The Doctor Is In: Schmoke Inches Toward His “Medicalization” Approach to Drug Reform

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By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 13, 1994

With two recent political and legislative breakthroughs for Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Baltimore is becoming a model city for drug reform. In March, a $2.3 million federally funded Substance Abuse Treatment and Education Program (STEP), or “drug court,” began diverting nonviolent drug criminals from prisons to treatment programs. And on April 5, the Maryland State legislature passed a bill exempting Baltimore City from certain drug-paraphernalia laws and approving funding for a needle-exchange program called the AIDS Prevention Pilot Program. In a reversal of his earlier stance, Governor William Donald Schaefer supported the bill and is expected to sign it. The success of these two initiatives is a major priority for Schmoke, who is out to prove that what he calls a “medicalization” approach is the best solution for our multiple woes of drugs, crime, and AIDS.

The drug court and the rest of Schmoke’s immediate drug-reform measures appear to enjoy wide support here in Baltimore City. The City Council is almost unanimously behind the mayor’s initiatives. Baltimore’s public-health and drug-treatment providers, who stand to gain funding and stature from the initiatives, also generally approve of them. The new police commissioner, Tom Frazier, says needle exchange, the drug court, and expanded treatment will make his job easier. And of course Baltimore’s heroin and cocaine addicts – who make up about six percent of the population, according to Bureau of the Census figures – are all for it.

In fact, one gets the impression that the mayor’s local drug-reform agenda has been falling into place with relative ease. People tend to see needle exchange, the drug court, and expanded treatment as almost clinical prescriptions for treating the symptoms of the drug crisis.

It is Schmoke’s national long-term drug policy, with its overtones of decriminalization, that has attracted strong and vocal opposition.

By now, everybody knows that Schmoke advocates some form of drug decriminalization. To a lot of people, that strategy sounds so radical on the surface that they aren’t very interested in the details. For example, Lieutenant Leander Nevin, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, says the bottom line is that Schmoke “wants to legalize drugs and give away free needles,” and asks sarcastically, “It’s socialism, right?”

To Michael Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse, the details of decriminalization are insignificant compared to the impact of even talking about it. He sees a direct correlation between rising drug use in high schools and the whole debate over decriminalization, which Schmoke has persistently publicized for six years now.

“I think this whole discussion is more hurtful than helpful,” Gimbel says. “I have to deal with the kids today who believe in legalization only because the mayor or the rap group Cypress Hill said so. For the last ten years we have seen major decreases [in drug use] and changes of attitude. Now all of the sudden these kids are changing the way they looking at [legalization]. I have to deal with that, and I blame it on the legalization debate.”

Barring some undetected tectonic shift in public opinion over the last six years, Nevin and Gimbel are right in line with most Marylanders’ opinions of legalization. In 1988, The Evening Sun contracted a public-opinion research firm to survey a random sample of Marylanders over 18 years old to ask them whether they support drug legalization. The results were basically the same for Baltimore as for the whole state: less than 20 percent were for legalization, and more than 70 percent were opposed to it.

In spite of this opposition, Schmoke has high hopes for his long-term, national strategy, which he clearly does not want associated with the term legalization.

“My approach is not legalization, that is, the sale of drugs in the private market,” he told an audience of doctors and nurses at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in March. Rather, he proposes lifting a corner of the current blanket prohibition on illegal drugs by drawing addicts into the public-health system, where they could be maintained, if necessary, using drugs made available through a government market.

“The government, not private traffickers, would control the price, distribution, purity, and access to particular substances, which we already do with prescription drugs,” Schmoke told the audience. “This, mind you, would take most of the profit out of street-level drug trafficking, and it is the profits that drive crime. Addicts would be treated and, if necessary, maintained under medical auspices. In my view, street crime would go down, children would find it harder, not easier, to get their hands on drugs, and law-enforcement officials would concentrate on the highest echelons of drug-trafficking enterprises.”

Schmoke’s zeal for reform is coupled with a hardened distaste for drug prohibition.

“Drug prohibition is a policy that has now turned millions of addicts into criminals, spawned a huge international drug-trafficking enterprise, and brought unrelenting violence to many of our urban neighborhoods,” Schmoke said. “It was a flawed strategy when it began, and it is still a flawed strategy now.”

Legalization or not, the mayor’s approach is roundly dismissed by people who think any fiddling with drug prohibition would, as a sociobiologist might say, damage the antidrug “chromosomes” that have been grafted into society’s DNA sequence over the last few generations. One such person is Dr. Lee P. Brown, the director of President Clinton’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. In a statement on drug legalization last December, after U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders suggested that legalization would reduce crime, Brown commented that “[a]ny change in the current policy of prohibiting drug use would seriously impair antidrug education efforts, drug-free community programs, drug-free workplace programs, and the overall national effort to reduce the level of drug use and its consequences.”

Local opposition to Schmoke’s call to change national drug laws is every bit as pointed as the Washington establishment’s. Gimbel protests that decriminalization “is a real intellectual pipe dream, and it scares me because the mayor is very articulate in selling this program.” City Councilman Martin O’Malley, of the Third District, thinks it “just amounts to so much more intellectual bullshit.” Joyce Malepka, founder of the Silver Spring antidrug lobbying group called Maryland Voters for a Responsible Drug Policy, says, “There is no intellectual argument about legalizing drugs because anyone who is that short-sighted isn’t really experienced, and if that is the case, then there is certainly no business talking about it.”

One objection that Schmoke’s medicalization opponents make is that a prescription-based drug-treatment system for addicts would be ripe for abuse. Steve Dnitrian, vice president of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, in New York City, argues that legal drugs are already abused and a wider array of them would lead to greater use and abuse.

“Take a look at the drugs that are already regulated medically, such as Valium,” Dnitrian says, by way of illustration. “Are they abused? Heavily. Medicalization would be the same thing. You would just be adding a couple of more flavors to the vast array of products we have right now to alter reality. If you make available a product that is not readily available, it is going to get used. Even people who favor decriminalization acknowledge that drug use would go up dramatically.”

Still, Schmoke has so far managed to buck the antidecriminalization establishment and remain in office. How has he done it?

One explanation is that his drug-reform strategy is multi-faceted and comprehensive, so many who oppose him on decriminalization or needle exchange agree with many of his other drug-reform ideas. For instance, his crusade for drug treatment on demand and the creation of drug courts is lauded from all corners, including by Malepka and Gimbel, President Clinton, and the antidrug advertising venture Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Schmoke hasn’t got this far by smart policymaking alone, however. Part of it was political drive: he is on the line with this medicalization talk, so he has been campaigning hard to prove his is right; if he can’t, he risks losing legitimacy with the public. Frank DeFillipo, a political columnist for The Evening Sun, says, “Schmoke has a lot to defend. He is going to have to go out and defend that issue in the mayoral race, and there are compelling arguments against what he is advocating.”

On the mayor’s side are a significant number of individual legislators, doctors, lawyers, judges, and religious leaders – powerful people with connections to organizations that can effect change. Schmoke feels that the average voter may also be coming around to agree that we need a new strategy against drugs, crime, and AIDS, and that medicalization should be given a sporting chance. Depending on how he plays this issue during the upcoming mayoral campaign, Schmoke may bet his future in political office on that perceived trend. He has been making every effort to swing the Zeitgeist around. Given the poll-pending strength of his supporters, he just might be able to do it.

“My sense is that the majority of Baltimoreans may disagree with my conclusion about the need for medicalization and decriminalization,” Schmoke acknowledges, “but that they agree that I should raise this issue and am glad that I didn’t change my mind. And the overwhelming majority of people believe that the current approach is not working, but they are not sure which way we should go.”

Schmoke hopes to make medicalization an asset at the polls by plugging the effectiveness of the needle-exchange program and the drug court, although he is not sure the results will be in by election time. To bolster his position, he says he will stump medicalization as effective in its own right but even better when combined with community development and community policing initiatives.

“All those things add up to positive impacts,” Schmoke says, “and that is what I’m hoping will happen in the communities.”

Schmoke is confident that all of his attention to detail will pay off politically, because he is well prepared to discuss and defend his proposals. In short, he has a plan, so the burden of proof is on the opposition to propose a better one.

“I think that if somebody is going to raise it as an issue in the election and be critical of my positions,” Schmoke challenges, “then they are going to have to have an alternative, a substantive alternative that will be attractive to the citizenry.”

Mary Pat Clarke, Schmoke’s challenger in next year’s mayoral race, does not plan on making medicalization an issue in the election.

“It is not a local issue,” Clarke points out. “It can’t be solved locally. The real issue is the here and the now and the livability of Baltimore City. If it is an issue in the mayoral race, it will be so only because [Schmoke] makes it one.” The bottom line to Clarke is that medicalization “is not something that we can do [on a local level], it is only something that we can talk about,” and too much talk means too little action. “You can’t use these discussions as an excuse to abandon the treatment programs that exist today,” Clarke argues.

She has particular misgivings about Schmoke’s new STEP, or drug court, program, which has already enrolled more than a dozen addicts and plans to divert 600 nonviolent drug criminals to treatment in its first year. Although she supports the initiative, Clarke fears that the city’s troubled drug-treatment system is ill equipped to handle the new program.

“To talk about a drug court without a rehabilitated and refunded treatment system,” Clarke asserts, “is just to create another level of logjam, frustrations, and problems. Expanded and improved treatment is an imperative before we create a drug court and an entire new system that would fall to pieces without the backup required.”

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Stuart O. Simms, however, points out that funding for the STEP program will cover drug treatment for participants. Also, by freeing up prison space and court dockets, Simms estimates that “in one year, the cost savings of such a program will be $1.8 million.” This money can help fund an expanded treatment system.

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The STEP program is modeled after the drug court in Miami, where only about one in 10 participants have been rearrested during the year following their treatment. To better the chances of the defendants’ success in beating the monkeys off their backs, the STEP program, in addition to drug treatment, provides job training, academic services, life-skills programs, job placement, and other support. It is a one-stop shop for getting your act together. All you have to do is get arrested.

Richard Farr, a cocaine addict, says people might do just that in order to get the treatment they need.

“There are a lot of people out there now who want to get into a drug program, but they can’t,” observes Farr, “so I guess you got to get caught to get into a program. It doesn’t seem right, but it sounds like that’s what you got to do.”

State’s Attorney Simms urges addicts tempted to take this route to “contact the Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems [the city’s treatment referral system] and try to see if they can get involved through the city health department. That is painstaking, that is slow, and I agree that the answer is insufficient.”

Mary Pat Clarke is more optimistic about the mayor’s AIDS Prevention Pilot Program. The $160,000 program is designed for 750 to 1,000 intravenous-drug-using participants, who will be able to exchange dirty needles for clean ones on a one-for-one basis. Another $250,000 has been dedicated for approximately 100 drug-treatment slots reserved for needle-exchange participants. Schmoke expects a needle-exchange program in Baltimore to have results similar to one in New Haven, Connecticut, where needle exchange is credited with a one-third decline in the rate of new HIV infections.

“From a public-health perspective, it is rational,” says Clarke. “Like most of us, I obviously have my concerns about the message it sends, but I think that the public-health issues are imperative. I hope that it will be successful in Baltimore City.”

Baltimore City police commissioner Tom Frazier agrees that “needle exchange is a good thing both in terms of human suffering and public-health costs.”

Clarke and Frazier are joined in support of needle exchange by many experts in the medical community. The Baltimore City Medical Society and the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, the city and state medical societies, respectively, are both behind the measure as a way to control the spread of AIDS without increasing drug abuse. And Dr. Michael Fingerhood, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and medical director of the Detox Inpatient Unit at Francis Scott Key Medical Center, says, “Most of the people in primary care who take care of people with HIV without a doubt are in favor of needle exchange.”

Dr. David Vlahov, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, who has been studying the natural history HIV infection among about 600 HIV-infected IV-drug users in Baltimore since 1988, is a fervent supporter of needle exchange. Vlahov points out that there are 39 needle-exchange programs operating in the United States, that there have been numerous studies of needle exchange, including studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. General Accounting Office, and that the results are favorable.

“Looking across the date from a variety of different studies,” Vlahov said as he shared the Hopkins stage with Schmoke in March, “the results have been that needle-exchange programs do not encourage people to start drug use, they do not encourage current drug users to inject more frequently, they do not encourage former users to restart drug use, and they do not encourage needle sharing. So a lot of these concerns that people have had are thwarted by the data that have come forth from these studies.”

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The Governor’s Executive Advisory Council, which advises and reports to Governor Schaefer on public-policy issues, just plain disagrees. Last spring it submitted a “Presentation in Opposition to Needle and Syringe Exchange Programs” to the Governor’s Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, the body responsible for helping to form and implement the governor’s drug-and-alcohol-abuse policies. The report concludes that the evidence on needle exchange is shaky, and “the real risk of doing real harm is too great.”

The council argues, based on what its chairman, Marshall Meyer, calls “a lot of data, research, study, and common sense,” that need-exchange programs are not safe. The list of risks include sending the wrong message about drug use, causing increased drug use and conversion to injection drugs, assisting criminal behavior, subverting drug-treatment efforts, and increasing the likelihood of “needle stick accidents.”

The council also questions whether needle exchange will work. Focusing just on needles, the report points out, overlooks the roles that other injection paraphernalia and that unsafe sex play in transmitting HIV.

“Facilitating drug use, through the provision of needles, is not likely to result in safe sexual behavior,” the report states, so it concludes that needle exchange may exacerbate the spread of sexually transmitted HIV. Finally, the council noted “that needle exchange programs are having very limited success in reaching, and even less success in keeping, the highest risk users.”

Some representatives in Baltimore’s City Council are concerned not only about mixed messages regarding condoning drug use, but also that the needle-exchange program won’t work. Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch, of the Second District, feels that “the concept is okay, if addicts would turn the needles in and use clean needles, but I don’t think that will happen. I don’t think addicts are responsible enough to do that.”

Councilman Nick D’Adamo, of the First District, agrees: “Needle exchange is iffy to me, because if a drug user on the corner is going to shoot up, I don’t think he’ll be looking for a clean needle. I think he is going to use whatever is there at the time.”

Tony Whiting, an IV-drug addict living in a homeless shelter run by Street Voice, an advocacy group for addicts, thinks the council members are wrong on this score.

