Old and In the Game: “Wire”-inspiring gangsters face new prison time

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 19, 2012

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When they went to prison in separate early 1990s drug cases in Baltimore, Savino Braxton and Walter Lee “Stinkum” Powell had been convicted as bit players in larger schemes. Such was the case, too, when their identities were used—though not their real stories—to create characters in HBO’s The Wire: Savino Bratton (pictured, from Season 5) and Anton “Stinkum” Artis, two of the five prominent enforcers in Avon Barksdale’s crew.

Today, 55-year-old Braxton and 60-year-old Powell are again in drug trouble, and their federal cases reveal how the gangster lifestyle can keep an obdurate hold on those whose only game in life has been “the game”—and they underscore the serial prison terms that lifestyle can exact on players.

But first, an acknowledgement about the use of real people’s names from Wire co-creator David Simon: “We mangled up real Baltimore surnames and real Baltimore given names and real Baltimore street names” to create Wire characters, he says in an email.

“Why?” Simon continues. “To give reality a chance to exist on its own, while at the same time creating a collective sense of the real Baltimore that we were depicting. Having all the correct surnames and street names floating about—but in the wrong order, and clearly disconnected from the correct narrative street history of Baltimore—tethered us loosely to the real, but at the same time allowed the actual survivors of that history some fair and legitimate distance.”

“We also,” Simon adds, “thought it would make people who knew the game from either side—street or stationhouse—smile a bit. An inside joke for those with ears to listen.”

Thus, “Savino Bratton,” the Wire character, has a story that does not jibe with that of real-life Savino Braxton. Simon, as a Baltimore Sun reporter covering the 1990 heroin conspiracy of Linwood Rudolph “Rudi” Williams, described Braxton as “a sizable westside dealer in his own right who sold narcotics to the Williams group.” Bratton, meanwhile, is an enforcer for Avon Barksdale’s crew who drives snitching strip-club frontman Wendell “Orlando” Blocker and undercover detective Shakima “Kima” Greggs to a shooting ambush that leaves Orlando dead and Greggs critically wounded.

The Wire’s “Stinkum,” also a key Barksdale enforcer, ends up as gangster-robbing Omar Little’s second revenge victim. His role in the narrative seems much larger than that of real-life Walter Lee Powell, who served as an errand-runner and bill-collector for his real-life bosses, Baltimore drug dealers Walter Louis Ingram and Patricia Carmichael.

Braxton’s initial undoing began in 1990, when phone-tapping cops heard him say “I got to see you” over the phone to Rudi Williams, then one of Baltimore’s biggest law-enforcement targets in the narcotics trade. They proceeded to build sufficient evidence to raid Braxton’s home, where they found a little over 27 grams of heroin and other drug-dealing evidence.

Three years after Braxton’s 2006 release from prison, he was on law-enforcers’ radar again, thanks to a cooperator’s tip, and a raid on his Frankford apartment turned up 35 grams of heroin in his car; and in his apartment, another kilogram, more than $4,000 cash, and a variety of drug-dealing appurtenances, prompting new charges (“The Wire Meets Baltimore Reality, Redux,” Mobtown Beat, Sept. 10, 2009).

Braxton is fighting the charges—though he took a break from doing so in early 2010, when he left the Volunteers of America facility on East Monument Street, where he’d been ordered to reside on a pre-trial release, to go to a medical appointment, and failed to return. For more than two years he was a fugitive, a status that ended ignobly on Aug. 17, at BWI Airport, when he tried to board a flight with a fake driver’s license and was caught.

Since then, Braxton has filed with the court a series of legal motions, handwritten in floral script, including one asking that his appointed attorney, Archangelo Tuminelli, be replaced—a request that was denied during a Dec. 12 motions hearing before U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett, who cleared the courtroom to resolve the attorney-client dispute. The case, which is scheduled for trial in February, is being prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorney John Purcell, who is seeking an enhanced penalty of a mandatory minimum prison term of 20 years based on Braxton’s prior federal conviction, though Bennett signaled during last week’s hearing that Purcell may want to back off that hard-edged stance.

Braxton told Bennet during the hearing that he’s anxious to obtain video evidence from a Kentucky Fried Chicken video camera near the location of his arrest that would show officers lied in sworn documents presented as evidence against him. Bennett reminded Braxton, though, that “you prejudiced yourself by absconding” for more than two years and that “the cameras may or may not be there” anymore.

Unlike Braxton’s case, the current one against “Stinkum” Powell is already over; Powell pleaded guilty and on Nov. 30 received a 121-month sentence. Its details, which overlap with other FBI heroin cases populated by the likes of big-name federal defendants such as Steven Blackwell, Christian Gettis, and Roy Lee Clay Jr., stretch from Baltimore to Philadelphia, New York, Miami, and Africa. Powell ran some of his illicit business out of Quantico Carwash on Reisterstown Road, according to court documents, and some of his dealings were intercepted over a phone issued by his employer, the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, a nonprofit based in Windsor Mill.

Meanwhile, one of Powell’s former bosses from back in the day—Walter Louis Ingram, now 61, whose earlier criminal career Simon wrote about extensively for The Sun—is also facing federal charges filed in 2010 (“Old Folks’ Boogie,” Mobtown Beat, July 22, 2010). He’s accused in a heroin conspiracy involving eight others, and all but Ingram and one other defendant have pleaded guilty—despite jailhouse attempts to dissuade them from doing so by using improperly obtained evidence in the case (“In the Wrong Hands,” Mobtown Beat, March 2, 2011). The lead conspirator, Kevin Hently, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, so Ingram, if convicted, can expect the same or more, given his long list of priors.

Former Sonar Co-Owner Dan McIntosh Convicted, but Spared Mandatory Life Sentence

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Nov. 7, 2012

After a 25-day trial, Daniel McIntosh and Keegan Leahy were convicted on Nov. 1 by a federal jury that was convinced each played roles in a 16-member pot-dealing and money-laundering conspiracy (“Risky Business,” Feature, Aug. 15)—but not all the roles prosecutors alleged.

For McIntosh, the erstwhile co-owner of Sonar, the shuttered downtown Baltimore nightclub, the verdict means he will be spared the mandatory life sentence he would have faced, thanks to his prior pot convictions, if he’d been convicted of dealing 1,000 kilograms or more of weed (The News Hole, Sept. 13). Instead, the jury held him accountable for 100 kilograms or more, so he’s facing a mandatory minimum of 10 years, with the possibility of life.

The jury was not informed of the fact that one of the drug witnesses who took the stand against McIntosh, Andrew Lloyd, tested positive for heroin shortly after testifying (“Drug Test Shows McIntosh Trial Witness on Heroin,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 24), which McIntosh’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, sought to introduce as evidence.

McIntosh was also convicted of helping the conspiracy launder money, though not in connection with Sonar—the trial evidence of Sonar’s cash deposits being connected to drug dealing appeared flimsy (“Dollars and Sense,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 17). He was also acquitted of maintaining drug-involved premises at Sonar and at a house on Weldon Avenue in Medfield, but was found guilty of interstate travel to promote crime.

Leahy, meanwhile, faces a maximum five-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute less than 50 kilograms of pot and for interstate travel to promote crime. He was acquitted of money-laundering charges. He has no prior criminal convictions, so will likely be punished leniently.

Both men are scheduled to be sentenced on April 1, according to Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Marcia Murphy, who adds that McIntosh, who was free pending trial, is now jailed until then, while Leahy will remain on release.

Dollars and Sense: McIntosh trial includes flimsy evidence of pot-money laundering at Sonar

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Oct. 17, 2012

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Before the Sept. 11 start of the federal pot-conspiracy trial involving Daniel McIntosh, the erstwhile co-owner of Sonar nightclub in downtown Baltimore, prosecutors already had proven much about the alleged $30 million, Baltimore-based, cross-country marijuana business in which McIntosh is accused of participating (“Risky Business,” Feature, Aug. 15). They had, after all, secured guilty pleas from 10 co-defendants, who admitted to a large body of facts about the nearly decade-long scheme. But proving beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury the criminal accusations they’ve leveled against McIntosh and Keegan Leahy, the alleged operation’s pilot, who is also on trial, has been a complex undertaking – and not without pitfalls.

A central challenge for the prosecutors – assistant U.S. attorneys Deborah Johnston and Mara Greenberg – has been that, in essence, they are staging two trials: one against McIntosh and the other against Leahy, as the two men occupy distinct corners of the alleged conspiracy. McIntosh is accused of laundering drug money through Sonar and of picking up, delivering, and unloading pot shipments to Maryland-essentially a hands-on, street-level role in Baltimore, relatively far down the organizational chart. Leahy, meanwhile, is accused of helping to purchase, operate, and rent airplanes, which he piloted, to transport pot and cash across the country-a higher level role, involving some of the alleged conspiracy’s top leaders, and having very little to do with Baltimore other than occasionally touching down at airports in the region.

Putting on such a case has been further complicated by the efforts of McIntosh’s court-appointed attorney, Carmen Hernandez, to undermine the testimony of an important government witness: Timothy Green, an Internal Revenue Service criminal investigator.

Green probed the bank accounts of McIntosh and Sonar, ostensibly proving to the jury that, as he put it on the witness stand, McIntosh made “cash deposits commingled with proceeds derived from the sale of drugs.” To do so, Green prepared a summary chart of his findings, showing cash deposits made in six bank accounts, four of them in Sonar’s name, in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Even though Sonar was a cash-heavy business, based on its large crowd of alcohol-purchasing patrons, Green testified that such large cash deposits are evidence of drug-money laundering.

The problem, though, as Hernandez showed the jury, is that Green’s chart failed to include about $82,643 in cash deposits made in 2007 just prior to McIntosh’s control of the accounts-thus making it appear that large cash deposits only started after McIntosh took the reins. What’s more, the chart did not include cash deposits made to Sonar’s accounts during 2006, when Sonar’s bank accounts were controlled by its prior owner, Lonnie Fisher. During that year, Hernandez showed, Sonar’s accounts had $616,378.25 in cash deposits-more than the approximately $500,000 in cash deposits that were made during the entire three years that Green investigated when McIntosh controlled the accounts.

