Health-Care Worker Accused of Being at “Epicenter” of Baltimore Crime as Shot-Caller for Black Guerrilla Family

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 16, 2010

At first glance, 41-year-old Kimberly McIntosh cuts a sympathetic profile as a working single mom. She has four children between the ages of 12 and 20 who live at home with her at 1120 Homewood Ave., a few blocks south of Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery. She has a job at Total Health Care, on Division Street in West Baltimore. She has no criminal record, and though she admits to some casual pot smoking, she does not do hard drugs.

But according to assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner, McIntosh is a stone-cold gangster who has been “at the epicenter of a substantial sector of criminal activity in Baltimore” on behalf of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang. Wallner contends that her home serves as a sort of BGF clubhouse, where large meetings are held and gang members mix up drugs for sale, and that McIntosh is the gang’s financial manager, violence coordinator, and overseer of its heroin-distribution activities.

McIntosh was arrested, along with 12 others, on Monday, Apr. 12, for running the BGF’s operations on the streets of Baltimore, which allegedly involve drug-dealing, violence, and extortion. Some of those arrested held down legitimate jobs—including as anti-gang outreach workers for the Baltimore nonprofit Communities Organized to Improve Life.

On Thursday, Apr. 15, McIntosh’s contradictory appearances were on display before U.S. District Court magistrate judge Susan Gauvey, as Wallner and McIntosh’s attorney, Marc Hall, argued over whether or not McIntosh should be detained in prison pending a trial in the case, which is likely to be a long way off.

Wallner did most of the speaking, unloading information about McIntosh that federal investigators included in a 164-page affidavit in the case—as well as details not included in the affidavit and fresh insights gleaned from statements McIntosh made to the agents who arrested her.

McIntosh, whose name appears 365 times in the lengthy search-warrant affidavit, looms large in the case–so large that Wallner had a hard time knowing where to begin in summarizing her alleged involvement with the BGF. To add “flavor” to her role, he started out by describing aspects of McIntosh’s conversations with a cooperator in the case, who wore a body wire while with McIntosh, that did not make into the affidavit.

“The source states, `People don’t realize how gangster you are,'” Wallner said. “And McIntosh says, `But he knows,'” referring to Asia “Noodles” Carter, whose was shot to death in Charles Village on March 15. “She was referencing her ability to exact justice, if you will, on behalf of the BGF,” Wallner said.

At another point, Wallner said McIntosh discussed with the source a BGF member known as “Loonie,” saying “he ain’t supposed to even be breathing right now,” and added that she’s going to pay him “a nice little visit again.” The affidavit doesn’t refer to this conversation, but it does list a BGF member with that nickname, revealing his real name as Robert Loney. A man with that name, who was indicted for drug dealing in Baltimore County last fall, is currently being sought under a warrant for failing to appear for trial in early March, according to state court records.

Judge Gauvey asked Wallner whether James “Johnny Five” Harris is still alive, since the affidavit reveals that his murder had been ordered by the BGF with McIntosh’s knowledge. Wallner responded that he is currently being detained in jail after his arrest on an outstanding warrant.

When members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Investigations Group raided McIntosh’s home on Apr. 12, Wallner explained, they turned up “at least 18 gelatin capsules of heroin,” as well as BGF paperwork and other records, a police scanner, and copies of The Black Book, a self-improvement guide published by imprisoned BGF leader Eric Brown, who was among 25 alleged BGF members indicted last year in federal court.

At McIntosh’s desk at her Total Health Care job, Wallner continued, they found more BGF documents—and a set of “Second Chance body armor.” As further evidence that McIntosh is prepared for violence, the prosecutor recounted details of an incident alluded to in the affidavit, in which McIntosh, in an attempt to intimidate people, was seen brandishing a large firearm outside of her house.

After McIntosh’s arrest at her home, she was “compliant” with the DEA SIG agents who conducted the raid, Wallner said, answering questions at length after she was read her Miranda rights. She told them she anticipated “more charges” after last year’s indictments, but “she figured it would be RICO,” Wallner stated, an acronym for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization law.

McIntosh told the arresting agents that “high-level members” of the BGF “are threatened by her because she is a female and speaks her mind,” Wallner said. In particular, she told them that Ray Olivis, a co-defendant in last year’s BGF indictments, “began causing her problems” by “spreading rumors” that she had stolen BGF funds.

Olivis was key to BGF’s founding in Maryland. The affidavit states that he “was authorized to open BGF in the State of Maryland prison system in the mid 1990s by the California factions of BGF after Olivis served a prison sentence in California,” where the gang was founded in the 1960s by inmate George Jackson and others, including James “Doc” Holiday.

While talking to agents, McIntosh provided them with evidence of her ties to nationally prominent BGF figures, Wallner said. She showed them a photo of her with a high-level BGF member known as “Soup Bone,” who is serving time for drug-dealing in connection with 78 kilograms og illegal drugs, and a letter to her from Holiday, who is serving a life sentence in Colorado. She also disclosed that “I know I’ve been causing problems in the West Coast, a reference to the BGF on the West Coast,” Wallner said.

Wallner also said McIntosh admitted that “there had to be a certain amount of criminality” in order for BGF members to achieve legitimacy, though she expressed dismay that the BGF had “gotten away from the original tenets of founder George Jackson.” As for James “Johnny Five” Harris, she told agents that he’s responsible for eight murders and that “he needs to be got,” but “nobody was going to do it.”

In arguing for McIntosh’s detention pending trial, Wallner called her an “undetectable bomb” should she be released. He expressed concern over possible “retaliation against sources” of the investigation, pointing out that the affidavit includes details about the sources “that are specific enough that many members are going to know who they are.”

Wallner said that BGF’s “paramilitary structure” makes it adaptable to sudden changes in leadership due to law-enforcement crackdowns. McIntosh and her co-defendants, he said, had taken the reins of the BGF’s street operations after last year’s indictments, and the BGF’s reaction to the current indictment has been swift: He told Gauvey that, since the latest arrests, a “kite” had been “found on Greenmount Avenue, telling other members of the BGF to lay low.” A “kite” is a document that gets passed among the gang, communicating decisions and guidance from the leadership.

Hall—who asked Gauvey to put McIntosh on 24-hour lockdown at home with her 20-year-old daughter as legal custodian—characterized the government’s evidence as “compelling” and called the affidavit “very damning,” though he cautioned that he hasn’t yet reviewed the wiretap recordings to look for frailties in the government’s contentions. He emphasized McIntosh’s clean criminal record, and asked the judge to weigh the cost of McIntosh’s incarceration on her children, particularly her eldest daughter, saying she would be placed “in a very difficult spot” having to care for the other children while being the household’s sole bread-winner.

After hearing both sides, Gauvey deemed McIntosh unfit for release. “Eventually your lawyer may say this is all blowing smoke,” Gauvey said, “but at this point it is impossible for us to be assured” that allowing McIntosh to await trail at home would not be dangerous.

After the hearing, McIntosh’s children and others who attended the hearing in her support gathered outside the courtroom. As her son wiped away tears, a woman expressed shock at the outcome: “That woman don’t even have a fucking criminal record—that is crazy.”