“People will use brand-new needles if they have them,” Whiting insists. “Even the ones who don’t care want to use brand-new needles because they are easy to use, they don’t clog, and it makes the whole process a whole lot easier. Any addict would rather have a brand-new set than something used any day.”

Fellow Street Smart denizen and drug addict Richard Farr basically agrees with Whiting.

“Not everybody will go to get a clean needle every time, but the majority of them would,” he predicts. “Maybe if there was a place where they could go to get clean needles, then a lot of [needle sharing] would be eliminated. Not all of it, but a lot of it would.”

Whether addicts will use the program is not the issue for some people; the issue is the extent to which the needle exchange amounts to legalization.

“It’s a bizarre thing to do,” Joyce Malepka says. She argues that “it’s Draconian to give someone who injects heroin needles to continue that process. We see it as a giant step toward legalization.”

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Mary Pat Clarke feels that for now, Schmoke’s visions may be delusions.

“If he can help to improve and enlarge the treatment system in Baltimore City, I would support that,” Clarke says, “but the council has been looking at the current programs and is beginning to meet with [drug treatment] providers and explore the gaps. The providers are out there, underfunded and struggling to survive and handle their caseload, and it is a system in crisis. They are overloaded, they are underfunded, and the city has failed to supply an adequate system of coordination to really assist.”

At least part of the problem is the miniscule amount of funding that comes from the city itself for drug treatment: the figure hovers around $150,000 per year, or about one percent of the total drug-treatment budget for Baltimore City. Because of this meager contribution, some people believe that Schmoke is merely canting when he calls for more treatment.

“He’s been talking like this for so many years,” Michael Gimbel says, “but how much money has he put in his budget to back up his word that he really believes in treatment? Baltimore City gets millions right now from the state for drug treatment, and the city puts virtually nothing in. Yet he wants to go to Annapolis and say, ‘My top priority is needle exchange.’ Why isn’t his top priority treatment for everybody? That is hypocrisy. That is politics, so I can’t respect that.”

Politics or not, if Schmoke manages to get 10,000 new federally funded treatment slots, it will be a coup for the beleaguered Baltimore treatment community.

According to “Baltimore’s Drug Problem,” published by the Abell Foundation, which has funded or carried out many studies about local issues for the city government, “drug treatment experts in Baltimore City suggest that the number of treatment slots needs to be increased, conservatively, by three-fold.” Since there are currently 5,300 treatment slots, Schmoke’s proposal would almost meet the target.

The mayor is seeking a meeting with Clinton Administration officials to discuss his drug-treatment proposal. In the meantime, alternative funding may be found from two other federal sources: Clinton’s crime bill, if passed by Congress, will provide more money for drug treatment, and U.S. Attorney Janet Reno has created a new block-grant program that can be used for either policing or drug treatment.

“Both of those together don’t make up ten thousand [treatment slots],” Schmoke says, “but they would allow us to almost double the number of slot that we have now.”

Despite Schmoke’s optimism, the operable word when it comes to expanded federal funding for drug treatment in Baltimore City is if. And if Schmoke doesn’t produce the proposed treatment slots, then Baltimore’s addicts will continue queuing up on the treatment waiting list and continue to rob, steal, smoke, and shoot up until they can get effective treatment for their disease. According to “Baltimore’s Drug Problem,” on any given day there are about 730 addicts on the treatment waiting list, and only one out of 10 Baltimore substances abusers who want help can get it.

Since 1988, when Schmoke opened a national debate over drug decriminalization, he has done his fair share of talking about providing the help addicts need. Now he has started to take steps to do something about it. He is determined to prove that his medicine works, and if he stays in office another term, Baltimore is destined to be the testing ground.

Schmoke, casting himself as the good doctor, has donned the white lab coat and drawn up the syringe, and Baltimore, gravely ill from the combined effects of drugs, crime, and AIDS, is rolling up its sleeve to take the dose. But will the good doctor find a vein?

 

Cashed Out: South Mountain Creamery’s Bank Account Seized as Part of Money-Laundering Crackdown

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Apr. 18, 2012

South Mountain Creamery, the Frederick County dairy farm and food-distribution company, is a fixture of Baltimore-area farmers markets, particularly the Waverly market on Saturdays or the one on Sundays, downtown under the Jones Falls Expressway. South Mountain co-owner Randy Sowers is now in the hot seat with the feds, because in late February, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations Division (IRS-CID) used a federal anti-money-laundering statute to seize the contents of a PNC bank account Sowers says was the depository of cash earned by his company’s farmers-market business.

Sowers has not been charged with a crime, and says he expects to learn soon whether or not he will be. As for getting his money back—nearly $70,000, a fraction of the nearly quarter-million dollars in cash deposits the feds say Sowers laundered between May and December last year—well, based on the experiences of others in his position, he’ll likely not see it again, at least not all of it.

Baltimore County Police officer Michael Aiosa, who has been detailed as an IRS-CID task-force member since October 2010, signed the six-page affidavit used to get the seizure warrant to empty the account, of which Sowers and his daughter-in-law, Karen Sowers, are co-signatories. The affidavit says cash deposits were broken down into increments of under $10,001 each, causing PNC to not generate required “currency transaction reports” (CTRs) that financial institutions must file with regulators when they receive or disburse more than $10,000 in a single cash transaction. Under 31 U.S.C. 5324, federal law prohibits such conduct, which is called “structuring.”

Sowers, who did not seek publicity about his predicament but spoke to a reporter after the search warrant in the court records came to City Paper’s attention, says he deposited the cash he’d made in the increments in which it had been earned. If the deposited amounts often ended up being a little under $10,001, he explained, that’s just the way it worked out and he no intention of breaking the law.

“We had no idea there was supposedly a law against it—we were just doing it the way we figured we were supposed to, making deposits every week,” Sowers explains. “We weren’t laundering money,” he adds. “We’re farmers, we struggle every day to pay bills. We don’t know what else to do. Now we just feel like putting [our cash] in a can somewhere.”

Sowers’ attorney, David Watt, says his client “probably shouldn’t have said anything” when contacted by City Paper, and declined to comment further, saying, “We don’t want to act like we’re trying to influence the goings-on” by talking with the press.

Historically, the anti-structuring statute has been used by prosecutors as an ancillary charge with other accusations of nefarious behavior, such as drug dealing or terrorism. And it still is. But over the last few years, prosecutors have started to use it more regularly as a standalone charge—an observation noted by defense attorneys that Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein confirms.

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data center about federal court cases, reports that in fiscal year 2011 Maryland brought 14 of the nation’s 99 structuring cases, making it the top state for such prosecutions. Nationally, the numbers have been rising; the 2011 figures are up 8.8 percent from the year before and up 57.1 percent from five years ago.

Greater prosecutorial emphasis on enforcing the anti-structuring statute has resulted in a rise in money seizures, civil-forfeiture cases, and criminal charges against small businesses and the people who own them. Typical targets handle a lot of cash, and in Maryland gas stations, liquor stores, and used-car dealerships have landed in expensive trouble, losing money through seizures, criminal penalties, and legal bills.

South Mountain is not the first seasonal-produce market to find itself targeted for structuring recently. Taylor’s Produce Stand, on the Eastern Shore, was stung last year after the feds seized about $90,000 from its bank accounts. In December, pursuant to a civil-forfeiture settlement agreement after no criminal charges were filed, the stand’s owners got back about half of the seized money.

Two members of the defense bar who handle structuring cases, Gerard Martin and Steven Levin, both former Maryland assistant U.S. attorneys, say they have noticed the anti-structuring enforcement trend emerging in Maryland over the last several years.

“The emphasis is on basically seizing money, whether it is legally or illegally earned,” Levin says. “It can lead to financial ruin for business owners, and there’s a potential for abuse here by the government, where they use it basically as a means of seizing money, and I think we’ve seen that happen.”

“South Mountain Creamery!” Martin exclaims when contacted by phone. “They’re going after South Mountain Creamery! That’s an icon. That’s like going after mom and apple pie.” Then he settles in to ruminate on the general trends, saying cases typically arise because financial institutions “are required to tell the government about it” when they suspect a pattern of structured cash deposits. Then, “the government gets a search warrant and takes every nickel out of the guy’s bank account,” Martin continues, adding that “structuring is generally an indication that there is something going wrong, but the government doesn’t always find another crime,” such as drug dealing or tax evasion.

“There are a lot of legitimate reasons why a liquor store or a gas station would be depositing $9,500 in cash a day,” Martin says. “Sometimes the numbers just work out that way. But it is usually not an accident that it is happening.”

Rosenstein says that anti-structuring efforts “are an increasing area of emphasis for the Justice Department, and there has been an influx of resources” to investigate and prosecute it. Thus, he says, “I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t an uptick” in prosecutions, given the additional resources.

Post-Sept. 11 changes to banking laws, Rosenstein continues, have prompted financial institutions to report suspicious financial doings more vigilantly, and as a result, investigators and prosecutors now have “a treasure trove of information” about transactions, which provides them with “potential leads for finding criminal activities.” Structuring is often a red flag for other crime since, Rosenstein says, “typically people who go through all those lengths” to make multiple cash deposits of just under $10,000, sometimes at multiple bank branches on the same day, are trying to hide something. But, he continues, “There’s a possibility that somebody did it innocently, and we are always open to that.”

 

Sowers spoke at length about being targeted for structuring. In essence, he thinks the government used an exotic legal gimmick to suck hard-earned money out of his business just as he’s facing bills for hay and other spring-time expenses farmers incur—but he admits that, if there’s a law against what he did, “well, it looks like we did break the law,” even if he didn’t mean to.

The seizure and the resulting legal limbo as he awaits the prosecutor’s charging decision has “scared us to death,” he says. And the banking headaches that resulted from an emptied account have been never-ending, including bounced checks, mucked-up automatic withdrawals, and the resulting overdraft fees.

“It makes me look bad,” Sowers says.

Homicide, Revisited: Two Men Want Detectives Made Famous by David Simon to Pay After Flawed Murder Convictions Put Them in Prison for Decades

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 10, 2013

James Owens is angry.

“I get pissed off every time I think about this,” the 53-year-old from Southeast Baltimore declares, sitting at a conference table in his lawyer’s office. “I don’t trust the cops,” he says, his glasses only slightly shielding the fury in his eyes, a thin mustache punctuating his vehemence. “Never have, after this happened, and I never will. I hate them.”

Looking at Owens, hearing his Baltimore accent stridently utter those words, it’s clear he’s simply telling it like it is. Twenty years in prison before being cleared of a murder conviction will make a man mad.

But Wendell Griffin, a 62-year-old also at the lawyer’s office meeting, is not the least bit angry. His bald pate rests smoothly above his kind face and soft eyes, a wispy gray beard on his chin. Griffin appears to be a gentle soul, and it seems perfectly natural for him to wax calmly and philosophically about his experience: “If the good Lord does things in such a way that I don’t even understand it,” he says, “then I just keep my faith and I move forward.”

 

Clarification: Neither of the murders for which James Owens and Wendell Griffin were wrongfully convicted occurred in 1988, and thus neither were mentioned, much less covered, in Homicide.

Around the Block: The Colorful Past, Controversial Present, and Uncertain Future of Baltimore’s Red-Light District

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 2, 2000

Our values have changed,” Joanne Attman proclaims.

Attman and her husband, Ely Attman, own the building at 425 E. Baltimore St., and are thus the landlords of Club Harem, a strip club in Baltimore’s red-light district, the Block. “There’s nothing wrong with sex,” she says in a telephone interview. “There just isn’t. It’s an adult thing, and as long as it stays an adult thing, that’s all that’s important.

“You know,” she continues, “we’ve come a long way, and people do not view sex as a bad thing if they can do all that’s on the Internet, do what they do on TV, and on the phone. So, as far as the Block, the Block is benign.”

The Attmans, like most of the owners of Block property and businesses, do not live in Baltimore City. Their abode, most recently assessed at more than $225,000, is in a new development in Pikesville. Being a nice, suburban couple, the Attmans probably don’t often come down to the Block and look around; as Joanne Attman says, “We don’t really pay any attention to it.” Like most landlords, they just get a check from their tenants and make the necessary improvements to their property. End of story.

But if the Attmans were paying more attention to what’s happening on the Block, they’d know that its problems have little to do with the morality of sex among adults. The area is besieged by negative publicity over drug dealing, prostitution, employment of underage dancers, and the threatening atmosphere some civic and business leaders contend the Block creates in the middle of the downtown business district.

If they were paying attention, the Attmans would know that last May four pipe bombs were found and defused in the Diamond Lounge, a few doors down from their Block property. They’d know that a club next door to their building, the Circus Bar, was ordered to sell its liquor license last October after a former doorman, convicted of dealing drugs from the club, told the Baltimore City Board of License Commissioners (aka the liquor board) that he thought it was “part of my duties” to sell cocaine from the bar. They’d know that in July 1998, the 408 Club was cited by the liquor board for employing two 16-year-old Baltimore County high-school students as dancers and using three rooms above the bar for prostitution. And they’d know that these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. (For a fuller accounting of Block property owners and the records of businesses there, see “What’s Around the Block”.)

But Joanne Attman doesn’t want to hear about it. “That’s ludicrous,” she says of the idea that a Block employee considered drug dealing part of his job. “You can go anywhere and buy drugs anywhere in the city. You can buy them at school. They’re being sold everywhere. So to focus in on the Block is absolutely ludicrous.” She is adamant that the action on the Block is essentially harmless: “You know, most of the people down there are there to make a living and that’s what they’re doing–a clean living.” With that, the interview ends abruptly.
The way people make their living on the Block isn’t causing ripples just in City Hall and law-enforcement circles; it is fast becoming a divisive issue within the red-light district’s business community itself. Today, two separate entities–Baltimore Entertainment Center Inc. (BEC) and Downtown Entertainment Inc.–claim to represent the interests of Block businesses. Both groups, at least on the face of it, share the same goal: to clean up the Block’s act so that its businesses can work with city leaders to promote the district as a destination for tourists and conventioneers. But their respective members don’t see eye to eye on how to achieve that aim, according to Block sources.