“McIntosh’s money was pot money, but Lonnie Fisher’s money wasn’t?” Hernandez asked. She added, “there were the same, or more, in cash deposits in 2006 – does that give you pause as to your conclusion [that McIntosh was laundering drug money]?” Green responded, “No.”

In addition, Green looked at McIntosh’s personal bank account and one in the name of another business he controlled, Independent Investments, Inc. The cash deposits made to McIntosh’s personal account amounted to $48,100 over three years, an average of $16,033 per year, Green testified. The Independent Investments account, meanwhile, had a total of about $40,000 in cash deposits during those three years.

“Doesn’t sound like 1,000-kilogram marijuana-conspirator money, does it?” Hernandez asked. Green demurred on that question, but when Hernandez pointed out that the man at the top of the conspiracy – Matthew Nicka (pictured), who remains a fugitive – made $16 million over one and a half years, Green confirmed the information. “I had heard that, yes,” he said.

McIntosh has much at stake in the trial. He has four prior pot-related convictions-three from 1998, when he was charged as a result of an investigation in Hanover, Pa., and one in 2005 in Baltimore County. Prosecutors will use them, presumably, to color McIntosh as a shameless, long-term pot dealer. The most dire consequence of McIntosh’s prior convictions, though, may kick in if the jury finds him guilty of possessing with intent to distribute 1,000 or more kilograms of weed. If that happens, federal sentencing law* dictate he serve a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

*Correction: McIntosh’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, points out that federal law, not federal sentencing guidelines, require a mandatory life sentence should McIntosh be convicted of possessing with the intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, due to his prior convictions.

Judgment Day: Dan McIntosh’s pot-conspiracy co-defendants to be sentenced in the coming days

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Nov. 14, 2012

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Now that a federal trial jury has found former Sonar co-owner Daniel McIntosh and Keegan Leahy guilty of some of the counts against them (Mobtown Beat, Nov. 7) in the massive, 16-defendant indictment alleging a cross-country, decade-long pot-dealing conspiracy (“Risky Business,” Feature, Aug. 15), the rest of the defendants who answered the charges with guilty pleas will soon meet their fates.

Four – Matt Nicka (pictured above), Gretchen Peterson, David D’Amico (pictured below), and Jeffrey Putney – remain fugitives and, thus, will suffer the peculiar penalty of being on the run. But the 10 who pleaded guilty before trial are scheduled to receive their sentences in the coming weeks and months.

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What follows describes the facts each admits is true, the counts to which they pleaded guilty, and the dates and times of their scheduled sentencing hearings, if available. All of the hearings will take place before U.S. District Judge Roger Titus in Courtroom 2C of the U.S. District Courthouse in Greenbelt, Md., located at 6500 Cherrywood Lane.

Joseph Spain

Alias: “Goose”

Scheduled sentencing: TBD

Guilty count: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: From about March 2008 until about March 2009, Spain served the conspiracy as a truck driver, bringing seven loads of weed to Maryland from California. He did so at the behest of Sharpeta and “solicited his brother Jeffrey Spain to assist with some of the trips.” The first trip was a 50-pound “test load” of pot, and the remaining six “ranged from 100 to 300 pounds.”

Amount of weed attributed to Spain: at least 400 kilograms, but less than 700 kilograms.

Sean Costello

Alias: “Chong”

Scheduled sentencing: TBD

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: There were two time frames for Costello’s involvement in the conspiracy: from about January 2003 until August 2006, and from the spring of 2008 to June 2009. During his first stint, Costello was busted while bringing about 30 pounds of pot on a train from Baltimore to Florida for D’Amico. During his second stint, Costello worked with D’Amico and Leahy, a pilot, to set up a business that owned and operated a small jet for transporting pot and money back and forth across the country and also helped the conspiracy launder money.

Amount of weed attributed to Costello: at least 400 kilograms.

Pot proceeds received by Costello: at least $50,000.

Michael Phillips

Scheduled sentencing: Jan. 15, 8:30 A.M.

Guilty count: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Phillips was “a mid-level dealer and distributor” who, between 2008 and July 2009, obtained pot from co-conspirators and distributed it in Pennsylvania. He arranged for deliveries via Peterson and traveled to Baltimore to pick them up from Andrew Sharpeta and others. On April 20, 2011, when he was arrested, Phillips acknowledged his role in the scheme.

Amount of weed attributed to Phillips: more than 100 kilograms, but less than 400 kilograms.

Andrew Sharpeta

Aliases: “Ken Thomas,” “Bird”

Scheduled sentencing: Nov. 19, 9 A.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Sharpeta was “directly involved with all aspects of the marijuana conspiracy” from about June 2008 to about June 2009, “including collecting monies, arranging for the transportation and storage of marijuana by airplane and tractor trailer, receiving orders for marijuana, transporting bulk currency to marijuana suppliers, and delivering large quantities of marijuana to mid-level dealers in and around Baltimore.” He also laundered money by participating in transactions “designed to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership and control” of the pot-dealing proceeds, including “transporting bulk currency across state lines, renting a warehouse under an alias for the receipt, division, and distribution of marijuana, and purchasing a van for the storage and transport of large quantities of marijuana.”

Amount of weed attributed to Sharpeta: more than 1,000 kilograms, but less than 3,000 kilograms.

Pot proceeds received by Sharpeta: about $250,000.

Ian Travis Minshall

Scheduled sentencing: Nov. 19, 12 P.M.

Guilty count: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Minshall was a “mid-level dealer and distributor” for the conspiracy who “maintained” a property – 3835 Falls Road, owned by a company tied to co-conspirator Jeremiah Landsman – “for the purpose of storing and distributing marijuana.” In March 2009, Baltimore County police raided the place and seized 32 pounds of pot, nearly $16,000 in cash, digital scales, and two cell phones, all of which Minshall admits was part of the conspiracy.

Adam Constantinides

Aliases: “Matthew Thomas Anderson,” “Mike,” “Bossman,” “Ted,” and “A.D.D.”

Scheduled sentencing: Nov. 19, 3 P.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: A “mid-level dealer and distributor” for the conspiracy, Constantinides from 2002 until March 2009 handled “substantial quantities” of pot in Maryland: from 10 to 35 pounds every two weeks “when marijuana was in season,” and “up to 50 pounds on at least one occasion,” paying between $2,600 and $4,000 per pound. In addition, from 2006 until March 2009, Constantinides helped the conspiracy manage its money, using proceeds to rent vehicles and lease space to transport and store marijuana.

Amount of weed attributed to Constantinides: at least 700 kilograms.

Pot proceeds received by Constantinides: at least $50,000.

Anthony Marcantoni

Alias: “Mr. Purple”

Scheduled sentencing: Dec. 10, 3 P.M.

Guilty count: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: From 2008 through January 2011, Marcantoni “regularly obtained large shipments of marijuana” – from 50 to 250 pounds, as often as twice per month – “and also arranged for other individuals to receive large shipments on his behalf.” He received deliveries “at various locations in Baltimore,” including “the parking lot outside of the Whole Foods in the Mount Washington neighborhood.” He paid his pot suppliers “more than ten times,” giving them “more than $100,000” on “multiple occasions.” Marcantoni’s main supplier awarded his “performance selling marijuana” with “a Rolex watch.”

Amount of weed attributed to Marcantoni: more than 700 kilograms, but less than 1,000 kilograms.

Daniel Fountain

Alias: Danny Boy

Scheduled sentencing: Dec. 18, 2 P.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Fountain, “a mid-level dealer and distributor” for the conspiracy, rented a Landsman-owned house on Hickory Avenue in Hampden and subleased it to D’Amico. When the house was raided in March 2009, law enforcers found much evidence to advance their probe, including more than 100 pounds of pot, $20,000 in cash, 31 cell phones, and records about the small jet that Costello, D’Amico, and Leahy were purchasing to help transport weed and cash. From 2003 until August 2009, Fountain helped the conspiracy manage its money by handling rental payments for property used to stash pot and proceeds, using “at least one art gallery that he owned to conceal and launder proceeds,” and attempting to purchase the Hickory Avenue property from Landsman.

Like Landsman, Fountain also lied to the federal grand jury investigating the conspiracy. At his August 2009 appearance before the jury, for which he was subpoenaed, Fountain made “several false statements,” including “lying about D’Amico’s identity, how D’Amico came to rent” the Hickory Avenue property, and “his contact with D’Amico” while D’Amico lived there. Fountain “also presented a false and fraudulent lease agreement to the grand jury.”

Finally, Fountain went on the lam “for over a year” after the case was first indicted in December 2010, “living under an alias. While fleeing from the U.S. Marshal’s Service, at times Fountain abandoned property, used eight different cell phones, and obtained a government-issued identification in the name of his false identity.”

Ryan Forman

Scheduled sentencing: Dec. 19, 11:30 A.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: From 2006 until March 2009, Forman “assisted the conspiracy by locating and introducing large-scale local distributors to receive and distribute marijuana in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.” He also assisted with the rental and purchase of aircraft the conspiracy used to move pot and cash back and forth across the country, and came to Maryland at least twice “to deliver multiple Rolex watches to Nicka,” who “gave them to his co-conspirators as Christmas bonuses.” Forman also helped manage the conspiracy’s pot proceeds, depositing about $430,000 in cash into bank accounts and transferring proceeds to other accounts so it could be used to rent or purchase aircraft. In all, the money-laundering transactions involving Forman amounted to “more than $400,000 but not more than $1,000,000 in proceeds of the marijuana conspiracy.”

Amount of weed attributed to Forman: over 400 kilograms, but less than 700 kilograms.

Jeremiah Landsman

Alias: Jeremy Landsman

Scheduled sentencing: Jan. 7, 2 P.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Landsman, a Baltimore developer who operates a host of companies related to his JBL Real Estate, headquartered in Fells Point, “personally distributed at least 100 kilograms of marijuana, brokered other conspirators’ purchases of marijuana, and maintained several properties used for marijuana storage and distribution.”

