Old Business: Martin O’Malley’s Failed Promise As Baltimore Mayor Will Stay With Him, No Matter Who Wins The Governor’s Race

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Nov. 1 2006

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In the summer of 1999, when then-City Councilman Martin O’Malley was running for mayor of Baltimore at age 36, he wrote With Change There Is Hope: A Blueprint for Baltimore’s Future. It was a two-part, two-booklet title (pictured), one bound in a green cover, the other blue. They were handed out far and wide during the last weeks of the 1999 campaign. O’Malley dubbed them collectively as “my epistle” or “my book,” and separately as “the Green Book” and “the Blue Book.”

Today, With Change There Is Hope represents a sweeping archive of O’Malley’s promises to voters. In politics, that’s a contract, a document that sets down what’s expected of the victor in return for votes. There is no penalty for failing to uphold the contract, but when its terms aren’t met, elections–such as the gubernatorial one that will decide between Democrat O’Malley, Republican incumbent Robert Ehrlich, and Green Party candidate Ed Boyd on Nov. 7–can result either in punishment or forgiveness.

Baltimore’s voters held up their end of the bargain with O’Malley when they first backed him seven years ago. O’Malley was expected to deliver–a lot. He’d set his plan down in the 40-page Green Book, which focused on crime reduction, and the 80-page Blue Book, which covered everything else–and how all of it is tied to the crime rate. Those who supported O’Malley’s re-election in the 2004 election did so despite the fact that many of his pledges remained unmet. Now, joined by voters in the rest of the state, they will decide whether to back him again in his bid for governor. O’Malley still owes Baltimore. If he wins the election, he’ll be expected to pay it back from the statehouse. If he loses, he’ll work off his debt at City Hall.

O’Malley focuses on the debt paid, not the debt remaining, as he makes the campaign rounds for governor. He has plenty of accomplishments with which to fill speeches. The main one, perhaps, was described in an Oct. 5 speech at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health: “Instead of wallowing in a culture of failure and excuses, we came together to take on the tough challenges and made progress.”

Running to replace Ehrlich this year, O’Malley recites a concisely packaged 10-point plan instead of handing out lengthy manifestos. Copies of With Change There Is Hope are hard to come by today. They are not available online. Google its title with the word “Baltimore,” and all that comes up is a link to City Paper‘s 2002 Best of Baltimore “Best Scandal: Police Corruption” blurb. But O’Malley’s 7-year-old collection of green and blue IOUs remains in the archives of history, ready to be dusted off once again.

“My approach as mayor will focus on two basic concepts–urgency and accountability,” he wrote in the Blue Book’s conclusion, after setting the bar for his own performance. He wanted change, urgently, and change came after he became mayor. But it often came not as promised, or sometimes not at all. That’s not surprising, given O’Malley’s great expectations. Urgency is hard to measure (he certainly seemed urgent), but accountability is O’Malley’s middle name. Now he’s accountable for how things changed, or have not.

Just as the mayor’s CitiStat program tries to keep city agencies on their toes by measuring government activities, journalists can apply statistical yardsticks to O’Malley’s promises. There are two sources of information for this exercise: what O’Malley said would happen, and what happened according to the numbers and known circumstances. (Numerous phone messages and e-mails to the mayor’s communications director, Steve Kearney, and O’Malley spokespersons Rick Abbruzzese and Raquel Guillory, were not returned.) Given the vast landscape of his panoramic vision for Baltimore in With Change There Is Hope, it’s best to begin by concentrating, as O’Malley did when he first ran for mayor, on a single issue: crime, and how everything hinges on it.

 

O’Malley’s June 23, 1999, mayoral campaign announcement speech, delivered at the corner of Harford Road and the Alameda, drew a small crowd. He made up for the lack of attention by using the speech’s text as the Green Book’s opener: “My name is Martin O’Malley. I believe I can turn this city around by making it a safer place, and I mean to begin doing it now.”

First, though, O’Malley had to get elected, and right off the bat his credibility was questioned. He told a story in the speech about having been to the same corner the previous midnight, when he was approached by a drug dealer, who asked, “What do you want?” The exchange gave O’Malley a rhetorical hook for his announcement.

“That’s a question,” the would-be mayor said to 30 or so supporters gathered to hear his speech, “that each of us in this city needs to answer in this important election year.”

Sun columnist Dan Rodricks suspected the hook was hogwash and immediately got on the case. Rodricks visited the neighborhood and found a resident who said that Harford Road and the Alameda is not a drug corner, but a “hackin’ corner” where “guys hang out lookin’ for rides.” O’Malley told Rodricks “it’s no big deal,” and explained that the guy on the corner who gave him his “What do you want?” line for the speech “was doing that hand motion they do when the markets open. It’s a notorious corner. That’s what they do there.” But, Rodricks reported, O’Malley “can’t say for sure that the young guy wanted to sell him drugs. It’s a hunch.” The columnist gave O’Malley’s poetic license its propers: “Good stuff, councilman. Even without that Monday-midnight story.”

