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

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 5, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper in April, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Jan. 26, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Dec. 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Hurt: Inmate claims gang-tied correctional officer ordered “hit”

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 4, 2010

“Beware the Ides of March,” Julius Caesar was warned before he was stabbed to death on March 15. But Michael Smith, an inmate in the Maryland correctional system, had no such warning on March 15, 2007, when he was stabbed and beaten on a prison bus in Baltimore. Two weeks later, he was attacked again. And on June 2, 2007, it happened a third time.

Smith contends he knows why the three attacks occurred: A correctional officer he identifies by last name only, “Crew,” who he dubs a Bloods gang member, has it out for him.

Smith contends he and Crew had been in the drug-smuggling business together, splitting among themselves part of the proceeds from bringing pot into prison, and putting the balance in the Bloods’ treasury. When Smith could no longer hold up his end of the arrangement, he tried to pull out of the partnership, he says, and as a result Crew allegedly put a “hit” out on his life. Smith also contends that prison officials withheld immediate medical care and failed repeatedly to keep him safe, despite his consistent attempts—both verbally and in writing—to call attention to the danger he faced.

Smith, who also uses the name Michael Reed, put his allegations in a federal lawsuit, with voluminous documents attached to verify his claims. He filed it on March 15, 2010, exactly three years after the initial attack, naming as defendants Crew and eight other prison officials and asking for $500,000 in punitive and compensatory damages. Lawyers with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, who are representing the defendants, have requested extensions on filing a response, which is now due in September.

Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) spokesman Rick Binetti would not comment on Smith’s lawsuit, since it is pending litigation.

During a recent phone interview, Smith’s mother, Brenda Smith, initially expresses concern that publicity about her son’s lawsuit might place him in renewed danger, but she agrees to speak about it in the hopes that his experiences would spark public discussion about problems in the correctional system.

“He didn’t die,” she says, “but he almost died. I’m kind of scared for him, because he’s still in there. He still has two more years [to serve]. Everything has calmed down, and he’s in protective custody now, but even when he comes out in the street, you never know—there’s a contract out to kill him.”

City Paper asked DPSCS to provide Crew’s full name, but official confirmation was not provided by press time. However, in response to an earlier request, DPSCS has said that a correctional officer named Duwuane Crew resigned on May 22, 2007, a little over two months after Smith’s initial attack. Attempts to locate Crew for comment were unsuccessful.

Duwuane Crew was described in a deposition in another inmate’s lawsuit (“Ganging Up,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 21, 2009) as having “passed handcuff keys on to inmates,” which is precisely what Smith says Crew did in order to facilitate the first attack. DPSCS documents filed in that lawsuit—which the plaintiff, Tashma McFadden, and the defendant, Correctional Officer Antonia Allison, recently settled—show that, as early as November 2006, DPSCS had internal intelligence identifying Duwuane Crew as a Bloods gang member.

Michael Smith’s claims, if true, fit into a pattern of corruption among correctional officers in Maryland that has come into tight focus since April 2009, when a federal drug indictment of members of a prison gang, the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), named four correctional employees as defendants (“Black-Booked,” Feature, Aug. 5, 2009). All of them have since pleaded guilty, and a fifth was recently indicted in a BGF racketeering conspiracy (“Working Overtime,” Mobtown Beat, July 14).

Meanwhile, court records of other criminal and civil cases provide evidence that the Maryland correctional system is rife with correctional-officer corruption (“Inside Job,” Feature, May 12), though DPSCS says corruption is not a systemic problem and that it is confronting the issue.

The March 15, 2007, attack on Michael Smith made the news at the time, though Smith’s lawsuit adds details that were not provided to the media. In his complaint, Smith writes that the attack occurred in the prison transport van, as he and four other inmates were being taken back to BCDC after their court appearances. Smith, who was 22 years old at the time, had just received a 20-year prison sentence, all but eight years suspended, as a plea deal for a variety of violent, drug-related conduct.

Smith writes that, while in the transport van, he “noticed Ofc. Crew speaking ‘confidentially’ with inmate Brian Medlin” and “witnessed Ofc. Crew ‘slip’ something to inmate Medlin.” Soon thereafter, “Medlin escaped his 3-point security restraint devices (i.e., handcuffs, waist-chain w[ith] padlock, and ankle-chain cuffs) and began to viciously beat me repeatedly about the head, neck and shoulder area, while stabbing me with a home-made knife.”

Court records confirm that the incident led to Medlin’s conviction, as Smith contends in his complaint. Medlin received a 30-year sentence for attempted second-degree murder.

After the attack, Smith writes, he asked prison officials to have him hospitalized, but instead he was “capriciously placed in isolation without medical treatment of any kind,” even though he was “severely injured and in real pain,” suffering from “an assortment of contusions, head trauma, deep lacerations, and stab wounds.” While in the isolation cell, Smith continues, he “actually lost consciousness,” which “was not discovered until some time later,” at which point he was “immediately rushed” to the emergency room at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Brenda Smith says prison officials never contacted her about the attack. “They left Michael in that cell,” she says, “and they did not call me.”