Inside Out: New Fed Charges Allege Prison Gang’s Street Operations Infiltrate Nonprofit Anti-Gang Efforts

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 14, 2010

“I need you down here. Cause I’m down here with the brothers, Meech and all them,” Todd Andrew Duncan tells someone known as “Killa” over his cell phone on the afternoon of March 27.

“Where at?” Killa asks. Duncan replies, “Down by my job.”

Duncan’s job was as a youth counselor for Communities Organized to Improve Life Inc. (COIL), a nonprofit whose mission is to provide job-skills training and anti-violence intervention in the West Baltimore neighborhoods it serves.

But law enforcers, who were listening in on Duncan’s conversation with Killa, say Duncan is also the city-wide commander for the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) on the streets of Baltimore. The BGF, a nationwide prison gang known for its violence, radical political philosophy, and disciplined organization, has been increasingly noted in recent years for its influence outside of prison in Baltimore. Court documents say Duncan “was holding a BGF meeting at COIL,” whose office is located at 1200 W. Baltimore St., a block from the historic Hollins Market. Duncan was summoning Killa to the meeting.

Duncan, who has prior convictions for murder and attempted murder, and another COIL outreach worker, Ronald “Piper” Scott, who has no prior criminal history, were among 12 people arrested on April 12 after a federal grand jury indicted them April 7. They are charged with running a BGF-related heroin conspiracy. Scott is accused of helping Duncan sell heroin. The defendants’ alleged drug-dealing, violence, and extortion is described in a 164-page search-warrant affidavit supporting April 12 raids at 11 locations in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

The affidavit characterizes the new indictment as a follow-up to last year’s federal indictments of 25 other BGF members, including inmates, correctional officers, ex-convicts, and seemingly law-abiding citizens, many of whom have since pled guilty.

The probe into the BGF’s activities in Maryland, which court documents say started in September 2008 and has involved cooperators, physical surveillance, raids, and cell-phone monitoring, is being conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Investigations Group (DEA SIG). William Nickoles, a Baltimore Police Department detective assigned to DEA SIG, swore out the lengthy affidavit in last year’s BGF cases, as well as the current one.

COIL is not the only anti-violence nonprofit in Baltimore with BGF ties, the affidavit says. “Operation Safe Streets located in the McElderry Park and Madison East neighborhoods is controlled by the BGF, specifically Anthony Brown, a/k/a ‘Gerimo,’” according to information obtained by investigators from a confidential source. “BGF members released from prison can obtain employment from Operation Safe Streets.” No one from Operation Safe Streets was indicted in the case.

Operation Safe Streets’ east-side operations are funded through the Living Classrooms Foundation. “I’ve never heard of Anthony Brown, and he has never worked for us and has nothing to do with Living Classrooms or Safe Streets,” says Living Classrooms CEO/president James Piper Bond. As for the contention that ex-inmates can get Safe Streets jobs upon their release, Bond says “it’s ridiculous.” Bond says the inclusion of Safe Streets in the case record is “disheartening” because “it’s been pretty impressive what these guys do to reduce violence in East Baltimore.”

A source of information for DEA SIG investigators called Stacy Smith, COIL’s executive director, an “active BGF member,” according to the affidavit. City Paper attempted to speak with Smith by calling the cell phone number listed as hers in the affidavit. The number reached a phone message explaining that Smith had lost that phone, and to call her new number; detailed messages left for Smith on her voicemail were not returned, but Smith emailed a press release denying knowledge of any criminal activity by employees.

A Baltimore Sun article published April 13 quoted Smith as saying she was “blindsided” by the charges against Duncan and Scott. Neither that article nor Smith’s press release addressed the affidavit’s contention that she’s an active BGF member.

The Sun also reported that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has suspended Safe Streets’ city funding in light of the information disclosed in the DEA SIG’s affidavit and the indictment of Duncan, Scott, and the others. The Safe Streets program, which was initially funded with U.S. Department of Justice money in 2007, has included three locations: COIL (which lost its Safe Streets funding a year later, though the city’s Board of Estimates on March 31 approved nearly $35,000 to help underwrite its operating expenses), McElderry Park (overseen by the Living Classrooms Foundation), and Cherry Hill (run by Family Health Centers of Baltimore).

The BGF’s attempts to appear legitimate by engaging in efforts to control the violence on Baltimore’s streets are detailed in the DEA SIG’s affidavit in the current case. One of the investigation’s sources says that, despite last year’s indictment of imprisoned BGF leader Eric Brown, which ceased the distribution of a self-improvement guide he published, The Black Book, the BGF has continued its efforts to gain the support and trust of civic leaders involved in trying to stem the bloodshed on Baltimore’s streets.

“Brown was able to convince several community leaders,” the affidavit states, “including former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Dr. Tyrone Powers, Dr. Andre Bundley, a former mayoral candidate, and Bridget Alston-Smith, who operated a nonprofit organization called Partners in Progress, of the message contained in the Black Book. These individuals began assisting Eric Brown in teaching in prison the BGF and other prison gangs, the message of the Black Book.”

The affidavit adds that “Brown and other members hoped that, much in the same way BGF controlled prison violence through subtle coercion, control of the prison economy, extortion, and retaliation, members on the street could control the violence in Baltimore City. . . . [T]his would have the effect of legitimizing BGF, allow the enterprise to continue to earn money through drug trafficking, and taxing of others trafficking in drugs, as well as providing legitimate high-paying jobs to high-ranking members of the BGF funded by various government grants.”

Among the 12 defendants arrested on April 12 is Kimberly McIntosh, who is alleged by the affidavit to handle BGF’s finances, manage its heroin-dealing activities, and oversee “the punishment of noncompliant BGF members and rival drug traffickers.” McIntosh, who has no prior criminal arrests, also has a legitimate job. She works for Total Health Care at its Larry Young Health Center at 1501 Division St. in West Baltimore. McIntosh’s desk there was one of the locations raided on April 12. The affidavit describes McIntosh setting up BGF drug deals and handling BGF matters while at her job.

McIntosh’s conversations with a confidential informant from within BGF’s ranks were included in DEA SIG’s affidavit, and were wide-ranging, including discussions of last year’s BGF indictments, BGF infighting, and her pen-pal relationship with a federal inmate in Colorado, James “Doc” Holiday, who in the 1960s, along with George Jackson, helped found the BGF in the California prison system.

At a BGF meeting last fall at McIntosh’s house on Homewood Avenue, adjacent to Johnson Square in East Baltimore, the informant and another BGF member were beaten as punishment for allegedly misappropriating BGF funds, the affidavit says. After the beating, McIntosh allegedly discussed the need to murder James “Johnny Five” Harris, who was suspected of killing a BGF member. Later, on March 8, McIntosh is recorded telling Duncan that Harris had been arrested and was being detained at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

McIntosh also discussed with the informant the murder of an individual referred to as “Ant,” who was believed to be a “rat,” though McIntosh disagreed. On Jan. 12, she met with the informant at Total Health Care and told him that the shooting of Brandon Walker—which had occurred earlier that day several blocks north of Total Health Care—was BGF-related. Marc Antonio Jackson has been charged with attempted murder in connection with Walker’s shooting.

