking Snitching scene) was recently sentenced – and received a pretty good deal, given that such priors often result in draconian sentences: four more years added to his existing term, shifting his release date from 2035 to 2039, when he’ll be about 60 years old. He actually got a 10-year sentence, but U.S. District judge Catherine Blake ordered six of them to be served concurrently with his existing prison term.

According to the plea’s statement of facts, “beginning in April 2011, through November 7, 2011, Sherman Michael Kemp, agreed with Lasheta Claybourne and others to smuggle heroin from Baltimore, Maryland, into FCI Beckley, West Virginia, where he was serving a federal sentence. Once the heroin was smuggled inside the prison, Kemp and other distributed the heroin at approximately $600 per gram.”

The statement has an additional sentence, with lines drawn through it, indicating that Kemp and the government do not agree that this could be proven: “Additionally, in September through November 2012, Kemp worked with others to try to smuggle heroin into the Chesapeake Detention Facility in Baltimore, Maryland, where he was being held pretrial.” The facility is run by Maryland’s prison agency and now is used to house federal pretrial detainees, but until early 2011, it had long been used as the state’s “Supermax” prison, formally known as the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center.

Kemp’s 2008 firearm-and-cocaine conviction in Maryland, for which he received a 180-month sentence, was followed with a jury conviction in a Pennsylvania case that yielded Kemp’s 30-year sentence and $31 million judgment for his part in the sprawling and murderous Phillips Cocaine Organization, in which other Baltimore players were in the picture, including Anthony Ballard and Shawn Green. Kemp’s name also appeared in court documents in the 2010 racketeering case against the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang in Maryland, with his phone tied to that of the gang’s on-the-streets heroin dealer, Kevin Glasscho.

A short, link-littered history of City Paper’s Black Guerrilla Family coverage

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper in April, 2013


The Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), though long known to be active in Maryland’s prisons and Baltimore’s streets, has suddenly become hot news, with the April 23 announcement of a federal indictment against 25 alleged members, including 13 Maryland correctional officers (COs). But the BGF had already burnished its image in the public’s mind in April 2009, when federal prosecutors announced two indictments against alleged BGF members, including correctional officers.

City Paper jumped on the story, covering the press conference announcing the indictments and the BGF’s ties to a Baltimore bar called Club 410. From that point on, the stories kept rolling – starting with the unnerving news that the BGF had offered $10,000 to anyone who killed people involved in helping to build the case. A series of profiles, dubbed “Family Portraits,” was assembled, spotlighting co-defendants Nelson Arthur Robinson, Rainbow Lee Williams, Randolph Edison, Eric Marcell Brown, Deitra Davenport, Calvin Renard Robinson, and The Black Book (pictured), the BGF’s 122-page self-improvement guide that was subtitled “Empowering Black Families and Communities.” A lengthy feature provided a birds-eye view of the case.

By the fall of 2009, the first guilty pleas were entered, including by two COs, and a few defendants were sentenced, including Marlow Bates, the son of a famous Baltimore gangster. Meanwhile, City Paper discovered an inmate’s federal lawsuit that had unearthed a trove of evidence that Maryland’s prison administrators had turned a blind eye to the long-known problem of gang-tied COs, including the lawsuit’s defendant, Antonia Allison, who the inmate accused of facilitating his brutal beating by a group of gang-members. (Allison is now one of the 13 recently-indicted COs.)

Driving home that the issue was an ongoing problem, a state criminal case was brought against another CO, Lynae Chapman, accused of delivering a cellphone to her unborn child’s father, a BGF member who was in a Baltimore jail awaiting trial on murder charges. Chapman’s case was intriguing, in part because she initially was denied the opportunity to enter a guilty plea. Then, in March 2010, another CO was charged for bringing pot and cellphones into the Baltimore City Detention Center.

Almost exactly a year after the 2009 BGF indictments, prosecutors took another whack at the gang, and this time the focus was on its infiltration of an anti-gang non-profit group. One of the more fascinating defendants was Kimberly McIntosh, a health-care worker with no criminal record who was accused of being at the “epicenter” of the gang’s street-level operations.

Shortly after the 2010 indictment was filed, City Paper ran a lengthy feature examining the issue of corrupt COs, and how the Maryland General Assembly had just passed reforms that would make it harder to discipline them. After the article ran, concerns were elevated as another CO, Alicia Simmons, was charged in the federal BGF probe, when the 2009 and 2010 indictments were rolled into one, big racketeering case, and another inmate gained traction with another federal lawsuit alleging a gang-tied CO facilitated his prison beating.

