Believe It … Or Not: Measuring O’Malley’s March on Baltimore

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Aug. 27, 2003


Good news is never hard to find when mayors seek re-election. Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke’s last political campaign in 1995 published a whole book of good news about his administration’s then-ongoing efforts in Baltimore. As is now widely recognized, though, the bad news far outweighed the good during the Schmoke years, which were marked by a cerebral approach to governance that produced paltry results and left the city’s psyche stigmatized by failure.

Schmoke’s charismatic successor, Martin O’Malley, was elected in 1999 on an ambitious anti-crime platform and a promising slogan, “For Reform and Change.” He won with a strong mandate that created high expectations and a refreshing sense of hope for the city. As he now runs for re-election as the distinct favorite in the six-way Democratic primary, O’Malley croons earnestly about the upturn Baltimore has seen during his four years in office. While his new campaign slogan–“Because Better Isn’t Good Enough”–suggests that his record has shortcomings he is willing to acknowledge, he’s still found plenty to boast about. Here’s a taste of some of the O’Malley campaign’s bragging points, lifted from its promotional materials:

  • “Baltimore has, in just a few years, achieved the largest [violent-crime] reduction of any major city in America.
  • “Baltimore’s per pupil spending increased by 15 percent [since 1999] . . . improving from 6th to 2nd highest in the state.
  • “In 2002 alone, the Baltimore Development Corporation’s efforts brought 6,000 jobs to Baltimore.”

Also available to help boost civic optimism during this election season is the Believe campaign, a multimillion-dollar advertising effort underwritten largely by the nonprofit Baltimore Police Foundation. The campaign aims to empower Baltimoreans to overcome the ravages of illegal drugs, and its most visible impact has been the thousands of images of the word “believe” that have placarded the city since last year. Believe’s latest media blitz, which started this summer and is ongoing, charts and celebrates the city’s progress since 1999. That’s the year before O’Malley took the reins of City Hall. Thus, Believe’s current feel-good message is not only about Baltimore’s efforts to tamp down its violent drug culture but also about O’Malley’s record as mayor.

Amid this propaganda, it’s hard to know what to trust. Critical thinking, after all, demands an innate skepticism of messages in advertising, because campaigns, whether political or commercial, are designed to make use of advantageous information rather than present a balanced picture.


For instance, one could reason that Baltimore’s chart-topping reduction in violent crime is less remarkable than it sounds because, as the most violent city in the United States in 1999 (now the second most violent, behind Detroit), positive trends here have a greater statistical impact than in other, less violent cities. And while per-pupil spending increased 15 percent overall between 1999 and 2002, school enrollment during that period declined by almost 9 percent. With fewer students entering the system each year, per-student spending would increase naturally with a flat budget–and dramatically so with the modest budget increases that have been secured during O’Malley’s tenure in City Hall.

As for the 6,000 new jobs in 2002, attributed to the work of the city’s quasi-public economic development agency, that’s a lot of slots in a city where the number of unemployed people hovers around 25,000. The fact remains, though, that there were nearly 2,000 more unemployed people in the city’s labor force this June than there were in the beginning of 2002. And the unemployment rate has risen slightly rather than dropped during the same period. These facts strongly suggest that those 6,000 jobs were not filled predominantly by city residents but by commuters from surrounding areas.

Thus, the O’Malley camp’s upbeat take on the last four years begs other relevant ways to plumb Baltimore’s progress–different gauges than O’Malley’s people are emphasizing, ones that instead look at facets of city life not necessarily found in the campaign leaflets. The following results are mixed, and thus will please O’Malley supporters and detractors alike. And they show that O’Malley’s assertion that “better isn’t good enough” is dead-on in summing up his first term. The city’s stock has risen, but there’s room for improvement.


On election day 1999, Martin O’Malley was the beneficiary of a very important statistic when he chalked up 53 percent of the votes in what had shaken down to be a three-way, racially charged Democratic Primary pitting him, a white guy, against former City Councilman Carl Stokes and then-City Council President Lawrence Bell, both of whom are black. “There is more that unites us than divides us,” O’Malley often said that summer–a sentiment that, along with his bold promises to reduce crime using New York City’s successful approach as a model, resonated with an electorate that seemed exhausted from years of decline, violence, and divisiveness.

After the votes were counted, even some of those who worked against him were ebullient. “Martin O’Malley has a clear mandate from the entire city,” said former City Council president, 1995 mayoral candidate, and current 14th District City Council candidate Mary Pat Clarke, who supported Bell in the 1999 race. “This city, black and white, voted for Martin O’Malley. And it was not marginal. It was resounding. He has a mandate to lead the whole city. It’s a wondrous thing to behold.”


O’Malley’s votes in that race, nonetheless, reflected the realities of the city’s stark divide between poor African-Americans and everyone else. The precincts that supported O’Malley–including many predominantly black precincts–were spread thickly across the city, with the exception of two, hard-to-ignore areas: the blighted, poverty-stricken swaths on the east and west sides, which form a butterfly-wing pattern with midtown at the center. These neighborhoods–Upton, Druid Heights, Sandtown-Winchester, Harlem Park, Rosemont, Poppleton, Edmondson Village, and others on the west side, and Middle East, Berea, Clifton Park, Jonestown, Greenmount West, and others on the east side–did not buy into the O’Malley agenda as it was spelled out during the ’99 campaign. Stokes or Bell won most of the votes in these butterfly wings, which are overwhelmingly black and are home to about a third of the city’s population.

These neighborhoods, more than any others in the city, have the most to gain from City Hall’s policies since they suffer most from Baltimore’s famous ills. Here, according to data published by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (www. bnia. org), a Charles Village-based nonprofit that has taken on the Herculean task of collecting and analyzing myriad measures of Baltimore’s communities, a fifth of all serious crime is violent, vs. a 10th in the rest of the city. Here, more than a third of family households are headed by single mothers, vs. a fifth in the rest of the city. Here, about 60 percent of mothers receive first-trimester pre-natal care, vs. three-quarters of the mothers in the rest of the city. Here, nearly 40 percent of working people don’t use cars to get to their jobs, vs. less than 25 percent in the rest of the city. And here, out of every 1,000 juveniles, an average of 124 were arrested in 2001, vs. 95 in the rest of the city; the rate of juvenile arrests in these neighborhoods jumped to 142 per 1,000 juveniles in 2002. The list of disparities is long and poignant.

If, as his 1999 campaign materials noted, New York City was O’Malley’s model for success, then Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods would benefit most from his policies, as happened during New York’s renaissance in the 1990s. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s approach–while widely vilified, largely because of the man’s brusque personality and a few horrific incidents involving his police force–was to commit resources where they were most needed, and thus he helped spur revival in Gotham’s most hard-pressed areas as well as its most prosperous. And, despite opinions to the contrary, Giuliani achieved these gains while reducing the number of police-involved shootings compared to his predecessor. So, has the approach worked in Baltimore under O’Malley’s guiding hand? Yes and no.


There’s just no arguing the gains made in the critical early grades of the Baltimore City public schools during the last five years. Scores in the nationwide TerraNova standardized tests rose dramatically across the board between the 1998-’99 and 2002-’03 school years in the city’s elementary-school grades. And those gains, reflected in a recently released school system report, have been greatest in schools serving the city’s poorest neighborhoods–though the situation is reversed in scores for sixth-graders. The greatest climb in average percentile rankings was in poor areas’ second-grade reading scores, which jumped an average of 23.2 points in the five-year period, while the scores rose 17.1 points for second-graders in the rest of the city’s schools. Sixth-graders scores in the poor schools, though, climbed an average of 9.6 points, compared to 19.6 at all the other city schools.


O’Malley attributes this overall success in part to expanding programs that target kids before they enter first grade. “We have gone from 109 full-day kindergarten classes to 297, reaching that mandate five years ahead of when the state wanted us to,” he cited during a recent interview with City Paper in his City Hall office. “And we’ve gone from one full-day pre-K program to 91.” He also pointed out that the school system’s efforts to standardize course content have helped, too, given that “a lot of kids are in three or four or five different schools in the course of a year, [and are faced] with a different curriculum every time.”

Kids living in poverty, O’Malley observes, have to prevail over more severe obstacles in order to learn well, so the greater improvements in test scores at schools serving poor children are that much more impressive. “The neighborhood environment from which our poor children are drawn have a lot bigger societal problems . . . [such as] violent crime, drug addiction, and the sort of societal abandonment, familial abandonment, that those things fuel, than in other areas of our city,” he said. “Unfortunately, [these students] have to overcome a lot more of the baggage that we as a society still allow to be heaped upon them through no fault of their own.

“So I don’t think it’s accidental that our kids are doing better in school as the city’s becoming safer and as more parents are getting into drug treatment,” he continued. “I think all of this works together. And the expectations for their success I think are greater than maybe they’ve been in years past.”

Of any single area under city government’s bailiwick, though, the school system is the one over which the mayor has the least direct influence. This is the result of a partial state takeover of city schools during Schmoke’s last term–a negotiated outcome to settle a long-litigated lawsuit. Thus, while O’Malley has some say over schools policy by virtue of his control over nine appointments to the 18-member school board and the city’s 23.5 percent contribution to the system’s 2002 budget, he can’t take full credit for its success or failure. Nonetheless, his limited clout in the schools arena means he can tout–with a measure of modesty–the remarkable rise in test scores as part of his record as mayor.


By and large, the city’s poorest neighborhoods fall in two of the city’s nine police districts, the Eastern and the Western. Examining the crime numbers in these two districts in 1999 and 2002, vs. the other seven districts, turns up mixed results. According to police department data, overall violent crime in the Eastern and Western districts combined has dropped 31 percent from 1999 to 2002, while nonfatal shootings have dropped almost 38 percent. But murders rose nearly 15 percent in 2002 compared to 1999–and the two districts’ share of the city’s total number of homicides has increased from nearly 30 percent in 1999 to more than 41 percent in 2002.

Running the same analysis on 2003’s year-to-date figures in the Eastern and Western districts as of Aug. 9, vs. 1999’s numbers on the same date, show that the disparity is even greater this year. Murders are up 50 percent from 1999, while violent crime has dropped more than 42 percent and shootings more than 18 percent. According to the police department’s own statistics, the Eastern and Western districts have become less violent but far more deadly.


“I had never seen these murder numbers broken down like this before,” O’Malley commented while reviewing these statistics. “It’s an interesting way to break them down.” But his response was to repeat Giuliani’s mantra: “We apply our resources to where the problems are.” And then he opened his crime-numbers notebook and recited figures showing that violent crime is down dramatically in every district, including the Eastern and Western.

“You know,” he added, “all of this is a work in progress. I’m not happy with 253.” That’s the number of murders committed citywide in 2002–a far cry from the 175 he had promised by that date during the 1999 campaign and during the first two years of his administration. “We’re going to continue to go down from there.”


And the mayor got exercised over projections of this year’s final murder tally, which as of press time is on track to reach about 285 by the end of December. “Everybody always wants to project that year-end number,” he said with palpable disgust. “I mean, they want to do it in July. And a half a year’s left. And it is awful and it’s morbid and it’s cold to talk statistics. One homicide is one homicide too many.

“But we deploy our resources to where the problems are,” O’Malley continued, getting back to the disproportionate violence in the Eastern and Western districts. “And all of this, it is still young. The open-air drug trade in this city was allowed to grow and flourish and develop and become as acute as it did over a 25-year slide. And so we are going to continue to hammer it.”

Another area that O’Malley has targeted is police corruption. It’s a ticklish subject, and one on which he mounted his bully pulpit starting in 1993, when he was a young councilman. “The few bad apples are just that–the few,” he said in an impassioned speech on the council floor 10 years ago. “But there is not a single knowledgeable person in federal, state, or local law enforcement today who will deny that we have a growing problem with street-level corruption.”

During the 1999 campaign, O’Malley repeatedly stressed the importance of “policing the police,” and continued to fuel the perception that the corruption problem in the department was acute. And he asserted that the problem had been swept under the rug for years. After he was elected, he hired a consulting firm, the Maple/Linder Group of New York City, to do a full assessment of the police department, including an internal survey of sworn officers. The findings on corruption were eye-popping. “While 48.7 percent of respondents believe that five percent or less of . . . officers are stealing money or drugs from drug dealers,” the report reads, “23.2 percent believe the number is greater than a quarter of the department.” Based on the buzz O’Malley sounded, many in Baltimore expected to see heads starting to roll.