McIntosh’s attorney, Marc Hall of Rockville, did not return a message seeking comment.

Duncan’s knowledge of BGF-related violence is included in the affidavit, too. The Dec. 16, 2009, murder of Duncan’s cousin, Darnell “D-Nice” Gray, resulted in a drug dealer named Terry Johnson providing Duncan with heroin to sell, free of charge, since Gray had been killed by Johnson’s associates, the affidavit says. “Johnson is not charging Duncan for the heroin because he believes that as long as Duncan receives the heroin, Duncan and or his associates will not retaliate,” it reads, but then says that according to DEA-SIG’s source, “Duncan and his associates are extremely violent and will ultimately murder Johnson.”

On March 29, the affidavit continues, Duncan was on the phone with an individual known as “B,” while he was with someone named “Mike Grey.” Duncan handed the phone off to Grey, and the ensuing conversation concerned the March 15 murder of BGF member Asia Carter in Charles Village. Grey explained that, while he may not have liked Carter, who he said had helped rob the drug operation Grey had run with David “Oakie” Rich, he didn’t kill him. (Rich is scheduled to be sentenced on April 16 in federal court, having been found guilty of armed drug-dealing at a jury trial last fall.)

The Jan. 3 murder of Marcal Antwan Walton is also discussed in the affidavit. While at a southeast Baltimore bar frequented by BGF members, one of the DEA SIG’s sources overheard a conversation pinning the responsibility for Walton’s abduction and murder on BGF members, including William “Jim Dog” Rhodes. The affidavit states that Baltimore homicide detectives have identified Rhodes as a possible suspect in the case. The affidavit adds that “during the abduction, a ransom was paid for the return of the victim. The person who picked up the ransom money was Sister Kim, (McIntosh).”

The affidavit also provides evidence of BGF ties to another federal investigation. The DEA SIG’s sources provided long lists of people identified in the affidavit as tied to the BGF. One of the individuals listed is “Robert Jones, a/k/a Seattle.” In February, court records show, the FBI obtained a warrant for “saliva samples” for “DNA evidence comparison” from “Robert Eugene Jones, a/k/a ‘Seattle,’” who was suspected of “killing a federal witness.” Jones’ saliva-swabs were taken, but the affidavit supporting the warrant remains sealed, and thus the FBI’s probable cause in the case is not publicly available.

While last year’s BGF indictments included corrections officers among the defendants, this year’s indictment is devoid of any defendants accused of abusing public positions. The DEA SIG’s affidavit, though, does hint at public corruption. Among the intercepted phone conversations is one in which BGF members discussed a corrections officer at Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup who “would help them smuggle contraband into the facility.” In addition, among the “active BGF members” listed by one of the investigators’ sources is an unnamed “female correctional officer.” The affidavit also suggests possible federal law-enforcement corruption. During the BGF meeting held at McIntosh’s house last fall, the affidavit states, Duncan “advised that all members in attendance needed to be aware that he (Duncan) has a source in the FBI that provides him with information,” the affidavit states. “Duncan said that if anyone learned of their meeting he would be able to determine who was leaking BGF information and would handle things accordingly.”

Also listed in the affidavit as an “active BGF member” is Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, whose nephew, Dante Barksdale, works for Safe Streets on the east side. Nathan Barksdale is a legendary Baltimore gangster whose exploits have become the subject of a film produced and directed by Kenneth Antonio “Bird” Jackson, also famous for his days in the drug game. Reached by phone at the number provided in the affidavit, Barksdale says, “Hell, no!” to the contention that he’s a 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.”

Barksdale is not one of the 12 charged in the new indictment. Other than Duncan, Scott, and McIntosh, the remaining defendants are: Lamont Crooks, who is currently on supervised release after a 46-month sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm; Eric Seantae “E” Ushry, who has past convictions for drug-dealing; Duconze Chambers, previously convicted for assault with intent to murder and firearms charges; Davon “Ben” McFadden, who also has drug-dealing and gun convictions in his past; James “Smiley” Harried, with three prior drug-dealing convictions; Jon Devallon “Tiger” Brice, whose past includes multiple drug convictions; Devon Lamont “Taterman” Crawford, previously convicted of second-degree assault; Jermain “Dirty Rice” Davis, with prior convictions for drug-dealing; Earl Moore; and Sherice Foster, who worked at the Charles Village Safeway, where investigators say she used the Safeway phone to facilitate drug-dealing activity.

The defendants could not be reached for comment.

Round Two: The feds take another whack at the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang in Baltimore

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 28, 2010

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Nearly a year to the day after 25 alleged members of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang were arrested under two federal indictments (“Guerrilla Warfare,” Mobtown Beat, Apr. 22, 2009), another 13 people were rounded up in Baltimore on April 12, accused of dealing drugs on the gang’s behalf. As with last year’s indictments (“Black-Booked,” Feature, Aug. 5, 2009), the government’s case includes accusations that BGF leaders in Maryland have attempted to cloak themselves in legitimacy as people who work to improve society, while actually conducting a criminal enterprise that includes selling drugs and stoking violence.

In the latest case (“Inside Out,” Mobtown Beat, Apr. 14), two of the defendants–Todd Duncan (pictured) and Ronald Scott–had jobs as anti-violence outreach workers for a West Baltimore nonprofit called Communities Organized to Improve Life (COIL). Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reacted promptly: She announced on the same day as the arrests that city funding for Safe Streets, the anti-gang efforts undertaken by two Baltimore nonprofits, would be suspended immediately, pending an investigation into the program.

Though COIL had received Safe Streets government funding in 2007, the grants were not renewed; it nonetheless continued its gang-intervention efforts on its own. The city’s remaining Safe Streets programs are implemented by the Living Classrooms Foundation (in East Baltimore) and Family Health Centers of Baltimore (in South Baltimore).

Duncan, according to the 164-page search-warrant affidavit in the case, allegedly became “the overall commander for BGF operations throughout the entire Baltimore metropolitan area” last year. He ascended to the position, the affidavit says, “within months of the unsealing of the 2009 indictments,” which forced a change in the prison gang’s street-level structure in Baltimore.

By that time, Duncan already had two years under his belt as a COIL outreach worker, according to COIL Executive Director Stacy Smith’s statements in a video interview conducted the day of the arrests by BMore News (“COIL’s Director Reacts to Gang Indictment of Nonprofit’s Employees,” The News Hole, citypaper.com, April 22). The affidavit alleges that Duncan used his COIL cell phone to arrange heroin-dealing and other BGF-related activities, often while at his anti-gang job at COIL. Smith is referred to as “an active BGF member” in the affidavit, a contention she roundly denies in the video.