Finally, in 2012, after covering the courthouse fates of some of the BGF defendants here and there, City Paper ran a lengthy feature about the BGF probe’s impact – which, given recent developments, would seem to have been lacking. Maybe this next round, as it unfolds, will have more lasting repercussions.

Partial Admission: Tearful gang leader sentenced on RICO charges he calls overblown

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Jan. 26, 2011


When 36-year-old Todd “Donnie” Duncan—a former gang-interventionist who worked for the West Baltimore nonprofit Communities Organized to Improve Life (COIL)—pleaded guilty in September to federal racketeering charges, he admitted to being what his plea agreement says he is: “the overall city-wide commander” of the street-level criminal operations of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang in Baltimore. Duncan (pictured) and 14 other alleged BGF members are accused of orchestrating the gang’s drug trafficking, bribery, witness retaliation, extortion, and money laundering, both inside and outside of Maryland prisons. But during Duncan’s Jan. 20 sentencing hearing, when he rose to make a statement to U.S. District Judge William Quarles, he cast himself—and the BGF—in a different light.

“Yes, I was part of the BGF,” Duncan said, while trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears, “but it didn’t really function on the street,” adding that “the BGF had no leaders on the street because it’s too many people.” He paused to collect himself, but continued to cry, saying “the guys I dealt with, we were not bad guys,” “we weren’t about violence,” and “I believe in the justice system, I believe in right and wrong, I believe in God.” While openly copping to drug dealing, he asserted that the overall charges have been “blown out of context” by the government.

Duncan’s statements to Quarles, along with those of his lawyer, Robert Waldman, may foreshadow how the remaining BGF defendants, scheduled for trial in May, will try to contest the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges before a jury. So far, three out of the 15 have pleaded guilty, leaving 12 to take it to the jury.

Prosecutors, relying on the work of investigators with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Baltimore-based Special Investigations Group, have painted a picture of the BGF as cloaking itself in legitimacy and the rhetoric of self-improvement and dignity while, in fact, empowering itself through a fearsome array of criminal activity (“Black Booked,” Feature, Aug. 5, 2009). A critical aspect of the BGF’s operations has been its reliance on corrupt prison guards (“Inside Job,” Feature, May 12, 2010), several of whom have pleaded guilty to helping gang members, including its alleged Maryland leader, veteran inmate Eric Brown (“Eric Marcell Brown,” Mobtown Beat, May 7, 2009), who with his wife, Deitra Davenport (“Deitra Davenport,” Mobtown Beat, May 27, 2009), published The Black Book (“The Black Book,” Mobtown Beat, May 27, 2009), a self-help guide that won kudos from local educators.

To combat the government’s version of the truth about the BGF, defense attorneys may set out to do for their clients at the upcoming trial what Waldman attempted to do for Duncan during his sentencing: cast the BGF as more of an ideological social club whose members sometimes sell a few drugs than the dire threat to public safety that the government contends.

Waldman’s soliloquy on behalf of Duncan was broken up, here and there, by Quarles’ comments, which injected facts from Duncan’s plea agreement. Yet Waldman’s points, if used before a jury instead of a judge, may have a measure of traction.

“This group really was a bunch of mostly older guys who had been incarcerated together,” Waldman said, adding that “nearly everybody” in the BGF who was no longer incarcerated “had a job.” In saying “I wouldn’t call it a social club,” Waldman suggested just that, telling Quarles the BGF was not like the “gangs that you and I know about from other cases,” that it did not engage in “turf wars,” that there were “no executions in order to expand territory.” In fact, Waldman said, there was “no indication of serious violence at all” at the hands of the BGF defendants.

Waldman also sought to differentiate BGF members who aren’t inmates from those who are, saying, “It is true that the BGF inside prisons is a nasty outfit” and that “other inmates complain about the grip that the BGF has” inside prison walls. On the outside, though, while “they sold some drugs,” Waldman contended, “they did not sell large quantities. There is no indication of bulk sales of any degree whatsoever.” They did some “selling on the side,” he said, but weren’t even very good at it; evidence in the case, Waldman pointed out, includes complaints from fellow members that it took one BGF dealer “days to sell 30 pills.”

In sum, regarding the BGF as a whole, Waldman told Quarles, “We need to keep this thing in context . . . Most of these guys were up to bad, but not a whole lot of bad.”