It never really happened. There was one infamous case–Agent Brian Sewell, who was accused of planting drugs on an innocent suspect as a result of a sting operation. But the case tanked when the alleged evidence against him was pilfered by the lead investigator in the case from a secret internal-investigations office in Essex around Christmas 2000. (The department used its administrative procedures to fire Sewell. He appealed successfully, winning the right to a new trial-board hearing, but agreed to leave the force rather than go through another proceeding. Sewell recently died in an accident at Andrews Air force Base, where he had been assigned for duty with the Maryland National Guard.)

Other than Sewell, police department spokesman Matt Jablow says only three other officers–Jacqueline Folio, Scott Fullwood, and an unnamed member of the force–failed the 217 drug-related integrity stings staged by the department’s Internal Affairs Division since the beginning of 2000. The unnamed officer, Jablow explained, “struck a deal” and retired, so the department is unwilling to reveal his name.

“We’ve been doing 100 integrity stings a year for the last few years,” O’Malley explained, somewhat apologetically. “Some of them are targeted, a lot of them are random. Like everything else we do in this department, there is plenty of room for improvement as far as how we police our police. We’re doing more of it than we ever have. We have not come across that sort of beehive’s nest of every officer on a shift in a particular precinct [involved in corruption], like they had in New York, where they had a couple of celebrated cases. But [police Commissioner Kevin] Clark believes that we can do those targeted stings even more effectively than we have done them in the past.

“You don’t start a new effort like that and have it perfect overnight,” he continued. “And obviously from some of the problems that we had in some of those prosecutions [e.g., the Sewell case], it was pretty apparent that this was something new for us. But I had been somewhat surprised not to find more of that, given the way the drug trade took over big swaths of the city. But we’ll continue to be on the lookout for it and to improve the effectiveness of the investigations.”


In 1999, as O’Malley was running for mayor on an anti-crime platform, critics sometimes complained that he was a one-trick pony. Even his economic development ideas were built on crime-fighting. When asked during an interview that summer what the government’s role is in creating jobs and improving the business climate, for instance, he responded that “you do both of those things by first accomplishing job one of any organized government, which is public safety. I think there is no way to create jobs or to improve the business environment if the only businesses expanding are these open-air drug markets.”

But there was more to his plan than boosting law-enforcement. It also involved “having a mayor more actively involved with our lending institutions and letting them know where opportunities exist in this city,” he continued, “where they can make a dollar and where they can help build this city again. Businesses, their knock on city government isn’t a whole helluva lot different than citizens. Nobody returns their phone calls and nobody listens. So that’s what it’s all about.”

Today, O’Malley likes to talk about the $1.6 billion in new construction that he says is underway in Baltimore. Apparently, by that measure, his one-two punch of crime-fighting and massaging the investing class has worked pretty well. While unemployment remains high–the June figure for the city was 8.8 percent, compared to 5.2 percent for the metro region and 4.3 percent for Maryland overall–that’s largely out of his control, given the national economic recession that took hold in 2000, just as he was getting traction as the new mayor.

“We haven’t taken as severe a hit to our overall job base [during this recession] as other cities,” says Anirban Basu, an economist who heads the Fells Point-based consulting firm Optimal Solutions. “And that’s a radical departure from the recession of the early 1990s, when Baltimore was a laggard in recovering compared to other cities, which tended to come out strong during the rest of the decade. A lot of people expected a repeat performance this time, and that never materialized.” Basu attributes that in part to the wealth in the region, which means more businesses and individuals qualify to take advantage of the historically low interest rates on bank loans: “That’s why we have had such a terrific housing market in Baltimore City, which has the cheapest housing stock in the region, so it is likely people are going to look there first for deals. And many would-be renters have been empowered to buy homes.”

Baltimore’s relative prosperity amid a recession is hard to attribute directly to O’Malley’s efforts. But his efforts have certainly helped. While several formal economic-development strategies have been conceived during O’Malley’s four years in office, two were much ballyhooed early on. First, and the one that was promised often during his 1999 campaign, was to leverage the power of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), the federal law requiring banks to make loans in poorer neighborhoods from which they draw depositors. And the second, adopted after he gained office, was to grow the local technology industry in a drive that was dubbed “The Digital Harbor.”

It’s hard to quantify how effectively O’Malley has wielded the CRA to bring new investment to Baltimore. But the extent to which he’s succeeded at all is an achievement, because the CRA has become an increasingly impotent tool in recent years. The main trend that has weakened the CRA is the fact that national mortgage-lending companies have increasingly become the lender of choice for many homebuyers and for those refinancing their mortgages. Such companies generally do not have local branches where consumers make deposits, and thus are not subject to the CRA’s provisions.

So, while O’Malley talked a big CRA game during the 1999 campaign–saying, for instance, that he would use “that hammer of monitoring the banks and the threat that you’ll mess up their business and their ability to merge and do what banks like to do in this era”–his tone has been much more conciliatory toward the banks since he took office. “A lot more of our banks were more savvy [on the CRA front] than we had anticipated,” he explained recently.

Despite the CRA’s increasingly limited reach, several local banks that do take deposits from Baltimore have outstanding CRA ratings, and they’ve stepped up to the plate with sizable CRA-eligible loans for local development efforts. Most impressive has been the Bank of America, which, by O’Malley’s tally, has financed or invested in ongoing local projects to the tune of approximately $170 million.

And O’Malley can take credit for getting banks to help underwrite the efforts of the Community Development Finance Corp., a quasi-public lending institution that makes risky loans for redevelopment in low-income areas and that was riddled with scandal under Schmoke. “Quite frankly,” he explained, “many of [the banks] were very reluctant to do it unless we put better checks and balances in place to safeguard the value of their loans. But I had several one-on-one meetings with them and lots of phone calls, lots of lobbying, begging, arm-twisting. We changed the rules at CDFC in terms of giving the banks some greater voice in the loans that we make and some greater oversight. But we got the banks to re-up, and that was to the tune of $26 million that they put into the CDFC.”

In the heady early days of his administration, Digital Harbor quickly became the most heralded piece of O’Malley’s economic-development package. “Our working waterfront,” O’Malley proclaimed in an early-2000 speech before a large gathering of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, a national group that promotes results-oriented governance, “once again has become our port to a new economy with dozens of Digital Harbor companies filling revitalized space formerly occupied by manufacturing and warehouse equipment. We have made recruiting, supporting, and growing tech companies our highest economic-development priority because the Digital Harbor is Baltimore’s future.”

Digital Harbor was just getting up and running in 2000 when the tech-industry bubble burst. While little positive news has been heard about it since the tech collapse, local tech-industry leaders remain upbeat. “Baltimore City has done extraordinarily well” given the industry’s downturn, says Penny Lewandowski, who directs the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, a trade group based in the American Can Company complex in Canton. “I can name only three companies that did not survive–Cycle Shark, Gr8, and Tide Point LLC.” Her rosy take has required a slight shift in perspective. “Digital Harbor,” she explains, “is not just about companies that are exclusively technology, but how technology affects traditional businesses as well. So, did the mayor make the right bet? Absolutely.”

Basu gives a less optimistic appraisal of the tech industry’s status in the city today, but he backs Lewandowski’s basic conclusions. “The collapse hasn’t been quite the bloodbath it’s been nationally,” he says, pointing out that the large infusion of federal research dollars into the local economy and regional tech industry’s reliance on those federal contracts have helped. “Federal-government contracts account for about 40 percent of the state’s tech-industry revenues, versus about 10 percent in Silicon Valley.”

The main reason for tech’s resilience in Baltimore in the face of a national downturn, Basu says, is that Baltimore had less to lose than other cities. “Baltimore has not been a hotbed of private-sector technology in much of its history,” he explains. “It was late in coming to the table–and then, just as the momentum was building, the tech industry goes bust.”

O’Malley’s focus in the tech arena also has shifted since the tech collapse–from information technology and telecommunications, which were the hardest hit areas, to biotechnology, which is a less mercurial beast. “What we are trying to do,” he explained, “is to create the expectation that in our already fairly diverse economy, that we are ready and have the natural resources–the colleges and universities and research institutions–to be able to grow that sector of the economy which could be called the new economy. And I think our area, where we have greater strengths than others, is going to be in biotech.” To that end, the city is soon to become home to two biotechnology parks–one on the east side and affiliated with Johns Hopkins University; the other on the west side, being developed by the University of Maryland.

City government’s role in all of this is not so much “the bricks-and-mortar visibility,” O’Malley said, but work-force development–investing in programs that will prepare city residents to participate in the new economy. And he’s more than happy, along with his technology coordinator, Mario Armstrong, to recite a list of new initiatives. First and foremost, O’Malley and Armstrong explain, is the radical gain in the ratio of students to computers in the classroom. “We used to be at 10 to 1, now we’re at three-and-a-half to one,” Armstrong said enthusiastically. “That was us making it a priority,” O’Malley continues, “Carmen [Russo, the outgoing city schools chief] not fighting us on being involved in it, a million dollars of general funds, and 6,000 computers from the Social Security Administration, which we paid to have retrofitted.”

Armstrong’s list of other programs and accomplishments is long and sounds impressive. The Hewlett-Packard Digital Village program aims to train teachers to use computers and incorporate them into class curriculum so students learn in a tech-savvy environment. Digital Village Hubs, which are after-school centers that provide public access to computers, have been established at three locations on the east side. Many of the city’s public-housing projects now have computer centers, and about 1,200 people a month are using them. Five computer-oriented Youth Opportunity Centers have been opened around the city, giving children more occasions to use computers after school. And three Digital Learning Labs have opened, which provide computer-training courses that, in June, taught almost 500 people how to use the technology.

Whether all of this activity actually results in a more job-ready work force for the city’s still-fledgling new economy is the question. As Basu says of the city’s work force-development initiatives, “it will be interesting to see how well it works, but it’s good to see they’re trying.”

It’s less clear that the O’malley administration has been trying on another front where he promised progress when he first ran for mayor: maximizing budget efficiency by reducing the amount of money granted to contractors for “extra work” on city contracts. “I think there are areas where we spend too much [city] money,” he said during a campaign interview four years ago. “One of those is in the letting of public-works contracts through the Board of Estimates. I think that the additional work orders and the inflation on those contracts really needs to be checked.”

Just to be clear, we’ll call what O’Malley was talking about “contract add-ons.” They are routinely passed by the city’s five-member Board of Estimates, which approves much of the city’s spending on a weekly basis and which is controlled by O’Malley by virtue of his seat on the board, plus two mayoral appointees. When the board approves a contract add-on, they are granting city contractors payments in addition to the amount of the original contract. The payments were the subject of occasional controversy during Schmoke’s tenure at City Hall, based on suspicions that some such payments were unnecessary and wasteful. After O’Malley came into office, City Councilman Nicholas D’Adamo Jr. in 2000 announced that, based on numbers he had obtained, the city had spent $99 million on such additional work in the previous five years–though he never completed his promised report on the problem.

Board of Estimates records of two three-year periods of city spending–1994-’96 under Schmoke, and 2000-’02 under O’Malley–reveal a mixed bag of progress on this front. While the board has granted fewer add-ons under O’Malley than they did under Schmoke and has reduced the number of contracts receiving additional work, the amounts granted have grown–especially when measured as a share of the total value of city contracts receiving additional payments. While the city spent $24.2 million on add-ons during the three-year period under Schmoke, it spent $27.4 million on such additional payments under O’Malley–and the add-ons’ share of the total value of contracts rose from 3.3 percent to 6.5 percent.


The mayor’s office provided alternative figures to City Paper, but they don’t square with the records of the Board of Estimates, which were the basis for City Paper‘s analysis and which are the only source available for the public to independently research city spending patterns. Raquel Guillory, the mayor’s chief spokeswoman, told City Paper the total value of contracts from 1994 through ’96 was $323,649,981, with add-ons comprising 8.4 percent of that total, while the figures for 2000 through ’02 were $379,340,369 and 7.2 percent, respectively. Thus, the O’Malley administration’s numbers show efficiency–add-ons as a percentage of total contract amounts–has increased under O’Malley, while City Paper shows greatly increased inefficiency under O’Malley.

City Paper asked Guillory to explain how city government arrived at their figures. She said that the city’s numbers were derived from the sum total of construction contracts that came before the Board of Estimates for contract add-ons. City Paper based its figures on the sum total of all city contracts–including everything from waste-water treatment improvements to consulting work to digital mapping of the city.