Today, Baltimore Entertainment Center is effectively defunct, although it is still recognized by many on the Block as an ongoing concern. BEC was formed in February 1997 and until a few months ago was represented by Baltimore attorney Claude Edward Hitchcock, a confidant of former Mayor Kurt Schmoke. At the time the group was launched, Hitchcock said it represented a “new breed of owner and operator on the Block” that is “trying to become better citizens and better neighbors.” Hitchcock resigned as BEC’s attorney in September; the following month, the group forfeited its right to operate in Maryland due to its failure to file property-tax returns–a rectifiable situation, should the taxes be brought up to date. (Attempts to speak with Frank Boston III, reportedly BEC’s new attorney, were unsuccessful.)

Days after Hitchcock left BEC, Downtown Entertainment was formed, with Hitchcock as its lawyer and Jacob “Jack” Gresser–the owner of the Gayety Building, a Block landmark, and another former BEC guiding force–as president. Gresser says Downtown Entertainment wants “to go in the direction of a partnership with the city, in respect of getting involved in the conventions that are coming to town, where the city will advertise these particular businesses in their convention brochures and throw the business our way, if possible.” Ultimately, Gresser says, he wants the Block to become like Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ famous playground of vice. So far, eight to 10 of the Block’s two dozen adult-entertainment establishments have joined the new group, he says.

Gresser says the splintering of BEC occurred over the course of last year, culminating about six months ago–“That’s when we decided to go our different ways.” While he’s loath to speak for those who haven’t joined Downtown Entertainment, he says there are “two distinct, different views of how people want to run their business down on the Block. Everybody runs their business differently. Everyone has a responsibility to run their business properly. I would just like to see everyone get together and go in one direction. We really don’t need this diversification.”

That “diversification” has created to some bad blood. “This has not been a walk in the park,” Hitchcock says. “I mean, I’ve gotten calls here in the office on my voice mail, you know, the use of the ‘N’ word, and ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ and all. One guy who was a part of [Downtown Entertainment] got his windows bashed in–both in his business and his car–and his family got threatening phone calls over the telephone at home. I’ve gotten it all. I mean, this has not been easy.”

Neither Gresser nor Hitchcock will go into detail about the causes of the split. Other sources familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, are less cagey–they claim the split is between clubs that host prostitution and clubs that don’t.

“Apparently the difference is private rooms, no private rooms,” says one source. “If there are no private rooms, then you obviously can’t have prostitution on the site.” The clubs without private rooms are the ones moving into Downtown Entertainment, he says.

Sources say the new group also wants police officers currently on the Block beat rotated out. “The policemen around there have been around there for years and have a bunch of friendships,” one source says. “If you are there too long, familiarity can breed bad things.”

Hitchcock says Downtown Entertainment has “scheduled an appointment to talk with the new police commissioner [Ronald Daniel] to basically introduce this new organization to him, to give him a feel for what we intend to do, how we intend to run the businesses, [and] to affirm or reaffirm with him our willingness to be cooperative with the Baltimore City Police Department. In fact, we encourage the police department to be active–fair, but active–on the Block.”

Police spokesperson Robert Weinhold says Daniel “has had conversations with representatives from the Block” and recognizes that they want to make the red-light district as crime-free as possible. “We would expect the efforts of the Block representatives to continue, and that all of the establishments and the citizens who work there will be law-abiding in their business efforts.”

Eventually, Hitchcock says, Downtown Entertainment will seek a meeting with Mayor Martin O’Malley, but it has yet to broach the subject with him. For the time being, the new mayor’s approach to managing the situation on the Block remains a mystery. Despite assurances that he would grant an interview for this article, repeated attempts to set up such a meeting were unsuccessful. O’Malley’s press secretary, Tony White, eventually explained that the mayor has yet to formulate his opinions about the Block district and therefore would rather not discuss it at this time.

“Being the entertainment mogul that he is, he’s thinking about” the Block, White says, but this thinking “hasn’t come to fruition yet.”

It would be a stretch to suggest that contributions to O’Malley’s mayoral campaign last year will have a direct impact on his eventual stance. But several Block interests did pledge support for his candidacy, in all likelihood out of a desire to foster access to and good relations with their potent neighbor in City Hall.

Between July and October of 1999, Block interests donated $6,400 to O’Malley’s cause, according to campaign-finance reports. One of Gresser’s businesses, Custom House News, gave $1,000, as did PP&G, which co-owns the strip club Norma Jean’s and is headed by Pete Koroneos, secretary and treasurer of Downtown Entertainment. The law firm O’Malley worked for before he became mayor gave $2,000 to his campaign, and one of its partners, Joseph Omansky, has long represented Block interests. The remaining $2,400 came from other Block lawyers, owners, liquor licensees, and an accountant.
The Block’s generosity toward politicians is a long-established tradition–probably as old as the Block itself. The district sprang up almost immediately after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, with the Gayety Theater (opened in 1906 at its present site at 403 E. Baltimore St.) becoming its first landmark. Initially, penny arcades and vaudeville venues dominated, but after the repeal of Prohibition the area took off as a dense concentration of bars and burlesque houses.

During the World War II years and into the 1950s, the Block’s reputation spread nationally as striptease acts became the main attraction at many of the nightclubs and, as two out-of-town reporters wrote in 1951, “any and all forms of vice are tolerated and protected. There is a price for everything, and it’s not much.”

With all of the fun and money being generated on the Block, heat from law enforcement was turned up. Various congressional inquiries and grand-jury investigations fingered the Block as an organized-crime stronghold in the 1950s and ’60s, a place where the rackets, gambling and prostitution in particular, thrived and fueled corruption and violence. Even during its heyday–so romanticized by a legion of old-time Baltimoreans and local scribes–the Block was a dangerous place that spawned crime sprees and fear and trepidation among hand-wringing city residents.

If the 1960s were bad on the Block from a criminal-justice standpoint, the ’70s were much worse. Julius “The Lord” Salsbury, the acknowledged king of Block rackets, was finally convicted on federal charges in 1969, only to flee the country the following year. (Never brought to justice, he remains a legendary fugitive.) But with the end of Salsbury’s reign–and perhaps because of the destabilizing effect of his absence–came an era of unprecedented violence in the district. When crime fighters did try to put the screws to the Block, they often ended up embarrassing themselves: A 1971 raid by federal agents produced little in the way of convictions and made law-enforcement appear groundlessly zealous in pursuit of justice for Block racketeers.

With downtown’s renewal into a modern entertainment district, however, the Block gained a sense of legitimacy, due largely to rose-colored memories of its former glory and its faded Damon Runyonesque character. Then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer spared the Block from his wide-swinging wrecking ball as he rebuilt downtown, and in 1977 it received a special designation as an entertainment district. But the Block’s salad days were long gone; drugs and sleaziness continued to define its identity into the 1980s and ’90s.

As Schaefer moved from City Hall to the State House, his tolerance for the Block wore down. Late in his second term as governor, he ordered a four-month investigation of crime on the Block that culminated in a January 1994 Maryland State Police raid in which some 500 state troopers descended on the district and shut it down. Initially, the governor and his troopers made great claims–one drug kingpin and three distributors had been nabbed, an arsenal of guns had been confiscated, the back of criminal interests on the Block had been irreparably broken. But attempts to prosecute those arrested fell apart amid allegations of improprieties and faulty techniques among the investigators. Once again, law enforcement was left red-faced by its flawed attack on the tenderloin.

Schaefer’s raid occurred as his mayoral successor, Kurt Schmoke, was in the midst of his own attempt to put the Block out of his misery, by buying it out and relocating businesses. This economic attack failed, however–community leaders around the city feared porn shops and strip clubs would spring up in their backyards. Ultimately, after a flood of contributions to Schmoke’s campaign committee from Block interests in late 1996, a détente was reached. Fronted by the Schmoke-friendly Hitchcock–who had previously represented other downtown business interests that hoped to end the Block once and for all–Block operators received a respite as City Hall promised to await improvements promised by the newly formed Baltimore Entertainment Center.

The city held up its commitment, providing physical improvements such as new brick sidewalks in 1997, but so far the businesses haven’t held up their end of the bargain by substantially cleaning up their acts. If and how O’Malley reacts remains to be seen.

The mayor may still be forming his ideas on the future of the Block, but a new regulatory era is already underway. In November, the city liquor board started enforcing new rules that hold the threat of revocation of adult-entertainment licenses should club employees commit too many violations.

Hitchcock says Downtown Entertainment welcomes the restrictions. “We frankly saw it as tightening of the regulations in a fashion that we all agreed needed to happen,” he says. “We’ve had some very damaging rulings by the liquor board against some of those clubs down there. People are getting the message–you know, you do this stuff and you will lose your livelihood, period, end of story. You may be able to appeal it until it gets to some point of finality, but the liquor board’s not playing about this because they have taken on a responsibility and their credibility is on the line.”

Perhaps even more significant than the new regulations, from a business standpoint, is a January 1999 court ruling that full nudity is legal at adult-entertainment establishments that opened before 1993. The ruling arose when the Spectrum Gentlemen’s Club in East Baltimore appealed a nude-dancing violation and found a loophole in the law, which had been interpreted to require that dancers be partially clothed while performing. The decision was handed down by Circuit Court Judge Richard Rombro, in his last judicial act before retiring from the bench. (Unnoticed at the time was the fact that the judge’s nephew, Stuart Rombro, is an attorney who represents Gresser’s Custom House News.) Regardless, it’s been good for business on the Block.

Hitchcock downplays the ruling’s practical significance. “There’s no real difference,” he says. “I mean, yeah, rather than you put a little star on the nipple, you can take the star off now.” But he acknowledges that Baltimore strip clubs have become a “more marketable and a bigger revenue-generating business because you can basically say it’s nude dancing.”

And a more marketable Block is a boon for Baltimore, says City Council member Nicholas D’Adamo, a Democrat whose 1st District includes the Block and many other adult-entertainment venues.

“Let’s be honest,” asserts D’Adamo, who acknowledges that he patronizes Block establishments now and again. “Is it a plus for the city of Baltimore? I think it is. I think for out-of-towners to come to the city, it could be a stop on their agenda if they’re staying downtown.” He further maintains that Block businesses employ some 1,000 workers and should be recognized as job-providers.

Of the allegations of vice associated with Block clubs, the council member says, “I think the press has blown it out of proportion. Sure, there are problems down there. But I think there are problems in every bar. It’s just a matter of what you consider a problem. So why pick on the Block?

“You show me a person a week’s being killed on the Block, or a person a week’s being stabbed and almost died–you show me numbers like that, we got a problem,” D’Adamo continues. “But goddammit, there’s a lot of streets in this city that have these problems that are a lot worse than the Block. We need to address that first.” And, for the time being, it appears that’s exactly what the city’s going to do.

Bodog Internet Gambling Investigation Leads to Money-Laundering Charges

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Oct. 30, 2008

Federal authorities in Maryland have filed money-laundering charges against two men, Edward Courdy and Michael Garone, who have figured in an ongoing investigation into the internet gambling empire Bodog. Both men were described in two forfeiture proceedings earlier this year, which resulted in the seizure of a total of $24 million from numerous bank accounts, as processors of illegal gambling transactions in the United States on behalf of Bodog.

The charges against Courdy and Garone were filed on Sept. 29, though the filings were not publicized and were found yesterday by City Paper on the online federal courts web site, known as PACER.

Courdy is charged with transferring $2,380,273 in April from Dublin, Ireland, to a Nevada State Bank account held by Zaftig Instantly Processed Payments Corporation (ZIP Payments), and then to Maryland and elsewhere, to promote the carrying on of an illegal gambling business [Courdy Info]. Garone is charged with the same general scheme, alleged to have occurred in April 2007, involving the transfer of $1,499,975 from Frankfurt, Germany, to Branch Banking and Trust Bank account in Georgia held by JBL Services, Inc. [Garone Info].

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland confirms that the two men are not currently in custody on the charges, and that no court dates have been set in the cases. Spokeswoman Marcia Murphy says that the office cannot discuss the matters other than what is contained in the court filings.

The Sept. 29 filing the of Courdy and Garone charges coincides with the date that Courdy and ZIP Payments filed a claim in forfeiture proceedings involving $9,869,283.05, which was seized in July from several bank accounts tied to Courdy. Courdy and ZIP Payments, through their California attorney, Stanley I. Greenberg, are seeking the return of the seized money. Also filing a claim that day was 1st Technology, LLC, which recently won a $46,597,849 Nevada court judgment against Bodog and is seeking to collect part of the money by intervening in the ZIP Payments forfeiture proceeding.

Garone and his company, JBL Services, did not contest the federal forfeiture of $14,200,195.73 in alleged Bodog-related proceeds [Bodog Affadavit $14.2M]. In mid-July, Maryland U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake finalized the forfeiture of those funds.

Garone and Courdy could not be reached for comment. Greenberg, Courdy’s attorney in the forfeiture case, did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

The affidavits supporting the forfeiture proceedings describe in great detail the lengthy, convoluted efforts of Internal Revenue Service criminal investigator Randall S. Carrow to bring to light the global movement of money in support of Bodog’s on-line gambling activities. The documents also indicate that the case is being brought in Maryland because on-line gambling via Bodog was conducted by an undercover agent working in Maryland.

Bodog founder Calvin Ayre, a Canadian now living in Antigua, became a world-famous billionaire from online gambling and other entertainment enterprises. He was featured on the cover of Forbes magazine in 2006. Carrow writes in his affidavit that investigative interest in Bodog and Ayre started in 2003, but the passage of a 2006 federal law that strengthened prosecutors’ ability to go after on-line gambling activities kicked a formal investigation into gear.

GoldenCasino.com’s Payment Processor Targeted in Latest On-Line Gambling Seizures in Maryland

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Oct. 28, 2009

As the Maryland-based federal probe of on-line gambling continues, the latest move to show up in court records in Baltimore is the seizure of $365,366.69 from two bank accounts in the name of Atrium Financial Group (AFG). According to the affidavit in the case (below), Delaware-based AFG disburses money to on-line gamblers, including those who try their luck using GoldenCasino.com. City Paper has been unable to reach representatives of AFG and GoldenCasino.com for comment.

The AFG seizure—unlike several others reported recently by City Paper—is supported by an affidavit that was not sealed (see Atrium Financial Group affidavit). The 13-page sworn statement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent Augusta Ferenec, who is based in New Orleans, La., provides a peek into the complexities of the investigation. Signed on Sept. 4 by U.S. District Court magistrate judge Beth Gesner, the warrant was filed in the court records on Oct. 22.