The Safe Streets program in East Baltimore has also been tarnished by the case, though no one connected to the organization has been charged. “Operation Safe Streets located in the McElderry Park and Madison East neighborhoods is controlled by the BGF, specifically Anthony Brown, aka ‘Gerimo,'” the affidavit states, relying on information from a confidential source. “BGF members released from prison can obtain employment from Operation Safe Streets.” Living Classrooms CEO/President James Piper Bond calls the inclusion of his group in the affidavit “disheartening” because “it’s been pretty impressive what these guys do to reduce violence in East Baltimore.

“I’ve never heard of Anthony Brown, and he has never worked for us and has nothing to do with Living Classrooms or Safe Streets,” Bond says. He calls the assertion that ex-inmates can get Safe Streets jobs upon their release “ridiculous.” He says his Safe Streets operation will be able to continue for “a few weeks” without city funding, and fears that the funding freeze is akin to “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” Bond says that word of Safe Streets’ problems resulting from the indictment is traveling on the street, and that “it is not good” for the group’s ongoing anti-violence efforts.

Also listed in the affidavit as an “active BGF member” is Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, whose nephew, Dante Barksdale, works for Safe Streets. Nathan Barksdale is a legendary Baltimore gangster whose exploits have become the subject of a film produced and directed by Kenneth Antonio “Bird” Jackson, also famous for his days in the drug game. “Hell, no!” says Barksdale, reached by phone at the number provided in the affidavit, when asked if he’s a 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.”

The probe into BGF’s criminal activities in Maryland, which court documents say started in September 2008 and has involved cooperators, physical surveillance, raids, and cell-phone monitoring, is being conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Investigations Group (DEA SIG). William Nickoles, a Baltimore Police Department detective assigned to DEA SIG, swore out the lengthy affidavit in last year’s BGF cases, as well as the current one.

The BGF’s attempts to appear legitimate by engaging in efforts to control the violence on Baltimore’s streets are detailed in the DEA SIG’s affidavit in the current case. One of the investigation’s sources says that, despite last year’s indictment of imprisoned BGF leader Eric Brown–which ceased the distribution of a self-improvement guide he published called The Black Book: Empowering Black Families and Communities–BGF has continued to gain the support and trust of civic leaders involved in trying to stem the bloodshed on Baltimore’s streets.

“Brown was able to convince several community leaders, including former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Tyrone Powers, Andre Bundley, a former mayoral candidate, and Bridget Alston-Smith, who operated a nonprofit organization called Partners in Progress, of the message contained in the Black Book,” the affidavit states. “These individuals began assisting Eric Brown in teaching in prison the BGF and other prison gangs, the message of the Black Book.”

The Black Book was put out by Dee Dat Publishing, a company founded by Brown and co-defendant Deitra Davenport, a woman with no prior criminal record who had long worked as a nonprofit professional. The book espoused and expounded on the radical political tenets of BGF founder George Jackson, a Black Power proponent who was killed in a California prison incident in the early 1970s. But prosecutors say The Black Book was a propaganda tool used for BGF recruitment and that proceeds were used to underwrite the BGF’s criminal schemes. Brown and Davenport also founded a nonprofit, Harambee Jamaa, whose incorporation papers say it was formed to “liberate our people from poverty, crime, and prison.”

The affidavit adds that “Brown and other members hoped that, much in the same way BGF controlled prison violence through subtle coercion, control of the prison economy, extortion, and retaliation, members on the street could control the violence in Baltimore City. . .. [T]his would have the effect of legitimizing BGF, allow the enterprise to continue to earn money through drug trafficking, and taxing of others trafficking in drugs, as well as providing legitimate high-paying jobs to high-ranking members of the BGF funded by various government grants.”

Nationally, this isn’t the first time that nonprofit workers in anti-gang efforts have been implicated in gang-related crime. In Chicago in 2008, two anti-violence workers for CeaseFire, the model for Baltimore’s Safe Streets program, were indicted for drug dealing; the two, Juan Johnson and Harold Martinez, have since pleaded guilty. While working for CeaseFire, prosecutors said, Johnson “promoted controlled violence among gang members in an effort to avoid subsequent and random retaliatory murders.” In Los Angeles last year, Alex Sanchez, executive director of the gang-intervention group Homies Unidos, was indicted for murder in a gang RICO conspiracy; in court documents, prosecutors allege that Sanchez remained an active MS-13 gang leader, profiting from “the gang’s narcotics trafficking and regular extortion rackets,” even as he led Homies Unidos. In 2008 in Los Angeles, executive director of the anti-gang nonprofit No Guns, Hector Marroquin, pleaded guilty to gun-running, while Mario Corona, a gang interventionist with Communities in Schools, another nonprofit, pleaded no contest to drugs and firearms charges.

In Baltimore, the appearance of legitimacy among alleged BGF members doesn’t end with Duncan and Scott working for COIL. Several of the defendants in last year’s indictments had jobs: Four of them worked in the Maryland prison system. One, a recently released murder convict named Rainbow Williams, was a mentor for at-risk students at the Baltimore City Public Schools program run by Alston-Smith; another, Calvin Robinson, was a city Department of Public Works wastewater worker and the owner of a clothing store called the In and Out Boutique, located a block away from COIL near Baltimore’s historic Hollins Market. Tomeka Harris owned Club 410, a bar on Belair Road. Tyrone Dow, an alleged supplier of BGF drugs, was co-owner of a car-detailing shop next to the Belvedere Hotel in Mount Vernon.

But among the defendants in this year’s indictment, only Duncan, Scott, Sherice Foster, and Kimberly McIntosh appear to have been employed. Foster worked at the Safeway supermarket in Charles Village. McIntosh was a health-care worker at Total Health Care’s Larry Young Health Center in West Baltimore.

At first glance, according to information that came to light at McIntosh’s April 15 detention hearing (“Health-Care Worker Accused of Being at ‘Epicenter’ of Baltimore Crime as Shot-Caller for Black Guerrilla Family,” Mobtown Beat, citypaper.com, April 16), she cuts a sympathetic profile as a 41-year-old working mom raising four children. She has no criminal record, and though she admits to some casual pot smoking, she does not do hard drugs. But in Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner’s estimation, McIntosh is a stone-cold gangster who has been “at the epicenter of a substantial sector of criminal activity in Baltimore” on behalf of the BGF. He contends her home serves as a sort of BGF clubhouse, where large meetings are held and gang members mix up drugs for sale. He characterizes McIntosh as the gang’s financial manager, violence coordinator, and overseer of its heroin-distribution activities.

When DEA SIG agents raided McIntosh’s home on April 12, Wallner says they turned up “at least 18 gelatin capsules of heroin,” as well as BGF paperwork and other records, a police scanner, and a copy of The Black Book. At McIntosh’s desk at her Total Health Care job, they found more BGF documents and a set of “Second Chance body armor.” Wallner recounts evidence of McIntosh’s ties to incidents of violence, and of her being armed; he calls her an “undetectable bomb” should she be released pending trial, pointing out that DEA SIG’s unnamed sources could easily be identified and harmed.

McIntosh’s attorney, Marc Hall, does his best at the detention hearing to convey a law-abiding impression of his client, even while he calls the government’s evidence “compelling” and “very damning”–though he cautions that he hasn’t yet reviewed the wiretap recordings to look for frailties in the government’s contentions. But U.S. District Court magistrate judge Susan Gauvey deems McIntosh unfit for release.