Guillory also explains that two projects worked on under the O’Malley administration–extensive and glitch-riddled contracts on the police headquarters building and Hopkins Plaza downtown–were held over from the Schmoke administration and made up for a large amount of the extra work passed by the Board of Estimates during O’Malley’s term. Also, O’Malley adds, city managers have “been trying to do a better job in terms of the degree of detail that’s in the contracts to begin with, when they go out for bid,” explaining that “if we put out better contracts, we might get the job done for less, without these expensive overages.” So far, the Board of Estimate records don’t reflect the improvements O’Malley suggested have had a money-saving effect, because both the amount and the share of additional work have risen markedly compared to the Schmoke administration in the mid-1990s.


In the heady days after winning the 1999 primary, O’Malley sat down with a reporter to discuss his victory. One of the many interesting facets of the story was the demise of the once-famous friendship between O’Malley and his longtime partner in politics, Lawrence Bell, whom he trounced at the ballot boxes. Bell, O’Malley believed, had messed up his electoral fortunes with a variety of missteps, but primarily by ditching his long-established political persona as an independent rebel and choosing instead to align himself with the established political forces behind Schmoke.

“I said,” O’Malley recalled in 1999, “‘Even if you are lucky enough to stumble into this thing backwards, you are not going to be able to usher in the sort of change the city needs by relying on the old warhorses. It won’t be possible.’ I said, ‘How you win also dictates how you are able to govern.’ I said, ‘If you win this way, you won’t be able to govern.'”

O’Malley’s 1999 mayoral campaign, in contrast to Bell’s, was marked by efficient fund-raising and spending, a hard-working and diverse cadre of workers, a focus on a few key issues, backing from a panoply of state leaders, and support from an energized public. Like Bell, though, he relied on old warhorses–even older than Bell’s. Not Schmoke’s people (though many of them have since come into the O’Malley fold), but those of his father-in-law, state Attorney General Joseph Curran Jr., and those of State Comptroller (and former mayor and governor) William Donald Schaefer, whose long-loyal cronies turned up in thick numbers in O’Malley’s 1999 campaign and have been well represented in O’Malley’s brain trust. Among them are lawyer-advisor Richard Berndt and former deputy mayor Laurie Schwartz, who left O’Malley’s cabinet last winter after serving since he was elected.

If O’Malley’s advice to Bell was accurate–that “how you win also dictates how you are able to govern”–then O’Malley’s admirably well-run 1999 campaign would lead to overall good governance with fundamental reform limited by his reliance on “old warhorses.” Either way, O’Malley now sums up his first four years in office with the half-apologetic campaign slogan “Because Better Isn’t Good Enough.” And now it’s up to the voters to decide whether–given his record of improved school-test scores, more deadly violence in poor neighborhoods, limited success fighting police corruption, greater private investment and work-force development efforts, and inefficient city contracts–better was in fact good enough. We’ll find out when the votes are tallied.

The Colombian Connection: Feds say Baltimore man was trusted client of Colombian heroin traffickers

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Jan. 1, 2014

For nearly six years, Paul Eugene Sessomes of Baltimore was on the radar of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in New York and Bogota, Colombia, who believed he was coordinating delivery of heroin proceeds on behalf of Colombians at the top of the supply chain. In December, those suspicions were unveiled in an indictment against Sessomes and three others in New York, where they face federal money-laundering conspiracy charges.

The two lead defendants in the case, Jorge Humberto Espitia Arciniegas and his nephew Carlos Andres Espitia Garcia, were arrested in Colombia in early December and are expected to be extradited, according to press coverage there. The other defendant, Marleny Amparo Torres, is a mother of two who lives in Stamford, Conn., and works as a nanny for a Darien, Conn. psychotherapist and her husband, the founder of a health care company, according to court records.

Sessomes, who is in his early 60s and has been previously arrested twice on drug charges that later were dismissed, pleaded not guilty to the charges when he was arraigned on Dec. 12 before New York U.S. District Judge Ramon Reyes Jr., and was ordered temporarily detained, with bond set at $125,000.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 6, federal authorities moved to take ownership of two Baltimore-area properties tied to Sessomes, claiming they are tied to his alleged drug-money transactions: a luxury condominium he owns at 414 Water St. in downtown Baltimore and a home on Jericho Road in Columbia which he co-owns with Juliet Branker.

Two of the prosecutors handling the cases involving Sessomes—Adrian Rosales in the New York criminal case and Darrin McCullough in the Maryland forfeiture lawsuit—work out of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) headquarters in Washington, D.C., suggesting Sessomes’ alleged conduct has attracted attention at high levels of U.S. anti-drug efforts. Both work for DOJ’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, which, according to its website, targets “priority national and international drug trafficking groups.”

City Paper first wrote about Sessomes in a 2010 article detailing Baltimore cases in which targets are alleged to deal directly with foreign sources of drugs (“Direct Connections,” Mobtown Beat, March 3, 2010). At the time, the DEA had recently seized $535,200 in cash from two storage lockers leased by Sessomes, saying they were tied to Sessomes’ transactions with the Espitia heroin-trafficking organization, based in Colombia. The allegations in the storage-lockers search warrant mirror those in the recently filed forfeiture case, which adds new details indicating Sessomes was held in high esteem by his Colombian contacts.

Sessomes was Arciniegas’ “best client” at “selling ‘H,’” or heroin, and was “very ‘honest and good’ because Sessomes always maintained the money correctly and never tried to cheat” the Espitia organization, court documents state. A cooperating source told agents that, from 2006 to August 2008, he met Sessomes about a dozen times to pick up heroin proceeds of between $70,000 and $120,000, which he would pick up in Baltimore and deliver to New York for deposit into bank accounts.

DEA investigators have previously tied Sessomes to Thomas Corey Crosby, a convicted Baltimore heroin dealer who is currently in prison. In 2008, when Crosby was named in connection with, but never charged in, a 2007 federal drug case involving Fat Cats Variety store in Southwest Baltimore (“All the Emperor’s Men,” Mobtown Beat, Aug. 27, 2008), agents alleged Crosby laundered drug money through Westport Auto, Inc., a used-car business tied to Sessomes.

The defense attorney for Sessomes and Crosby at that time, James Gitomer, when asked by City Paper to comment about Sessomes’ current legal problems, responded with a “No thanks.” Sessomes’ court-appointed attorney in New York, John Michael Burke, did not respond to a request for comment.

Peter Carr, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, responded to City Paper’s inquiries by stating that “at this stage of the case, we are unable to provide additional details beyond what is in public court documents,” and explained that DOJ Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs Section prosecutors “get involved in cases that are both multi-jurisdictional and international in scope.”

Court documents indicate that investigators’ interest in Sessomes—who court documents describe as a “member” of the Espitia organization who is “actively involved in its illegal activities”—began on April 4, 2008, when Arciniegas left on Sessomes’ phone a voicemail message that was intercepted by the DEA in Bogota, saying, “Good morning, Paulie, it’s Georgie, I have the good news very soon. I’ll call you very soon.”

Subsequently, as the DEA’s probe continued, agents concluded that two Espitia members, one in New York and the other in Miami, “were regularly traveling to the greater Baltimore area to collect narcotics proceeds from Sessomes,” court documents state. Both of those members, who later became cooperating sources for DEA’s investigation, allegedly went to Baltimore to collect $300,000 on Aug. 3, 2008—a transaction that became the core conduct charged in the money-laundering conspiracy indictment against Sessomes and his co-defendants.

About a month later, court documents state, agents watched as Sessomes met in Baltimore with two people—Diego Neira and Maria Espitia-Garcia—described as “known money launders [sic] for the Bogota, Columbia [sic] based Espitia heroin organization.”

The indictment was filed under seal on Aug. 1, almost exactly five years after the $300,000 transaction. Five years is the statute of limitations for most crimes charged under federal law, including conspiracy. The same day it was unsealed, on Dec. 6, Sessomes appeared before Maryland U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Gauvey, who ordered him detained and committed to New York to face the indictment.

Miller’s Crossing: Anthony Jerome Miller Convicted in Redwood Trust Double Murders

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Mar. 21, 2007


Just before 4 p.m. on March 15, as a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury was preparing to render its verdict in the double-murder case against Anthony Jerome Miller, prosecutor Sharon Holback turned to the victims’ family and friends, who were assembled in the courtroom, and said, “Let’s hope for something poetic with a verdict on the Ides of March.” The jurors did indeed hand down a poetic verdict, convicting Miller of two counts of second-degree murder, nearly four years after the April 2003 night when 22-year-old Sean Wisniewski and 31-year-old Jason Convertino were shot to death in Convertino’s Upper Fells Point apartment.

Judge Robert Kershaw, who presided over the nine-day trial, scheduled sentencing for June 8, and each murder count carries a maximum sentence of 30 years. But the jury also acquitted Miller of eight other charges arising from the state’s theory that he went to Convertino’s apartment intending to rob, shoot, and kill the victims. If they had believed the large body of evidence that the crime was premeditated, as the state contended, the jurors would have found Miller guilty of first-degree murder and the other felonies, and he’d be facing two life sentences–and then some.

Miller, 31, was charged last January, after Baltimore Police detective William Ritz took over the lapsed investigation as a cold case in late 2005. Ritz quickly developed evidence that included Miller’s DNA on a latex glove left at the murder scene, a map of the movements of Miller’s cell phone at the time of the crime, business records indicating Miller robbed Convertino, and testimony from Convertino’s next-door neighbor, who was first interviewed by police two and a half years after the slayings.

After the verdict, the two sides made the usual statements. “I believe my client was not guilty, and we’re going to continue to fight to prove his innocence,” said Miller’s attorney, Paul Polansky, who promised to file an appeal. State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman Joseph Sviatko said, “We’ll obviously ask for the maximum” sentence. Holback announced that she was “very happy” with the outcome.

But Convertino’s mother, Pam Morgan of Binghamton, N.Y., says she is disappointed that the jurors didn’t hand down convictions for first-degree murder, gun crimes, and robbery. “I guess I should be grateful for something,” Morgan says of the guilty findings the day after the verdict. “But how do they think the bullets got in the kids’ heads?”

The autopsy revealed that Convertino’s fatal back-of-the-head shot was accompanied by two others, one also to his head and the other to his right arm. Wisniewski died of a single gunshot to the head. A firearms expert testified that the bullets were fired from a .38- or a .357-caliber handgun.

Morgan sees Miller’s conviction as partial justice not only because the verdict wasn’t as comprehensive as she would have liked, but because she remains convinced that Miller did not act alone. She intends to pursue her theory that the killings were a conspiracy, as she has since shortly after the crime. “It’s not really over for me,” Morgan says. “I have to say I’ll definitely not be sitting back on this.”

Scott Henry, a prosecution witness and Wisniewski’s friend and employer, agrees that Miller’s prosecution addresses only a part of the crime’s complexity. “I hope this is only the beginning, because you and I both know there is a lot more to this [case],” Henry told City Paper after his hourlong testimony on March 6. Neither Wisniewski’s family nor the jurors could be reached for comment in time for this article.

Trial testimony described the nightlife milieu in which the murders occurred. Wisniewski worked as Henry’s assistant and handled radio programming for Buzzlife Productions, a concert promoter based in Washington, D.C. At the time, Buzzlife held events on Saturday nights at Redwood Trust, the historic downtown bank-turned-nightclub where Convertino was general manager. Shortly before the murders, Miller had worked briefly at Redwood Trust on the security staff. Convertino worked for Redwood Trust owner Nicholas Piscatelli, but at the time of the murders he was arranging to leave Piscatelli and take the gigs he was booking at Redwood Trust to Bohager’s, another venue that has since closed.

The state’s case was that Miller was hardly employed, working itinerantly at a car wash and as a security guard at a car dealership, and was marrying Tarsha Fitzgerald, a successful older woman, so he needed money to pay for their honeymoon in Mexico. With greed as his motive, the state tried to prove that Miller gunned down Convertino (Wisniewski was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time), stole and pawned his laptop, and fraudulently used his credit card to pay the travel agency. Holback painted Miller as a cunning and deceptive charmer who fooled a lot of people, including Convertino and Fitzgerald. Holback described the latter as Miller’s “living victim.”