According to Ferenec’s affidavit, the investigation leading to the AFG seizures dates to July 14, 2008, when Louisiana State Police (LSP) officers opened an “undercover gambling account” with GoldenCasino.Com, and then later requested a payout. The first check–from a Canadian outfit called Interco Finance Corporation (IFC)–bounced. Eventually, a second check came, this one from AFG. Thus, the investigation established that GoldenCasino.com was using both IFC and AFG as payment processors for its on-line gambling patrons. Ferenec explains in the affidavit that a fourth business–Con-Tex Converters, another Canadian firm–entered the picture as investigators followed the global movement of funds.

For instance, an AFG account with Mercantile Bank received wire transfers between Dec. 2008 and Jan. 2009 amounting to more than $1.5 million. The money came from a Con-Tex bank account in Cyprus and a combined Con-Tex/IFC bank account in Canada. During the same timeframe, Ferenec’s affidavit continues, AFG cut 1,473 checks from that account, at least two of which went to people in Maryland. In Aug. 2009, investigators talked to one of the Maryland recipients, who admitted the proceeds had come from gambling.

In all, Ferenec’s affidavit maps out a total of nearly $6.3 million wired internationally by either Con-Tex or IFC to AFG bank accounts in the U.S. The AFG accounts, which the affidavit says have all been closed by the banks due to suspicions that the money was tied to illegal gambling, were held with Mercantile, Sovereign Bank, Wachovia Bank, National City Bank, and TD Bank North. The international wire transfers from Con-Tex and IFC were the sole sources of funds in the AFG accounts, the affidavit explains.

The two AFG bank accounts targeted for seizure are with Fifth Third Bank and Wilmington Savings Fund Society. The Fifth Third account, from which $124,028.88 was seized, received about $3.3 million in wire transfers from Con-Tex and IFC between Dec. 2008 and June 2009, the affidavit explains. Nearly 4,000 checks were cut from the account, totaling about $3.1 million disbursed to people in the U.S. During July and Aug. 2009, 35 of those checks were issued to Marylanders. The amount of money entering AFG’s Wilmington Savings account is not specified in the affidavit, which explains that about 575 checks were cut from the account, one of which was mailed to a Texan who “confirmed to the bank that the check was proceeds of online gambling.”

Ferenec’s affidavit says it’s likely that money will continue to enter the targeted accounts “for a period of time” after the warrants are executed, because those involved “will be unable to promptly stop the flow of funds or inform all of their contacts of this investigation.” Thus, Ferenec requests that the warrant order the banks to allow the deposits to continue, but not any attempted debits, and that “ICE be allowed to periodically remove such funds” during a 21-day period after the warrants are executed.

The Ghost Hand: Maryland Law Enforcers Aim to Take the Pot by Secretly Sitting at the Online Gambling Table

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By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, March 24, 2010

On Dec. 21, 2006, someone in Maryland opened an account with bodog.com, an online gaming site whose customers bet on sports and horse-racing and play poker and casino games on their computers. The same day, that same someone placed two online bets on football games with Bodog. Over the course of 2007, after more wagering, the online gambler requested and received two payout checks from Bodog: one for $1,500 and another for $700.

Mundane as they may seem, the Maryland gambler’s wagers and payouts have had major repercussions in the online-gambling world. That’s because, starting in 2008, the details of that person’s online betting activities were included in meticulous affidavits supporting warrants to seize the contents of bank accounts said to be tied to illegal gambling. The Maryland gambler was actually a special agent working undercover for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Division.

Under U.S. law, facilitating transactions tied to online gambling is illegal. Yet, due to the immense popularity among Americans of wagering over the internet, the overseas companies that provide this kind of entertainment continue to seek ways to do business with U.S. customers. In order to pay out winnings to gamblers in this country, they have to hire U.S. companies willing to operate as payment processors–middle-men who take foreign casino companies’ money and disburse it to players when they want to cash out their online gambling accounts. These payment processors are taking a risk that U.S. law enforcement will detect the transactions and seize the money while it’s sitting in the payment processors’ accounts–which is exactly what federal investigators in Maryland, and elsewhere, have been doing–but due to the lucrative nature of the business, both the payment processors and the online-casino companies have been willing to take that gamble.

In the post-Sept. 11 world, the U.S. government has developed a heightened interest in augmenting its ability to track the ways and means of global money-moving. Though the motivation is to protect the world from terrorists by interrupting their finances, this trend also means that financial crimes of all kinds–including the movement of online gambling money into the United States–face a greater risk of detection. In the world of internet wagering, whenever money is sitting in a U.S. bank account, it is exposed to possible seizure by the authorities. And, as investigators’ successes mount, it’s clear they are getting better at it.

IRS criminal investigators in Maryland “opened a formal investigation of Bodog in 2006,” court records state, after having “conducted interviews regarding Bodog.com, Calvin Ayre, and Bodog’s operations in approximately 2003.” Ayre, a Canadian who’s been living in exile for several years now, is the founder of Bodog, which is based in Antigua and has operations in Costa Rica.

Bodog, a 15-year-old company which claims to be the world’s pre-eminent online gambling site and whose operations span the globe, is not the first to be targeted by American law enforcement’s crackdown on internet gambling. That honor goes to Jay Cohen, who in 1998 was indicted in New York along with numerous other defendants for violating the federal Wire Wager Act in running the Antigua-based World Sports Exchange. Cohen fought the charges, saying federal laws prohibiting wire transfers of gambling proceeds do not apply to the internet. He lost and was sentenced to 21 months in prison. Since then, the feds have continued to focus on an industry that, in effect, presents opportunities for people to gamble anywhere and anytime, despite the laws of any particular country or state.

“If you’re in Antigua running a casino, that’s fine,” says Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein. “But if you’re actually operating a casino in someone’s bedroom in Montgomery County over the internet, that’s illegal.” Thus, any proceeds that can be traced to gambling activity that takes place in Maryland–whether it’s actual betting over the internet, or just the arrival of checks in the mailboxes of Maryland gamblers cashing out their online-gambling accounts–could end up seized by Maryland authorities.

Since early 2008, according to federal court records, the ongoing federal investigation of online gambling based in Maryland–which, in addition to the IRS, also involves members of a Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) task force–has brought at least $29,206,594.62 in alleged gambling proceeds into federal coffers. The latest warrant in the investigation was signed by U.S. magistrate judge Paul Grimm in early February, and it targeted the contents of a Mercantile Bank account in Tampa, Fla. The account, held in the name of a company called Direct Channel LLC, yielded $860,335.90 on March 5. Direct Channel, like the other companies included in the Maryland internet-gambling seizures, allegedly provided payment-processing services in the U.S. for gambling web sites based in other countries. Though the Maryland investigation initially appeared to focus on payment processors for Bodog, such as Direct Channel, it has since broadened to include funds held by companies serving another gambling site, goldencasino.com, which is also based in Antigua.

Any U.S. bank account used by a payment processor working with online casinos could be targeted by investigators, potentially wiping out millions of dollars when a seizure warrant arrives at the bank. But due to the magnitude of online gambling in the United States–half of the $16 billion per year that internet gambling is estimated to generate is believed to originate in the United States–the risk may be worth it. Though federal investigators in Maryland and elsewhere, including New York, Missouri, and Florida, go for the money, there’s so much in play at any given moment that what they seize is only a small portion of money flow.

So far, after several years of effort, Maryland law enforcers have seized nearly $30 million in suspected online-gambling proceeds. That’s equal to less than one half of one percent of the $8 billion that U.S. online gamblers are estimated to spend each year. But it’s a start. And as the effort builds and grows more sophisticated and nimble with experience, the potential is as vast as the American online-gambling economy itself.

“There are very big numbers in internet gambling,” say Rosenstein, acknowledging the sizeable cut the government could get through seizing and forfeiting assets, which are funneled into law-enforcement budgets to support the efforts of the agencies that seized them. Asked if seizures, in the long run, could undermine gambling web sites’ ability to pay out to U.S. customers, he says: “That’s a possibility, and it’s certainly a risk for customers. And it’s a pretty effective deterrent, since customers have no remedy if the gambling operator fails to pay. They won’t be able to go into court and enforce that. It’s an illegal contract.”

Seizing and forfeiting criminally derived assets, including those from online gambling, has been made a priority by Rosenstein’s office. Last year, he hired the nation’s top asset-forfeiture prosecutor–Stefan Cassella, who literally wrote the book on the subject, a 950-page tome entitled Asset Forfeiture Law in the United States–to lead the effort. Among Cassella’s achievements is the largest forfeiture in U.S. history: $1.2 billion from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International in the 1990s. Given the size of the online-gambling industry’s assets, Cassella may have an opportunity to break his own record while working in Maryland.

Law-enforcement efforts to interrupt internet-gambling money flowing in and out of the United States were ramped up after the 2006 passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which was signed by President George W. Bush in October that year. Before that law was passed, the federal Wire Act, which dates back to 1961, already prohibited the transfer of gambling proceeds via wire communications. That law had been used to go after internet gambling prior to the UIGEA’s passage. But unlike the Wire Act, the UIGEA specifically outlaws internet-gambling transactions and requires financial operators, such as banks and payment processors, to determine which transactions are tied to online gambling and report them to regulators.

The banking industry, concerned that UIGEA requirements would be difficult to enforce and would force bankers to become anti-gambling police, persuaded the Obama administration to postpone the law, scheduled for implementation in December 2009, for six months. U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), meanwhile, is currently trying to usher through legislation that would repeal the UIGEA and instead set up a regulate-and-tax scheme for the industry, arguing that online gambling is a liberty–and a potentially large source of public revenues–that the government should not prohibit.

But Rosenstein contends that going after the illegal profits gained from the U.S. market for internet gambling is a matter of fairness. “What Americans find particularly galling,” he says, “is when something is criminalized, honest people don’t engage in the activity, but criminals do, so they get excess profits because their only competition is from other criminals.”

Those seeking to legitimize aspects of online gambling, though, have other thoughts on the matter. Last year, in trying to persuade a federal judge to release funds seized from a payment processor allegedly tied to online gambling, lawyers for the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), a Washington, D.C.-based interest group, argued that online poker is a game of skill, not of chance, and thus is not illegal gambling. They also contended that the UIGEA establishes criminal culpability for “persons who operate illegal gambling sites, rather than those who process payment transactions,” and that restricted transactions under the UIGEA do not include funds going to a gambler because a gambler is “not engaged in the business of betting or wagering.”

The lawyers for the PPA (whose motto is “Poker is not a crime: Join the fight.”) did not prevail. But their efforts–and the well-heeled existence of the PPA, which has its own lobbying arm, PokerPAC, and whose board is chaired by former U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato (R-New York)–indicates that powerful forces in American society don’t like the online-gambling crackdown. Recent public-opinion polling, though, indicates the prohibition of online gambling is popular; two-thirds of those responding to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released on March 11 say they do not favor legalizing it.

Though online gambling is legal in many parts of the globe, enjoyed by many Americans, and accepted in many cultures–to the point that online-gambling companies’ stocks often are publicly traded in other nations–its continued prohibition in the United States may be explained by the longtime association of the gambling industry with unseemly characters making obscene profits.

Recent cases against internet gambling operations, for instance, give a sense of the profit potential the business presents and sometimes allege organized-crime ties. In New York in October 2009, the operators of Panama-based betonline.com were charged with illegal online gambling; authorities claimed the group made $587 million in 28 months and was linked to the Gambino and Genovese crime families. In a 2006 Missouri case against the longtime gambling figures who ran Costa Rica-based betonsports.com, the indictment states that the company’s promotional materials boasted “100,000 active players, who placed 33 million wagers, worth over $1.6 billion” in 2003, before the company went public on the London stock exchange. In February, Missouri authorities indicted the operators of Costa Rica-based Elite Sports, which ran the web sites best24b.com and best24b.net, and among the defendants were members of the Kansas City’s storied Cammisano crime family.

In addition, federal authorities in New York have charged two men–Anurag Dikshit in 2008 (Dikshit NY info) and Douglas Rennick in 2009 (Rennick indictment)–with illegally running online-gambling ventures. Dikshit, who was born in India and is one of the youngest billionaires in the world thanks to the success of his online-gambling business, is co-founder of the Gibraltar company that operated partypoker.com; charges against him include the forfeiture of $300 million in gambling revenues. Rennick, a Canadian, ran a series of payment-processing companies that allegedly served the internet-gambling industry, and the government is seeking to forfeit more than a half billion dollars of the proceeds from his financial dealings.

Another alleged payment processor was charged in Florida in February, when a bank alerted federal authorities that customers were trying to cash large checks they said were the payouts from online-gambling winnings. Michael Olaf Schuett, a German man living in Naples, Fla., had set up hundreds of companies and had dozens of bank accounts that were allegedly used to operate the scheme since 2007. The complaint against him (Schuett FL complaint) says that he transferred online-gambling payments to about 23,000 people, mostly in the United States, and that the total amount of money involved was $70 million.

In what may have been the first federal gambling case involving the internet in Maryland, IRS investigators and Montgomery County police teamed up to bust a ring that, in 2003 and 2004, handled action from Maryland customers on behalf of a Dominican company called World Wide Wagering, which runs the web site wager.dm. The conspiracy case, which ended with the convictions of seven men from Montgomery County, Baltimore, and Florida, followed the money flow to and from bettors and the defendants. The case included the cashing of more than $150,000 worth of checks at University Liquors in Hyattsville.

Just as IRS agents in Maryland were cracking the World Wide Wagering case, they started looking into Bodog. But it wasn’t until December 2006, shortly after the UIGEA was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush, that the Bodog investigation got serious–it began with an investigator logging onto the web site, posing as a customer, and starting to gamble.

Once the investigator started receiving payout checks in 2007, the money trail could be tracked. In the meantime, the investigation gained a cooperating witness from inside the internet-gambling industry, who corroborated facts about Bodog’s operations, including the contention that “Bodog takes in from $250,000 to millions per day on sports bookmaking alone,” court records show. An informant also helped out by corroborating facts based on experience using Bodog’s site to gamble in Florida. The informant was able to explain the betting process to investigators; additional information was gleaned from investigators working online-gambling probes in other jurisdictions.

By 2008, sufficient cause had been established by Maryland IRS investigators to seize funds from the bank accounts of three payment-processing companies suspected of handling funds for Bodog: JBL Services and Transactions Solutions in Georgia (JBL forfeiture), and a California company called ZAFTIG Instantly Processed Payments Corp., operating as ZipPayments.com.