Between about June 2003 and August 2009, Landsman helped the conspiracy launder money by participating in “several financial transactions involving at least $400,000 but less than $1,000,000 in proceeds of the marijuana conspiracy.” Among the methods he used was to facilitate the “lease, purchase, and/or sale of property to, for, and between members of the conspiracy” in order to conceal “the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of drug proceeds, disguising the source of those funds and promoting the aims of the conspiracy” via properties owned by Landsman under seven limited-liability companies: JBL 2, JBL Aqua, JBL Keswick, JBL Services, 3520-22 Hickory, Weldon Chapel Properties, and McCabe-Falls.

Landsman also lied to the federal grand jury investigating the conspiracy when he was subpoenaed to testify in October 2009, making “several false statements,” including “lying about D’Amico’s identity, his contact with D’Amico” while D’Amico lived at a Hampden property at 3522 Hickory Ave. that was owned by a Landsman-related company, and “his knowledge of and involvement with” Nicka. Landsman “further lied about his knowledge of and involvement in” the marijuana conspiracy, “as well as his knowledge of and involvement [with] several members” of the conspiracy.

Risky Business: Potrepreneurs’ High-Flying Operation Faces a Pricey Reckoning

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 15, 2012

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The Lancair IV-P airplane is a sleek four-seater, capable of flying 330 miles per hour and more than 1,500 miles on a tank of gas. The one that was seized in June 2009 from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, near Denver, had been purchased the previous summer for $450,000. The buyer, a Delaware company called Air Sky Holdings LLC, still owed the seller about $64,000. But the Lancair was not repossessed due to outstanding debt. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took it.

What led law enforcers to that Lancair was a game-changing series of events for a sprawling, sophisticated outfit of Baltimore-based potrepreneurs whose illicit, high-volume business had been a veritable license to print money. Its seizure didn’t immediately end the flow of eye-popping amounts of premium weed they’d been moving, but it was a red flag, putting key players on notice that the gig was nosediving into a forest of cops, lawyers, and judges.

And nosedive it did, ultimately resulting in at least three federal cases and possibly dozens of state-level ones, all in Maryland. The central federal case accuses 16 people, indicted in Dec. 2010, of participating in a Baltimore-based conspiracy that used not only airplanes, but trains, trucks, warehouses and other real estate, and legitimate businesses—including Baltimore’s now-shuttered Sonar nightclub (“Future of Sonar in Doubt” May 4)—to perpetuate its sophisticated efforts to satisfy the seemingly bottomless market for weed (“Smoked Out,” Mobtown Beat, Feb. 29).

The $30-million, decade-long operation, evidence in the case shows, got its pot from Canada and California, then distributed it not only in the Free State but also in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kansas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia (“The Smoke Thickens,” Mobtown Beat, March 21). Four of the defendants are fugitives, and all but four of the remaining 12 have pleaded guilty. The final four, if they don’t plead guilty soon, are scheduled for a month-long trial starting in September.

When law enforcers discovered the plane’s connection to the alleged pot conspiracy, one of the first pieces of the house of cards to fall was an actual house in Woodberry Woods, also called Green Acres, near Television Hill, which the conspirators quickly abandoned.

That house, at 4210 Clarkdale Rd., sits amid thick forest cover at the end of a dead-end street. It had been purchased in Aug. 2007 for $367,000 by Clarkdale Properties LLC, a company formed the same day the deed transferred. The LLC was formed by Anthony Thacker, an alias for Matthew Nicka (pictured), according to a federal forfeiture lawsuit that put the property in government hands.

Nicka allegedly used the house for nearly two years to receive, repackage, and distribute large volumes of weed, and to count lots and lots of money, according to the forfeiture case. “The money was counted approximately three to four times a week,” according to court documents, “and bundled into $50,000 increments and then placed in Tyvex [sic] envelopes in $300,000 increments.”

“Nicka abandoned the Property and left Baltimore” shortly after a house in Hampden was raided, court documents say—the same raid that drew a bead on the Lancair. He remains a federal fugitive.

Other than the alleged Nicka conspiracy, a related federal case against two others implicated in the operation—Kevin Brandes and Michael Borakove—has already wrapped up with guilty pleas. Brandes is serving a four-year prison term, and Borakove got 18 months. According to their plea agreements, they dealt many thousands of pounds of pot from Canada and California between 2002 and 2010, at prices between $2,200 and $5,000 per pound. Taking the least amount they dealt—8,000 pounds—at the lowest price, that translates to at least $17,600,000 in transactions.

One of Brandes and Borakove’s suppliers during the earlier part of their conspiracy was Jeremiah “Jeremy” Landsman, according to court records. A Baltimore real-estate developer whose JBL Real Estate owns, via one of its many LLCs, the Hickory Avenue house where the Lancair documents were found, Landsman’s companies own or co-own numerous Baltimore-area properties. Several of them also figure in the alleged Nicka conspiracy, including properties leased by Sonar and McCabe’s Restaurant in Hampden, both of which were or are operated by another Nicka co-defendant, Dan McIntosh. Landsman pleaded guilty to his role in June and is scheduled to be sentenced in November.

In his plea, Landsman admits to using properties owned by seven of his companies to help facilitate the massive pot conspiracy. By City Paper’s count, those companies own 46 properties in the Baltimore area—24 in Hampden, 14 in Fells Point, one in West Baltimore near the Gwynns Falls, five in Mayfield, and two in Towson—though his plea does not specify which ones were used to aid the conspiracy. Under his plea agreement, the only properties he will turn over to the government are seven garages behind Keswick Road in Hampden. In addition, he agrees to hand over $200,000 to the government—but he’s escaped obstruction-of-justice charges for lying before the federal grand jury investigating the conspiracy.

Another Baltimore developer, Jacob Harryman, was one of the biggest customers of Brandes and Borakove, according to their pleas. Harryman, while not indicted in federal court, figures prominently in the evidence of both cases. In addition, as a result of a wiretap on Harryman’s phone, in Nov. 2010 at least 21 people were arrested on pot-related charges amid a series of police raids around the Baltimore region.

The third and earliest case related to the sprawling federal investigation appears to have been against Charles Koplow, whose name appears in charging documents in the Nicka case. Koplow was charged in Nov. 2009, the same month he pleaded guilty to conspiring to deal 100 kilograms or more of pot between Oct. 2007 and May 2008. In his guilty plea, he admits to running a threatening operation involving guns, an assault, and a robbery. This past May he was sentenced to two years in prison.

Of the 16 defendants in the Nicka case, four remain at large: David D’Amico, Jeffrey Putney, Gretchen Peterson, and Nicka himself. Only four of the remaining 12 – Keegan Leahy, McIntosh, Anthony Marcantoni, and Ryan Forman – have not pleaded guilty. They are running out of time to do so, since the month-long trial-and the defendants surely are hoping this isn’t a bad omen-begins on Sept. 11.

From small things, big things can happen and such is the case with the Lancair.

On March 11, 2009, a police investigation out of Montgomery County, Md., brought a drug-sniffing dog to storage unit 8-14 at S&E Mini Storage on Wilkens Avenue, next to St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. The dog smelled drugs, and a week later, on March 18, a surveillance team watching the storage unit hit pay dirt.

The team saw one of the subjects of the probe, Adam Constantinides, enter the unit around 11 A.M. with some empty cardboard boxes. When he left, he carried three full cardboard boxes, which he put in his 2001 Ford truck. The team followed Constantinides to Bond and Aliceanna streets in Fells Point, where he handed the boxes to Jeffrey Putney, who put the boxes in his Toyota 4-Runner. He drove to the rear of 3522 Hickory Avenue, in Hampden, and took the boxes inside.

While they were being followed, Constantinides and Putney pulled U-turns and drove across parking lots and down dead-end streets. Their tactics didn’t work. Moments after Putney left the Hickory Avenue house and drove away, he was pulled over. He had $2,000 cash on him and another $5,000 was in the truck.

When investigators searched the storage unit, they found more than 30 pounds of pot. What was inside of 3522 Hickory Ave., though, suggested something huge-and explains why Nicka fled Baltimore.

In addition to nearly 100 pounds of pot, the house contained about 30 cell phones, four money-counters, two scales, $20,000 in cash, money wrappers, and drug tally sheets detailing more than $1.5 million in transactions. Also found: documents about the purchase and maintenance of a Lancair aircraft, tail number N516DB, and near them, paperwork reflecting prices and amounts of drugs, including the names of customers and suppliers.

Air Sky Holdings, the airplane’s owner, is incorporated in Delaware, a state where corporate charter laws can make it difficult to ascertain companies’ true owners. But documents in the Hickory Avenue house allowed investigators to pierce the veil: three men – David D’Amico of Baltimore and Massachusetts; Keegan Leahy, a licensed pilot from Chicago who has a Canadian passport; and Sean Costello of Hawaii-controlled Air Sky.

Five days after the Hickory Avenue raid, D’Amico, Leahy, and Costello had met in San Francisco to put in place financial maneuvers intended to conceal their connection to the aircraft and their drug-derived cash, according to court documents. On April 1, 2009, about two weeks after the raid, D’Amico left the United States for Caracas, Venezuela, and he remains a fugitive.

The Lancair was at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport undergoing repairs when law enforcers showed up to take it. Why was it there? Just like the far-flung pot conspiracy that helped its owners acquire it, it crashed.

The Nicka indictment seeks to take $30 million in allegedly illicit proceeds from the defendants, but a little math would indicate that’s a very conservative estimate of how much the operation may have yielded.

According to evidence in the case, Marcantoni, who owns martial-arts studio Ground Control Academy in Owings Mills-there are others in Canton and Columbia-was distributing 500 to 750 pounds of pot each month. If true, that translates to 6,000 to 9,000 pounds annually. The operation dealt in high-grade weed from California and Canada, which can sell on the street for about $3,000 a pound-up to $5,000 or more for super-premium bud. That means Marcantoni alone could have been grossing $18 million to $27 million or more each year.