Polansky’s defense of Miller was composed solely of four character witnesses, including New Psalmist Baptist Church Bishop Walter Thomas, who testified that the defendant was a religious man who would never commit such atrocities. But Polansky also cross-examined the state’s witnesses in an effort to suggest a vague, alternate theory of the case to jurors: that Piscatelli, not Miller, had a motive to kill Convertino, who was in the process of taking high-profile hip-hop events away from the Redwood Trust. Investigators, Polansky stated in his closing argument, “rushed to judgment” in deciding early in the investigation that Miller was the killer, and suffered from “tunnel vision,” so they “didn’t look at Nick Piscatelli a little more carefully.”

Piscatelli testified as a prosecution witness for 45 minutes on the second day of the trial, March 6. Holback asked him to look at the jury and answer a series of questions about whether he killed Convertino, or had Miller kill him. Piscatelli repeatedly answered “no” to the questions. He also stated that he doesn’t know Miller: “I thought I might recognize him today,” Piscatelli said from the witness stand, “but I do not.” Piscatelli told City Paper for an article last year (“Late Discovery,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 6) that Miller asked him for money to pay for the honeymoon, which Piscatelli declined to lend. “I didn’t really know” Miller, he said then.

“The truth is in the evidence,” Polansky said during the trial, arguing that “this was an execution” and “not a robbery at all,” and that “what happened here is that Jason Convertino crossed the wrong people.”

In addition, Polansky pointed out that Holback made Miller out to be “so slick, so smart,” yet at the same time the evidence against Miller attests to a remarkable level of stupidity. It’s as if Miller “wanted to get caught,” Polansky said, because he “leaves the only evidence that he was there . . . right on the dead man’s bed,” where the glove containing Miller’s DNA was recovered. The evidence also showed that Miller left his fingerprints all over the fruits of the alleged robbery by pawning the laptop at a shop Miller regularly patronized, producing his driver’s license to validate the transaction, and using Convertino’s credit card after the murders.

“Either Anthony Miller did it,” Polansky told jurors, “or somebody went to an awful lot of trouble to make you believe he did it.” Judging by the verdict, the jurors decided Miller did indeed do it–though they didn’t buy the state’s version of how the deed was done.

Late Discovery: A New Twist in the Redwood Trust Double-Murder Case

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 6, 2006


“I don’t know why they’re digging into my past,” remarks 56-year old Nicholas Argyros Piscatelli, a local developer and owner of the now-defunct downtown nightclub Redwood Trust. He’s on the phone with a reporter, commenting about the double-murder case involving the club’s former manager, Jason Convertino (pictured, above left), who was shot to death in April 2003 in Convertino’s Fells Point apartment, along with Sean Wisniewski (pictured, above right), who worked for Buzzlife, a nightlife promotions company that held events at Redwood Trust. Suspect Anthony Jerome Miller‘s trial in the case, which turns largely on the presence of DNA consistent with Miller’s found in latex gloves discovered at the crime scene, is scheduled to start in January. But Piscatelli is concerned about recent indications that the case is delving into the possibility that he had something to do with the crime.

“I see what they’re going to do, which is a shame,” Piscatelli continues, referring to Miller’s defense, mounted by attorney Paul Polansky. “Which is to cast doubt and get this guy off.” Neither Polansky nor prosecutor Sharon Holback will discuss the case, and there is no indication that information about Piscatelli will be used by either side at Miller’s trial.

Casting doubt to get people off is what criminal-defense attorneys do for a living, and part of that effort involves understanding the evidence that police and prosecutors gather to bring charges against their clients. In Miller’s case, the nature of that evidence had been limited for the most part to the DNA analysis–until recently, when a new prosecutor took over the case and, as the law requires, submitted to Polansky voluminous documentation about the lengthy investigative process that led to Miller’s indictment in January. Delays in “discovery,” as this process is called, in large part have been responsible for rescheduling the trial date, which was reset four times and is now scheduled to start Jan. 24, 2007.

In October, Polansky argued in court that the state’s discovery failures had been so severe that the charges should be dismissed. A judge disagreed, so the case is proceeding, and on Dec. 5 Miller’s request for a change in his no-bail status was denied. Meanwhile, the late-arriving discovery has fattened the case file with information stating, among other things, that Convertino’s mother was told shortly after the murders that Piscatelli ordered them.

On Oct. 27, Holback disclosed in a memorandum to the defense that “Pam Morgan [Convertino’s mother] has stated that an unknown man approached her at a benefit in Binghamton, New York, held for her son’s child shortly after his murder. The man advised her that Nick Piscatelli was behind her son’s murder, he covered his tracks and hired someone to kill him.” The memo does not indicate when Morgan shared this information with investigators, but she told City Paper during a Nov. 30 phone interview that the event was held in May 2003, just weeks after the murders.

“At the benefit, this guy comes up to me and he says he knows who was behind my son’s murder” Morgan recalls. “I didn’t know Nick [Piscatelli] at that point.” Since then, though, Morgan says she has kept in regular, friendly phone contact with Piscatelli.

“Oh boy! She said that?” Piscatelli says when informed of Morgan’s statement about the man’s visit to the Binghamton gathering. “That’s unfortunate. I’ve spoken to her several times, and she’s never mentioned anything like that to me. That’s certainly sad to hear. There has been no animosity between us.”

Over the phone from her home outside of Binghamton, Morgan describes the man who dropped Piscatelli’s name at the benefit as white, in his 30s, several inches shy of six feet tall, with “lightish hair,” of “medium build,” and “wearing a long coat, like a trench coat.”

“He came in, talked, and left,” she continues. “I was like, `Whoa!’ And that’s when I first started questioning the club, and had these theories [that Piscatelli might be involved]. And I also thought, did [the man] do it purposefully, to throw it off someone else by naming Nick? Because there is no evidence against Nick.”

Still, she says she’s fearful of Piscatelli, and now that her suspicions have been made public in Miller’s case file she says she will stop calling him. “That was my last call to him, probably in September,” Morgan recalls, when she says she discussed with Piscatelli items still in his possession that belonged to her son. (The Oct. 27 memo also discloses that Morgan told investigators that this reporter shared with her information about Piscatelli obtained through unnamed sources.)

Morgan’s statements are not the only ones mentioning Piscatelli in the discovery documents. A Nov. 9 discovery memo states that “a record of firearms owned and registered to Nicholas Piscatelli” was shared with the defense. Piscatelli reacts to this news by saying that “it was years ago–during the 1990s, or the 1980s–that I bought a couple of guns for hunting or target practice,” and asserts again that Polansky and Miller are “trying to use whatever they can to cast a shadow of a doubt.”

On Oct. 24, court documents also show prosecutor Holback shared with the defense “notes of detective’s interview of Carl Weaver (who is believed to be also known as Carl Curry)” that provide information about Weaver’s relationship with Piscatelli and “several other men,” including one that “obtained drugs for Nick Piscatelli.” Neither Weaver nor the two men whose names are mentioned could be located by City Paper in time for this article, and Piscatelli asserts he doesn’t know them. As for Weaver’s allegation about drugs, Piscatelli, who in the mid-1990s pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in Howard County, doesn’t directly respond but says that “there were no drugs in that club and no evidence of that going on.”

In fact, as City Paper has previously reported (“Club Trouble,” Mobtown Beat, June 11, 2003), evidence of drugs at the Redwood Trust does exist in the public record. In 2002, police executed a search-and-seizure warrant there and seized small amounts of cocaine and other drugs from the club. However, despite the evidence, the Baltimore City Liquor Board acquitted Redwood Trust of the resulting violations. “The fact [is] there were drugs there, obviously,” then-liquor board Chairman Leonard Skolnik said at the 2002 hearing.

In a November 2003 police report, Piscatelli stated that, while at the club, he was forced to sign a fraudulent promissory note for the sale of the nightclub business to another party, who, along with three armed men wearing masks, threatened Piscatelli and his business partner, Paul Chrzanowski, and asked them to sample “cocaine in a paper towel” (“Deadwood Bust,” Mobtown Beat, April 28, 2004). No criminal charges resulted from the incident, though competing lawsuits over the promissory note ended in October 2005, with Piscatelli winning a $1 million judgment against the buyer, Omar Haughton of Ellicott City.

Miller, meanwhile, worked for Redwood Trust, according to Piscatelli, who said prosecutors have asked him to produce Miller’s employment records. In court cases against him in the 1990s, Miller used an alias and three different dates of birth that today would place him in his mid-30s. One case, for murder in 1993, resulted in an assault conviction and two months of incarceration. Miller’s other conviction was for forgery in the mid-1990s, though he has dodged drug-conspiracy and other charges.

The state has accused Miller not only of murder in the Redwood Trust case but also armed robbery. This is apparently due to the fate of Convertino’s laptop computer, which court documents show Miller pawned the day after the bodies were found on April 16, 2003. Court records also indicate that Miller used Convertino’s credit card to pay for his honeymoon in Cancun, Mexico. Miller was first interviewed by detectives at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on May 14, 2003, when he and his wife, Tarsha Fitzgerald, returned from their honeymoon. During that interview, according to a detective’s notes contained in the court file, Miller described Convertino as a friend.

“Jay was a good guy,” the detective wrote of Miller’s statements at the airport. “Jay was willing to help anyone out at any time.”

Miller has consistently maintained his innocence and asserted his right to a speedy trial since his arraignment this past March. Until the trial, it’s anyone’s guess how Miller’s DNA was found in the gloves left at the murder scene, what Miller was doing with Convertino’s laptop, and how Miller came to use the victim’s credit card to pay for his honeymoon.

Piscatelli says Miller also asked him for honeymoon money, though he declined to lend it. “I didn’t really know [Miller],” Piscatelli says, “and didn’t really hire him” to work at Redwood Trust. That, he maintains, was Convertino’s decision.

Piscatelli is bewildered by indications that the case against Miller is developing to include information that suggests Piscatelli is being investigated in connection with the crime. “It’s a shame this thing is going in this direction,” he states ruefully. “I wouldn’t ever dream of doing anything like that. . . . I wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Trying Time: Double-Murder Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, March 22, 2006


Pam Morgan drove to Baltimore from near Binghamton, N.Y., to attend the March 15 arraignment of the man she and city prosecutors believe murdered her son. Since April 16, 2003—the day the gunned-down bodies of her son, 31-year-old Jason Convertino, and Sean Wisniewski, 22, were found in a Fells Point apartment, about five days after the murders allegedly occurred—she has anticipated the day when a suspect would face reckoning for the crime.

That day is coming soon. Randallstown resident Anthony Jerome Miller, whose court records indicate he’s either 30, 33, or 35 years old, pleaded not guilty to the double-murder and related charges, after the indictments were read aloud to him as he stood before Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Shirley Watts. The case was then put on the court docket for trial starting June 19. The evidence against Miller includes DNA collected from latex gloves left at the crime scene. Miller and the victims were affiliated with the Redwood Trust nightclub downtown, which Convertino managed for owner Nicholas Piscatelli.

Outside the courtroom after the arraignment, Morgan, who had kept stoically dry-eyed during the proceeding, commented on how her son had tried to fight off his attacker. “Jason was a fighter, but look at Miller,” she said. Broad-shouldered and buff, Miller, according to court records, stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 225 pounds.

“I am so glad I came to see Miller,” Morgan wrote in an e-mail to City Paper the next day. “I said I didn’t know how I would react, and I really surprised myself. I felt a God-given strength all of a sudden, and felt like my son was standing right beside me. Strange, huh? I hope I’m that strong through the trial.”

Miller’s attorney, Paul Polansky, declined to comment on the case after the arraignment, other than to say his client is not guilty.

Polansky, standing with four of Miller’s friends and family members in the foyer outside the courtroom, also declined to discuss previous charges for which he represented Miller: a 1993 double-murder case in which Miller was found guilty of assault; the state declined to prosecute him on the murder charges. A request was made to the Baltimore City State’s Attorneys’ press office to speak with the prosecutor of that case, David Chiu. Chiu, however, was not available as of press time.

The court file for that 1993 case, retrieved from archives, paints a confusing picture. The police report describes not two victims but one: 28-year-old Joseph Earl Carter. Carter was found June 13, 1993, dead from a gunshot wound to the head, his body reposed in the middle of the 1800 block of Westwood Avenue in Sandtown-Winchester. A shot also was fired into Carter’s car, which struck another victim, Ramona Jones. According to the report, she “later pulled the deformed projectile from her hair (it did not penetrate the skin) and handed it to investigators.” Miller was identified by witnesses as being part of a group that had attacked Carter’s friend. Ultimately, though, it appears from the case file that the gunman was never arrested.