On Jan. 18, 2008, U.S. District Court magistrate judge Beth Gesner signed a search-and-seizure warrant application for bank accounts in the name of JBL Services and Transactions Solutions; $14,200,195.73 was seized. On June 28, 2008, U.S. District Court magistrate judge Susan Gauvey signed another warrant application for ZipPayments.com bank accounts, which yielded another $9,869,283.05. By July 2008, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland had filed forfeiture actions against both pots of money. The legal actions were based on lengthy affidavits written by IRS criminal investigator Randall Carrow.

In September 2008, the case against ZipPayments.com’s money suddenly heated up. A claim for nearly $10 million was filed by ZipPayments.com and Edward Courdy, a California man who sought to have the money returned, saying it was lawfully his. Within days of filing his claim, Courdy was charged with money laundering, as was Michael Garone, a Georgia man connected to JBL Services and Transaction Solutions (“Bodog Internet Gambling Investigation Leads to Money-Laundering Charges,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 30, 2008). In February 2009, as a result of a forfeiture settlement negotiated by Courdy’s attorney, Stanley Greenberg, and assistant U.S. attorney Richard Kay, the government returned $200,000 of the ZipPayments.com money to Courdy, and kept the rest.

Today, the status of the criminal cases against Courdy and Garone is unclear. Some time in the fall of 2009, a little over a year after they were filed, the online records of the cases against them disappeared from the federal court-records database system, known as Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). Since Maryland’s federal courts handle only electronically filed documents, PACER is the only repository of its records. The disappearance from PACER of Maryland criminal case numbers 08-454 (against Courdy) and 08-455 (against Garone), creates the illusion that they were never filed at all–though City Paper still has copies of the documents charging them, which bear Rosenstein’s signature. Despite City Paper‘s requests for explanation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland has remained mum about what happened.

Courdy’s lawyer, Greenberg, has consistently declined City Paper‘s request for comment about his client’s troubles in Maryland. Efforts to contact Garone, and to identify his lawyer in the Maryland case, have been unsuccessful.

After the money seizures and criminal charges involving Courdy and Garone were filed, the online gambling investigation in Maryland appears to have shifted from the IRS to Immigration and Customs Enforcement–and the level of secrecy surrounding the investigation increased. Though numerous search-and-seizure warrants have been filed for the contents of bank accounts and an e-mail account associated with payment processors since last summer, nearly all of them were granted under seal, so probable cause for the seizures has not been revealed to the public.

Despite the secret nature of many of the seizure filings, certain information about them is available. Three ICE task force members in Maryland–Maryland State Police trooper Robert J. Mignona, ICE special agent M. Lisa Ward, and Anne Arundel County Police detective Richard S. Gunn–and one ICE special agent in Louisiana, Augusta B. Ferenec, filed the warrant applications. The companies whose bank accounts have been seized–HMD, Forshay Enterprises , and Electracash in California; Atrium Financial Group (AFG) in Delaware; and Direct Channel in Florida–are in the payment-processing business. The amounts seized so far from these companies’ bank accounts add up to $5,137,115.84. And, in the case of Electracash–a business that has past associations with Courdy–warrants have been issued not only to seize the contents of bank accounts, but of an e-mail account the company has with Intermedia, a New York City communications company. (The Electracash e-mail warrant, unlike the bank-account seizures, so far has yielded nothing, court records show.)

One of the unsealed search-warrant affidavits–the one filed early this year against Direct Channel’s bank account in Florida–was written by Ward, but draws directly from the IRS affidavit in the Courdy and Garone seizures, and thus sheds no new light on the investigation’s details. The other unsealed warrant, against Atrium Financial Group and written by Ferenec, shows that ICE’s financial-investigations group in New Orleans, La., along with the Louisiana State Police, are in on the Maryland probe (“GoldenCasino.com’s Payment Processor Targeted in Latest OnLine Gambling Seizures in Maryland,” The News Hole, Oct. 28, 2009).

The Louisiana end of the Maryland investigation began on July 14, 2008, when Louisiana State Police officers opened a gambling account with goldencasino.com. They did not immediately succeed, because the bank they were using to deposit $100 into the gambling account apparently blocked the transaction. On the second try, though, they succeeded. They then requested a payout.

The first payout check bounced, but the second one, from AFG, cleared, and the investigators, using information they gleaned from their transactions, used their investigative powers to start on up the money trail. They discovered funds moving between Canadian companies’ bank accounts in Canada and Cyprus and on to AFG bank accounts in the United States, which then issued checks to U.S. residents, including in Maryland. The transactions they tracked involved millions of dollars zipping across the globe.

“Because of enhanced monitoring of financial transactions since Sept. 11, we have a much better handle on the movement of funds,” Rosenstein says about the ability of investigators to dig into the online-gambling industry. In fact, the affidavits of investigators Carrow and Ferenec indicate that initiating a successful seizure of funds from payment processors doesn’t require particularly sophisticated investigative techniques. The trick, it seems, is trying to pinpoint where the money will be at any given moment, hoping to gain court orders to freeze it, and seize it before it shifts yet again.

Rosenstein points out another challenge investigators face in trying to seize online gambling funds: While it’s relatively easy to go after funds in U.S. accounts, going after offshore accounts–where the big money is, since that’s where the online gaming companies operate–is tricky.

“It’s similar to the challenges we face with child pornography, which is often stored overseas and transported to the United States over the internet,” Rosenstein says. “The degree of international cooperation with regard to child pornography is far greater than with offshore gambling, though. But we can readily intercept the money flowing through financial institutions that we have jurisdiction over.”

Rosenstein says online gambling can be prosecuted anywhere that customers are located, and that the public should expect to see more enforcement efforts taking place in more jurisdictions. He says that criminal activity is increasingly becoming more internet-based, and that investigative agencies are becoming more focused on financial crimes. They’re also becoming more sophisticated when it comes to following the money.

“Anything that illegally generates large amounts of money is a concern on many levels,” Rosenstein says. “People engaged in such conduct may be committing other crimes. They may not be paying taxes, and they may be investing in other illegal activities.”

Hysteria: In Maryland and Across the Country, the Federal Designer-Drug Crackdown Takes Prisoners, Cash, and a Legal Backlash

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Oct. 13, 2013

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Dev Bahadur Hamal worked behind the counter of the Tobacco Stop in Bel Air, one of those ubiquitous shops that sell legal smokables and accessories for illegal ones, like bongs, hookahs, rolling papers, pot grinders, and glass pipes.

On Sept. 22, 2011, a customer stepped up to the counter and asked whether the Tobacco Stop sold “Hysteria.” Hamal nodded and sold him a 1-gram packet of the stuff, labeled “potpourri” that is “not for human consumption,” for $21.20. The customer held his hand to his mouth while pinching together his thumb and index finger, and asked if “you smoke this stuff.” Hamal said, “Yes.” Pointing out that his pipe wasn’t working properly, the customer asked for rolling papers, and Hamal said the stuff was “very strong,” urging caution if smoking it that way.

Hamal’s helpfulness has been memorialized in numerous federal court documents in the years since, causing no end of trouble.

The customer, it turned out, was an undercover officer working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Hysteria, subsequent testing confirmed, was a kind of illegal designer drug popularly known as “K2” or “Spice,” said to mimic the effects of pot. Hamal had unwittingly spawned a cross-country probe into an alleged illegal Spice supply line to Maryland from California.

Now, though, after the headlines about the arrests, seizures, and successful prosecutions resulting from Operation Log Jam and Project Synergy, one thing should be abundantly clear: It’s a risky proposition to sell anything exotic that’s construed as a legal high.

 

Nine months after Hamal’s Hysteria sale to the undercover officer and nearly 2,700 miles away, on June 12, 2012, Ratchanee McAuley was at M&C Wholesale. The business occupied three suites in a one-story, block-long commercial building in Laguna Niguel, Calif., in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. Around noon, the 40-year-old from Arizona and four others unloaded a Rapid Express truck delivering packages to M&C. Then McAuley took her small white dog for a walk.

As the day wore on, pallets of white canvas bags about the size of sandbags were moved around M&C’s suites, and more deliveries arrived, including boxes filled with black foil packaging. The business made and received lots of deliveries – its FedEx bill for a four-month period that year was over $100,000. Just after 6 p.m., McAuley put her dog in a silver Land Rover, drove to a house in nearby San Juan Capistrano, checked the mail, and walked toward the front door.

These glimpses of McAuley and M&C come courtesy of David Metzler, a Howard County cop assigned as a task-force officer to DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad 59. He went to Laguna Niguel and observed them himself, then meticulously described what he saw in numerous sworn court documents. He also swore out the details of Hamal’s Hysteria sale-and much more, involving others at M&C and at another Baltimore smoke shop, the Dragon’s Den on Fleet Street in Fells Point.

At the Dragon’s Den in the fall and winter of 2011, Carlo D’Addario of Timonium had sold bath salts to people from Virginia, and federal authorities there indicted him for it in early 2012. D’Addario’s co-defendant, Holly Renae Sprouse of Craigsville, Va., near Shenandoah National Park, helped build evidence against him, and both would later plead guilty and receive relatively short sentences-a year in prison for D’Addario, and 20 months for Sprouse.

Shortly after D’Addario’s indictment, under the supervision of Metzler’s crew, orders for Spice were placed from the Dragon’s Den to M&C, where the Tobacco Stop had gotten its Hysteria.

By June 2012, after serving search warrants for email accounts and making the controlled buys orchestrated at the Dragon’s Den, Metzler’s team had good reason to suspect M&C supplied Spice products, branded with names such as “Hysteria,” “Brain Freeze,” “Dr. Feelgood,” and “Black Sabbath,” to the Tobacco Stop, the Dragon’s Den, and other such shops in Indiana, Kentucky, and New York.

On July 25, 2012, M&C Wholesale was raided and its bank accounts emptied. The next day, the DEA announced Operation Log Jam, explaining in its press release that the AEA “allows these drugs to be treated as controlled substances if they are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance,” including anything from pot and heroin to prescription painkillers and methadone.

The raid on M&C turned up several thousand pounds of suspected Spice, several kilograms of suspected analogue chemicals used in making Spice, and several thousand packets of Hysteria, Brain Freeze, and other brands of Spice.

Metzler had good cause to suspect they’d find such a haul. On July 17, about a week before the raid, he’d spoken with a courier who’d made deliveries at M&C and described seeing “8-10 individuals seated around a table handling piles of a green herb-like substance”-“no other sort of activity seemed to be ongoing.”

These observations, Metzler wrote in court records, “are entirely consistent [with] M&C Wholesale being exclusively devoted to the manufacture and distribution of analogue substances.”

No federal criminal charges have yet been filed publicly against anyone involved with M&C’s operation. Nor have charges been filed against Hamal or the Tobacco Stop’s owner, Kyu Tae Yi.

Others have not been so fortunate.

 

In September, federal prosecutors in Maryland moved to keep $105,574 seized from Bruce Lloyd Bradburn and his business, the Dundalk smoke shop Up in Flamez, in part because “large quantities of synthetic marijuana” were found in the store and in Bradburn’s nearby home. As a result of the probe, Bradburn is currently scheduled for a December trial on narcotics and gun charges in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Earlier, in August, federal prosecutors filed suit to keep $259,988.61 seized in a synthetic-drug investigation of three Puff & Stuff smoke shops in the Cumberland area of Western Maryland. Puff & Stuff’s owners, Traci Lynn and Charles Casey, have filed claims in the matter, asserting “a legitimate and lawful interest” in the cash, which they say they “earned, saved, and acquired through lawful employment and enterprises.” But the probe prompted drug-conspiracy indictments against the Caseys in Allegany Circuit Court, and both are scheduled for separate trials later this year.

Also this year, three men – Nathaniel Petit, Andrew Burger, and Joshua Sylvia – were charged and pleaded guilty in a conspiracy to distribute methylone shipped here from China. Methylone is used to make bath salts, and though banned temporarily under the DEA in 2011, it was only in April of this year that methylone was listed as a drug banned by the CSA. Shortly thereafter, Petit, Burger, and Sylvia were charged in Maryland federal court, though they were caught in June 2012 and initially charged in state court. They are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.

These new Maryland cases show how effectively synthetic-drug laws can be enforced to punish accused Maryland criminals and to try to take their ill-gotten gains. Sprouse’s lawyer, Fred Heblich, a veteran federal public defender in Virginia and a lecturer at the University of Virginia School of Law, says criminal cases involving analogues are hard for defendants to beat.

“The way that the statute is written is very broad,” Heblich says, “so that the legal definition of an analogue is not specifically the same as the scientific definition.” This means cases are “easy to prosecute because the courts don’t require scientific accuracy.” So, in a typical case in which a prosecutor is trying to prove a chemical is an analogue of a banned substance, the prosecutor simply calls to the stand a “DEA chemist who testifies they’re similar,” Heblich explains, “and then brings in a user, who says it’s similar – ‘I’ve used that stuff and it’s a lot like meth.'”

Heblich says Spice cases are “a little different animal than the bath salts-like pot and meth are different.” Law enforcers might find “Spice is less worthwhile to pursue because it doesn’t have the cachet of bath salts – there are no stories of people eating people on Spice,” Heblich says, referring to a story last year in Miami that went viral with the false information that a man who attacked another man by chewing his face was on bath salts. And bath salts, more than Spice, pose a greater law-enforcement problem, he adds, because “there are hundreds of them, and you could create thousands of analogues of this stuff.”

In bringing analogue cases to criminal court, though, the defendant is at a distinct disadvantage, Heblich says, because “the judges let the government put in whatever evidence they want, and the jury is going to convict.”

When asked about probes that have resulted not in criminal charges but in asset-forfeiture cases, Heblich says law enforcers “will go after you if you have money – that’s all they care about now.”

 

Analogue cases that go after alleged manufacturers’ assets have shown some potential to reveal the AEA’s frailties – such as the forfeiture case against M&C, filed in November 2012, which seeks to keep the $2.2 million seized from the company’s bank accounts, along with 34 money orders and 102 checks made out to the company. Like other Operation Log Jam forfeiture cases elsewhere, this one has not been easily concluded.