Marcantoni has already done a five-year stint in federal prison for pot dealing, identity fraud, lying to law enforcers, and money-laundering, after a 2004 jury trial was cut short with his guilty plea, two and a half weeks after it began. The case arose after police in Houston, Texas, found him with nearly 150 pounds of pot and $28,000 in cash. His current indictment charges him with the same conduct-large-scale weed dealing-while he was on supervised release for his prior federal conviction. He’s facing up to life in prison if convicted in the Nicka case.

Marcantoni’s predicament actually may be better than his brother’s in one sense: at least he gets to answer to the accusations. His brother, Rafael “Rocky” Marcantoni IV, just has to grin and bear being described in court documents as a participant in his brother’s bulk pot dealing, without the benefit of a judge or jury to weigh the evidence.

The allegations came from a cooperating witness, dubbed CW1, and were included in a July 2011 search warrant for two locations connected to Anthony Marcantoni. CW1 is described as one of Anthony Marcantoni’s pot suppliers.

“CW1 explained that [Anthony] Marcantoni knew Jujitsu and owned a gym called Ground Control” in Canton, the warrant states, adding that “Marcantoni and his brother … ‘Rocky,’ worked together and were receiving marijuana from Matthew Nicka and Kevin Brandes. CW1 recalled delivering 50-100 pounds of marijuana to Marcantoni and/or ‘Rocky,’ whom investigators have identified as Rafael Marcantoni IV, on eighteen (18) to twenty (20) occasions between September 2008 and March 2009,” for a total of 1,000 to 2,000 pounds. “Marcantoni and/or his brother paid $3,000 to $3,500 a pound,” and CW1 “recalled receiving as much as $100,000 in cash on a few occasions.” If true, that translates to between $3 million and $7 million in weed, and it means the flow stopped when the Hickory Avenue house was raided.

City Paper‘s attempts to reach Rafael Marcantoni through a variety of channels-lawyers, Ground Control Academy, friends and associates-were fruitless. One man, though, said he’d try to get word to Rocky: John Rallo, a professional fighter who is the primary owner of the Ground Control Academy gym in Canton.

Rallo calls Anthony Marcantoni “a very nice guy” and “a friend,” and says “I don’t want to believe” the accusations against him, which he characterizes as “movie stuff.” He points out that each of Ground Control’s three locations is a separate business entity the three men co-own: Rallo has the one in Canton, which is the original one; Anthony Marcantoni has the Owings Mills location; and Rafael Marcantoni’s is in Columbia. He says he was subpoenaed to testify before the federal grand jury investigating the case, so he’s not free to speak about the details. He calls CW1’s claims “bullshit.”

Rallo confirms something that has come up in court proceedings in the case: that Ground Control had drawn law enforcers as customers, but they’ve taken their business elsewhere since Anthony’s troubles began. “We used to do a lot of law-enforcement guys,” says Rallo, estimating that they lost 40 or 50 customers in total in the indictment’s aftermath. Rallo adds that he believes the government’s case against Marcantoni lacks hard evidence.

The Nicka indictment alleges that Anthony Marcantoni “used Ground Control to facilitate the drug business, including as a location to receive and deliver large quantities of marijuana and bulk currency payments.” But one of his attorneys, Howard Cardin, stressed “the weakness of the government’s case” at a February hearing. Cardin added that the government’s witnesses are “looking for a benefit from the government,” and that they’ve presented “conflicting stories” about Marcantoni’s alleged pot dealing.

Cardin said “no money, no marijuana, no owe sheets, no payment records, no evidence whatsoever linking Mr. Marcantoni to this conspiracy” were found during three raids, according to the court transcript. “Mr. Marcantoni runs a business, pays taxes, and there is no evidence of suspicious activity within his accounts,” Cardin continued.

There are, however, wiretaps of Jacob Harryman’s phone, intercepted by Baltimore County police in the fall of 2010. Transcriptions of the phone calls have Harryman, who has not been charged publicly (although he has lost assets to the federal government in civil court), talking about his dealings with Marcantoni – though not always in the friendliest terms. Until, that is, Harryman needs him.

 

“I just gave him $140,000 in the last two weeks and he can suck a fucking dick,” Jacob Harryman says on Oct. 4, 2010. He’s telling Jordan Barraco, who has since pleaded guilty in state court to pot-conspiracy charges, about having paid down his weed debt to Marcantoni, who he calls “the Italian” and “Boss Man.”

Three days later, Harryman is at the Sudsville Laundry in Reisterstown, talking to Barraco again, saying he’d just been with “Boss Man.” The cops on Harryman’s trail watch him leave the laundromat. They notice Marcantoni in the parking lot, seemingly counting money for nearly an hour in his red Chevy truck.

A couple of weeks later, on Oct. 25, Barraco complains to Harryman that the pot market is “flooded again,” hurting sales. “That’s from the Italian,” Harryman says, “because he just told me, he . . . got rid of four hundred last month or so. I’m sure it’s flooded.”

In the early afternoon on Nov. 13, Harryman talks on the phone with Mitchell Kalavan, who would soon be charged in Baltimore County in a high-volume pot case that is scheduled for trial this fall. Harryman says he’s going to meet “the Italian.” The surveillance team watches Harryman enter Captain Harvey’s Restaurant in Owings Mills, then leave a half-hour later with Marcantoni. By mid-afternoon, Harryman’s telling Kalavan that “the Italian would not serve him until he gets his outstanding balances paid down.”

“His shit is garbage anyway,” Harryman complains. A couple days later, though, Harryman’s take on Marcantoni turns rosy.

On Nov. 16, the police raided 925 Binney St. in Canton, finding 30 pounds of pot and two guns, for which Andrew Sunell is arrested, charged, and later convicted, receiving a five-year sentence despite the efforts of his attorney, Stephen Tully. The property is described as one of Harryman’s “stash houses where large amount of high-grade marijuana is stored.”

Marcantoni, according to court documents, was instrumental in mounting Sunell’s defense and helping Harryman manage the damage his arrest posed to their pot-dealing operation.

The day after the Binney Street raid, Harryman and Kalavan talk repeatedly about how to deal with Sunell’s arrest. Harryman says he “can always go back to the Italian and beg.” Later, Harryman says Marcantoni’s advice is for Kalavan, who had made large pot deliveries to the Binney Street house and may have been noticed by police, to get rid of his truck, find a new place to live, and establish a new “stash spot” for the pot. Harryman adds that Marcantoni “will not directly deal” with them anymore, “until they know the depth of the police investigation regarding Sunell.” Marcantoni, Harryman says, paid Sunell’s lawyer $7,500 and Harryman kicked in $2,000.

“When times are tough,” Harryman concludes, Marcantoni “really does have my back.”

(In addition to Sunell, Tully has been the go-to attorney for numerous individuals in the alleged Nicka conspiracy, including Putney, Constantinides, McIntosh, Ian Travis Minshall, and Daniel Fountain in state-level cases leading up to the federal indictment. Tully says he can’t comment on the alleged payments by Marcantoni and Harryman for representing Sunell because of attorney-client privilege. As for the others, he says he was notified by prosecutors shortly after their state-level arrests that he was conflicted out of representing them further.)

In short, the Sunell situation is the least of Marcantoni’s concerns. His life, as well as those of dozens of people targeted in the Nicka investigation, is upended by indictments, forfeitures of valuable property, and the need to hire expensive attorneys and make bail. Business reputations are tainted. Children and other family members have to be told something about what’s happening with their father, brother, or son. And then there’s the nagging, unverifiable concern about who’s going to turn state’s evidence-and where else the investigation may turn.

As assistant U.S. attorney Stacy Belf said at a February court hearing, “the case is still under investigation and we keep finding more evidence every day.”

Just who is cooperating is hard to say, but there are cooperators. They’ve already appeared as CW1 and the like, in affidavits filed in the case. And court records show their numbers are growing, even if their names aren’t yet disclosed – as are the numbers of potential targets in the ongoing investigation.

According to court documents, prosecutors have been using a book of photographs of persons of interest in the case to show potential cooperators. When they first made the book on Aug. 12, 2009, it contained nine photographs. As of April 20, there were 118. That’s a lot of people with cause to be nervous.

The Smoke Thickens: $30 million Baltimore-based pot-conspiracy case part of broader investigation

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Mar. 21, 2012

The $30 million cross-country pot conspiracy first alleged by a Maryland federal grand jury in December 2010, involving 32-year-old Baltimore real estate developer Jeremiah Brandon Landsman and 15 others (“Smoked Out,” Mobtown Beat, Feb. 29), is connected to numerous other Maryland criminal cases, court records show. Central figures in the investigation, which involve the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Baltimore County Police Department (BCPD), are another Baltimore developer, 33-year-old Jacob Jeremiah Harryman, and 34-year-old Andrew Jin Park of Pikesville, who pleaded guilty in the mid-2000s to drug and assault charges in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Landsman, whose holdings include storage facilities and properties that house popular Baltimore nightlife destinations, had a role in at least one other recent federal case. The defendants—30-year-old Kevin Brandes of Owings Mills and California, and one of his distributors, 31-year-old Michael Borakove of Locust Point—recently pleaded guilty, admitting that they were involved in moving thousands of pounds of pot shipped to Maryland from California and Canada over the better part of the last decade—a scenario much like the one in Landsman’s pending case.

According to their guilty pleas, Landsman supplied pot to Brandes and Borakove in the early 2000s, and Harryman was one of Brandes’ “biggest customers.” The DEA “developed several cooperators” who purchased “approximately 8,000 pounds of marijuana in the course of the conspiracy” from 2002 to 2010, court documents say.

Initially, the pot in the Brandes/Borakove conspiracy was brought to Maryland from Canada by couriers, who would deliver it to Brandes at the Renaissance Hotel near Harborplace in downtown Baltimore. Later, the pot traveled to Maryland from California in a recreational vehicle, and then, after Brandes moved to California in 2009, he started shipping it by mail. “Brandes was not the ultimate source of supply,” court documents state, “but was always purchasing it from someone else.”