Miller’s wife, Tarsha Fitzgerald, was interviewed over the phone by City Paper on Feb. 19, and stated that “I will definitely sue if my name is mentioned” in an article about the Redwood Trust murders. She said that Miller, who turned himself in on a warrant in January, never expected to be detained on the charges, and that he’s a religious man “in second-year discipleship at church.” In May 2003, shortly after the killings, “police kicked the door in” at her previous Randallstown residence, Fitzgerald claimed, and “took Anthony’s clothes and boots,” but that the “paperwork disappeared” regarding the incident. After the police raid, she said, she sold the house, and she and Miller moved to another house she purchased in Randallstown. She sold that home, which is Miller’s address in the charging documents, shortly before Miller surrendered.

Redwood Bust: Suspect Indicted in 2003 Double Murder of Nightclubbers

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Feb. 22, 2006


On Feb. 17, a Baltimore City grand jury indicted Anthony Jerome Miller (pictured) for the April 11, 2003, murder of Jason Michael Convertino and Sean Michael Mietus Wisniewski in Convertino’s Fells Point apartment at 1917 Gough St. Convertino, 31, was the manager of Redwood Trust, a downtown nightclub, and Wisniewski, 22, worked for Buzzlife, a Washington, D.C.-based entertainment company that held events at Redwood Trust on Saturday nights. Miller, who is being held without bail, turned himself in Jan. 23, four days after a warrant was issued for his arrest. His arraignment is scheduled for March 15.

Miller’s arrest was the first break in the case, which has remained shrouded in mystery since three of Wisniewski’s friends discovered the bodies on April 16, 2003. Convertino’s mother, Pam Morgan of Binghamton, N.Y., says that one of the initial homicide investigators “told me there was not any evidence at all. They [the perpetrators] covered all their tracks—that’s what he said about this. And I thought, Oh my god, no one’s going to be caught for this.” Since then, the case ended up in the hands of cold-case investigator William Ritz. “Thank God for Ritz,” Morgan says, “or we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Attempts to reach Wisniewski’s father to comment for this article were unsuccessful. Redwood Trust owner Nicholas Argyros Piscatelli and Miller’s attorney, Paul Polansky, did not return messages. Ritz, reached by phone at the cold-case squad’s office Feb. 20, would not comment, since the case, he said, is still “in the early stages” of being investigated.

According to court records, the murder weapon was “a .38/.357 caliber handgun.” Wisniewski was killed by a single gunshot wound, court records show, and sources familiar with the case, who asked to remain unnamed, say it was delivered to his head. Convertino, court records reflect, died of multiple gunshot wounds. Sources close to the investigation say that two rounds were fired into Convertino’s head, and another was shot into his arm. Miller, according to some of these sources, worked at Redwood Trust during the time of the murders.

Court documents written by Ritz explain the case against Miller. On the day the bodies were discovered, a latex glove and a second partial latex glove were recovered from the apartment by crime-scene investigators. Shortly afterward, Ritz’s report continues, it was learned that Convertino’s laptop computer was missing. On May 12, 2003, investigators discovered that the computer had been pawned by Miller on April 17, 2003—the day after the bodies were found—at a pawnshop in Randallstown. Miller’s driver’s license was presented to the pawnshop during the transaction, and lists an address a few miles away, in the Rolling Ridge subdivision.

In March 2005—nearly two years after the murders—the police finished processing the physical evidence in the case, including the latex gloves, according to Ritz’s report. The gloves were found to contain skin cells inside of them. On Aug. 16, 2005, police collected blood from Miller to compare his DNA to the skin cells. The comparison was completed on Nov. 29, and the skin cells were found to be consistent with Miller’s DNA.

“[T]his investigator believes,” Ritz wrote in his report, “that the latex gloves found at the crime scene . . . [were] worn by the defendant as a precautionary measure so as not to leave any physical evidence . . . that would link him to the crimes of assault, armed robbery and premeditated murder of [the] victims.”

“With the gloves, it just amazes me that they didn’t do what they had to do earlier,” Morgan says. “They had them since the day the bodies were found.”

Morgan chalks it up to Miller’s “stupidity” that he left behind evidence, such as the gloves and driver’s license information, that could trace the crime back to him, as police allege.

Miller has had some run-ins with Baltimore police in the past. In a 1993 case, court records show, he faced two murder charges and an assault charge. Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman Joseph Sviatko says the state declined to prosecute him on the murder charges, but he was found guilty of assault in that case and received a one-year sentence, with 10 months suspended. In 1997, he was found guilty of forging a public document and received a $250 fine, a two-year suspended sentence, and 18 months of probation. Also in 1997, a drug-conspiracy case against him was shelved by prosecutors. In 1994, the state’s attorney declined to prosecute him on an assault charge and on a charge of playing dice. (In the 1994 dice case, Miller used an alias: Samuel Lester Miller. Sviatko says records show that Miller also used three different dates of birth: one in 1975, one in 1972, and one in 1970.)

Most recently, on Dec. 1, 2005, Miller was charged in Baltimore with providing unauthorized taxicab services. Court records show that the state’s attorney declined to prosecute the charge on Jan. 24, the day after he turned himself in on the murder charges.

Morgan says she believes that Miller, if he’s found guilty of the murders, did not act alone. She bases that on a conversation she had with the second set of detectives who handled the case, before Ritz took it over.

“They said that they felt from the scene that there were two people in the apartment,” Morgan recalls, stressing that the case is still under investigation, even though Miller is in custody and facing trial. The Baltimore City State’s Attorneys Office, Morgan says, told her Miller’s trial could start as soon as June, unless circumstances cause a delay.

Accidental Justice: Despite Foe’s Best Efforts, a Controversial Real-Estate Investor Gets Light Treatment in Drunk-Driving Case

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, July 7, 2004


Nicholas Piscatelli has made a few enemies, judging by his long history of Baltimore court battles. One of those enemies, Wayne Gioioso, recently went the extra mile to try to make Piscatelli feel a little pain.

The two are embroiled in a dispute over property in Hampden, but Piscatelli—who also owns the Redwood Trust building, the former downtown bank-cum-nightclub that has been at the center of a variety of controversies (Mobtown Beat, April 28, 2004; Mobtown Beat, June 11, 2003)—has a weak spot. He’s had a drunk-driving case—his second after a 1996 conviction—hanging over his head since his arrest in February 2003. So in the weeks leading up to his June 30 Baltimore City Circuit Court trial, Gioioso says he worked behind the scenes to make sure prosecutors were informed of what he believes are pertinent facts about Piscatelli’s driving record.

“I’m doing a background on him because he sued me,” Gioioso explained in an interview. “And I found out about numerous things Piscatelli’s involved in, and also this drunk-driving case. And I found out that he has another driver’s license in Virginia, even though his Maryland license has been restricted. The judge should know this, because if the judge restricts his Maryland license, it’s not going to affect his driving. If he gets pulled over, he’ll just produce his Virginia license, get his ticket, and go on his merry way.”

Which is exactly what Piscatelli did on Dec. 8, 2003, according to the state Motor Vehicle Administration records. That’s when he was pulled over in downtown Baltimore for not wearing a seat belt and gave the officer a Virginia license with a Springfield address. He subsequently failed to appear for a hearing on the seat-belt violation and failed to pay the $25 fine; his Virginia license is now suspended.

If Piscatelli had handed the officer his Maryland license, the officer might have noticed that it bore a 24-year alcohol restriction, banning him from having any amount of alcohol in his system while behind the wheel, and perhaps performed a field sobriety test.

In May 2003, Piscatelli had been found guilty in District Court of a drunk-driving charge arising from a Feb. 2, 2003, incident, in which, according to the state’s Criminal Justice Information System, Piscatelli’s 2001 BMW was involved in an accident at 2:16 a.m. and whoever was behind the wheel fled the scene. Fifteen hours later, after Baltimore police had caught up with Piscatelli, they administered a breathalyzer test showing he had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.07, just above the legal limit. Piscatelli faced three charges: leaving the scene of an accident, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and driving while impaired. The first two charges were dropped, and Piscatelli was convicted on the third, leading to the alcohol restriction on his license. In July 2003, the Circuit Court dismissed his subsequent appeal of that conviction.

The recent case was his second involving allegations of intoxicated driving. On Dec. 1, 1995, Howard County court records show, Piscatelli was pulled over on Interstate 70 at Route 32 after a police officer saw his car “swerving in its lane, crossing over the lines, and cutting off other vehicles.” He failed three field sobriety tests, and a search of his car turned up three vials, two of them containing cocaine. Piscatelli pleaded guilty to drug possession and driving under the influence and was granted probation before judgment. He has since tried twice unsuccessfully to have the convictions expunged.

Having previously informed the prosecutors about Piscatelli’s Virginia license—both over the phone, and with documents handed over to them just prior to trial—Gioioso says he attended a June 30 hearing on the charge stemming from the February 2003 arrest to see what would happen. But first off, he explains, he was confused as to why Piscatelli was getting another crack at the case after the conviction and dismissed appeal from last year. In February of this year—six months after the dismissal of his appeal—Piscatelli filed a motion to reinstate his appeal, which was granted in April by Circuit Court Judge Lynn Stewart. The argument for reopening the case was that the state has not properly notified Piscatelli of the hearing date last July. (Neither Piscatelli, his attorney Peter Prevas, nor the three prosecutors who handled the case would discuss the matter for this article.)

Gioioso, a longtime member of Baltimore County’s Judicial Nominating Commission who recently was made chairman by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, also said he spoke with Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy about the case. Her spokesman, Joe Sviatko, told City Paper that “she’s not going to comment on this. But it all has been brought to the attention of the appropriate supervisors” in the State’s Attorneys Office.

“I even called MADD about this guy,” Gioioso fumed, referring to the anti-drunk-driving group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “But they didn’t make it to the hearing.”

All Gioioso’s efforts came to naught, as he witnessed the state’s case against Piscatelli collapse into a plea deal.

“I am more than reluctant to even consider probation before judgment for this case,” declared Circuit Court Judge Martha Rasin as she dished out precisely that light punishment for Piscatelli’s crime. The reason: Prosecutors could not produce a record of the breathalyzer results. “Mainly because of the state of the evidence,” Rasin continued, “if it went to trial, it is likely that the state would not prevail. But this probation is just as real as if the evidence were overwhelming.” Piscatelli walked out of Rasin’s courtroom with his previous sentence overturned and replaced with a $200 fine, 18 months of supervised probation, an alcohol restriction on his Maryland driver’s license (of a length to be determined by the MVA, the judge specified), and orders to complete an alcohol counseling program.

When it all was said and done, Gioioso asked for an opportunity to address the judge in the courtroom, to which she responded shortly, “No, this is not an open forum.”

“I don’t think she would’ve ruled the way she did if she’d known” about Piscatelli’s Virginia license, Gioioso asserted after the proceedings were over. “And I think it was totally improper for the prosecutors not to advise the judge, since they had that information.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Roya Hanna, who handled the case before Rasin, had only this to say of Piscatelli’s Virginia license, as she stood in the courthouse hallway after the hearing was over: “But that has nothing to do with my case.”

Gioioso, though, is not done with it; he’s already contacted Virginia authorities. “I think they’ll find it interesting that Piscatelli, who already has a Maryland license, also has a Virginia license,” he says, adding that the commonwealth became famous for fake driver’s licenses after some of the Sept. 11 hijackers were found to have obtained Virginia licenses. “They apparently have a problem with that down there.”

Club Trouble: Redwood Trust for Sale After DWI Conviction of Owner, Murder of Manager

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, June 11, 2003


Nicholas Argyros Piscatelli, owner of the posh downtown nightclub Redwood Trust, plans to sell the business to one of the club’s DJS for $350,000, according to a transfer-of-ownership application filed at the Baltimore City Liquor Board on June 3. The transfer proposal comes a month after Piscatelli was convicted of drunk driving in Baltimore City District Court, and six weeks after Redwood Trust manager Jason Convertino was murdered in an execution-style double homicide at his rented Fells Point home. Piscatelli appealed his drunk-driving conviction, and the murders remain unsolved.