This summer, after Maryland Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan Shea filed an amended complaint in the case with U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander, M&C’s attorneys, Randall Skeen and William Feldman, moved to dismiss it. They argued that the government failed to establish a fundamental common-law principle: mens rea, which is Latin for “guilty mind.” No evidence, they claimed, had been produced to show that M&C and its operators “actually knew that the substances at issue were unlawful.”

The reason the government hadn’t shown this, the lawyers continued, is that the AEA is so “unconstitutionally vague” that “a person of ordinary intelligence would have no way to reasonably learn that these substances are unlawful and thus have an opportunity to conform their conduct to the requirements of law.”

Shea swatted down these arguments in a brief filed in August, citing abundant precedent that the AEA-even when applied to recently banned substances and their analogues-consistently has been ruled not unconstitutionally vague.

Then M&C attorneys’ reply cut to the core of the matter: money. Any proceeds derived from M&C’s sale of Spice before March 1, 2011, the date the compounds involved were temporarily banned by the DEA, should not be forfeitable, they argued, nor should any proceeds that haven’t been shown to be connected to sales of banned substances. This, they claim, comes to $1,829,784.50 plus interest “based upon the government’s improper seizure.”

While M&C’s motion to dismiss the Maryland forfeiture is awaiting a ruling by Hollander – and while a related suit M&C filed in Utah, where some of its money was seized, has been put on hold pending Hollander’s decision – in Florida, a whale of an Operation Log Jam forfeiture fight is underway.

In Operation Log Jam’s Tampa-area takedown, over $18 million, a handful of homes, and a brand-new Infiniti belonging to Timothy Hummel and his family were seized. Hummel, his family, and his colleagues in an alleged Spice-manufacturing operation have not been charged criminally, and they want their property back – but the government has moved to keep it. In working to have the case thrown out of court, Hummel’s lawyers, James Felman and Katherine Yanes, have tossed around some weighty rhetoric and strong claims.

Calling the Hummel forfeiture and Operation Log Jam “the latest installment of the modern American assault on the bedrock principle of mens rea” and “the first instance in the history of the Republic in which the government has sought to seize assets – and potentially imprison its citizens – based on conduct that it literally would not have been possible for the citizenry to know was unlawful,” the lawyers argued that, in Hummel’s case, the government is doing this based on “a single man-a chemist employed by the DEA named Terrance Boos.”

Boos, according to court records, testified in February at another federal proceeding in Wisconsin, offering his scientific opinion that two compounds-XLR11 and UR-144-are banned analogues under the AEA’s standards, and that he was not aware of anyone at DEA who disagreed with that conclusion.

But Hummel later obtained government documents showing that wasn’t the case-that, in fact, as Hummel’s lawyers put it, “an entire Section of the DEA disagreed not only with Dr. Boos’ conclusion that UR-144 is an unlawful analogue, but also with his authority to reach such a conclusion on behalf of the agency.”

Thus, Hummel has unearthed dissent within DEA over whether certain substances do, in fact, meet the AEA’s “substantially similar” standard.

The Wisconsin case Boos testified in was heard by veteran U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa, a Vietnam War veteran who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush and served until 2009 as the chief judge of the state’s eastern district. It involved $100,000 worth of “herbal incense” that was seized in September 2012 from The Smoke Shop in Delavan, Wis., by law enforcers who wanted to test it for illegal analogues. When they wouldn’t give it back, the owner sued for its return.

After late-winter hearings and briefings, Randa noted that “the overwhelming weight of opinion in the scientific community” is that the substances found in the incense, UR-144 and XLR-11, “are not substantially similar to the chemical structure” of an already-banned substance, JWH-018, and therefore could not be ruled analogues.

On May 16, though, in the midst of the litigation, DEA put UR-144 and XLR-11 on the list of temporarily banned analogues.

Less than a week later, on May 21, Randa concluded in an order that, given DEA’s new ban, he had no choice but to dismiss the Smoke Shop’s suit. In doing so, though, he leveled some blunt criticism of the way this complicated law is being enforced.

“Under this scenario,” Randa wrote, “it seems unfair for a federal agency to seize the property of a small business owner and then keep it until it is declared illegal.”

There you have it: a federal judge saying what defense attorneys have been arguing, so far without success – that law enforcers’ approach to leveraging the AEA’s significant powers in expanding the menu of banned analogues, in one instance at least, “seems unfair.”

MDPV

Attorneys attacking the AEA often turn to a memorable critique penned in 2008, well before the recent spate of analogue bans: the act’s definition of an analogue is an “unholy union of legalese and chemistry jargon [that] is probably enough to bewilder even the most studious individuals,” Gregory Kau concluded in “Flashback to the Federal Analog Act of 1986: Mixing Rules and Standards in the Cauldron,” an article in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

Still, arguing that the AEA is so vague that people can’t reasonably be expected to know whether or not they are breaking it has not been received well by courts. Over and over again, the argument has been rejected.

A high-profile Operation Log Jam defendant in Arizona, Michael “Rocky” Lane, for instance, got nowhere in pre-trial motions on this question and ended up convicted by a jury this summer. Afterwards, in September, his attorney asked for a new trial-again, in part, based on claims the AEA is unconstitutionally vague. As the prosecutor’s response makes clear, the argument is not likely to win-but the attorney, Bruce Feder, scored rhetorical points in trying.

In addition to quoting Kau’s “unholy union” commentary, Feder reached back in time to invoke the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in a 1931 opinion. “Although it is not likely that a criminal will carefully consider the text of the law before he murders or steals,” Holmes wrote, “it is reasonable that a fair warning should be given to the world in language that the common world will understand, of what the law intends to do if a certain line is passed. To make the warning fair, so far as possible the line should be clear.”

Sometimes, the line may not be sufficiently clear even to the law enforcers themselves. In one 2011 case in Maryland, for instance, a designer-drug prosecution was abandoned until a judge officially dismissed the charges – and the defendant proceeded to successfully sue for the return of property seized in the probe. This rare instance, perhaps, is more telling of the vagaries of the designer-drug crackdown than any protests of those targeted.

The man’s name is Mohd Abujamous, and his saga began on May 3, 2011, when a suspicious box containing five packages of an off-white powder arrived from China at a Howard County UPS store. Investigators, thanks to information from the people who arranged to have the package picked up, quickly got a search warrant to raid a warehouse in New Market, near Frederick. They found it operated “as a manufacturer, packager, and distributor of various designer drug products including bath salts and Spice,” according to court documents, and determined Abujamous ran it.

The warehouse was filled with incriminating evidence, including barrels and boxes of chemicals used in Spice and barrels of powder, an envelope in one of them labeled MDPV, which is used to make bath salts, along with lots of substance-filled packets labeled “not for human consumption.”

On May 27, 2011, Abujamous was charged with manufacturing and possessing with intent to distribute chemicals used in Spice, JWH-018, and JWH-073, which the DEA had temporarily banned under the AEA on March 1, 2011. The case languished for months, and Abujamous’ attorney, Richard Karceski, asked for it to be dismissed, pointing out that the “Government has done nothing, to include refusing to respond to defense counsel’s calls and e-mails.”

In November 2011, Abujamous instead was indicted for a different crime-introducing misbranded drugs into commerce-and shortly thereafter the Spice charges were dismissed by the prosecutor, Philip Jackson. The misbranding indictment was based on the “not for human consumption” Spice labeling and the fact that the bath salts packages did not say they contained MDPV.

Nearly a year passed after the indictment without any activity by the government. So in October 2012, Karceski moved to dismiss the indictment, pointing out that Abujamous’ right to a speedy trial was being violated. Jackson never responded, so, in late November, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ordered the indictment dismissed.

Abujamous was off the hook, after about 18 months of prosecutorial silence and inactivity. But his property taken during the raid-about $36,000 of industrial equipment, including a truck, cement mixers, and some packaging machines-was being kept by the government, and he wanted it back. Not getting any response to his requests, he ended up suing-and winning.

Judge Blake ordered the government to return Abujamous’ seized equipment in June. In doing so, she also denied attempts by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stefan Cassella, an expert on asset-forfeiture law, to have the case dismissed or put on hold – which, in the latter instance, was filed under seal, so Cassella’s arguments remained shrouded from public view.

Neither Karceski nor the U.S. Attorneys’ Office will provide insights as to what went on with this case. However, an August 2011 letter from Karceski to Jackson, included in case documents, sheds some light on the circumstances.

“My client has always said that he was never in violation of any federal law regarding the compounds with which he is charged,” Karceski wrote. “I request that you provide me with a detailed chemical analysis conducted by the forensic division of the DEA. A fair evaluation will show that the banned chemicals were not contained in the product seized, nor were they seized in bulk from my client.”

Apparently, there was some confusion over the law.

Jewelry Dealer Boasted of Drug-Dealer Ties

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, June 4, 2014

Today, Eugene Petasky is a humbled man, serving a 41-month prison sentence at West Virginia’s Morgantown Federal Correctional Institution after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore last fall to laundering drug money through his jewelry business, Metro Brokers, for nearly a quarter of a century. But on Nov. 8, 2006, when still a free man, Petasky spoke with apparent pride of his drug-world connections, sharing the details with an undercover cooperator in a sting operation that resulted in his indictment weeks later.

The account of Petasky’s litany of drug-world ties is contained in documents included in a civil forfeiture case, entered into the federal court record on April 7, in which the government is seeking to keep two firearms and ammunition seized from Metro Brokers during a November 2006 raid. To back up its forfeiture pleading, the government included a search-warrant affidavit written by Sharnell N. Thomas, a special agent with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division. The affidavit includes a paragraph describing Petasky’s conversation with the cooperator.

“Petasky discussed being associated with several drug traffickers,” Thomas wrote, including “Darryl Henderson, also known as ‘Bam,’ [who] would kill anyone that hurt Petasky.”

Thomas wrote that Petasky stated that he “paid Bam’s legal fees” and that “Bam was an associate of Greg Parker, a well known drug trafficker” in Baltimore. According to the affadavit, he also discussed another “well known” Baltimore drug dealer named “Ya Ya Brockington” and recalled selling “a large chain with a pool table encrusted with diamonds and rubies” to “an individual named ‘Wimpy,'” and “discussed the possibility that Wimpy was killed by another well known drug trafficker . . . Rudy Williams.”

While Thomas’ affidavit describes several of the drug-world figures cited by Petasky as “well known,” only one—Rudy Williams —may qualify as truly famous. The savage criminal career of Linwood “Rudy” Williams was the subject of a lengthy 1992 article in the Baltimore Sun by David Simon, who compared Williams to William Shakespeare’s dramatic and bloody portrayal of King Richard III. Simon’s piece includes an account of “Curtis ‘Wimpy’ Manns, who took Williams into his own drug organization, then ended his career as a corpse in Baltimore County, with partner and friend Williams as the prime suspect.”

In all likelihood, the “Wimpy” Petaski referred to was Manns. Williams, meanwhile, is serving his life sentence at the high-security United State Penitentiary—Canaan, near Scranton, Pa. Details of the other drug dealers Petasky mentioned—Darryl Henderson, Greg Parker, and Ya Ya Brockington—remain inscrutable as of press time.

Given the number of years that have passed since Williams and Manns were on the scene, Petasky’s 2006 boasts may have been more reminiscent of times past than of his contemporary stature on Baltimore’s mean streets. But that a man with Petasky’s trappings—records show he was a donor to Maryland politicians, drove luxury vehicles, had a diversified investment portfolio, and owned a nice home on Woodvalley Drive near Stevenson in Baltimore County—would claim such ties, even in vaunted rhetoric, speaks volumes of the drug culture’s reach into respectable circles.

Petasky’s past—he was previously convicted by a jury in 1990 in connection with a similar money-laundering scheme involving Metro Brokers and an attorney, Neil Steinhorn, who was also convicted—meant that he was prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition. As part of Petasky’s plea deal, though, prosecutors dismissed the firearms charges, along with numerous other counts of financial crimes. He pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy count of money laundering, and agreed to forfeit $336,000 to the government as ill-gotten gains. Petasky is scheduled to be released from prison on Jan. 1, 2013.

A Dog In the Fight: Baltimore’s Enforcement of Animal-Cruelty Laws is Getting Some Bite

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 17, 2015

Photo: aspca.org

Last March, the door of a vacant house at 6203 York Road in Baltimore was forced open by police to reveal a scene of prolonged horror. The broad contours of what happened were pieced together by authorities after someone reported that a live animal was trapped inside the house in Cedarcroft, a nice neighborhood on the city’s northern boundary.

Baltimore City animal enforcement officer (AEO) Megan Zeiler looked through a window in the house and saw a dead dog. She called the police for help, and when they entered, they found the home “covered in animal waste,” while the “extremely emaciated” dead dog’s “face appeared to have been eaten by another animal,” court records explain. While Zeiler examined the dog, named Rudy, a “live emaciated cat” named Lola “came down the steps” of the house, “covered in dried blood, presumably from consuming dead animal.” Zeiler “found a dead cat” on the third floor that “also appeared to have been eaten.”

Zeiler talked with a neighbor, who explained he had not seen the home’s owner since January. Thus, it appeared that Rudy, Lola, and the other cat had been locked in the house, left to their own devices, for about two months. Only Lola made it out alive, apparently by eating the others. The dead cat’s cause of death is “unknown because most of the body was missing,” court records state, while Rudy “suffered terribly with evidence of severe neglect and lack of veterinary care,” along with “extended malnutrition/starvation.”

After a bit of detective work, someone was held to account: the vacant home’s owner, 33-year-old Patrick Kenji Ito. Charged on July 17 with 31 counts of various forms of animal cruelty, he was arrested a week later and released pending trial on his own recognizance. At his Oct. 7 court appearance, prosecutors declined to press all charges but one count of aggravated animal cruelty. Ito pleaded not guilty and was given two years of supervised probation before judgment and ordered to pay $264 in restitution to the nonprofit Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), where Lola was treated.

Ito, the chef and co-owner of Hampden’s McCabe’s Restaurant, has not yet paid restitution to BARCS. (BARCS has filed a court lien against him for the amount owed, which they do whenever defendants fail to pay the ordered restitution).