Brandes’ attorney, Kobie Flowers, declined to comment, and Borakove’s attorney, Andrew White, did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment. Landsman’s attorney, Barry Pollack, also declined to comment, as did the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Neither Harryman nor Park is currently facing criminal charges—at least not publicly; if they’ve been charged under seal, there’s no way to confirm it. But in recent years both have lost assets to the federal government in civil court cases, known as forfeiture proceedings, that describe them as large-scale pot dealers. Attempts to reach Harryman and Park for comment, including through lawyers who represented them in the past, were unsuccessful.

Events in November 2010—just prior to the Landsman indictment—were watershed moments in the probe. That’s when conversations between Harryman and Park were intercepted by BCPD investigators, according to a warrant that resulted in more than $125,000 being seized from Harryman’s investment accounts as ill-gotten gains. Law enforcers quickly learned that Park was one of Harryman’s main marijuana suppliers, that Harryman and Park were expecting a large shipment of pot from California that they intended to split for distribution, and that the shipment was being driven across the country by 45-year-old Robert Alan Tryson of Sykesville, court records show.

When Tryson drove into Western Maryland, he was pulled over for speeding and arrested when 90 pounds of pot were found in his car. Tryson, who had no criminal record and worked as director of credit operations for Polk Audio in Baltimore, told investigators he’d been transporting pot for Park for about a year, and would bring Park’s shipments to 33-year-old Jamel Maurice Reid at his Northway Apartments residence in Tuscany-Canterbury. Reid, court records show, has a history of arrests for illegal drugs and firearms and a 2000 drug-dealing conviction.

On Nov. 30, 2010, Reid’s apartment was raided—as were numerous other locations in the Baltimore area. City Paper has not been able to confirm the entire number of places raided and people arrested as a result of the Harryman-Park investigation. At least nine locations were raided, though, and in addition to arresting at least 21 people, the police seized large quantities of marijuana; smaller amounts of cocaine and prescription drugs; guns and ammunition; hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash; numerous cell phones, computers, and documents; and jewelry and other valuables, including vehicles. Forfeiture proceedings then were filed against real estate holdings and money seized from homes, bank accounts, and investment funds.

At least three people caught up in the Harryman-Park investigation faced federal charges: Brandes, Borakove, and 31-year-old Anthony Marcantoni, a co-defendant in Landsman’s case. Marcantoni’s most recent federal charges came when he was on supervised release after serving a prison sentence for prior federal pot-and-fraud convictions, and he is facing a possible life sentence in his current case. Marcantoni allegedly used his Owings Mills business, a martial-arts studio called Ground Control, to aid the conspiracy.

Prior to the November 2010 raids, forfeiture proceedings in federal court have stripped Harryman and Park of assets tied to large-scale pot dealing. In 2005, two properties Park owned in Roland Park and Lutherville were raided, resulting in the seizure of about 110 pounds of pot, almost $19,000 in cash, and paperwork indicating about $500,000 in drug debt owed to Park. Prosecutors settled the case, and Park got to keep the Roland Park home and money that had been seized from his bank accounts, but lost the Lutherville property and the cash found at his home.

In 2008, the federal government sought to keep $12,796 seized by Carroll County police from a house Harryman owned in Pikesville after they raided the place, along with another Harryman-owned house in Westminster. At the Westminster raid, a 243-plant pot-growing operation was in place, and one of the two men there told the raid team, “This is a lot bigger than it seems,” according to court records. Prosecutors settled the forfeiture, allowing Harryman to keep $8,000 of the seized cash.

Most recently, on March 9, federal prosecutors filed a forfeiture action to take four of Harryman’s Baltimore-area rental properties, which are held by two companies Harryman co-owns with another man, 45-year-old Mark Anthony Jones, a military veteran who lives in Owings Mills. The affidavit supporting the forfeiture, written by IRS Special Agent Matthew Hooker, explains that the two companies, First Chesapeake Investment Properties LLC and FCIP II LLC, “purchased 15 real properties between May 2007 and June 2010 for a combined cost of $622,700.”

In interviews with investigators, Harryman’s co-conspirators “stated that, along with distributing marijuana received from Harryman, they also worked for him doing construction and maintenance” on the properties, according to the forfeiture affidavit, and that he paid them in cash. The forfeiture case also seeks to allow the government to take $71,057 in cash and a Breitling Super Avenger wristwatch taken from Harryman’s residence when BCPD and IRS agents raided it in November 2010.

Jones, Harryman’s partner in First Chesapeake and FCIP II, has a luxury-transportation company, How We Roll Inc., that he says provides tour-bus services for high-profile entertainers. He was caught up in the Harryman pot probe—his condominium was one of the locations raided in November 2010—but the charges against him did not result in convictions. In a March 14 phone conversation with City Paper, Jones claims law enforcers “know I’m not part of the conspiracy.”

The raid on Jones’ condo was based on the cops’ faulty interpretation of wiretapped phone conversations he’d had with Harryman, Jones says. “They had wiretaps on Harryman’s phones,” he explains, “and because of a conversation I had with him possibly being encoded, they went on that [as a basis for the warrant]. Look, I’m from New York City, the Bronx, and I don’t talk straight English. I wasn’t talking about drugs or anything else. I mean, I can fight, I can talk shit, I have sex with many women—does that make me a bad person? I could have been talking about anything.”

Jones recently filed suit against BCPD for the return of property seized from him, including $237,000 in cash, six handguns, a cache of loaded magazines and ammunition for those guns, and a bullet-proof vest. Of the federal government’s recent move to take real-property Jones co-owns with Harryman—as well as BCPD’s response to his lawsuit, which states that the $237,000 is in the DEA’s hands “to pursue forfeiture in the federal court system—Jones says, “Oh well.”

As for the nearly quarter-million dollars in cash at his home, Jones says that’s how he gets paid in legitimate business. “I work hard for my money,” he explains. “I travel with high-profile entertainers, and I get paid in cash a lot, and I don’t put all of it in the bank. I mean, it’s not unusual for the people I hang with to have $20,000, $30,000 in cash, and that’s how they pay me. I went to Europe twice with L’il Wayne—that’s the kind of people I’m talking about.” The guns, he says, were lawfully owned: “I have all of them registered, I bought them at gun shops.” He adds, “I’m not guilty of nothing.”

Smoked Out: Baltimore developer revealed as co-defendant in cross-country pot conspiracy

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 29, 2012

When Jeremy Landsman was robbed at gunpoint at a Greektown poker game in 2006, along with 20 other people, he said he hadn’t been playing poker. “I’m in real estate,” he said, explaining the $900 the robbers took from his wallet, which the cops quickly got back for him (“Luck of the Draw,” Mobtown Beat, June 7, 2006), “so I always carry a lot of cash.”

That was 2006, when people in real estate were expected to have fat wallets—but as the real estate market crashed and the Great Recession ensued, Landsman, who’ll turn 32 in March, continued to expand his portfolio. His indeterminately large family of LLCs, many if not most of which have “JBL” in their names, manages and lists for sale others’ properties, and owns or co-owns commercial, storage, and residential properties of its own. The most recent indicator of its near-decade of success was Landsman’s planning-committee role in the International Conference of Shopping Centers (ICSC) conference at the National Harbor on Feb. 21 and 22, with The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol as the keynote speaker.

But even as the ICSC conference was winding down, Landsman’s star was darkening. Since December 2010, he’d secretly been a defendant in a partially sealed marijuana-conspiracy indictment in which the federal government seeks to allow the federal government to take ownership of $30 million worth of allegedly ill-gotten gains. On Feb. 22, this fact was revealed in the court docket, and the next day City Paper obtained a copy of the fully unsealed indictment.

The conspiracy case had been populated by nine named and six unnamed co-defendants accused of moving pot grown in Canada and Northern California to warehouses in Maryland, where it was divvied up for sale in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kansas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, and elsewhere. The scheme the indictment describes was vast and enduring: From at least 2001 until June 2009, the conspirators moved pot and cash using “aircraft, tractor trailers, commercial carrier, trains and other vehicles, including at least one vehicle containing a trap device to secrete items for transport.”

Landsman “distributed marijuana, brokered other conspirators’ purchases of marijuana and maintained several properties used for marijuana distribution,” the indictment alleges.

In addition to seeking forfeiture of $30 million in assets, the indictment aims for the government to keep more than $70,000 in cash seized by law enforcers in 2009 and 2010 and to gain forfeiture of real estate in Sonoma County, Calif., and two properties in Baltimore, including garages behind Keswick Avenue in Hampden owned by JBL Keswick LLC, one of Landsman’s many real estate companies.

“I have no comment,” Landsman, whose legal name is Jeremiah Brandon Landsman, told City Paper over the phone on Feb. 23, before abruptly hanging up.

Barry Pollack, an attorney who says he represents Landsman, sent an e-mailed comment on Feb. 24, stating, “Jeremy Landsman has operated a successful real estate business in Baltimore for nearly a decade. He takes this matter very seriously and has asked me to represent him. We will not comment further until the case has been resolved.”

Early last year, JBL partnered with David Berg, of the Berg Corporation demolition firm, in purchasing the downtown property that houses Sonar, a sizable nightclub across from the Hollywood Diner near City Hall. The purchase occurred after the indictment was handed down but before Sonar’s main owner, Daniel McIntosh, was revealed as a co-defendant in the case (The News Hole, July 8, 2011 ). McIntosh also co-owns McCabe’s Restaurant, a popular eatery on Falls Road in Hampden; JBL is McIntosh’s landlord there too.

The indictment describes McIntosh as a large-scale pot distributor who allegedly “picked up,” “delivered,” and “unloaded large shipments” once they arrived in Maryland. McIntosh and another defendant—Anthony Marcantoni, an alleged large-scale distributor on supervised release for a prior federal pot felony—are the only two whose businesses are named in the indictment. While Marcantoni’s business, a martial-arts studio in Owings Mills called Ground Control, is described in the indictment as having been used in the scheme, McIntosh’s are not.

Marcantoni is facing a possible life sentence if convicted, and is being detained pending trial. His lawyer, Steven Levin, has been fighting—so far unsuccessfully, but with an appeal pending—to have him released to await trial. “Mr. Marcantoni maintains his innocence,” Levin says, “and is looking forward to regaining his freedom pending trial.”