On May 2, Piscatelli pleaded not guilty to driving while impaired by alcohol before Baltimore District Court Judge Askew Gatewood. The judge found him guilty and handed him a 60-day suspended sentence, supervised probation for one year, a $200 fine, and a 24-year alcohol restriction on his driver’s license. According to court documents, the lengthy alcohol restriction means Piscatelli is “to not drive a motor vehicle after having consumed any amount of alcohol.” Piscatelli appealed the conviction to Baltimore Circuit Court on May 29. While a drunk-driving conviction on a liquor-license owner’s record doesn’t look good, it is not sufficient cause for losing one’s liquor license, according to Liquor Board deputy executive secretary Jane Schroeder. “The only thing that is an absolute bar [to holding a license] is a felony conviction,” she says.

The 55-year-old Piscatelli also has a prior criminal record. In Howard County in 1996, he pleaded guilty to the possession of cocaine and driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and received probation. In the summer of 2001, Piscatelli sought twice to have his Howard County criminal record expunged and was denied both times.

As of press time, Piscatelli had not returned calls for comment. Attorney Peter Prevas is representing him on the drunk-driving appeal, and when asked if the conviction and the proposed Redwood Trust liquor-license transfer are related developments, he said, “I’m not aware of the transfer application, so I don’t know how to answer the question.” Melvin Kodenski, Redwood Trust’s Liquor Board attorney, declined to comment, saying, “Nick hasn’t authorized me to talk to anybody” about the pending application.

Other than Redwood Trust, Piscatelli has significant interests in Baltimore real estate. As he explained in a letter to the Liquor Board in 2000, he is a developer with a yen for investing in historic commercial properties–including the Jackson Towers in Bolton Hill and the Standard Oil building on St. Paul Place. One of his companies, American Dream Homes, won a contract in 2001 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to handle listings of HUD-owned properties in Baltimore.

The murder of 31-year-old Redwood Trust manager Convertino (pictured, above left) was discovered on April 16, when three friends kicked in the door to his residence at 1917 Gough St. and found two dead bodies: Convertino’s and that of 22-year-old Sean Wisniewski (pictured, above right). A single bullet to the head had killed each. The crime has sent shock waves of concern through Baltimore’s nightlife community, and speculation as to the reason for the murders has been rife.

Convertino moved to Baltimore from Rockville last fall and, in addition to managing Redwood Trust, had recently started a nightlife promotions company called J. Michaels Entertainment. Previously, he had been owner or co-owner of several clubs in Binghamton, N.Y., according to press accounts there. Wisniewski, a Virginia resident, worked for Buzzlife, a nightlife promotions company based in Washington, D.C., that holds Saturday-night events at Redwood Trust.

Redwood Trust, housed in the historic Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust building on East Redwood Street downtown, has periodically been the subject of controversy since shortly after it opened in the fall of 2001. In December of that year, liquor inspectors raided the establishment for operating after 2 a.m., despite the fact that the city zoning board had given its approval for the club to remain open, alcohol-free, until 4 a.m. The early-morning raid, during which Redwood staff threatened and intimidated liquor inspectors, sparked a legal battle that still endures. The Maryland Court of Appeals heard arguments in March, but has yet to issue an opinion on whether Redwood has the right to host after-hours dancing.

In February 2002, Redwood Trust made headlines again, when Baltimore Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary told police he was assaulted by patrons at the club and suffered a cut to his nose that required stitches. Within days, the Baltimore homicide unit, which investigated the case because of McCrary’s high-profile status, executed a search-and-seizure warrant at Redwood. Backing the homicide unit were members of the police vice squad, which seized small quantities of cocaine and other drugs at various locations inside the club. As a result of the drug find, the Liquor Board charged the club with a narcotics violation, but found it not guilty.

“The fact [is] there were drugs there, obviously,” Liquor Board Commission Chairman Leonard Skolnik said at the June 6, 2002, hearing on the narcotics violation, according to a hearing transcript. “There’s no question. Even though, whatever you call it–it’s not guilty. There’s no way that we can hold the licensee responsible for some drugs that were on the floor. Obviously, you got to be careful, your people are careful, you got to make sure they understand people can’t use drugs in your establishment. That’s it.”

In addition to the controversies surrounding the club and its owner, there is also some question about who, exactly, owns the club. From Redwood Trust’s earliest beginnings in 2000, Piscatelli has represented himself to the Liquor Board as the sole owner of the club and the real estate where it operates. The reality, as reflected in press accounts, Liquor Board documents, and interviews, is that Piscatelli appears to have partners in both the nightclub and the property.

The company that owns the building, 200 East Redwood St. LLC, purchased it for $500,000 in May 2000 and reportedly sunk at least another $1 million in improvements–work that last year garnered a historic-preservation award from Baltimore Heritage, a local preservation-advocacy group. Press reports and records in the Liquor Board files, however, reflect at least one other partner in the real estate: Paul Chrzanowski. In several Liquor Board reports on the club, inspectors reported that Chrzanowski represented himself to them as the property owner.

Chrzanowski also holds the liquor license for Club 2314 on Boston Street in Canton (formerly Fusion and, before that, the Spot) and owns 1722 N. Charles St., which houses after-hours club 1722. In the fall of 2001, 29 patrons were arrested at 1722 and police seized 41 bags of cocaine, 183 doses of Ecstasy, and 82 small plastic bags of the club drug ketamine. Michael Kohl, who has worked as a manager of Redwood Trust, runs 1722.

Redwood Trust LLC is the company that owns the nightclub. Piscatelli has repeatedly claimed 100 percent ownership of the company in Liquor Board documents. A brief conversation with the proposed new owner, Redwood DJ Leonard Kern–who formerly worked as manager for Chrzanowski at 2314 Boston St.–reflects otherwise.

“I’m presently one of the owners there,” Kern told City Paper on June 3, even though the transfer of ownership has yet to be approved by the Liquor Board. “I filed to be added to the license,” and Piscatelli is to be “taken off the license,” he explained before cutting short the interview and saying he’d call back after conferring with his attorney.

In a June 5 follow-up interview, Kern said, “It’s really nobody’s business” who owns the club. The transfer application reflects that Kern has put $5,000 down on the $350,000 purchase price, and that he will lease the building for five years at $12,000 a month–twice the $6,000 monthly rent the business was paying previously. Kern’s attorney, Melvin Kodenski, told City Paper that “it’s probably better to talk to the principals” about the proposed sale of the club.

The Liquor Board’s Schroeder says applications for transfers are made “under penalty of perjury,” so ownership information provided in the application is presumed to be true.

“It was always my understanding that Piscatelli was the 100 percent shareholder,” she says. Information to the contrary “suggests that the person has lied” in the application, she says, and “we would follow up” to ascertain whether that in fact happened.

If it were determined that ownership of the club was misrepresented, the Liquor Board could charge the club with a violation and bring it before the board’s commission for a hearing. When asked about Kern, Schroeder says, “I don’t think he’s shown up as an owner prior” to the pending application.

The Lonely Killer: Anthony Jerome Miller Got 60 Years For Double Murder, But Questions Still Remain Over Whether Or Not He Acted Alone

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, June 20, 2007


Tarsha Danielle Fitzgerald was a 34-year-oldsingle mother when she married Anthony Jerome Miller, then 27, in the spring of 2003. The two had met only recently, not long after Miller’s mother had died of cancer, and the relationship quickly grew serious. Both were congregants at West Baltimore’s New Psalmist Baptist Church in Uplands. Fitzgerald sold advertising for Magic 95.9 FM, a Radio One station, while Miller–well, Fitzgerald’s friends hardly knew anything about her fiancé, much less what he did for a living. But they knew he did a lot of nice things for her and that she was crazy about him. He fast became like a father to her two children after he moved into her Owings Mills townhouse, and they later had a child of their own. Miller even paid for the honeymoon in Mexico. He used an acquaintance’s credit card to make the final payment, claiming it was the friend’s wedding gift to the couple.

The card belonged to 31-year-old Jason Michael Convertino, the general manager of the now-defunct downtown nightclub Redwood Trust. Miller used Convertino’s card on April 12, 2003, the day after Convertino and 22-year-old Sean Michael Wisniewski, a DJ who sometimes spun vinyl at Redwood Trust, were shot to death. Nearly three years later, in January 2006, Miller was charged with the murders. In June of this year, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Immediately afterward, Miller appealed his conviction and filed a motion to modify the sentence.

At the time of the murders, Convertino had been arranging hip-hop celebrity appearances at Redwood Trust and was planning to take his crowd-gathering skills to another Baltimore venue, the now-defunct Bohager’s Bar and Grill. He and Wisniewski were killed on a Friday evening inside Convertino’s Gough Street rowhouse apartment, just across the street from General Wolfe Elementary School in Upper Fells Point. Their bodies were discovered five days later, after Wisniewski’s friends kicked in the door to the apartment, discovered the carnage, and called the Baltimore Police Department.

The police investigation stagnated shortly after it began, when the initial lead detective resigned from the force. That investigator, Blane Vucci, found that Miller had used Convertino’s credit card and had pawned Convertino’s laptop after the killings, but the evidence was not enough to bring charges. The investigation revived in 2005, after detective William Ritz was assigned it as a cold case and, in a matter of months, established that Miller’s DNA was found at the crime scene. Ritz, following official policy, has declined to speak on the record about the case.

Miller was on a trip with Fitzgerald in Atlanta when the murder charges were filed, and he immediately returned to Baltimore to surrender and declare his innocence. His attorney, Paul Polansky, pleaded for a speedy trial, but the proceedings were delayed when the prosecutor assigned to the case took a private-sector job and another prosecutor, Sharon Holback, took it over.

When the trial finally took place in March 2007, evidence showed that Miller and Fitzgerald both knew Convertino, whose nickname was Jay. Miller had worked briefly on Redwood Trust’s security staff, having been hired by Convertino, who knew Fitzgerald because, as a promoter, he knew who was who among the Radio One sales staff. Holback presented evidence that Miller came to Convertino’s apartment to kill him and steal his credit card and laptop in order to pay for the honeymoon, and that Wisniewski was shot dead simply because he happened to be there when Miller arrived.

On March 15, after two and a half days of deliberations, a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury found Miller guilty of two counts of second-degree murder–the non-premeditated kind–but acquitted him of handgun, robbery, and first-degree and felony murder charges. Afterward, jury members asked Judge Robert Kershaw to seal their names, so they can’t be contacted to explain their decision. The verdict seems to suggest, however, that they believed Miller killed the two, but, despite the prosecution’s evidence and arguments to the contrary, he didn’t plan to. What’s more, the jury evidently decided that he didn’t use a gun, even though that’s what killed the men, and that he didn’t rob Convertino, even though he used Convertino’s credit card and pawned his laptop. It probably wasn’t exactly what the prosecutor was hoping for, but it was a conviction.

Holback described the jury’s decision as a “compassionate verdict.” But there is room to wonder whether Miller found his way to Convertino’s apartment on his own initiative, and whether access to a stolen credit card and a laptop to hock was enough to prompt a double murder. Whether the investigation remains open is a can’t-confirm-or-deny matter, as far as law enforcement is concerned. But, despite Miller’s conviction, the Redwood Trust double murders remain mysterious.

Convertino came to Baltimore in the fall of 2002, hired to manage Redwood Trust after a couple of short gigs managing other venues in the region, including Jillian’s at Arundel Mills Mall. His résumé already boasted substantial experience managing and owning clubs in his native Binghamton, N.Y. He got his start in the business there from a club owner named Bill Uhler, who hired him in 1996 to manage a place called the Shark Club.

“He was the first to bring major DJ acts to the [Binghamton] area,” Uhler recalls in a recent phone conversation, and lists appearances by hip-hop luminaries such as Funkmaster Flex and DJ Skribble as promotions handled by Convertino. Uhler says he watched Convertino develop as an entrepreneur, both as a club owner and as an entertainment promoter, and they became close friends. By the time Convertino left for Maryland, Uhler recalls, he was a fixture in Binghamton: “Everybody in town knew him.”

Having landed at Redwood Trust, Convertino quickly consolidated the contacts necessary for successful club promotions and started his own company, J. Michaels Entertainment. He specialized in bringing in big names from the hip-hop world, who would draw throngs of paying customers happy just to be in the same venue as the featured celebrity. The star, who would have already performed elsewhere that night, would show up and hang out at the club for a while. These “after act parties” cost up-front money to arrange and carried with them the ever-present risk that the celebrity might not show or make only a fleeting appearance. In arranging these gigs, Convertino had to cross paths and make deals with a host of people in the entertainment business.