In a Facebook message responding to City Paper’s inquiries, Ito explains that the York Road house had gone into foreclosure and he had moved out, and “there clearly had been quite a few people in and out of the property” after that, and then “out of nowhere I got arrested for animal cruelty charges.” The dead dog, he claims, “was not my dog” though the authorities “thought it was. I just took the offer of probation so there was no possibility of me doing jail time for these ridiculous charges.” He adds that “this has been quite an ordeal and I just really don’t want to be pictured as this animal killer after all this.” In a follow-up phone conversation, Ito adds that “my dog Rudy is still alive.”

The case against Ito is one of 28 criminal matters City Paper reviewed in order to get a grasp of how people in Baltimore are getting caught and penalized for abusing animals. Detailed in sworn statements contained in the court files, they run the gamut from a man who left a dog locked in a hot car, to a woman who threw a kitten against a wall, to dogfighting.

The 28 cases show that animal abuse is a big tent of bad conduct by all sorts of regular citizens, not just violent drug dealers driven by greed and bloodlust to hold high-dollar dogfighting events, as in a massive dogfighting indictment filed in December. They also show that law enforcers are going after all manner of animal abuse, and taking the crimes seriously.

As recently as April 2013, the city’s animal-abuse enforcement effort was lambasted in a report of the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission (MAAAC), which City Hall tried to suppress. The report found “many law enforcement officials in Baltimore continue to treat animal abuse as a minor property crime,” yet predicted that “2013 promises to be a better year.”

If 2013 brought improvements on the abuse-fighting front, 2014 appears to have brought even more. City Paper asked to interview police and prosecutors about their efforts to combat animal abuse, and Tammy Brown, spokeswoman for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, said only “we work very closely with Animal Control to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty cases when they are merited,” though her office did provide defendants’ names and court-case numbers for some of its 2014 prosecutions.

A request to interview Sharon Miller, director of Baltimore City’s Office of Animal Control, about her encounters with animal abuse in the field, and how enforcement has changed or improved over time, was met with a prepared statement.

Each year, Animal Control’s statement says, it receives “approximately 5,000 calls [that] are classified as Animal In Danger,” such as “dogs inhumanely chained in rear yard, injured animals, animals that appear malnourished, etc.” The “office responds and investigates each call” and also “works closely with” police and prosecutors “in investigating suspected cases of neglect and abuse,” a “collaborative relationship” that “has led to an aggressive investigative approach which has resulted in an increase in felony arrests and prosecutions.” That last point is backed up by the number of animal-abuse arrests processed at Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center (BCBIC), which went from 17 in 2013 to 24 in 2014.

BARCS’ Executive Director Jennifer Brause says “animal abuse is taken more seriously now,” with “more enforcement, deeper investigations, and more prosecutions, and it makes you feel good because something is being done about it.” Greater enforcement spawns more citizen reports of abuse, she adds, because “now they know something is going to be done about it.”

Not among those 2014 arrests, though, were the 22 people indicted for a massive dogfighting conspiracy in December 2014—a case that is perhaps the best gauge of how seriously Baltimore law enforcers now take animal abuse.

Hundreds of dogs and huge hauls of dogfighting paraphernalia, along with guns, drugs, and cash, have been recovered as a result of the dogfighting investigation. The case is overseen not by line prosecutors, but by the elite Major Investigations Unit (MIU) of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, an outfit best known for prosecuting gangs and handling complex wiretap investigations.

As then-State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein pointed out when he announced the indictment, “there is a strong connection between those individuals who would subject animals to horrific treatment and abuse and those engaged in the drug trade and acts of violence.” The indictment, he continued, “hopefully will protect innocent and vulnerable animals from further abuse and reduce violent criminal activity.”

The cases City Paper reviewed also show this connection, but not always. Ito, for instance, has not otherwise faced criminal charges in Maryland, and neither have many of the other defendants. The 28 cases, though, have at least one thing in common: victims. All told, 74 dogs and five cats suffered, whether or not the perpetrator suffered consequences.

Those defendants deemed guilty, says retired city animal-abuse investigator Eric Banks, “should be kept from ever owning another animal, another pet,” he says, adding, “if you’ll abuse a dog, a pet, you’ll abuse a child. It’s the same mindset.” While the law doesn’t allow this, the effort to seek justice on abused pets’ behalf shows the city does indeed have a dog in the anti-abuse fight, and it has some teeth.

Tavon Sol was 8 years old in 1999 when since-retired Baltimore Sun features writer Carl Schoettler profiled him and his father, Tyrone Sol, in a boxing story. Tavon, “looking like a chunky spaceman in his protective headgear and midriff guard, whacks away at his dad with more enthusiasm than skill,” Schoettler wrote. “But he’s learning.”

The son apparently learned more than boxing from his dad. Fast-forward to 2011, when both were charged for guns and drugs. Eventually, prosecutors declined to pursue most of the charges, but Tavon Sol pleaded guilty to drug possession and was put on six months of probation, while 56-year-old Tyrone Sol, an already-convicted drug dealer and burglar, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and was given a two-month sentence in October 2013.

A month after his father was sentenced, Tavon Sol rolled up to his home at 545 N. Fulton Ave. to find the police raiding the place. After advising him of his rights, the officers took his statement: “he had three guns and marijuana in his basement bedroom” and “all the pit bulls at the location was [sic] owned by him,” whether “dead or alive.”

In the house, in addition to guns, drugs, cash, and “various dog fighting paraphernalia,” were seven pit bulls in the basement, three pit bulls “chained to the rear fence line outside,” and a “deceased pit bull in a cage on the rear deck outside the kitchen door.”

Come Jan. 19, the only remaining charges remaining against Sol involved the guns and drugs, as prosecutors dropped the 12 animal-cruelty and dogfighting-related charges against him. Those, it turns out, were rolled into the MIU’s dogfighting-conspiracy case.

The indictment describes in greater detail the fruits of the November 2013 raid on Sol’s house: In addition to the 11 dogs, there were “materials, devices, and instruments used to facilitate the breeding, training, and fighting of dogs (e.g., a treadmill, conditioning harnesses, breaking sticks, wound treatment, dietary supplements, etc.),” and “one of the pitbull puppies was deceased due to starvation.”

Thus, Sol is no longer on the hook for just the animal-abuse crimes apparent in the November 2013 raid on his house, but of the crimes of the whole 22-member conspiracy, which is alleged to have spanned from April 2013 to when it was indicted in December. The grand jury claims he’s part of what the indictment calls “a closely-knit clandestine community” that used “disturbing conditioning methods designed to make dogs more aggressive, vicious, and lethal.” This was done to “increase the chances of prevailing in dogfights—and to maximize the corresponding profits from gambling on matches,” where “the total purse” can be “$100,000 and higher, with individual cash bets of $25,000,” or “even greater at larger events.”

Of the 22 defendants, eight have prior convictions for violence, five for handguns, two for sex offenses, and one for murder. Earlier in 2014, some of Sol’s co-defendants, including the father-and-son team of William Murray Jr. and William Murray III and Tyrone Wolfe, already had already appeared in court documents for suspicions of dogfighting, as had a man, William Paige, who’s mentioned though not charged in the MIU indictment.

As Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers were preparing to raid Murray III’s home at 2801 Oswego Ave. in Park Heights in April 2014, the 27-year-old emerged from the house, got into a white Ford Crown Victoria, and drove off. The officers stopped and arrested him for not having a valid driver’s license. Thus, Murray III wasn’t present for the raid on his house, but his girlfriend, Victoria Burnham, and an infant were.

The raid turned up drugs, a gun, and “5 pit bull type dogs within cages” in the basement. One of the dogs “was severely injured” and the other four “were injured with scarring and swelling,” while one was wearing a “weighted collar.” Among the wide array of dogfighting paraphernalia found were a “weight pulling harness,” a “weight pulling sled,” a “scale used for weigh in for dog fight,” and “conditioning videos.”

The police then went to the Murrays’ used-car dealership, around the corner at 4026 Reisterstown Road, where 48-year-old Murray Jr. was there to let them in. More dogfighting paraphernalia was recovered, including veterinary-care medicine, dietary supplements, and “various animal fighting documents.”

Burnham and Murray III were arrested and charged for drug- and dogfighting-related offenses, and Murray Jr., who was entrusted with the infant, was not arrested. The case against Burnham dwindled to a minor pot charge. Murray III’s case continued until Jan. 15, when prosecutors declined to pursue the charges, which by then had been rolled into MIU’s dogfighting indictment.

Then, on Jan. 12, Murray Jr. and his wife, Barbara Murray, were also indicted in Baltimore County in a separate dogfighting conspiracy, which also includes animal-cruelty counts for failing to provide “proper drink” to several horses. Murray Jr., who owns the Southwest Baltimore arabber stables on Carlton Street that were raided on Jan. 13 over concerns about the care provided to the horses there, also faces numerous firearms-related counts in the Baltimore County conspiracy, including for possessing guns when he’s prohibited from doing so given his prior felony record.

Wolfe, meanwhile, made a blip on the anti-dogfighting enforcers’ radar on June 18, 2014, when animal-control director Miller and BPD officers came to his house at 3922 W. Garrison Ave. with a warrant to check on “the health and welfare and licensing” of animals there. Once inside, they found 41-year-old Wolfe, Ebony Goins, and three children.

“We smoke weed, and that’s it,” Wolfe told the officers, adding “there is an old gun in the basement.” Also in the basement, Miller observed, were “a make shift box with carpet on the floor which had blood stains,” while three pit bulls were in the backyard, one of which had “bite wounds/scarring” and another had “a long split of the tongue.” A “weight pulling harness” and a “treadmill” were also found, “an indication of conditioning a dog for a fight.”

The charges against Wolfe, who was previously convicted of assault with intent to murder and handgun violations, remain pending in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Paige can count himself lucky not to be charged in MIU’s case, since his name appears in the indictment, along with the circumstances found at the 58-year-old’s house in January 2014. That’s when, similar to what happened to Wolfe, Baltimore authorities came knocking at his Sandtown-Winchester house at 1118 N. Carrollton Ave. with a warrant to check on the welfare of animals there.

In addition to guns and drugs, six pit bulls were found in the backyard, “housed in 50 gallon plastic drum barrels” and “chained with heavy chains” in frigid, 14-degree weather. Several bore scars “on the face, chest, and legs,” suggesting they “have been fought.” In October 2014, the Sandtown-Winchester resident was sentenced to three years in prison for having fight-trained dogs and five years for being a felon in possession of a firearm, in light of his 1985 attempted-murder conviction. Thus, Paige’s penalties had already been meted out before the indictment came down.

While the dogfighting scene appears to be populated with nefarious characters with shady backgrounds and criminal proclivities, numerous people with clean or nearly pristine criminal backgrounds have been snared for animal abuse in Baltimore. At times, their culpability was established after they engaged Baltimore’s animal-welfare apparatus upon their pet’s sickness or death.

Take 47-year-old Northeast Baltimore resident Tonya McCoy. In January 2014, she surrendered the body of her dead brown-and-white pit bull to BARCS. An employee there was “concerned about the condition” of the dog, and so contacted an AEO, who inspected the dog and found it “emaciated and dehydrated.”

When interviewed, McCoy explained that the dog “became sick two weeks ago,” and took it to the vet, but “the line was too long and the dog died before making it to the shelter, about 30-40 minutes earlier.” But the dog “was cold to the touch,” its left side “had begun to flatten” as if it “had been on its side for an extended period, . . . yellow liquid was draining from the dog’s nose and mouth,” and its body temperature “did not register on the thermometer.”

A necropsy concluded the dog “suffered from serious neglect” and “lack of proper nutrition” for “weeks/months.” It had an inflamed abdominal wall, a “very painful condition” that would have rendered it “visibly sick and in pain.” McCoy was found guilty of one count of animal cruelty, for which she received one year of unsupervised probation before judgment.

Andrea Eaton, a 48-year-old Northeast Baltimore resident, adopted a dog named Sput Lee from BARCS in January 2013, but it was in poor condition when her brother brought the dog back to BARCS in February 2014. Eaton admitted she “never found out why the dog was losing weight and did nothing more until the time of surrender” by her brother. Under BARCS care, the dog regained weight, adding 13 pounds in six days. Eaton was given 18 months of supervised probation and ordered to pay $496.55 in restitution to BARCS, which she has not yet paid.

The case of 33-year-old Torrelee Lane, who called the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MDSPCA) in June 2014 to say “her dog had been hit by a car about two months ago” and was “chewing at the foot,” shows the lengths to which animal-welfare investigators sometimes have to go.

After prompting from MDSPCA, Lane arrived there hours later with the dog, identified as “T.K.,” whose foot was wrapped up with a towel, electrical tape, and a plastic bag. Amputation was required, because  T.K.’s “entire foot and part of the bone was missing,” and that the dog had “severed” bones.

Lane had mentioned she had other dogs, so an extensive probe ensued, overcoming Lane’s efforts to thwart it. Ultimately, authorities came to her home with a warrant and found three pit bulls, including a “thin and unresponsive” puppy that had parvovirus, a highly contagious and life-threatening disease. All three were euthanized. Lane was put on one year of supervised probation, and had to pay $57.50 in court costs.

In other cases, people called authorities to have their unwanted, sick dogs picked up, and AEOs responded to discover neglected animals. One of them, 40-year-old Ellwood Park resident Gregory Williams, told an AEO his Rottweiler, who was “extremely emaciated,” had “eaten a rat” and “had been in the same condition for about a month.” Turned out, the dog had a condition requiring a special diet, and gained seven pounds with proper care. Williams got one year of supervised probation for animal cruelty and was ordered to pay $294 in restitution to BARCS, which he has yet to pay.

Another man, 44-year-old West Baltimore resident Louis Raymond Jefferson, called to have Animal Control pick up his Rottweiler, Bo, and the responding AEOs found “a very thin” dog “lying on a urine soaked sheet” in 28-degree weather. Jefferson said Bo “had been sick for about a month” without “any veterinary care.” BARCS found Bo to be “in horrible condition, emaciated, dirty, unable to walk, with pressure sores, and extremely swollen/enlarged joints,” and after the dog was euthanized, it was determined that Bo was “an old dog with numerous problems such as failing organs and parasitism.” Jefferson got six months of unsupervised probation.

One of the dogs seized in the December bust of a Baltimore-based dogfighting ring (WBAL)

Calls from tipsters spawned many of the 2014 animal-abuse cases City Paper reviewed, and responding AEOs turned up some heart-breaking cases of abuse.