“Eventually, your lawyer may say this is all blowing smoke,” Gauvey tells McIntosh, “but at this point it is impossible for us to be assured” that allowing McIntosh to await trail at home would not be dangerous.

The defendants in the current BGF indictment are awaiting arraignment. Their attorneys, as is usually the case, either didn’t return phone calls or declined to comment other than to assert their clients’ innocence.

“A Big No-No”: Judge sets $1 million bail for prison guard indicted for misconduct

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Nov. 4, 2009

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Lynae Chapman, a 21-year-old correctional officer for the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC), is obviously pregnant as she stands before Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge John Prevas on Oct. 27. The father of her unborn child, concedes Chapman’s defense attorney Lawrence Rosenberg, is 22-year-old murder suspect Ray Donald Lee, a Black Guerilla Family (BGF) gang member for whom Chapman (pictured) is accused of procuring a cell phone while he remains jailed pending trial. According to a court reporter’s video of the hearing, prosecutor Tonya LaPolla says that Chapman was indicted on Oct. 23, after a search of Lee’s cell turned up the cell phone and “numerous letters from” Chapman.

Though Chapman is charged with misdemeanors–obstruction of justice, two counts of misconduct in office, and delivering contraband–LaPolla points out that the misconduct charges are common-law crimes for which there is no maximum penalty, and asks for “at least $500,000 bail.” Prevas–saying “cell phones in a correctional setting are a big no-no”–sets it at $1 million, “secured by real-estate only, no corporate surety.”

Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli’s statement about the case suggests that the charges against Chapman are part of larger, multi-agency probe. “At this point,” Vernarelli writes in an Oct. 26 e-mail sent in response to City Paper‘s questions, “the case is at a critical juncture, and to comment further would jeopardize other law-enforcement agencies investigations.” Though LaPolla told Judge Prevas that Chapman was fired the day she was indicted, Vernarelli says she’s been placed on administrative leave.

The issue of prison guards suspected of aiding inmates’ criminal conduct has attracted public attention this year. In April, federal indictments against two dozen alleged members of the BGF (“Black-Booked,” Feature, Aug. 5) named three correctional officers, who have since pleaded guilty to assisting BGF inmates with their alleged drug-dealing and extortion conspiracy. In early October, a federal judge ruled that inmate Tashma McFadden’s lawsuit, which alleges that prison guard Antonia Allison set him up for a beating and stabbing by inmate gang members, should go to a jury. Evidence in the case shows that, nearly three years ago, after Lt. Santiago Morales wrote confidential reports naming 16 guards suspected of gang ties, BCDC warden William Filbert ordered that such reports cease (“Ganging Up,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 21).

During Chapman’s bail-review hearing, LaPolla lays out the state’s facts about Chapman’s conduct. The investigation “began with a homicide,” LaPolla explains, that occurred on Monday, June 29–the alleged murder-for-hire of 28-year-old Tavon Walker, who was shot just before 10 a.m. on the 2100 block of Brighton Street, near Carver Vocational-Technical High School. Ray Lee and his 26-year-old co-defendant, Quinard Henson, were indicted for killing Walker in early August.

“Ray Lee drove the shooter to the location, waited, and then drove the shooter away,” LaPolla says, recounting how Walker’s killing is alleged to have occurred. Chapman, she says, was the registered owner of the vehicle.

When Lee and Henson were brought in on the charges, LaPolla recounts, Lee “began yelling obscenities and threats” at Henson, “regarding whether or not [Henson] had given a statement to police, and he did this in the presence of detectives.”

After Lee’s cell at the detention center was searched on Sept. 29, turning up the cell phone, LaPolla continues, the phone’s log showed calls had been made between Chapman and Lee. A search warrant executed at Chapman’s home, in the Wakefield neighborhood near Leakin Park in West Baltimore, turned up a receipt for the Sept. 24 purchase of the phone found in Lee’s jail cell. Chapman, LaPolla says, then gave a taped statement to police in which “she admitted she had almost daily contact with Ray Lee while he was incarcerated” and that Lee’s “brother purchased the cell phone and gave it to her, and she then took it to another party and paid them to deliver it to Ray Lee, the homicide suspect.”

Lee has been charged for possessing the phone, as well as other contraband, as a result of the Sept. 29 search of his cell. Court records in that case say that Christopher Nickel, a detective sergeant with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Internal Investigative Unit found “a cellular phone with charger that was secreted beneath a mattress” in Lee’s cell. The records indicate that he also found “hand fashioned ‘baggies,'” seven containing “loose tobacco” and 16 containing “a green/brown leafy matter” that Nickel recognized to be marijuana. The packaging, the case record continues, is “indicative of an intent to distribute” the tobacco and the marijuana, both of which are deemed contraband in the prison system.

At Chapman’s hearing, LaPolla tells Judge Prevas that “this is a very serious case,” arguing that the facts “weigh in favor of no bail or a very substantial bail.” Chapman, she continues, admitted to arranging the cell phone’s delivery to Lee, who is “a known BGF member,” just as discovery in the murder case against him was about to divulge whether or not his co-defendant made statements to police.

Chapman’s freedom, LaPolla argues, presents a risk “to the safety of any potential witnesses in the homicide case” against Lee.

“[Chapman] has chosen to affiliate herself with a known gangmember, a murder suspect who is an inmate at the detention center where she, until recently, worked–even at the risk of her job and her own freedom,” LaPolla concludes. “She will do absolutely anything to assist him.”

Rosenberg argues for a “reasonable bail” for Chapman, who he says “is surely not a flight risk,” and “I assume not a danger to anyone.” Pointing out that she has no prior criminal history, a high-school education, and a 2-year-old child, Rosenberg attempts to paint a picture of Chapman as a naïve young mother who was dating Lee–and pregnant by him–before he was arrested for the murder of Walker. She “cooperated with police” investigating her ties to Lee, Rosenberg says, adding that “her life is potentially ruined. She’s shamed herself, shamed everyone in her family.”

Prevas, in preparing to rule on the matter, calls Chapman’s charges “extremely serious.”

“If anything the state said is true, it appears that she would be enabling a dangerous [alleged] killer not only to try to avoid the consequences of the killing for which he’s been indicted, but also to attempt to subvert the trial,” he says, adding that if Chapman provided Lee with a cell phone or helped him get one, “that is a threat to society’s ability to be able to protect itself.”

In announcing Chapman’s $1 million bail, he says, “If she can’t even respect the rules of her job, she’s not going to stick around in Baltimore” to answer the charges.

Chapman’s arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 20.

Down for the Count: Defendants sentenced in Black Guerrilla Family case

By Van Smith

Nov. 25, 2009

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“What’s up, ma!” Marlow Bates (pictured) calls out to his mother seated in a courtroom gallery.

“Love you, too, Marlow,” she calls back, as Bates is led off by federal marshals to begin a 46-month sentence for his role in an alleged drug-dealing conspiracy led by the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang (“Black-Booked,” Feature, 8/5/2009).