“I remember him as a wannabe promoter who was trying to be something that he’s not, and going about it in a shady fashion,” Mike Esterman recalls of Convertino. Esterman represents celebrity talent on a nonexclusive basis out of Washington but also works in the Baltimore area. “He’d say, `I’ve got $10,000 to spend on an artist,'” Esterman continues, “not telling me that he actually has $20,000, which I come to learn later. So he would try to pocket the difference. He didn’t do it to me, but I almost did deals with him that I found out about later. I come across those kinds of deals all the time, and it makes us all look bad, but he was no different than a lot of promoters.”

Baltimore-based entertainment consultant David Geller recommended that Redwood Trust owner Nicholas Argyros Piscatelli hire Convertino as the club’s manager and has a different take on Convertino’s dealings. “He was a harmless, hard-working, motivated, ambitious guy, and he was trying to be clever in a business setting,” Geller says. “Maybe Jay was networking himself to the talent, bypassing the local promoters, and it pissed somebody off. This guy, whatever his flaws were, he was just harmless. Whatever he did, he didn’t deserve to be shot.”

The idea that Convertino had angered others in the promotions business came up during Miller’s trial, when Scott Henry–owner of BuzzLife, a D.C.-based concert-promotions company, and Wisniewski’s boss–testified. Henry was one of the group of people who discovered the murder scene, and immediately afterward he was interviewed by police. During that interview, he discussed “heated arguments” that promoters had been having with Convertino. “I’d say there was maybe a deal gone bad,” he testified during Miller’s trial. Henry remains convinced there is more to the murders than Miller killing to get a credit card and a laptop. “I hope this is only the beginning, because you and I both know there is a lot more to this,” he said after his March 6 testimony.

“Jay tried to work around middlemen a lot of times,” Uhler observes. “If he met somebody through a promoter, the next time he tried to do it without [the promoter]. That may have caused problems in Baltimore. One thing I know, people with a lot of money don’t like to lose any–that’s how they ended up with a lot of money.”

Another old Binghamton friend of Convertino’s is Jason Smith, better known as DJ Boogie. Now an international artist based in New York City, he got his start doing gigs with Convertino. “Maybe Jay just went to compete against the wrong guys, and they hired somebody to kill him,” Smith says. “There are parts of Baltimore you really don’t want to mess with.”

Many tantalizing questions about Convertino’s business dealings and their possible role in his death are likely to remain unanswered–take the cash. Convertino’s body was found on his bed. Weeks later, the landlord’s cleaning crew threw the bed out into the alley to break it up and put it in a truck to haul away. When it hit the ground, a bundle of $7,900 in cash fell out of the mattress. The information about the money came out at trial, but no one testified what it was for, where he got it, whether anyone else knew about it, or how it fits into any theories about the murders. It was just a bundle of cash, stuffed in the mattress underneath Convertino’s dead body, discovered by happenstance, weeks after the crime.


During his sentencing hearing, Miller spoke publicly about the case for the first time. In the middle of his statement, his shackles jangled as he suddenly turned around to face Convertino’s mother, Pam Morgan, who was sitting about 15 feet away on a courtroom bench. Miller, an imposing, broad-shouldered man, is much bigger than the diminutive Morgan, a 55-year-old retired nutritionist from upstate New York. Over Holback’s vigorous protests and Polansky’s just-as-vigorous counterprotests, Judge Kershaw allowed Miller to continue addressing Morgan face-to-face, as well as Wisniewski’s family.

“I knew your son for a short time,” Miller said to Morgan, adding that Convertino was “a good man” and claiming that “I never had no intentions at all to hurt your son.” Miller then turned to the Wisniewskis, who, like Morgan, had come in from out of town for the sentencing, and said, “I never knew Mr. Wisniewski.” He forgave Holback for prosecuting the case, asked Kershaw for mercy, and declared, “I did none of these crimes.”

Moments later, Kershaw gave Miller the maximum sentence: 30 years for each of the two murder counts, one term to be served after the other. Under state sentencing guidelines, and barring any changes from appeals, Miller can apply for parole after serving half his prison time.

“I think justice has been served, and I’ll leave it at that,” Wisniewski’s father, Michael Wisniewski, said after Miller was led away by sheriff’s deputies. Morgan, contacted by phone the next day from her home outside of Binghamton, also said that justice was served. She has believed Miller committed the murders since shortly after they occurred, when she first learned he had used her son’s credit card to pay for his honeymoon. But Morgan, unlike Michael Wisniewski, is not prepared to leave it at that.

“I was just in shock [Miller] was even talking to me,” Morgan recalled. “I was in such awe that I don’t know if he said that he didn’t kill Jay, but the overall thing sounded like [Miller said] Jay was his good friend and that he wouldn’t have done that.”

Reminded of the exact words Miller had uttered, that he “never had no intentions at all to hurt your son,” Morgan softly said, “Oh.” She paused briefly before continuing: “Ooh, now that came out funny. That, to me, is saying that he did it, but didn’t mean to.”

Morgan recalls that, right after the murders in 2003, she was led to believe by the initial homicide investigators that the killings were done by more than one person. “From day one, they all seemed to give me the inkling that the crime scene led to at least two people being in the apartment,” she says. “I never was told any facts about how they got that. I don’t know. But that’s all they’ve all led me to believe–that, and that there was no evidence, and that they didn’t think the case would ever be solved. Up until, of course, detective Ritz took over.”

The idea that more than one person was involved in her son’s death has stuck with Morgan. Even though Miller is now serving time, she says, “I don’t know if [the truth] will come out” about the full circumstances surrounding the crime. “I hope it does, because this is the hardest thing–to live without knowing if Miller was alone, or if someone else really was the cause of Miller doing this. I really want to know the whole truth, no matter who it comes from or whatever they discover. Once I know the whole truth, I think then I’ll be OK for whatever life I have left.”

Not present at the sentencing hearing–or for most of the trial, including the verdict–was Miller’s wife, Tarsha Fitzgerald. On the fifth day of the trial, Fitzgerald arrived to assert her spousal privilege not to testify against her husband, who mouthed, “I love you,” to her as she left the courtroom without looking at him. (Fitzgerald has adamantly refused to discuss the case publicly, and has threatened to sue if her name is included in media reports about the charges against her husband.)

The son Fitzgerald and Miller had together is a toddler now and was in the courtroom for his father’s sentencing. The child was held in the arms of Miller’s brother Samuel Lester Miller III. When Holback called Anthony Miller “the ultimate sociopath” and “a cold-hearted con man,” Sam Miller stood up and left the courtroom with the baby. After the hearing, he walked down Saratoga Street outside the courthouse, still carrying Miller’s son, and declared to a reporter that “it’s not over.”

Sam Miller was reiterating a point he made at length during a phone conversation days earlier. “I hope the investigators won’t be satisfied with this,” he said of his brother’s conviction. “These murders were a conspiracy,” he continues. “Anthony might have known something about it, but sometimes people feel they have to keep their mouth shut. Do I believe he knows something? Possibly. Do I believe he’s a murderer? No. We all can be fooled, but I don’t see it in him. He’s no angel, don’t get me wrong, but I honestly just don’t see that.”


As any trial attorney who’s not in the middle of trying a case before a jury will tell you, trials aren’t really about the truth. They’re about competing interpretations of presented facts, and the jury is instructed to sort out the resulting mess. The jury’s hesitance to throw the book at Miller in its verdict may have been because of facts presented at trial that raise questions about why Convertino was murdered.

Take, for instance, the motive that Convertino’s boss may have had. Convertino was hired to manage Redwood Trust by Nicholas Piscatelli, a successful Baltimore real-estate developer. Piscatelli meticulously restored a historic downtown bank building that had survived the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 to house his posh nightclub. Convertino, witnesses testified at Miller’s trial, was planning to take his proven skills as a scene-maker to one of Redwood Trust’s competitors, Bohager’s Bar and Grill, when the murders happened. More specifically, Convertino was scheming to take a P. Diddy event that was scheduled to happen at Redwood Trust on April 13, 2003, to Bohager’s instead; after the murders, on April 11, P. Diddy appeared at Redwood Trust, as originally planned. What’s more, Piscatelli suspected Convertino of stealing not just shows, but money from Redwood Trust.

Holback took on this nettlesome situation directly during the trial: She called Piscatelli to testify. His attorney, Peter Prevas, was present in the courtroom. Piscatelli is short and a sharp dresser–he wore a dark blue shirt and a shiny dark suit, and he hung his overcoat over the side of the witness stand as he sat down. After a few questions about his background and the Redwood Trust restoration, Holback got to the meat of the matter.

“OK,” she began, “I’m going to ask you, please, sir, to look at the jury. Did you have anything to do with the murder of Jason Convertino?”

“No, I did not,” Piscatelli responded. He didn’t so much look at the jury as quickly glance at them, and then up, down, and anywhere else but at them as he continued to answer questions. He appeared exceedingly uncomfortable but exhibited no outward outrage or anger that he was being asked if he was a murderer.

“Did you have anything to do with the murder of Sean Wisniewski?”


“Did you have any knowledge that they were going to be murdered?”


“Did you have any information that they might be murdered?”


“Did you ask anyone to murder them?”


“Did you ask anyone to murder either one of them?


“OK. Now, do you know Anthony Miller?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Have you ever seen him?”

“No. I thought I might recognize him today, but I don’t.”

In a December 2006 interview with City Paper, however, Piscatelli recalled that Miller had asked to borrow money from him to pay for the honeymoon, but he didn’t make the loan (“Late Discovery,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 6, 2006). While Piscatelli may not have met Miller face-to-face, he at least knew him as someone who once asked him for money.

Holback went on to ask Piscatelli about Convertino’s employment situation at Redwood Trust, about how the club was run, about the hip-hop events that Convertino was bringing in. Then she asked if he knew Tarsha Fitzgerald, and Piscatelli responded, “Sounds familiar, I don’t remember in what capacity.” Holback suddenly launched back into the hard questions:

“Did you ever ask Anthony Miller to hurt or kill Jason Convertino?”


“Would you?”

“No, of course not.”

“Any reason to hurt him?”


Holback went on to ask him how successful the Redwood Trust had been, and he explained that he sold the business in summer of 2003, not long after the killings. “It just wasn’t doing a lot of business,” he explained, adding that it had been a success before and during Convertino’s tenure as manager. In Piscatelli’s previous interview with City Paper, he claimed that Redwood Trust had never done well, since he’d banked on changes in the law that would have allowed it to stay open past 2 a.m., but the law wasn’t changed as he’d hoped.

Piscatelli handled Holback’s questions for 25 minutes before facing Miller’s attorney, Paul Polansky. Piscatelli described his relationship with Convertino as “good,” and added that “I liked Jason. He was a great guy. We’d go out to dinner once in a while.”

When Polansky asked whether or not Piscatelli argued with Convertino over stolen money, Piscatelli said, “I think I got upset with him when I heard that that was happening,” and testified that the argument occurred “maybe a month before” the murders. Asked when he first learned Convertino was trying to take acts to a different venue, Piscatelli said, “We just found out about that the week that he was missing, really.”

Then Polansky asked if Piscatelli had “an argument with Jason in the office in the presence of other people about the theft of the money and the fact that he was hustling business to another club?” Piscatelli responded: “You know, we were aware of it, we discussed it, we weren’t happy about it. But our feeling was, as the owners of the club, that he was bringing in money that we wouldn’t be earning, so, you know, we let it go.”

Polansky had made his point: Convertino’s skills as a nightlife manager and promoter were valuable to Redwood Trust. If Convertino went to work for a rival–Bohager’s, as he was about to do–Redwood Trust would be competing against him in the nightlife market. It might not seem like a suitable motive for murder, but neither does the theft of a credit card and a laptop. (Piscatelli has not been charged with any crime in relation to Convertino and Wisniewski’s deaths.)

Polansky had one last question for Piscatelli. Piscatelli’s answer–“No, I didn’t go to his funeral”–hung in the air as he left the courtroom.

Miller said he intended no harm, yet the victims’ bodies displayed signs of brutally intentional violence. What was found in Convertino’s apartment, after Wisniewski’s friends kicked in the door, screamed cold, calculated murder.

Wisniewski’s body was sitting in a living-room chair, his hand propping up his head. A burned-out cigarette butt lay on the floor next to him, and the television was on. He died instantly from a single bullet fired from a gun that was nearly touching the side of his head. Whoever fired the shot likely did it while coming up behind him, and Wisniewski probably never knew it was coming.