A tip about two underweight dogs “left out in the cold” brought AEOs to 934 N. Rosedale St. in West Baltimore in January 2014. They found a pit bull on a short chain lying on a blanket outside of an “igloo dog house” in 4-degree weather, and a white dog “dead on arrival and frozen to the bottom of the doghouse.” A 48-year-old woman, Bridget Jones, “came to the door” and claimed ownership of the dogs. She got a 90-day sentence (with 86 days suspended) and probation for one year, and was ordered to pay $150 in restitution to BARCS, which she hasn’t yet paid. Since the animal-cruelty charges were filed, Jones has been found guilty of theft and, in yet another case, charged with first-degree assault and use of deadly weapon with intent to injure.

In February 2014, BPD officers and AEOs went to 2818 Ellicott Drive in West Baltimore, responding to “an anonymous call that a dog had been abandoned in the rear yard,” which is exactly what they found. Neighbors confirmed that it had been “left outside, tied to a pole in the cold” for “over a month,” and the police noted it “had severe scars on his legs and nose.”a year of supervised probation and ordered to pay $500 in restitution to BARCS, which she has not yet paid.

“The owner of the home,” 50-year-old Carolyn Simmons, walked up to the scene, bearing “the strong pungent odor of marijuana on her person.” When told of her impending arrest on animal-cruelty charges and the apparent smell of pot, Simmons announced, “I got some bud in my bra underneath my breast on the left side.” Simmons was given a year of supervised probation and ordered to pay $500 in restitution to BARCS, which she has not yet paid.

In July 2014, AEOs and BPD officers were directed to an apartment in the 3800 block of Rogers Avenue by a tip about a “deceased dog,” and came upon a disturbing scene. In the garage was a live dog that was “being stung by bees which were on a hive near the dog,” which was “tied to a crate without water or food.” Also in the garage was a dead pit bull “still tied to a electric [sic] outlet on the wall” and “already in an accelerated state of decay.” Charges were brought against a man named Maurice White, but prosecutors dropped the case on Jan. 13.

In November 2014, someone called in a complaint for “four dogs being kept in a 4×6 area in the rear of” 4451 Eldone Road, and AEOs arrived to find three dogs “confined in a fenced in area on the patio.” Dante Blake was there, and the 42-year-old explained that the two female dogs “were kept in crates to keep them from fighting” and that they’d fought two weeks earlier, adding that “he felt he could properly treat the injuries” himself “because of his career in the medical field.” All three were “visibly malnourished,” and one of them had “many wounds on her face,” another “had open wounds on her front legs and swollen muzzle,” and the third had “scarring on his legs and a wound on his chin.” Blake got one year of supervised probation and was ordered to pay $57.50 in court costs.

Two cases involving cats resulted from tips—including one that “a cat had been thrown against a wall and was possibly dead” in the Curtis Bay home of 38-year-old Elizabeth Gauthier. When an AEO arrived on July 8, 2014, Gauthier explained her kitten died when it “stopped breathing,” and that “her boyfriend had buried it somewhere outside,” though she didn’t know where. Animal Control director Miller got on the phone with Gauthier, who then admitted she had thrown “the kitten against the wall because the kitten scratched her,” and its body was in a plastic bag in the basement. A necropsy determined a concussion and brain trauma caused the kitten’s death. Gauthier got three years of supervised probation, and was ordered to pay $165 in court costs.

Similarly, in June 2014 someone reported that “a cat had been thrown from a window” at 4322 Reisterstown Road in Park Heights. Responding AEOs met with Philip Hanna, who explained that he’d heard his brother, 50-year-old Steven Hanna, earlier that day exclaim, “throw that mother fucker out the window.” A witness, Montre Jordan, confirmed what had happened and said the cat “almost died,” though it was found on the deck below “in shock but not significantly injured.” Steven Hanna got a 90-day suspended sentence and six months of probation.

A tipster’s call to police—and steps taken prior to their arrival—may have saved a dog’s life on June 30, 2014. Baltimore real-estate investor Thomas Karle Jr. called in the situation: a dog locked “inside a black GMC Denali with the windows up for over three hours” across from Baltimore City Hall. While waiting for the police to arrive, Karle and others noticed the dog “was in serious distress and on the verge of passing out,” so Karle “forcibly pulled the window of the car down and extracted the dog,” who “could barely move and was heavily panting,” so Karle and others “washed him down in water and gave him water to drink.”

When the police arrived, “the dog seemed to be in stable condition,” but “there was no sign of water or food” in the Denali. Its owner, 22-year-old Danael Tesfaye, “then came out to see what was going on,” and said “he did not know you couldn’t leave a dog in the car and admitted he owned the dog for two days.”

The dog went to BARCS, and Tesfaye, who has no prior criminal record, was arrested on four counts of cruelty. He was freed the same day on $50,000 bail. In September, he received six months of unsupervised probation and a $250 fine, and had to pay $57.50 in courts costs. When he failed to pay the fine, a warrant was issued and he was again arrested on Dec. 8, then released on his own recognizance.

Perhaps the most compelling animal-abuse case City Paper reviewed was one involving a 13-year-old boy who arrived on July 18 at BPD’s Southwest District station and announced that his mom and stepdad were trying to kill his pit bull. It joins together themes that the MAAAC report pointed out: the correlation of animal abuse with other kinds of violence and abuse.

The boy explained that he’d had an argument with his mother, 34-year-old Lynette Reed, who’d ordered his stepfather, 28-year-old Kevin Harris, to “take that bitch in the woods and kill it,” after which the boy had watched Harris walking his pit bull toward the woods along the 2700 block of Frederick Avenue, announcing that “I’m going to hang him from a tree and kill him!”

The police looked for the dog, but couldn’t find it, so they went to the boy’s home and encountered a “very hostile” Reed, who said of her son: “Get that bitch away from my house! That bitch isn’t coming inside my house! He’s not going to be shit just like his daddy wasn’t shit!”

When officers advised Reed that the youngster could not legally be refused access to the home, Reed threatened him. “If he comes back in here,” she said, “I’m locking him in the basement! He’s not getting any food or water unless I want him to have it. And when I’m ready for him to have something, he’ll only get bread and water. And he’s not getting a bed, he’ll sleep on the basement floor! I’ll show him what it feels like to be on lock down!”

The police tried to explain to Reed the procedures for handling her desire to no longer have her son live in her house, and she yelled back at them: “If you don’t take him, I got something for that! I’m unplugging his box!” Reed proceeded to unplug her son’s home-detention monitor, “in an attempt to violate his probation and get him arrested.”

The boy then asked his mother, “What did you do with my dog?” She yelled back, “I took the bitch in the woods and left him there!” and “I told you if you didn’t get it out of my house, I was gonna kill him!” The police, “not feeling comfortable leaving” the boy with her, sought “proper placement” for him. They then received a citizen’s call that a pit bull was tied to a tree nearby. Upon arriving, they found it “out in the sun” and “tied to a tree using a rope, a cord, and a metal chain” with “no food or water.”

Reed, who like Harris has prior convictions for assault and theft, was arrested on five cruelty counts, but in August prosecutors declined to pursue the charges. A warrant was issued for Harris, who was arrested on Feb. 9 and held without bail pending trial, scheduled for March 10.

Another harrowing domestic scene played out in April, prompting animal-abuse charges, when 32-year-old Andrea Ashe called the police to say she believed her estranged boyfriend, Darryle Langley, had “broken into their home” in Northeast Baltimore and “was still inside.” He “had access to a firearm,” she explained, adding that she was “unsure if he had one with him.” She had “separated from Langley due to being afraid of him,” but “he still had some property inside of the residence.”

When the police entered the house, they found no one there except for “a dark grey Pit Bull standing at the bottom of the steps” in the basement “with its “tail between its legs.” When they approached, the dog “ran to the far corner of the basement, as if to be afraid.” Urine and feces were “scattered around the basement floor,” and there was a “dog crate that appeared rusty with jagged edges” and empty bowls for food and water.

The police tried to talk to Ashe about the dog, but she “seemed to be uninterested” and “would not answer” any questions. So they spoke directly: “Ma’am, that dog in your basement needs your immediate attention. You need to give him food, water, and take him with you when you leave.” Ashe “did not respond,” but “merely walked inside” the house.

Two days later, an officer returned, knocked on the screen door, and “heard the Pit Bull come up the steps from the basement and begin to scratch at the door with its paw while it wimpered [sic].” The officer entered, “believing the dog was in great pain and suffering.” Everything in the basement was it had been during the previous visit, and the dog was in bad shape. The officer “could see its rib cage” and it had “little to no energy,” so Animal Control “responded and took custody” of it.

Ashe and Langley both were charged with animal cruelty, but prosecutors declined to pursue their cases. About 10 days after Langley was arrested on the charges, he was accused of second-degree assault in the city, and later pleaded guilty, receiving a three-year suspended sentence with 18 months of probation.

About a week after the assault charges were filed, Frederick County law enforcers accused Langley of heroin distribution, and after pleading guilty he received a 20-year suspended sentence with two years of probation. That case violated his supervised release on a federal felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm conviction, so he was sent back to federal prison for seven months, and is scheduled for release in July

While routine animal-abuse cases involving neglected or abused dogs and cats, however disturbing, rarely make headlines, dogfighting, the rock star of animal-abuse crimes, is all but assured media coverage. Aside from MIU’s big case announced in December, consider the case against Johnnie Taylor of Howard Park.

It started in April 2012 as a routine drug probe prompted by suspicions that Taylor’s house “was being used to sell marijuana.” After watching apparent drug transactions, the police arrested two men, including Taylor, who told police that he lived alone at the house, but “he had several dogs inside his house and he was aspiring” to be a pet-shop owner.

As the police later arrived at Taylor’s house to raid it, his girlfriend, Tara Davis, “was standing outside” and told the officers of the dogs. “All but one” of them “were confined to a crate,” she said, and the “loose dog” was a “king corso” named “Midnight,” an “extremely aggressive” dog that “was a direct danger to anyone entering the dwelling.” So the police had Davis “enter the dwelling first,” put Midnight on a leash, and “take the dog directly to her vehicle.” They then went inside.

What they found was a bunch of pot, bullets, and “eight pit-bull dogs scattered throughout the house contained in separate cages,” living in a manner “unsuitable for any living creature.” The dogs were “kept in small cages” and were “standing in their own fecal” matter and “did not have any food or water.” Five of them “were kept in the unlit basement,” and two of them “had clear signs they had been bitten on the face and legs.” Also found was dog-training equipment, dietary supplements, and veterinary supplies, along with “a manual titled ‘Conditioning a Dog for a Fight.’”

The case prompted much media coverage, and Taylor took to YouTube after his arrest to try the case in the court of public opinion. “A lot of people probably seen me recently in the news for this dogfight ring,” he declares on the 11-minute video, “so I figure I get my own camera crew out here and tell the city and the world what’s really going on with Johnnie Taylor.

“Well, let me start off by saying I’ve never fought dogs ever in my life,” he says. “Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve always rescued animals,” and “my house is like an animal sanctuary.” He claims “people know I’m trying to open up a pet store, so why would the police say that I’m fighting dogs” when “all my dogs were healthy and friendly?” He asks viewers, “have you ever heard of a friendly fighting dog?”

Taylor will soon get a chance to defend himself in court, because a pretrial dispute was recently returned from the appellate courts in the prosecution’s favor, and a trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 23.

In 2014, though, one dogfighting case went unnoticed. It demonstrates how this form of abuse can be a spectator sport on the open streets of Baltimore.

On the afternoon of April 13, the police went to an alley near Homewood Avenue and East 20th Street, just north of Green Mount Cemetery, “for a dog fight in progress,” and when they arrived, they heard “citizens start to yell, ‘Yo the police are coming.’” There were “approximately 20 citizens in the alley, who were spectating this event, but they began to scatter” when the police showed up.

Two men, 36-year-old Edward Dancy and 44-year-old George Jordan Jr., were separating the fighting dogs, a “brown and white pit bull terrier” and a “white bull terrier,” who were “still growling, barking, and displaying their teeth toward each other.”

Dancy, ignoring officers’ calls for him to stop, pulled the pit bull down the street, but was soon detained and hesitantly did as told, to secure the dog by chaining it to a fence. Jordan did the same, chaining the bull terrier to a light pole.

“We wasn’t fighting the dogs, his dog jumped the fence,” Dancy said initially, but then changed his story, claiming “that’s not really what happened officer. We were walking the dogs” and they got too “close to each other and started fighting.”

Both dogs had injuries, but the bull terrier’s were worse: “punctures and lacerations” to the “face, ears, front legs, rear right leg, and neck.” The pit bull had “bite wounds” on its “face, nose, and front leg.” A responding AEO declared that the scene appeared to be more than what Dancy described, since their injuries “are consistent with that of dog fighting.” The police concluded that the two men “were intentionally and maliciously fighting these dogs” with “blatant disregard for public safety” and “the lives of these animals.”

Dancy and Jordan both were charged with animal cruelty and dogfighting. Jordan, who has a 2005 drug-dealing conviction, pleaded guilty and received an 18-month suspended sentence and one year of unsupervised probation. Prosecutors declined to pursue the charges against Dancy, who has faced numerous minor charges over the years, but has never been convicted.

Banks, the retired city investigator who would like to see convicted abusers banned from owning pets, holds dogfighters in particular disdain. “People that fight dogs are displaying antisocial behavior, and they’re dangerous,” he says, adding that “they should be publicized on a website, like the sex-offender registry.”

The zeal is borne of what Banks saw during his days in the anti-abuse business. Now a security professional who has provided services to celebrities in town to film movies, Banks, a fit man with a yen for gold chains, doesn’t come across as prone to emotional displays.

Yet, when his memory is jogged about what he saw in Baltimore’s basements and backyards, his emotions run high.

Banks recalls entering the basement of house where “there was a dogfighting ring, broken down, and a bloody carpet, and they had vitamins and steroids and treadmills. They were breeding dogs for fighting.”

What really got to Banks, though, was “a bait dog in a cage, and this dog was tore up. Part of his jaw was missing, his tail was gone, his ear was bitten off. He’d fought before, his time was over, and they just used him as a bait dog,” to get fighting dogs riled up.

“The thing about it was,” Banks continues, “this was the friendliest dog you’d ever want to be around. But he was so ugly, so abused. I cried.”