As for Duncan in particular, Waldman cast him as a man who was “looked up to as a guy who carried himself with integrity without swagger.” He became BGF’s street-level leader because of those qualities, Waldman explained—because “he didn’t step on toes or heads” as he was “dealing with beefs and ameliorating conflicts” on the streets. After serving 14 years in prison for two attempted second-degree murder convictions, Waldman explained, Duncan got out and started working at COIL. While Duncan “helped other fellows getting out of prison find jobs,” Waldman continued, he didn’t get them jobs at COIL, which therefore didn’t become “a nest for the BGF”—so Duncan “didn’t misuse his COIL connection in that respect, at least.” And Duncan “had no dealings with anybody inside the prisons,” the attorney added.

(As a result of Duncan’s work at COIL, he made a television appearance on a religious show, Grace and Glory, hosted by Rev. Lee Michaels, in January 2010, several months prior to his arrest.)

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner didn’t attempt to rebut Waldman’s broad assertions belittling the government’s charges against the BGF; presumably, he’s saving his fire for trial. Rather, he succinctly asked Quarles to sentence Duncan to 180 months in prison, given that Duncan has admitted to being the BGF’s citywide commander, to dealing drugs, to supporting the BGF’s overall racketeering enterprise—and the fact that he has two prior convictions for violent felonies, although, due to the particulars of the federal sentencing guidelines, he dodged “career offender” status, which would have enhanced his penalty.

Waldman argued that 151 months was an appropriate sentence for Duncan. “That’s a lot of time,” he told Quarles, and it “provides him the opportunity to get out and see his children before it is too late.”

Quarles asked each of Duncan’s seven loved ones in the courtroom to rise and speak—including his fiancee, with whom he has children. The fiancee mentioned that her prior partner, who fathered one of the children Duncan had helped her to raise, was deceased. When Quarles pressed her to explain the circumstances of that man’s death, she was overcome with emotion, and Quarles relented. Six other people spoke in support of Duncan. One said news coverage of the case had failed to point out “the good things he did in the community,” and another said, “I think he’s a pretty decent guy.”

As Quarles prepared to announce the sentence, he revealed more about Duncan: that he’d been arrested 17 times between the ages of 12 and 18, and that he’d faced “at least 10 other adult charges”; that he is “no stranger to the violence that often accompanies the drug trade”; that his sister had been murdered in 1993, at the age of 19; that his fiancee’s prior partner had been murdered in connection with drug violence; and that he dropped out of school in ninth grade. As for the BGF, Quarles stressed that it is “not a purely social club.” And he allowed that Duncan “has some good things going for him,” that he’s “not a big-time gangster,” and that he “did not misuse his COIL affiliation.”

With that, Quarles, noting that Duncan had narrowly “avoided career offender status,” announced a sentence of 168 months in federal prison, with a start date on May 7, 2010. When Duncan is done serving his 14 years in 2024, he will be 50 years old—and 28 of those years will have been spent behind bars.

Day of Reckoning: Ex-Mortgage Broker Sentenced for Bank Fraud and Gang-Related Prison Smuggling

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Dec. 22, 2010

To hear Tomeka Harris and her attorney tell it, Harris was a model citizen who suddenly and briefly turned to a life of crime. But that foray into the dark side, however fleeting, will have lasting repercussions for Harris, 34, who on Dec. 17 was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William Quarles Jr. to serve four years in prison and to pay more than half a million dollars in restitution for her crimes, which resulted in Harris pleading guilty in two separate criminal conspiracies. One involved encoding stolen credit-card numbers onto new cards used fraudulently to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods, and the other concerned her aid in smuggling contraband for the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang.

Wearing pants and a tunic, both khaki, and her hair straight, Harris’ appearance and demeanor at her sentencing was in striking contrast to her first appearance on the prison-smuggling charges, in April 2009, when she and two dozen others were indicted in a federal case targeting the BGF for drugs and violence. Then, Harris appeared not to have a care in the world about her predicament, clad in furry boots with her highlighted hair hanging down to low-slung pants revealing tattoos on her lower back. The confidence she exuded was derived perhaps from her success in life thus far: She owned Club 410, a popular and controversial Northeast Baltimore hangout considered a magnet for drugs and crume, and was a licensed mortgage and insurance broker who had no criminal convictions in her background. At her sentencing, though, having been incarcerated since, Harris looked worried and anxious as Quarles considered her penalty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamera Fine, who prosecuted the bank-fraud conspiracy, told Quarles that Harris held a “management position” in the scheme, having “people she recruited” use stolen credit-card numbers provided by Harris. One of her co-defendants in the case, John Forrester, received a 39-month prison sentence, which Fine argued should be “the floor” for Harris, who was “far more involved” than Forrester. Another co-defendant, Michael Hayes, absconded and committed new crimes while the case was still pending, Fine explained, and so received an enhanced sentence, but his initial penalty of 87 months’ incarceration reflected his leadership position in the conspiracy. Thus, Fine concluded, Harris should receive a prison term somewhere between those meted out to Forrester and Hayes.