After returning from the hospital, Smith was transferred to the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic, and Classification Center (MRDCC), also in Baltimore, where he writes that he “immediately made ‘any and all staff’ aware of the nature of my circumstances, specifically the threat to my safety and ‘hit’ on my life,” and asked “to be placed on protective custody.” Instead, he was kept in administrative segregation—a less safeguarded status.

On April 4, 2007, Smith was transferred to the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, where he writes that he was “viciously attacked in the dormitory area by a ‘group’ of unknown individuals” within 24 hours of his arrival. He was again taken to a hospital for treatment, and again, upon his return to the prison, was placed on administrative segregation until June 1, 2007, when he was transferred to Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup. There, Smith writes that he was stabbed in his “right eye and head several times, as well as hit in the head with locks,” within a day of his arrival, and was “immediately transferred to the Jessup Correctional Institution’s hospital,” where he stayed for a week.

Ultimately, Smith—who claims, with documentation, to have filed and appealed inmate grievances at every step of the way, only to have them rejected—ended up in protective custody at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland.

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

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 14, 2010


On Tuesday morning, July 6, Alicia Simmons’ rocky 10-year career as a Maryland correctional officer suddenly got rockier. That’s when she was arrested after a federal grand jury indicted her for participating, along with 14 others already charged in prior indictments, in a racketeering-and-drug-trafficking enterprise on behalf of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang.

The BGF, which federal authorities say is Maryland’s biggest, most powerful prison gang, has been hit with three federal indictments since April 2009. Simmons is the fifth corrections employee to be charged as a result of the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Investigations Group (DEA-SIG). The other four have already pleaded guilty.

Details of what DEA-SIG has learned about Simmons’ involvement with the BGF are contained in a 25-page search-warrant affidavit. The document spells out information obtained from confidential sources, including federal defendants, inmates, and “several sources within the [Maryland] Division of Corrections,” as well as from an intercepted March 2009 telephone call between two inmates.

Among Simmons’ conduct alleged in the affidavit: smuggling cell phones, heroin, and marijuana (including about a pound and a half of pot to one of the inmate sources); receiving payment for contraband smuggling by use of Green Dot pre-paid debit cards; facilitating prison assaults; and telling inmates that a prisoner, who already was the subject of a BGF “hit on sight” order, was cooperating with law enforcement. Among the inmates the affidavit says Simmons’ assisted are several high-profile convicts, including Raymond Stern, David Rich, and Melvin Gilbert. The affidavit also includes information about Simmons being disciplined for inmate fraternization and for allowing inmate assaults to occur.

On the same day as her arrest, Simmons’ Pikesville apartment and her car were searched by federal agents. According to court documents, among the items seized were a host of inmate identification cards (including one for Ronnie Thomas, better known as “Skinny Suge,” the producer of the infamous Stop Fucking Snitching videos whose prison cell phone was seized in 2008 [“Unstopped Snitching,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 24, 2008]) and letters from inmates, BGF-related documents (including copies of the gang’s constitution and code list), a copy of a City Paper article about widespread corruption among correctional officers (“Inside Job,” Feature, May 12), three cell phones, a digital scale, and numerous Green Dot cards.

Two of the Green Dot cards recovered from Simmons’ apartment were in the names of former correctional officer Fonda White and inmate Jeffrey Fowlkes, who were convicted in federal court last year of running an extortion scheme that got relatives of inmates to pay for their loved ones’ safety inside of prison. “Mail in the name of Fonda White” was also seized, according to the court documents.

In a July 6 press release, law-enforcement officials played up the significance of the RICO indictment against the BGF, while emphasizing the need to curtail corruption among correctional officers. “Let this indictment remind all those who engage in drug trafficking,” said DEA special agent in charge Ava Cooper-Davis, “that it does not matter if your wear the colors of a gang or a badge of gold, if your break the law and try to destroy our communities, we will go after you.” Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) secretary Gary Maynard said the indictment serves “notice to those employees who would break the law that you will be caught.” (DPSCS spokesman Rick Binetti says Simmons is currently on administrative leave from the department.)

Simmons appeared at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore July 8, wearing an orange jumpsuit with the letters HCDC on the back. During the brief hearing, she consented to detention pending trial. Her attorney, M. Scotland Morris, declined to comment on the charges.

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.”

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


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,, 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,, 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.

Correctional Officer Charged for Bringing Pot and Cell Phones Into Baltimore City Detention Center

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Feb. 24, 2010

Awareness of suspected corruption among Baltimore’s prison guards grew on early Sunday morning, with the arrest of 20-year-old correctional officer Shanika Johnson after she was searched as she entered the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC).

According to court records in the case, when Johnson attempted to enter the facility, her “bag was searched by correctional officer Takesia Diggs,” who “recovered approximately (1) ounce of suspected marijuana. She also recovered (2) cellular telephones.” A detective then interviewed Johnson, who “waived her Miranda rights and stated that she was bringing the marijuana and cell phones in to give to an inmate,” the records continue. “She refused to name the inmate. She also advised that the inmate was paying her $1000.00” for smuggling the goods. Johnson was released on $35,000 bail the same day. A trial in the case is scheduled for March 23.