At one of Marcantoni’s detention hearings in the case, Maryland State Police Sgt. Lee Link, who worked out at Ground Control, testified as a character witness, calling Marcantoni “a friend” and “confidant” who “has a good heart” but has “made bad decisions in the past,” according to the hearing transcript. The prosecutor contended that Marcantoni “was facilitating his drug activity . . . right under the noses of law enforcement who use that gym.” Link, reached by phone recently at the MSP’s Glen Burnie Barracks, said “I no longer go to that gym” since Marcantoni’s legal troubles “came to light.”

The case has been marked by intrigue from the start, given that so many names had remained blacked out in court documents. As several of the defendants appeared in court last spring and summer, their identities—Andrew Sharpeta, Keegan Leahy, Sean Costello, Ian Travis Minshall, Michael Phillips, Adam Constantinides, and Joseph Spain, in addition to McIntosh and Marcantoni—were revealed, but little else was, other than the general accusations against them.

When Landsman and the five other sealed defendants—Matt Nicka, David D’Amico, Gretchen Peterson, Jeffrey Putney, and Daniel Fountain—were revealed, more came into focus. State court and real estate records show Landsman’s ties to Nicka, who allegedly “supervised and directed” the scheme’s activities, “recruited conspirators,” and “obtained large quantities of marijuana in exchange for bulk currency payments,” according to the indictment; Putney, who allegedly handled logistics by picking up, delivering, and unloading shipments as he “accessed residences and storage units where marijuana was kept”; and two alleged mid-level dealers, Fountain and Minshall.

In 2009, Minshall was arrested when police executed a search warrant at a JBL-owned property at 3835 Falls Road, next to McCabe’s. The raid turned up approximately 32 pounds of high-grade pot that sells for $5,000 per pound, for a street value of $160,000, along with nearly $17,000 in cash, a money counter, a digital scale, and a heat sealer. Two weeks later, Putney was arrested for large-scale pot possession (prosecutors later declined to proceed with the charges), and the case record gives two addresses for him: one in Santa Cruz, Calif., and the other at a JBL-owned property, 3522 Hickory Ave., in Hampden.

In 2008, a JBL company acquired a home at 1207 Weldon Ave., in Medfield from Anthony Thacker—one of the many aliases the indictment ascribes to Nicka, the conspiracy’s alleged supervisor—for free, and then sold it in 2009 for $226,500. The property is two doors down from the house posted as bail for McIntosh’s release pending trial.

Fountain was picked up by the U.S. Marshal’s service in California in late January on the pot-conspiracy charges, and was described in court papers as a fugitive. In 2007, he incorporated DB5K Gallery, an art gallery in Fells Point, using as a contact address a property near the Baltimore Beltway that is co-owned by Landsman. Fountain and Landsman have shared that address—7203 N. Charles St.—in court records, and Fountain has also used in court records another address at a JBL development on Portugal Street in Fells Point.

On its web site, JBL (jbl-realestate.com) describes 10 of its projects. McCabe’s and Portugal Street are two of them. The others are a Fells Point tavern; a salon on the Avenue in Hampden; a shopping center in Lauraville/Mayfield; storage garages in Highlandtown; the LaTerra building in Hampden, which also has storage garages for rent; the Pinkney Manor apartments in Northwest Baltimore; a retail office building in Arbutus that it converted to mixed use with residences; and the Bell Foundry, a Greenmount West building populated by artists and students. JBL’s real-estate agents, including Landsman, currently list 34 office, retail, restaurant, bar, land, or mixed use properties for sale in Baltimore and surrounding areas, including seven in Washington, D.C. (Disclosure: JBL hosted a City Paper photography exhibit at a property it co-owns at 231-235 Holliday St., near Sonar, in June 2011.)

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to say anything about the case, citing its policy against commenting on pending matters. The trial is scheduled to start on Sept. 11 and last for eight weeks.

The Sociable Satanist: Occult investigator “Dr. Daniel Rumanos” doesn’t need a day job

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 8, 2012

Meeting “Dr. Daniel Rumanos” face-to-face can be somewhat of a letdown. He is, after all, someone who once claimed to cast Satanist spells so that 12-year-old girls would have sex with him and who, when setting up a meeting with a reporter, says, “I will be the one who resembles Rasputin.”

While Rumanos’ appearance may call to mind Grigori “Mad Monk” Rasputin, the oversized, hard-to-kill Russian Orthodox mystic who finally gave up the ghost in 1916, it’s due only to Rumanos’ wispy, graying beard and black clothes. As for the pedophilia claim, which he made on a Christian radio show in the mid-1990s, it was only “performance art,” Rumanos explains. Turns out, Rumanos isn’t really a Satanist but simply a gentle, thoughtful, open-minded deist.

Rumanos, who says he grew up in Baltimore’s Greektown neighborhood, hands over a business card for his “occult investigations” practice, which lists “demonology, exorcism, psychic research, UFOs, ghosts and hauntings, [and] spellcasting” as his areas of expertise. His chosen meet-up spot, the Pura Vida Organic Coffeehouse at Levering Hall on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, plays to his tendency to suggest he’s connected to the storied and reputable research university.

His Facebook profile, which lists more than 900 friends, gives his TinyURL as “JHUParanormal” and claims he’s studied there. In fact, he explains, he hasn’t. “I happen to live in the neighborhood, so I’ve kind of used it as a home base for a couple of years.”

Out of Reach: The Black Guerrilla Family Gang Aimed to Show a Way Out of the Criminal Lifestyle – Until Its Criminal Activities Brought It Down

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 15, 2012

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“It’s hard to promote black nationalism when you have a black man in the White House,” Thomas Bailey said on Jan. 6, 2009, weeks before Barack Obama was sworn in as the first African-American President of the United States. Bailey, a Maryland inmate serving life for murder, couldn’t have known at the time how prophetic his words were, or that they would end up memorialized in court documents.

As Obama was moving into the White House, court documents show that federal investigators with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Maryland—a unit dubbed the Special Investigations Group (DEA-SIG)—were kicking into gear a sprawling probe of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), the black-nationalist prison gang for which Bailey ran “the day-to-day operations” at North Branch Correctional Institution (NBCI), a maximum-security prison near Cumberland.

When Bailey uttered those prescient words, he was talking over a prison phone at NBCI with Eric Marcell Brown (“Eric Marcell Brown,” Mobtown beat, May 7, 2009), who was on a cell phone at the Maryland Transition Center (MTC), a correctional facility in Baltimore, where Brown was close to finishing a lengthy prison stint for a 1992 drug-dealing conviction. Brown, DEA-SIG investigators wrote in court documents, was “in command of day-to-day operations” in Maryland for the BGF, a national prison gang founded in California in the 1960s by inmate/radical George Jackson, a Black Panther Party member who espoused the black-nationalist view that African-Americans needed to build separate economic and social structures for themselves.

Numerous conversations between Bailey and Brown were intercepted by DEA-SIG, unbeknownst to them at the time, and they show that the two, and their many BGF comrades, seemed to have a genuine desire to promote a better, less violent, more productive path for ex-cons and street hustlers. They weren’t the first. Jackson’s ideas were wrapped up with the Panthers’, and few would question that at least some of their intentions were good. It was their tactics and internal contradictions—along with the machinations of law enforcers—that quashed their ambitions. The same, it now appears, could be said of the BGF in Maryland.

As the DEA-SIG’s probe began in late 2008, Eric Brown had already established himself as a soon-to-be-released inmate prepped to become a force for economic and social good, both in prisons and on the streets.

Brown and his wife, Deitra Davenport (“Deitra Davenport,” Mobtown Beat, May 27, 2009), had started a nonprofit, Harambee Jamaa Inc., “to improve the lives of our people who are living under sub standard conditions here in Baltimore” and “to educate, invigorate and liberate our people from poverty, crime, and prison,” according to its incorporation papers. They had formed DeeDat Publishing Inc., which had printed and distributed The Black Book: Empowering Black Families and Communities, a “living policy book” intended to serve as “a deterrent to continued criminal behavior and prison recidivism.”

The Black Book condemned drug dealing as “genocide” and “chemical warfare,” and promoted a vision for “Jamaa”—the Swahili word for “family,” which The Black Bookuses to refer to the BGF—to build “legitimate and organized ventures” and to “establish Jamaa in a positive light in the prison system and in the streets.”

The rhetoric was persuasive. The Black Book’s back cover featured glowing blurbs from Andrey Bundley, a Baltimore City Public Schools administrator and two-time mayoral candidate; two Anne Arundel Community College professors; former FBI agents Tyrone Powers and Leslie Parker Blyther; Bridget Alston-Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Partners in Progress, which works with at-risk children in Baltimore City’s public schools; and Michael Curtis Jones, an author and youth counselor based in Washington, D.C.

“Kudos, to Eric Brown (E.B.) for not accepting the unhealthy traditions of street organizations aka gangs,” Bundley’s blurb stated. “He has availed his leadership capacity in Jamaa to guide his comrades toward truth, justice, freedom and equality.” Blyther’s blurb called Brown “an extraordinary human” who “deserves our respect,” and said that “what he has to say” is “life changing!”

But DEA-SIG’s success torpedoed the love-fest. Scores of Bailey’s “comrades”—the term BGF members use to address one another—would plead guilty to a host of federal charges brought in 2009 (“Black-Booked,” Feature, Aug. 5, 2009) and 2010 (“Round Two,” Mobtown Beat, April 28, 2010), including racketeering, heroin trafficking, extortion, assault, money laundering, and smuggling contraband into prison. Those convicted include inmates (though not Bailey, who, like many of the investigation’s targets, ultimately wasn’t charged), prison personnel, and previously law-abiding citizens.