The mother-and-son exchange occurred on Nov. 17, after the 23-year-old Bates appeared before U.S. District Court Judge William Quarles to hear his sentence for his involvement in the conspiracy.

On Aug. 28, Bates pled guilty to being part of the conspiracy, and as part of his plea agreement, he admitted to being “determined to be engaged in the distribution of narcotics” on behalf of the BGF and its Maryland leader, veteran inmate Eric Brown, “inside the Maryland Correctional System and in Baltimore City.” He also admitted to conspiring to distribute “more than 40 grams, but less than 60 grams of heroin.”

Bates has been detained since April, and his stint in prison appears to have improved both his health and his outlook on life: In court, he is alert and smiling, and his hair is neatly cropped. This is in stark contrast to his booking photo, taken when he was arrested, in which he looks worn and haggard–a comparison Bates’ attorney, Christopher Davis, points out to the judge during the hearing.

“I’m astounded at how different he is than how he looks in the photo that appeared in the City Paper,” Davis says, eager to convince the judge that Bates “sees something very, very wrong with how his life has been going.”

Davis tells Quarles that Bates’ “chaotic upbringing” and “rocky road” as a youngster contributed to the circumstances that led to his arrest. The attorney contends that his client’s incarceration served as “a wake-up call” for the young man, who “entered a very early plea in this case, and has readily accepted responsibility.”

Bates was the second of seven BGF defendants to plead guilty, and the second to appear for sentencing. The first was Lakia Hatchett, who entered her guilty plea on Aug. 27 and received her sentence–18 months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release–on Nov. 13. Court records show that agents seized 10 grams of heroin and two scales when they searched Hatchett’s Charles Village apartment in April.

According to her plea agreement, the 29-year-old Hatchett was “a wholesale customer of heroin from Kevin Glasscho,” the accused leader of the BGF’s drug-dealing activities on the streets, and “conspired to distribute more than 20 grams” of the drug. A pre-sentence memorandum to Quarles emphasized Hatchett’s acceptance of responsibility, remorse, and cooperation with authorities, while making note of her 4.0 grade-point average in high school, her college coursework, and her employment history aiding the developmentally disabled.

When it comes time for Bates to speak for himself, he tells Quarles, “I just want to apologize.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clinton Fuchs recommends a prison sentence of 46-57 months for Bates–the amount suggested by the federal sentencing guidelines. Quarles rules that “the low of end of the guideline is appropriate” and orders Bates to prison for 46 months, followed by three years of supervised release, with conditions that he participate in drug-and-alcohol treatment and screening, along with training to receive his GED.

Afterward, outside the courtroom, Bates’ friends and family listen as Davis explains that the sentence is much better than the 30 to 40 years that others in the case are likely to face, should they be convicted by a jury.

Davis confirms, when asked by a reporter, that his client is the son of Marlow Bates, a famous drug-dealer in Baltimore’s crime annals, who is still serving a sentence that began in the 1980s.

“That did not help when he was arrested,” Davis says.

The elder Bates’ fame was elevated by the HBO series The Wire, which portrays a drug-dealing character named Marlo Stanfield. According to a 2006 City Paper interview with The Wire‘s David Simon, the character’s name is a composite of the elder Bates and Timirror Stanfield. Both were targets of Wire co-creator Ed Burns when he was a Baltimore Police detective.

In addition to Bates and Hatchett, five other BGF co-defendants have pleaded guilty, leaving 17 who remain headed for trial. A 22-year-old former prison guard, Asia Burrus, entered her guilty plea in September, admitting to helping the BGF’s prison-based drug conspiracy. Also in September, 41-year-old Darryl Dawayne Taylor (the son of BGF co-defendant Joe Taylor-Bey) admitted to helping move BGF drugs. In October, former prison guard Musheerah Habeebullah, 27, and former correctional employee Takevia Smith, 24, entered their pleas. And on Nov. 12, 26-year-old Terry Robe–another former prison guard who, according to a plea agreement, was caught trying to smuggle to cell phones into prison for Eric Brown–admitted her guilt.

Family Matters: Black Guerrilla Family prison-gang case nets four guilty pleas

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Sept. 30, 2009

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Four of the two-dozen alleged Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison-gang members indicted in Maryland federal court in April pleaded guilty recently before U.S. District Court Judge William Quarles. Lakia Hatchett was the first to do so, pleading on Aug. 27, followed by Marlow Bates (pictured on left) on Aug. 28, Darryl Dawayne Taylor on Sept. 9, and, most recently, former prison guard Asia Burrus, who pled on Sept. 16.

One of the BGF co-defendants remains a federal fugitive: 60-year-old Roosevelt Drummond (pictured on right), charged with robbery and drug-dealing.

The BGF indictments–one for a drug-dealing conspiracy headed by Kevin Glasscho, who is charged as the BGF drug distributor, and the other, led by imprisoned Maryland BGF leader Eric Brown, for drug dealing, robbery, and firearms–have heightened awareness of the extent to which an alleged prison gang can insinuate itself in civic life (“Black-Booked,” Feature, Aug. 5). The government’s case, as revealed thus far, paints a picture of Brown as a drug-dealing extortionist who doubles as a budding gang-interventionist with a book, a nonprofit, and the endorsements of local educators. Co-conspirators include a recently released murderer who worked as a public-school mentor for troubled students, a city wastewater technician who owns a clothing boutique, and an erstwhile bar owner and mortgage broker with separate federal bank-fraud and identity-theft charges against her. Mount Vernon, the midtown Baltimore neighborhood known for its cultural institutions and historic buildings, is the setting for some of Glasscho’s drug-dealing, according to court documents, and it’s where accused BGF heroin supplier Tyrone Dow operates a luxury-car detailing business.

The first to plead guilty in the Glasscho indictment was 29-year-old Lakia Hatchett, who Judge Quarles is set to sentence on Nov. 13. When Hatchett was arrested in April, agents searched her Charles Village apartment at 2735 St. Paul St. and seized a “bag containing brown powder” and two scales, court records show. Hatchett’s plea agreement, which reveals that the seized bag contained 10 grams of heroin, describes her as “a wholesale customer of heroin from Kevin Glasscho” and states that she “conspired to distribute more than 20 grams” of the drug.

Marlow Bates’ agreement states that he conspired with Brown and others to distribute heroin, and that Bates “was determined to be engaged in the distribution of narcotics,” both in the prison system and on Baltimore’s streets. The agreement puts the specific amount of heroin involved at 40 to 60 grams, much less than the multiple kilograms that often show up in federal cases. At his April 24 court hearing, Bates fist-bumped his attorney, Christie Needleman, when she arrived at the defense table, but when he pleaded guilty in late August, he had a different lawyer, Christopher Michael Davis. Bates’ state criminal record includes convictions in gun-and-drug cases. Bates, 23, is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17.