Since last April, when three correctional officers were indicted in federal court (and have since pleaded guilty) as part of a prison-gang conspiracy involving Maryland leaders of the Black Guerilla Family, the issue of prison-guard integrity has arisen repeatedly in public. In October 2009, documents made public as a result of an inmate’s federal lawsuit against prison guard Antonia Allison named 16 correctional officers who had been suspected of gang ties. And in November 2009, correctional officer Lynae Chapman was indicted in state court for misconduct in connection with procuring a cellphone for a detained murder suspect who fathered her unborn child; in December, Chapman’s attempt to plead guilty in the case was rejected by a judge.

Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli declined to comment on the Johnson case, though he confirmed Johnson’s employment at the BCDC and said she’d been hired in May 2008. Since then, court records show, Johnson was charged with second-degree assault last March after an argument at her home on the 6800 block of McClean Boulevard over too-loud music escalated into pushing and hair-pulling. Both Johnson and Sonja White, the other person involved, were arrested, and in both cases, the charges were placed on the inactive docket.

Johnson has no criminal-defense attorney in the case, according to court records, and City Paper could not find a way to contact her for comment.

No Way, Lynae: Prison Guard’s Attempt to Plead Guilty in Cell-Phone Case Denied

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Dec. 10, 2009


Warren Brown is highly exercised on Dec. 9, as he returns to the defense table from Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge David Young’s bench. “I’ll say for the record, your honor,” the criminal-defense attorney declares, “that the state can forget about any help from this young lady.”

Brown is referring to his client, 21-year-old former prison guard Lynae Chapman (pictured), who’s in court for her arraignment on misdemeanor charges that she helped procure a cell phone for an inmate—22-year-old murder suspect Ray Donald Lee, an alleged Black Guerrilla Family gangmember who is Chapman’s boyfriend and the father of her unborn child—at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where she worked until her Oct. 23 indictment (“A Big No-No,” Nov. 4). Chapman, as Brown makes clear, wants to plead guilty, but, due to whatever just transpired at a 10-minute bench conference, the judge won’t accept the plea, so Chapman’s case is going forward to a trial scheduled for Feb. 12.

“We’re prepared to plead guilty today,” Brown continues, “but she’s gonna be continually held [in detention] until the next trial date, and the state’ll come up with some reason to postpone. They’re coming up with a reason to postpone a guilty plea! Which, I mean, when have we not allowed individuals to plead guilty unless we have some issue with regard to their competency? The state acts as if they have a right to prohibit a person from pleading guilty! They have a factual basis for the court accepting the plea.

“Quite frankly, as the state knows,” Brown says, “it’s not a question of guilt or innocence. They’ve got a very, very, very, very good case against her. Absolutely. And so we don’t intend to go to trial. We want only to resolve this as soon as possible and take our lumps.” He adds that his client is not interested in pursuing a deal in exchange for pleading guilty: “I mean, no deals, all bets are off.”

The rationale behind the judge’s refusal to allow Chapman’s attempt to plead guilty presumably was discussed during the bench conference that immediately preceded Brown’s open-court diatribe. City Paper on Dec. 10 attempted to learn what was discussed by viewing the videotape of the proceeding at the court reporter’s office, as has often been done in the past. But under new rules instituted two months ago, the staff there explained, bench conferences are deleted from recordings of court proceedings prior to public viewing, so the discussion about Chapman’s case remains a secret between the state, the defense, and the judge.

The unusual twist is not the first odd turn in Chapman’s case. A strong indication that there’s more going on than meets the eye came from the spokesman for Chapman’s former employer, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Mark Vernarelli declined to comment on the case after her indictment, saying that to do so “would jeopardize other law-enforcement agencies’ investigations.” In addition, the court file of Chapman’s case is not available for public review at the clerk’s office—indeed, the case is not even listed on the on-line Maryland Judiciary Case Search, the main source of information about court cases. City Paper‘s reporting has been possible only via open-court proceedings for Chapman’s bail review and arraignment.

Also strange was the prosecutor’s behavior after Chapman’s arraignment hearing, during which Brown did virtually all of the on-the-record speaking. City Paper had been unable to hear her name when she stood to call the case, and, after the hearing was over, asked her to provide it. She repeatedly refused, suggesting that City Paper go look it up in the court file. When City Paper explained that the file in Chapman’s case is not publicly available, she again refused to identify herself. In a Dec. 10 e-mail, Baltimore City State’s Attorney spokesman Joseph Sviatko disclosed the prosecutor’s name: Nancy Olin.

At the end of the arraignment hearing, Brown does the only thing he can do: He pleads not guilty on behalf of his client and requests a jury trial. Chapman, with her hair pulled back tight in a bun, sits beside him and signs the necessary paperwork, struggling with her handcuffs to do so. She’s in full restraints—her ankles, wrists, and mid-section are chained—and her pregnant belly shows prominently through her gray Department of Corrections sweatsuit. “You gotta hold on, baby-doll,” Brown tells her, before she is escorted out of the courtroom.