The presence of prison staff in the scheme prompted City Paper to look at the issue of corrupt correctional officers in Maryland, in connection both with the BGF and other gangs (“Inside Job,” Feature, May 12, 2010), but there were other defendants with legitimate-looking careers. Todd Duncan was a gang-interventionist for a government-funded nonprofit (“Inside Out,” Mobtown Beat, April 14, 2010). Rainbow Williams was a youth mentor for Baltimore City Public Schools students (“Rainbow Lee Williams,” Mobtown Beat, May 1, 2009). Kimberly McIntosh was a health care worker (“Health Care Worker Accused,” Mobtown Beat, April 16, 2010). Tomeka Harris was a mortgage broker (“Day of Reckoning,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 22, 2010). And Calvin Robinson was a Baltimore City wastewater worker with a clothing boutique (“Calvin Renard Robinson,” Mobtown Beat, June 10, 2009).

In all, as much as City Paper could determine from federal court records, 40 people were charged in connection with the probe, and at least 28 of them—maybe more; the court docket is vague on the fates of some defendants—have pleaded guilty so far. According to a Jan. 12 press release issued by the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, “all the indicted high ranking members of BGF, and their associates, including four employees of state prisons, have pleaded guilty to charges relating to their BGF activities.”

In reality, the problem for Bailey and the BGF was not “a black man in the White House.” It was their hubris and hypocrisy in promoting themselves as a legitimate alternative to the criminal lifestyle, when, in reality, they were committing crimes like any other prison gang. And they got caught.

Though Brown and his BGF comrades claimed to be engaging potential re-offenders in an effort to set them on a more productive path in life, court documents show they were, in fact, engaged with a who’s-who in Baltimore’s underworld as they carried on like common gangsters.

“You are trying to do good,” explains a BGF member who wasn’t charged as a result of DEA-SIG’s investigation, but who knows many of the now convicted BGF leaders and members well, “but you are doing so much fucked-up shit at the same time.” The member, who asked that his real name not be published (in this article, he’ll be called Sam) so that he could speak freely and stay safe from retribution, identifies what may be the BGF’s central contradiction: “You [can’t] tell people about uplifting your people but you’re one of the biggest drug dealers around. There’s no gray area in the struggle. You’re either in it, or you’re not. You can’t say you’re a revolutionary and you’re in the struggle, but you’re a dope-slinging, gangbanging, shooting motherfucker. That ain’t what the struggle is about.”

 

Because there was no trial in the prosecution of the BGF racketeering probe, the full scope of the evidence that yielded the long cascade of guilty pleas is not publicly available. What is available, though, is abundant. DEA-SIG’s affidavits supporting search warrants and wiretap orders provide hundreds of pages of detailed information about what the investigators were finding. A host of them, attached to a motion filed in the case last year by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner, show that investigators linked BGF leaders—especially its main heroin trafficker, Kevin Glasscho, who has prior convictions for murder, handgun possession, and drug trafficking—to a roster of suspected and convicted drug traffickers, some of whom have been the focus of City Paper articles in recent years.

Glasscho ended up on DEA-SIG’s radar thanks to a confidential informant, identified in court documents as “CS1” and described as a BGF member incarcerated at NBCI. On March 3, 2009, CS1 told the investigators that Glasscho “is a major Baltimore drug trafficker and a drug-trafficking associate of Melvin Williams, a/k/a ‘Little Melvin,’ a notorious convicted drug dealer from Baltimore who is now back on the streets of Baltimore.”

Williams is a legendary figure in Baltimore, and his alleged ties to Glasscho add perspective to the extent of the BGF’s reach in the city’s streets—as well as its affinity to people who suffer their own contradictions.

Williams had an acting role in the HBO series The Wire, playing a church deacon who tries to draw hustlers out of “the game.” In real life, he served a lengthy federal prison sentence, starting in the 1980s, for bringing heroin to the streets of Baltimore in bulk. He says he put his gangster ways behind him in 1996, when God appeared to him in a vision (“Little Melvin’s Holiday,” The Nose, Jan. 22, 2003). After his release from prison, he became a bail bondsman, and in 2000 was convicted of possessing a firearm, but his 22-year sentence for that crime was reduced in 2003 to time served, courtesy of U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis. In 2005, Williams’ house in Randallstown was raided after investigators intercepted phone conversations he’d had with Antoine K. Rich, a major Baltimore drug trafficker with whom Williams claimed to play high-stakes craps (“Redemption Song and Dance,” Mobtown Beat, March 19, 2008). The raid turned up more than $100,000 in cash, including $90,000 stashed in the ceiling of his basement bathroom. Ultimately, though, Garbis in 2006 ordered the money returned to Williams, calling it “unlawfully seized property.”

Two days before CS1 described Glasscho’s alleged relationship with Little Melvin Williams, investigators intercepted a phone conversation between Eric Brown and Glasscho. According to the affidavits, the two discussed the then recent murder of Frederick Jeffrey Archer, a 68-year-old who had been stabbed and bludgeoned with a brick inside a Harlem Park apartment complex for senior citizens. They referred to Archer as “Archie,” and talked about how “Melvin”—a reference to Williams, according to DEA-SIG—was upset about the murder, because Archer had been a “close associate” of his. They agreed that Glasscho, who was already investigating the murder, would handle the punishment. In another call later the same day, Brown told Davenport that “when they find out who did it, I know they going to torture his ass. That whole West Baltimore love old man Archie, boy.”

(Baltimore police say the murder of Archer, who in 2002 was charged in a cocaine and heroin conspiracy and received a three-year federal prison sentence, remains unsolved.)

During their conversation, according to the affidavit, Glasscho also told Brown that “Melvin want some trees. I got to get him some damn trees.”

“Some what?” Brown asked.

“Trees,” Glasscho responded.

“What the hell is that?” Brown asked.

“That weed shit,” Glasscho said.

“Oh, oh, oh, the trees,” Brown said.

The DEA-SIG investigators believed the two were referring to Little Melvin Williams, according to court documents.

When City Paper told Williams over the phone about how he was described in the affidavit, and what Glasscho and Brown had said while DEA-SIG was listening in, he said, “I don’t have a clue who Glasscho is, and you do what you want to do” with the information. Asked if he knew Archer, Williams said, “I don’t know none of these people. Whatever the U.S. attorney wants to do they can go ahead and do. I’m through with this.” After a short pause, he hung up the phone.

 

DEA-SIG’s probe into Glasscho’s criminal activities monitored his phones to develop evidence tying him to 27 people who had figured in DEA investigations in recent years. Investigators came up with this list of people by tracking back which phones his phones had called, and which phones those phones had called, thereby mapping a network of contacts linked to Glasscho.

Perhaps Glasscho was working his network in order to draw them into BGF’s path of greater legitimacy, or perhaps he was leveraging his high-level criminal contacts in order to boost the gang’s standing as a drug-trafficking enterprise. Either way, the picture that emerges from this list is that the BGF was fully embedded with Baltimore’s underworld on the streets.

Some of those named in the affidavit have no record of being charged with crimes, though many have been convicted in federal court. Among the latter are:

• Sherman Kemp, who made an appearance in the famous Stop Fucking Snitching DVD (“Skinny Suge Presents Stop Fucking Snitching Vol. 1,” Film, Jan. 19, 2005). Kemp pleaded guilty in Maryland in 2008 to federal cocaine and firearms charges, receiving 180 months in prison (“Return Flight,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 24, 2008), and in 2010 in Pennsylvania, after a months-long jury trial, he was found guilty for his part in the massive Phillips Cocaine Organization conspiracy, and received a 30-year federal prison sentence.

• David Funderburk, a co-defendant in Frederick Archer’s 2002 coke and heroin case. Funderburk’s bail documents were found in bailbondsman and stevedore Milton Tillman Jr.’s car (“Another Tillman Court Document Comes Available,” The News Hole, Aug. 28, 2008) during the high-profile 2008 federal raids that led to Tillman’s indictment on tax and fraud charges (“Milton Tillman and Son Indicted in Bailbonds Conspiracy,” The News Hole, March 17, 2010), to which he has since pleaded guilty.

• James Henderson, who in 2008 was sentenced to five years in federal prison for his part in a heroin conspiracy centered at Fat Cats Variety (“All the Emperor’s Men,”Mobtown Beat, Aug. 27, 2008) in Southwest Baltimore, a business that was co-owned by one of Tillman Jr.’s bailbonds agents.

• Duane Truesdale, a co-defendant in 1990 with Savino Braxton (“The Wire Meets Baltimore Reality, Redux,” Mobtown Beat, Sept. 10, 2009) in the legendary Baltimore heroin conspiracy headed by Linwood Rudolph Williams.

• David Zellars, who last year was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison for his part in a large cocaine conspiracy.

• Richard Cherry, who in 2009 was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison for a cocaine conspiracy.

• Tahlil Yasin, who in 2007 received a 92-month federal prison sentence for a heroin conspiracy.

Among those whom DEA-SIG tied to Glasscho is Noel Liverpool, who, despite having a clean criminal record, is described in the affidavit as “a multi-kilogram cocaine trafficker operating the Baltimore area.” When the Tillman Jr. raids went down in 2008, the feds seized evidence involving Liverpool (“All Around Player,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 8, 2008), whose business ties to Tillman Jr. and his son, Milton Tillman III, (“Creative Licensing,” Mobtown Beat, April 9, 2008) have been reported by City Paper. Another Liverpool associate is Shawn Green (“Flight Connections,” Mobtown Beat, March 12, 2008), a former federal fugitive now serving time for drug trafficking and money laundering; court documents also link Green to the Phillips Cocaine Organization in Pennsylvania, though he was never charged in that prosecution.

Attempts to reach Liverpool, who was a basketball and football star at Morgan State University in the 1980s, were unsuccessful. His attorney, Jeffrey Chernow, did not return phone calls, as was the case in prior City Paper articles that mentioned Liverpool.

 

Drug dealing, money laundering, violence—this was far from the image Brown was trying to project through The Black Book and Harambee Jamaa. Rather than ushering ex-cons and hustlers to their redemptions, with hopes for productive lives to come, the BGF was organizing and executing crimes, undermining the very communities it was ostensibly trying to build up. What were they thinking?

BGF members are supposed to operate in secrecy, but City Paper was able to get incisive perspective from Sam, a BGF member who wasn’t charged in the investigation. He spoke at length about the gang’s mentality, potential, and shortcomings.