Shortly after Bates, 41-year-old Darryl Dawayne Taylor, who is scheduled to receive his sentence on Dec. 19, pleaded as well. In court in April, assistant U.S. attorney Thomas Wallner explained that Taylor is the son of co-defendant Joe Taylor-Bey, who has spent more than 30 years in prison on a murder conviction. Taylor is accused of smuggling heroin into prison by putting it in balloons and “hiding it in his rear end, or in his cheeks,” Wallner said. According to Taylor’s guilty plea, he “was intercepted discussing and arranging transactions involving the wholesale distribution of heroin, and the smuggling of heroin into various prisons” on behalf of Glasscho. As in Hatchett’s case, Taylor admits to dealing in at least 20 grams of heroin.

Asia Burrus, a 22-year-old whose sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 7, admits to helping smuggle contraband into prison that “facilitated the distribution of narcotics inside the Maryland Correctional System” by Brown and others. She also admits she “was aware that Eric Brown was the leader” of the BGF in Maryland and “that the BGF is a violent, nationwide gang that has established a powerful presence within the Maryland Correctional System and on the streets of Baltimore City.” She was arrested in April at downtown Baltimore’s Maryland Transition Center, where she worked as a guard.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 3, a federal forfeiture case was filed against $4,659 in cash taken from Dow, and state prosecutors have already forfeited a 2005 Acura belonging to Glasscho. On Sept. 24, Glasscho’s girlfriend, BGF co-defendant Cassandra Adams, filed a motion to be severed from the case, claiming the evidence produced so far fails to put her in the conspiracy.

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’s leadership 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. 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 basis for 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.

The Black Book: Feds say prison gang’s self-improvement guide is a money-laundering recruitment tool

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, May 27, 2009

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An overarching presence in the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison-gang conspiracies indicted in April by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland is not a person, but a book.

Entitled The Black Book: Empowering Black Families and Communities, the 122-page softbound publication is a revolutionary call for economic and political liberation for blacks. Eric Marcell Brown, a 40-year-old inmate of the Maryland correctional system, is the author of much of its contents, and he, along with his wife, Deitra Davenport (see “Family Portraits,” Mobtown Beat, May 27, 2009), last year incorporated Dee Dat Publishing to get The Black Book printed and distributed for sale.

Brown, Davenport, and 23 other co-defendants named in the two BGF indictments are accused of drug dealing, prison smuggling, violence, and extortion. Prosecutors say The Black Book served as a propaganda tool for gang recruitment while its sales also helped finance the BGF’s criminal activities.

The feds’ assertions about the nefarious functions of The Black Book, though, are considered over-the-top by at least one educator: Tyrone Powers, the director of Anne Arundel County Community College’s Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute and an advisory board member of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services’ Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center, a detention facility for young women. A former FBI agent and Maryland State Police trooper, Powers has a Ph.D. in sociology and justice from American University and hosts a radio show called “The Powers Report.”

The back cover of The Black Book has the following endorsement from Powers:

These are difficult days that require concrete, specific, effective solutions. This book provides that and more. If we want to win, to change our condition, our situation and the life chances of this generation, of our children and of our children’s children then we must read, analyze, think, learn and apply the lessons, concepts and practical solutions that are apart [sic] of this extraordinary volume written by four extraordinary insightful men and leaders.

Powers, in a mid-May phone interview, explains that “I met Eric [Brown] by going into the prison system as part of an effort to deal with three or four different gangs. Eric and others decided to put together this book, and it was all positive. I endorsed it because it could have some impact on the increasing gang problem, because people would read and understand this, as opposed to more academic writing that doesn’t connect with young people.

“I am totally unapologetic about endorsing this book and totally unapologetic about meeting Eric Brown,” Powers continues, “because it serves a positive purpose–to reduce the violence. This book is a means to that end. I don’t know anything about the financing end of it, and as for it being used for gang recruitment–I don’t know how it could be used for recruitment. It is all about building peace and tranquility.”

Also endorsing The Black Book on its back cover is former two-time Baltimore City mayoral candidate Andrey Bundley, a Baltimore City Public Schools administrator who oversees the city’s alternative education programs. “Kudos, to Eric Brown (E.B.) for not accepting the unhealthy traditions of street organizations aka gangs,” Bundley wrote. “He has availed his leadership capacity in Jamaa to guide his comrades toward truth, justice, freedom and equality.”

Jamaa, according to The Black Book, is a Swahili word for “family” that is defined as “an organization geared towards revitalizing our people and our hoods.” Brown and Davenport last year formed a non-profit organization called Harambee Jamaa Inc., which, according to its incorporation papers, intends “to education, invigorate and liberate our people from poverty, crime, and prison.”

“I’ve seen [rival gangs] come together in one room and work on the lessons in The Black Book to get themselves together,” Bundley told The Baltimore Sun in early May. “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 Black Book, according to its introduction, “is designed to make our people aware of the vision of Comrade George Jackson and the struggle that he lived and died for.” Jackson, a Black Panther Party member, founded the BGF as a Marxist prison gang in 1966, while serving time at San Quentin State Prison in California for an armed robbery conviction. Jackson was shot to death at San Quentin in 1971, in an incident that also left five others dead; Jackson was armed with a pistol when he was killed. At the time, he was awaiting trial on charges that he murdered a prison guard.

The four chapters of The Black Book include study guides and poems venerating a value system that seeks to uplift black communities, including incarcerated people. It invokes revolutionary ideals from the Black Power, Black Liberation, and Black Nationalism movements of the 1960s and melds them with instructions on how to live life. It calls itself a “living policy book,” and includes lessons on civics, economics, and gender roles. The book says, for instance, that a Jamaa woman is to be a “firearm expert,” who has “gun in hand, ready to take on all transgressors.” When a wife is disobedient, The Black Book says the husband first should “verbally reprimand her,” then “refuse to sleep with her,” “beat her lightly,” and “if these are not effective, the next step is divorce.”

During court proceedings in the BGF indictments, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner has claimed that The Black Book generates profits used to underwrite BGF crimes. But Davenport’s defense attorney, Thomas Saunders, has questioned that contention. “There is no profit, considering what printing costs are,” Saunders said, adding that Davenport “used her own money” to get the book published and was not using it as a “front to funnel money” to the BGF.

Calvin Renard Robinson: City Wastewater Worker Accused of Selling BGF Drugs

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, June 10, 2009

The phone rang at 6:59 a.m. on a Friday morning, just as 53-year-old Baltimore City wastewater plant technician Calvin Renard Robinson was heading for the shower, court records show. The March 20 call was from 46-year-old Kevin Glasscho, an ex-con now accused in Maryland as the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison gang’s heroin broker.

“You wanted a whole dollar or the half?” Glasscho asked. “Uh, it don’t matter,” Robinson answered, adding, “You can bring me the, um—bring it to me in two halves.” When Glasscho explained that it would be less work if he gave Robinson the “whole dollar.” Robinson agreed, and the two planned to meet after Robinson got out of the shower.

At the time, neither man knew that this exchange, and similarly cryptic phone calls this past spring between Robinson and Glasscho, was being recorded by law enforcers, who believed the men were using code to arrange drug deals. But in mid-April, the conversations wound up as part the evidence for two federal criminal conspiracy cases against 25 alleged members of the BGF. The gang is accused of a variety of crimes, including violence, drug-dealing, smuggling contraband, and extortion. Robinson, thanks to the intercepted phone conversations with Glasscho and the resulting surveillance, is charged with buying drugs wholesale from Glasscho.