Fine added that Quarles should take into account several factors considering Harris’ sentence. First is the “seriousness of the offense,” in which Harris “became more and more involved” over time and “sent people out to use” fraudulent credit cards in a “fairly widespread” fashion, resulting in more than $521,000 in bank losses. The second factor, which Fine argued “merits a significant penalty,” is deterrence, since “there are more and more schemes of this sort in the community,” drawing in otherwise law-abiding people who are in financial straits and turning them into criminals. Lastly, Fine said Quarles should consider the fact that Harris “very quickly after her arrest accepted full responsibility” for her actions. Thus, Fine concluded that a sentence of five years or 48 months would be “appropriate”—and would give Harris “an opportunity to rejoin the community” as a “law-abiding citizen as quickly as possible.”

Harris’ attorney, Allen Orenberg, then rose to tell Quarles that “we don’t agree, obviously, with the government’s recommendations,” and contended that Harris had “more or less a minor role” in the bank-fraud scheme—though he said “we appreciate Ms. Fine’s remarks” about Harris’ rapid acceptance of responsibility. Quarles retorted that Harris “was fairly active and she did employ sophisticated means” in carrying out her part of the conspiracy, but Orenberg argued Harris spent only “six months” participating in it. “She is going to be punished,” Orenberg pointed out, saying she has already spent almost two years in prison. “We’re asking that she has the opportunity to go home in the near future,” he said, requesting that Quarles take into account “her total background.”

That background, Orenberg continued, includes “somewhat of a troubled childhood,” though Harris graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and attended Morgan State University, where she didn’t complete the coursework required for a degree. In 2000, he continued, she became a mortgage broker and also earned a license to sell insurance. Her career came screeching to a halt in late 2008, when she was charged in the bank-fraud case after making “a series of bad choices,” Orenberg said.

Quarles interjected at this point, saying Harris made “a rather lengthy series” of bad choices, resulting “in two criminal cases” against her in federal court. But Orenberg contended she was active in the conspiracy for “less than a year” and that she “fell into the abyss,” but had made “very good choices before that,” and that during her incarceration she’s been “preparing for the future”—though he acknowledges that she likely won’t be in the financial services industry in the future. (“I think that’s pretty clear,” Quarles commented.) Orenberg added that there’s a “job waiting for her at a salon” when she’s done serving time, and he pointed to a group of people present in the courtroom who “support their loved one.” Orenberg assured Quarles that Harris won’t be a repeat offender—to which Quarles said, “That was a prediction you would have made more confidently two or three years ago. It’s hard to predict future lawfulness.”

“It is obvious that my client is a resourceful person” who has “pluck and resolve . . . to better herself,” Orenberg declared, saying she is “accountable for a very large sum of money” and she can “satisfy those requirements” by “returning to the workforce.”

Harris rose to speak on her own behalf, and Quarles asked her, “What went wrong?” He received his answer in a bench conference with Harris rather than publicly. As they spoke in confidence, Harris started to cry and Quarles gave her a box of Kleenex. Then Harris resumed her remarks in open court, saying, “Morally I’m a good person that just made a mistake” that “hurt my family, my friends, other people.” She contended she’s done “200 good things” for every bad thing “the government says I’ve done,” and said she’s a “god-fearing” person whose short period of criminality “already cost me two years of my life” and “my career.”

Harris told Quarles that, while incarcerated, she has “learned how to stay clear of trouble” and points out that “I’m the only person in my case with no criminal history”—though Quarles matter-of-factly added that, while not convicted of anything, she was charged twice in the past, once for obstructing and hindering and once for passing a bad check, so “it’s not entirely accurate” to say her record is clear. Weeping, Harris asked Quarles to “show mercy” and “forgive me” by allowing her to rejoin her family and friends for the upcoming holidays, and promised that “I will be the one that you will be able to say, ‘I made the right call’” by going light on her.

“Ms. Harris, please stand,” Quarles said, after she finished making her statement. He called her a “rather exceptional 34-year-old person” whose “admitted conduct” included “participation in a sophisticated scheme to defraud financial institutions” involving the use of more than 1,000 stolen cards and efforts to smuggle contraband into Maryland prisons. While Harris has “explained some of the dynamics of that” conduct, Quarles continued, and asserted that it “is a departure” from her law-abiding past that is “perhaps not fully reflective of her character,” Quarles ordered her to spend a total of four years in prison—with credit for time served since April 2009—and to pay restitution of $521,312.67. “Good luck, ma’am,” Quarles concluded.

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

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 14, 2010


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.