From Sam’s perspective, very few of BGF’s members in Maryland are even faintly aware of the gang’s ideological underpinnings. “Do dudes get involved in it because of the revolutionary aspect and the struggle?” he asks, rhetorically, then answers: “Hell, no. Two-thirds of them never even heard of that shit, nor do they care. Not even a fucking clue. Because if they did, and they had any understanding of it, [the BGF] wouldn’t be where it is now, and never would have went where it went.”

Asked whether the BGF prosecution had any impact, Sam at first says, “None at all. It actually probably made it worse for the simple fact of this: The few people that actually had the ability to steer and think and really, truly put some shit in motion are gone. The only people left keep it on a street level, the motherfuckers who can’t think bigger than this corner or this neighborhood.” Later in the conversation, though, Sam says DEA-SIG’s investigation put a stop to something that could have become truly insidious—a gang masquerading as a do-gooding organization supported by the city’s political class.

“We were getting ready to take it to a whole different level,” he recalls. “We were ready to come on the street and really try and put that Black Book to work and be able to make money and make some changes in the way shit was going.”

The wherewithal to effect change, though, required that some damage be done, Sam says. “You might have one neighborhood selling drugs and the next neighborhood over you have rotating food kitchens,” he says. “The streets would have provided the money. We would have got the city to provide grant money. If it had worked,” Sam speculates, “that shit would have gone in the fucking history books, and Baltimore would have been a city where every fucking mayor and every fucking councilman is corrupt. That’s what that shit would have been. That’s the direction it was going.

“There’s a duality to it, though,” Sam continues. “In [the gang’s] laws, it says you’re not even supposed to use drugs, not just [not] sell them. But here’s the biggest level of hypocrisy—you have so many motherfuckers that are up here [in charge], who violate all that shit, and then you got motherfuckers down here, and I’m trying to discipline you for the same shit these motherfuckers up top are doing? Come on, man. You can’t get more hypocritical than that.”

The BGF’s efforts to become an “organization,” not a gang, were bound to fail, whether or not DEA-SIG dismantled its ambitions, Sam says, because its members never rose above their ingrained street-level mentality.

“Baltimore’s a fucked-up city,” he observes, “and these dudes are a product of the streets, a product of what they know. They always do what they’re comfortable doing. Motherfuckers comfortable with that street shit, so why not join something that’s going to keep you in the street? That’s what it comes down to.” Many ostensible BGF members “ain’t even official,” he says. They might think they’ve been made members because someone initiated them, but often it’s actually a farce. “OK, here’s the oath,” he says, pretending to be a BGF recruiter. “You got it. It’s yours. You’re a comrade. Alright, go shoot him. You’re a comrade, you gotta do what I tell you to.

“The real struggle,” Sam continues, “is about overcoming the condition, the situation, learning from it, and bettering that situation—whether it be yourself, your family, your neighborhood, your whole community and all that shit. And it’s a fucking shame that the blueprint is there—George [Jackson] and them laid that shit out in the ’60s. But [many BGF members in Baltimore] are a product of what George tried to fight against—you become an actual enemy of your own fucking people.

“Do people have to die in a revolution? Sure, absolutely, but they die for a cause, not because he owed me $100 or he called my girl a bitch. There’s got to be a purpose to it. A revolution is a full and complete change. It’s a turnaround. None of these motherfuckers are doing that shit. You come from [prison], being a part of classes and learning [about Jamaa], and now all of the sudden you’re out and you’re running a regime uptown and you guys have the highest crime rate in the fucking city. How the fuck are you in the struggle?

“They don’t know the difference between the animal ‘gorilla’ and the revolutionary freedom-fighter ‘guerrilla,’” Sam says. “They get tattoos of gorillas on them—that’s how fucking stupid they are.”

 

Though Eric Brown and the BGF’s positive spin may have been utterly discredited by the DEA-SIG probe, at least one man—Tyrone Powers, the ex-FBI agent who endorsed The Black Book—doesn’t blame the message. “I still believe that much of The Black Book can provide positives,” he writes in an e-mail. “Endorsing the book does not endorse the criminal behavior of Eric Brown.”

To drive home his point, Powers draws an analogy to this country’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Endorsing the messages of those documents, he says, does not endorse “the criminal and genocidal racist actions of those that owned slaves, such as Thomas Jefferson and others who were involved in authoring these historic documents that called for justice.” He points out that Jefferson wrote that African-Americans “are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind,” yet “Jefferson has a monument in Washington, D.C., and not one president has denounced him—not even our current black president.

“I do suggest that that damage done to Blacks and the ‘Black Community’ of that time by Jefferson was more detrimental than what Eric Brown pled guilty to,” Powers writes. “This does not exonerate Eric Brown, but it does say that his written work can have merit even if he lived a contradiction.” Powers explains that he continues to engage gang members in unorthodox ways in order to get them to stop the violence, and Brown facilitated his ability to do that work.

Powers was “able to have access to gang members via Eric Brown,” he writes, and that fact “may still change the deeds of at least one of them, in spite of Eric Brown.”

Future of Sonar in Doubt: Shuttered Club’s New Ownership May Involve Milton Tillman III

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, July 18, 2012

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Even before Baltimore’s Sonar nightclub suddenly closed after its July 8 show (“Death of a Rock and Roll Club,” Noise, July 9, 2012), plans for its future had already been put in place, public records show.

On June 27, the Baltimore City Liquor License Board received an application to transfer Sonar’s liquor license to Eagle Entertainment LLC, which disclosed in its application papers that it had put up a $10,000 down payment on the $65,000 price tag for the license, with the balance due at closing. The payee, Daniel McIntosh, would be the majority owner of Sonar’s current license. Whether that transaction will actually take place is unclear, though, since the company’s attorney, Neal Janey, told City Paper on July 16 that the application will be withdrawn and a new one will be submitted instead, possibly involving a separate company.

The application’s resubmission would likely delay the potential reopening of the club, which was going to take time and significant investment in any event, given what online photographs of the club last show—damage to the club’s bathroom, at the very least, and a sign announcing a “liquidation sale” of its contents.

Eagle Entertainment’s June 27 liquor-board application lists Brian L. Winfield as the anticipated licensee. Winfield is described in the application as an 80-percent stockholder in the company, with the other 20 percent held by Milton Tillman III.

Tillman III is the son and business partner of Baltimore bail bondsman and real-estate investor Milton Tillman Jr., a three-time federal convict who is currently serving a 51-month prison term for tax-and-insurance fraud and owes $120,000 in restitution. Tillman III was charged in the same 2010 indictment as his father (“Milton Tillman and Son Indicted in Bailbonds Conspiracy,” The News Hole, March 17, 2010) , but the charges against him were dismissed last year as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to failing to file tax returns and received five yeas of probation and a $12,500 restitution order, which he still owes, according to court records.

In 2000, Tillman III survived a gunshot wound after a botched drug deal spawned a violent dispute that left two other men dead, according to court records of the successful federal prosecution of the drug organization involved in the incident. During 2002 court proceedings in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Luna stood up in court and called Tillman Jr. “one of the most notorious drug dealers in Baltimore City history,” adding that “there is no question that Mr. Tillman [III]’s father is a reputed drug dealer, a violent type of guy” (“Grave Accusations,” Mobtown Beat, April 23, 2008). Luna’s lifeless body was found face down in a Pennsylvania stream in 2003, a mysterious and controversial death that continues to haunt law enforcers.

Winfield, who has faced charges of petty theft and bouncing checks, has a history of business dealings with the Tillmans, including at Lucky’s Tavern at 1601 N. Milton Ave., a Tillman-owned property that has been in the Tillman family for years. In 2009, Winfield filed to take over Lucky’s liquor license (“Creative Licensing,” Mobtown Beat, April 9, 2008).

In the liquor-license transfer application for Sonar, Winfield says he worked in the mortgage business until 2009, when he went to work for the Baltimore City Department of Finance until Aug. 2010. Since 2006, according to the application, he’s also worked for Baltimore Winfield Showcase, which its website describes as a vending-machine and catering-equipment rental business.

Calls to Winfield and the attorney who filed the liquor-license application, Melvin Kodenski, were not returned. Tillman III, though, spoke briefly to CP on July 12, confirming that he’s “just a stakeholder” in Eagle Entertainment, and that “I’m not going on the license at all.” He then cut short the conversation, saying he wanted his lawyer, Neal Janey, to handle the interview. Later that day, Janey said that Tillman III “is not a 20-percent owner,” and that “the information in that application is incorrect.” Asked if Tillman III would have any involvement at all in the proposed club, Janey said “the only possible involvement would be as a contingent guarantor” on Eagle Entertainment’s debt.

On July 16, Janey informed CP that “the application will be withdrawn; a new application will be filed” that reflects that Tillman III “will have no interest in the business,” though he allowed that it is “still possible” that Tillman III will be a contingent guarantor. “It will probably even be a different LLC [than Eagle Entertainment] that will be involved in the transaction now.”

Under McIntosh, Sonar is alleged to have played a role in a massive, cross-country marijuana conspiracy, currently being prosecuted by the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office (“Feds Namedrop Baltimore’s Sonar Nightclub in New Pot-Conspiracy Indictment,” The News Hole, April 12, 2012). McIntosh is one of 16 people charged in the case, and, unlike most of his alleged co-conspirators, has not pleaded guilty; he is scheduled for trial in September. Baltimore developer Jeremy Landsman (“Smoked Out,” Mobtown Beat, February 29, 2012), a stakeholder in the LLC that owns Sonar’s building, pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy in June. In his plea, he admits that a number of his property-owning LLCs—including the one that owns the Hampden property where another McIntosh business, McCabe’s Tavern, is located—also played a role in the conspiracy.

Since shortly after Sonar closed July 8, McIntosh has been telling CP that he intends to post a prepared statement online to explain his ordeal with the club, including why it shut down, and that he would grant an interview about the situation once he had done so. As of press time, the statement had not been posted on Sonar’s website or Facebook page, and McIntosh has not responded to CP’s emails since July 13.