At his first court appearances in April, Robinson had the unassuming look of the workaday bureaucrat he is, with his clean-shaven head, trimmed mustache, and glasses. Robinson’s defense attorney, Steven Wrobel, had on hand Robinson’s city Department of Public Works (DPW) supervisor, Dorothy Harris, ready to testify in support of letting Robinson go free pending trial. But the judge decided that Robinson, who has drug convictions dating from the early 1990s and was found with two handguns and ammunition when he was arrested April 15 in the BGF take-down (“Guerrilla Warfare,” Mobtown Beat, April 22, 2009), poses too much of a risk to public safety should he leave jail.

In addition to the guns—a Smith & Wesson .357 with six cartridges and a North American Arms .22 with four cartridges—court records show agents took from Robinson’s home three cell phones, a Blackberry mobile device, three sets of keys, and numerous photographs.

Robinson has owned his North Mount Street home—1102, right across Riggs Avenue from the Baltimore Police Department’s Western District station house—since 2000. Land records show his principal residence is not there, but south by about a dozen or so blocks, at 1223 Hollins St., a half-block west of Hollins Market. Robinson purchased the Hollins Street property in 2008; open for business there is the In and Out Boutique, the trade name for a clothing shore owned by Robinson’s company, Jo-Cal LLC.

Robinson’s In and Out Boutique opened on a block of Hollins Street that has long been known for drug-dealing activity (“Best Open-Air Drug Market,” Mobtown Beat, Sept. 16, 2003). In 2007 it was targeted in a major federal enforcement effort called Operation Smackdown, which closed down a $20,000 per day heroin operation there.

Deitra Davenport: Hardworking mom accused of being BGF “conduit”

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 27, 2009

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Among the 25 inmates, ex-offenders, prison employees, and others indicted by a federal grand jury in Maryland in April as part of the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison-gang conspiracies (“Guerrilla Warfare,” Mobtown Beat, April 22, 2009), Deitra Davenport stands out.

She has no criminal history. She has worked at the same association-management firm for the past 20 years. She is a homeowner and the single mother of two children. The 37-year-old Davenport is the picture of an upstanding citizen. The accusations against the BGF of violence, drug-dealing, and prison smuggling clash with her squeaky-clean profile–a point that Davenport’s lawyer, Thomas Saunders, has emphasized in court repeatedly while seeking her conditional release pending trial.

Saunders says that Davenport is a “naïve, innocent party” in the BGF scheme. He says she was ensnared in a web of evidence devoid of signs that his client knew of illegal activities (except, perhaps, some smuggling of items, possibly tobacco, to BGF leader Eric Brown, though he’s quick to tell the judge during a hearing that “I’m not saying it’s true” that she even knew of this illicit activity). What began eight years ago as a pen-pal relationship between Davenport and Brown later blossomed into a Muslim form of marriage, Saunders says. He adds that Brown–if he is the criminal the government contends he is–duped Davenport, making her an unwitting player in the BGF’s allegedly criminal enterprise.

The government sees Davenport, whose nickname is “Sister D,” as a smuggler, the operator of a BGF front business that helped underwrite the gang’s operations, and an intermediary between Brown and other BGF members. Last year she and Brown published The Black Book, a handbook of BGF philosophy as part of a social movement called Jamaa (“jamaa” is a Swahili word for “family”). The book promotes economic and political self-empowerment for black communities and discusses how to confront the reality and legacy of widespread incarceration among black Americans. But law enforcers characterize it as a guidebook for gang behavior and say its sales–and therefore Davenport, as the book’s publisher–helped underwrite the violent, drug-dealing, prison-smuggling ways of the BGF in Maryland (see “The Black Book,” Mobtown Beat, May 27, 2009).

When Davenport first appeared in court on Apr. 16, she looked as out of her element as Saunders claims she is. Short and petite, with straight black hair and wearing a tidy black jacket, she did not fit in with the two other defendants next to her: 30-year-old convicted murderer Rainbow Lee Williams and 52-year-old Zachary Lee Norman, whose criminal record includes convictions for a murder conspiracy and armed robbery. But if court documents reflect the truth of the matter, Davenport knows Williams well enough to conspire with him to get contraband to Brown in prison.

At 6:15 in the morning on Apr. 16, as Davenport was being arrested, law enforcers who raided her Baltimore County home seized a .357 caliber handgun and a box of .38 caliber ammunition, according to court documents. Also seized were documents related to two companies started by Davenport and Brown: Dee Dat Publishing, which published The Black Book, and Harambee Jamaa Inc., a nonprofit that, according to its incorporation papers, was formed to “liberate our people from poverty, crime, and prison.”

During an intercepted phone conversation between Brown and Davenport, which court records say took place late at night on Feb. 26, Brown urged Davenport to “go to the firing range.” When Davenport asked “Why?” Brown told her, “bust that gun for a minute. You ain’t been out there in a while.” During court hearings, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner brought this conversation up, while pointing out that The Black Book instructs women “to be proficient in the use of firearms.”

In other intercepted phone conversations, which took place in April, Brown and Davenport discussed smuggled champagne, vodka, and cigars. According to court documents, law enforcers also believe Davenport “is smuggling drugs” to Brown in prison.

After the indictments came down, Wallner announced in open court that the BGF had offered $10,000 for “hits” on correctional officers, investigators, and cooperators who helped make the case (“BGF Offers $10,000 for Hits, Prosecutor Says,” Mobtown Beat, April 23). In light of the offer, Wallner stressed Davenport’s role as a vector of BGF intelligence, suggesting that she may help get the word out that BGF money is on the table. “Davenport, because of her status as the conduit for all of the BGF,” Wallner said to the judge, “is the central location of communication among members and Eric Brown.”

The government’s take on Davenport came as a complete surprise to Davenport’s long-time employer, Thomas Shaner of the Baltimore-based association management firm, Joseph E. Shaner Company.

“To say that we are shocked, that’s just an understatement,” Shaner said in a May interview. “‘Sister D?’ Who the hell is this ‘Sister D?’

“She’s been a solid employee for 20 years,” Shaner said. “All I can guess is that she was naïve as hell and was manipulated by Eric [Brown]. I’ve never met Eric, and I was surprised to learn that Eric is in jail, and has always been in jail, even before she married him. Despite these charges, I still want to believe she’s the same person I’ve known for so long, who I considered a friend and sort of family. But people do crazy things for love.”

After debating for weeks in motions and hearings over Davenport’s detention, on May 12, Wallner and Saunders reached an agreement, and U.S. District Court magistrate judge Beth Gesner accepted it. Davenport is released to her home, where she will remain locked down pending trial, on electronic monitoring and with strict controls over her communications and conduct. In addition, Davenport’s sales of The Black Book will end and she is to have “no contact whatsoever with any inmates or codefendants,” Gesner says. The trial, which has yet to be scheduled, is estimated to last a month.