Upstairs in the bedroom, Convertino’s body lay face down on his bed. Unlike Wisniewski, he knew he was facing a violent death. The bathroom door was bashed in, evidently because Convertino had sought refuge there, though whoever killed him entered the apartment without force. He fought back, judging by his bruises. He took one bullet through his arm and another into the back of his skull, which exited through his jaw. A vase filled with pennies was broken over his head. A third bullet lodged in his cranium after being shot from close range into the back of his head. His bedding had been used to quiet the sound of the gun.

The evidence at Miller’s trial was circumstantial but strong. His skin cells were recovered from inside a latex glove found on the bedroom floor and mixed with Convertino’s blood in another piece of a latex glove that was left on the bed next to Convertino’s body. Cell-phone records put Miller near the scene at the likely time of the murders. The next day, Convertino’s credit card was used to pay for Miller’s honeymoon and purchase gasoline. A week or so before the murders, Miller’s cell phone was used to call Convertino’s immediate next-door neighbor, who testified that someone resembling Miller came to his apartment, claiming to be working for the cable company, and asked if the guy living next door made a lot of noise–ostensibly trying to determine whether gunshots might go unnoticed.

A handwriting expert who testified for the prosecution couldn’t say for certain whether Convertino’s signature on a form submitted to the travel agency authorizing Miller to use the credit card was a forgery penned by Miller, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t Convertino’s handwriting. The day after the bodies were found, Miller pawned Convertino’s Gateway laptop for $250, presenting his driver’s license to document the transaction at a Randallstown pawnshop where he was a regular customer. Two days later, he returned to the pawnshop to bring in the laptop’s power cord, which fetched another $150. How Miller ended up in possession of Convertino’s laptop was never addressed during the trial by the defense.

Polansky told the jury that if Miller did the killings, then “he’s the world’s dumbest, stupidest murderer of all time” because he left behind so much evidence for investigators. No witnesses, no recovered gun, no fingerprints, and a hugely out-of-proportion motive–robbery of a credit card and a laptop–but the trail led directly to Miller. Even his criminal record–he ducked a double-murder rap in an incident that resulted in his conviction for assault in 1993, and in 1997 he was convicted of forgery–seems to foreshadow the crime. Yet it took nearly three years for the homicides to be cleared with his arrest. And nowhere along the line did Miller act like a guilty suspect: He cut short his honeymoon to be interviewed by detectives in 2003, freely submitted his blood and handwriting exemplars in ’05, returned to Maryland to surrender immediately after the charges were filed in ’06, and steadfastly asserted his speedy-trial rights rather than delay the start of the trial.

But it’s hard to argue with DNA evidence that places Miller at the scene, wearing latex gloves. Any explanation other than that he was there, with the gloves on, when the murders were committed hasn’t been offered. Short of that, Polansky tried to convince the jury that it was a massive frame job, emphasizing how long it took to come up with the DNA evidence.

“They now say his DNA fits, years later,” Polansky argued in his opening statement at the trial. Miller “was set up for this crime,” he continued. “What would you do,” he asked the jury, if confronted with evidence “appearing that you know nothing about, and you know couldn’t have existed? I suggest that you would do exactly what Anthony Miller has done. Plead not guilty in the belief, in the prayer, that during the course of the trial the truth will emerge, and the truth will set you free.”

For a long time, Pam Morgan suspected that Nick Piscatelli had something to do with her son’s death. Her radar went up early on, when she met with detective Blane Vucci–the first lead investigator on the case–on her first visit to Baltimore, right after the murders in 2003. Morgan had thought of Piscatelli as nothing more than her son’s employer prior to the murders. But she recalls that when she told Vucci that she thought that the murders must have something to do with Redwood Trust, “because if Jay knew anybody, it would have been through the business,” Vucci’s heated reaction surprised her.

“He informed me that Nick did everything for my son, yelling at me,” Morgan says. “He told me there was no evidence, that the case would never be solved, and made it seem like somehow Jay did something wrong. And I left feeling hopeless.” (Attempts to reach Vucci for comment were unsuccessful.)

Morgan went back to upstate New York, and began to investigate the case on her own. She went through her son’s records that she had, calling any contacts she could find, and tried to share any information she developed with the Baltimore Police Department.

One of the things she shared with the police had to do with Piscatelli. About a month after the killings, in May 2003, a benefit was held near Binghamton to raise money for Convertino’s young daughter. About 500 people showed up, and while it was going on, Morgan says she was approached by a man she’d never seen before and hasn’t seen since. “He said that Nick Piscatelli was behind my son’s murder,” Morgan recalls, “that [Piscatelli had] hired someone to do it, and that he’d covered his tracks.”

Since then, Morgan had kept Piscatelli close. She says she maintained a phone relationship with him, never letting on that she suspected his involvement.

Morgan and Piscatelli spoke every few months throughout 2004 and ’05, she recalls, and more frequently in ’06 to discuss whether either of them had heard of any new developments in the case. Neither of them had. This past December, after her account of the encounter with the man at the benefit was published in City Paper after it surfaced in court papers in the Miller case (“Late Discovery,” Mobtown Beat), they spoke once more, and Morgan says she told Piscatelli that she hadn’t brought her suspicions up with him because they were based on rumor, not fact. “I never spoke with him again,” she says. (Informed of Morgan’s story about the mysterious tipster during a December 2006 interview with City Paper, Piscatelli said, “Oh boy! She said that? That’s unfortunate.”)

Morgan was not present when Piscatelli testified at Miller’s trial–it was the first and only day of the trial she missed. Now that Miller’s been convicted, she says she feels less certain about her suspicions than ever.

“If I knew Nick actually did it, if I actually had the proof” that he was somehow involved in Convertino’s death, Morgan says, “I don’t know what I would have done differently. As long as I still had a doubt and could speak to this man, I did so. So many other things are surfacing, and sometimes we are led to believe one thing when it is the opposite. Now, I have doubts that Nick is responsible. Before, I could go either way on this whole thing. But right now, it’s like I don’t know anymore.

“Don’t forget,” she continues, “[the police] told me they felt two people were involved. And of course, I’m thinking, Well, somebody came [to the benefit] and told me that. Was he the second person? Now, I don’t know.”

Or it might have been Miller, acting alone, killing two people simply to get a credit card and a laptop in order to pay for his honeymoon. If so, barring a successful appeal, Miller will be paying for that honeymoon for a long time to come.

Dismemberment Plan: Gruesome murder case highlights violence in the pot trade

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, July 25, 2012


Peter Blake shouldn’t have been in the United States on the evening of Dec. 16, 2009, much less at an apartment on Daybrook Circle, near White Marsh Mall in Baltimore County. Blake, now 54, had been deported back to Jamaica, his homeland, in 2004, after serving a lengthy federal prison sentence for 1990 drugs-and-firearms convictions in Texas. Yet, by his own admission in court documents, Blake was there at the apartment, where he participated in a brutal contract murder and dismemberment (“The Scarface Treatment,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 10, 2010; “Reefer Madness,” Mobtown Beat, March 9, 2011).

The victim, 50-year-old Michael Paul Knight, was a bulk-cash transporter for a massive Baltimore-based marijuana-dealing enterprise and had been entrusted with $1 million in the business’ proceeds, but more than $200,000 of that money had gone missing. He was killed after failing to explain the missing money, despite being beaten until one of his eyes came out of its socket and being threatened with a gun. Ultimately, Blake helped hold Knight face down in the apartment’s bathtub, and Blake and another man stabbed him until he died, according to Blake’s guilty plea. Over the next three days, Blake and two others sawed up Knight’s body and discarded the pieces in two or more dumpsters around the Baltimore region. Blake’s plea says the top conspirator in the killing, Jean Therese Brown, paid $100,000 to have Knight killed and have his body disposed of.

Blake, during his 1990 trial in Texas, was alleged by prosecutors to have admitted to “killing 10 people, two of which were police officers in Jamaica” in the past, though on the stand he denied making this admission, according to court documents. He unsuccessfully appealed his conviction based on the prosecutors’ inclusion of the multiple-murder suggestions raised before the jury, but the appeals court ruled that Blake had impeached his credibility in so many other ways while testifying that the prosecutors’ fast-and-loose conduct on this score was a wash.

The charges against Blake in the Maryland case—one count of “conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping in aid of racketeering” and one count of “aggravated re-entry of a deported alien”—were filed in February, and he pleaded guilty to them in April, before U.S. District Judge William Quarles, Jr. The maximum sentence for the murder-conspiracy count is 10 years in prison. The others alleged to have been involved in Knight’s murder—Brown, Hubert “Doc” Downer, Dean “Journey” Myrie, and Carl Smith, who is also known as Mario Skelton, Jr.—are in much more serious trouble.

Brown, Downer, and Myrie face mandatory life sentences for murder in aid of racketeering if convicted of Knight’s killing. They are fortunate not to be facing the death penalty, which, until early July, when the U.S. Department of Justice declined to pursue capital punishment in this case, had been a real possibility.

Smith, meanwhile, was murdered in Tijuana, Mexico, in April 2010. He allegedly was shot in the head by Leo Alvarez Tostado-Gastellium, one of three defendants in a separate pot-distribution indictment filed in April in U.S. District Court in Maryland. That indictment, which does not include a murder count, also charges two other men—Julio Carlos Meza-Mendez and Gabrial Campa-Mayen—with participating in the Baltimore-based pot conspiracy involving Brown, Smith, and others, which prosecutors have dubbed “the Brown Organization.” After Smith’s murder, the indictment says, Brown called Meza-Mendez to confirm Smith’s murder.

Myrie had been a fugitive until early July, when he was picked up in New York City as a result of an America’s Most Wanted segment that aired recently. At his first appearance at Baltimore’s federal courthouse on July 17, the tall, barrel-chested Myrie, who has a close-cropped beard and a shaved head, appeared unmoved as U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grimm explained his rights.

Numerous others have been charged in federal court for their part in the Brown Organization, which court records say grossed $1-$2 million per month, selling weed for $1,000 per pound. The other codefendants in the main conspiracy case are Tamara Henry, Robert Henry, Dmytro “the Russian” Holovko, Jason Carnegie, and Anthony Hendrickson. Two other men—Mowayne McKay and Shamar Dixon—were arrested at their Ellicott City residence in March 2011, charged separately, and pleaded guilty in July and August 2011.

The scope of the Brown Organization’s alleged pot-distribution scheme was enormous and long-lasting and was orchestrated from Baltimore and Miami, Fla. The indictment says it started by 2000, at the latest, and continued until Oct. 2011, and other court documents state that it moved as much as 1,000 pounds of pot at a time, once or twice a month. Brown owned and operated trucking companies, including one called Full Range Trucking, to move the shipments of marijuana from Arizona and California to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, and make shipments of cash payments back to Arizona and California. Another Brown trucking company, called Coast to Coast Express LLC, was based in an office at 6400 Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville, according to its business records.

Brown “concealed” some of the profits in Baltimore, court records say, and some of the money was carried to her native Jamaica by couriers, including Knight. Once the money was in Jamaica, authorities say, some of it was converted to real estate held by Brown, Smith, and their relatives.

When Brown was charged in the pot-conspiracy indictment in Feb. 2011, she pleaded guilty to bulk-cash smuggling and received a 37-month prison sentence. Her codefendant in that case, Debbie Ann Shipp, also pleaded guilty but has yet to be sentenced.

Prior to her indictment in the pot conspiracy, Brown cooperated with authorities investigating the case against her and her codefendants—though her attorneys, Gary Proctor and Thomas Crowe, have moved to have her statements suppressed. According to their filings, “Ms. Brown has given extraordinarily detailed statements to law enforcement officers implicating Messrs. Downer and Holovko, among others, which include, but are not limited to, three audio-video statements with a combined running time slightly in excess of seven hours.” Proctor and Crowe argue that two interviews of Brown, conducted by Baltimore County police detectives in Oct. and Nov. 2010, were involuntary, even though they were given with the permission of her attorney at the time, Sebastian Cotrone of Florida, who was not present when the interviews took place.

The shocking violence that Blake has admitted to not only implicates the others accused in Knight’s murder, it also serves as a reminder that the pot trade, though often thought to be a more peaceful enterprise than dealing cocaine, heroin, or other harder drugs, can prove tragically lethal.

“The organizations that distribute marijuana often engage in the same kind of violence that we see in any drug gang,” says Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein. “Maybe the users aren’t as dangerous,” he adds, “but sometimes the dealers are.”