O’Malley is prone to hunches, and has thus far benefited from people forgiving him when they don’t pan out. His main hunch as a councilman with mayoral ambitions was that if you solve the crime problem, everything else will fall into place. From O’Malley’s perspective, the revival of schools, housing, health, jobs, population, investment, tax revenues, the real-estate market–in short, all that makes cities tick–depended on public safety, government’s primary responsibility. He waxed on this theme in the Green Book, asking voters to “Imagine how quickly our great City will come back to life when we get hold of public safety and start closing down our expanding drug markets.” He pointed to other cities, such as New York, as crime-fighting models and suggested we simply copy what worked elsewhere.

In a 1999 phone interview about his crime plan, O’Malley was emphatic. “There is no way to create jobs or to improve the business environment if the only businesses expanding are these open-air drug markets. So that’s first and foremost,” he asserted. “It affects everything.” He went on to spell out his policing strategy, which had various names: “quality of life,” “zero tolerance,” and “broken windows.” The idea, he said, was to “improve the reality of public safety” by “changing enforcement priorities, by redefining the mission of the police as restoring public order on our corners and improving quality of life on our corners. When you do that the bigger crimes become easier to solve and easier to deter, and you drive the drug markets indoors, which drives down the random violence that is inflating our numbers to be some of the worst in the nation.”

At O’Malley’s announcement, he called the corner where he was standing an “open-air drug market,” and promised within six months to make it and nine others like it “things of our city’s past.” He added that “in the second year, 20 more open-air drug markets will likewise be shut down, and thus will the people of this city easily measure our success or failure.”

After six months in office, in a letter to The Sun, the mayor explained that he’d taken care of the 10 drug corners. And he described how it had happened: Police, city inspectors, and public-works crews had tidied them up, pronto. It was that easy.

The two-year mark in 2002, by which time O’Malley promised 20 more cleaned-up corners came and went without fanfare. As 2003 began, public frustration about the continuing crime problem was evident.

“We still have open-air drug markets on our corners,” City Councilman Bernard “Jack” Young (D-12th District)–usually, like most members of the council, an O’Malley ally–told the Baltimore Afro American in late January 2003. “Point-blank, nothing’s changed. We’re paying all of this overtime to the police. Where is the change?” O’Malley’s hunch was being called into question.

The experience of crime in Baltimore neighborhoods is as varied as the neighborhoods themselves. What feels to many like improvements under Mayor O’Malley–seemingly safer and clearly more prosperous communities around the waterfront, along the north-south axis of Charles Street, along the Northeast Baltimore thoroughfares of Belair and Harford roads, and in certain other key neighborhoods like Hampden–feels to others like it’s not happening in their neighborhoods. Because the improvements are concentrated in waterfront neighborhoods and the central north-south spine of the city, they are more evident than the sluggish expanses of the east and west sides, where change has come more slowly, if at all.

With or without dramatic crime reductions, though, the city has been rebounding in many ways, and O’Malley’s re-election in 2004 affirmed and affixed the notion that he was doing alright as mayor. Many understood that he would soon run for governor. Once he announced his candidacy for state office, O’Malley’s record as mayor became Republicans’ main message when promoting Ehrlich. They can do that because O’Malley’s hunch hasn’t worked itself out yet.

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If O’Malley was wrong about crime being the foremost determinant of the city’s fortunes, then there’s room for forgiveness. Crime in many ways has trended downward, particularly in some parts of the city and for some types of crime. But low interest rates, not reduced bloodshed, likely had more to do with the city’s improved performance under O’Malley.

In the Blue Book, O’Malley noted that in 1999 “City houses fetch roughly one half of what they do in Baltimore County,” because of the prevalence of crime in the city. Since 1999, “thanks to reductions in crime and increased investment in the city, average home values in Baltimore have risen 120%,” according to O’Malley’s campaign web site.

Crime reductions may have helped, but the key factor was the residential real-estate market boom created by historically low interest rates and rising demand. The 2004 median sales price for a Baltimore single-family home was $130,500, compared to $215,000 in Baltimore County. Thus, instead of city houses selling for half the value of county houses, under O’Malley they began selling at about 60 percent of what county houses get. The value of city single-family homes gained slightly more than 35 percent between 2002 and 2004, an amount a tad higher than in Baltimore County.

Real-estate values and tax revenues tend to rise and fall together, and they both jumped under O’Malley, as expected during times of cheap money. In 2000, city revenues stood at about $1.4 billion. In 2004, they broke $2 billion, and stood at $2.1 billion in 2005. Increasing real-estate values helped a lot on the property-tax front, aided by new taxes instituted by O’Malley.

The level of private investment in the city, likewise, has increased substantially. Little scaffolding and few cranes were part of Baltimore’s streetscape in the 1990s, but they are common sights today. The O’Malley administration says the value of development activity under way in 2005 was estimated to be $2 billion, whereas ongoing projects in 2000 added up to a little less than $900 million.

O’Malley’s gubernatorial campaign biography states that, as mayor, he has “promoted job growth by attracting over $10 billion in economic development” and “nearly ended Baltimore’s decades-long population loss.” But jobs and population declined in the city, and unemployment rose from 5.9 percent in 2000 to 7.1 percent in 2005. Job loss from 1999 to ’04 hit Baltimore hard, taking away about 40,000 jobs–the most among Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, as was the city’s loss of about 15,000 residents from 2000 to ’05. A 2002 U.S. Census snapshot of the city’s unemployment situation pointed out key disparities: While the overall unemployment rate was 6.8 percent, white men were at 2.1 percent and black men at 11.8 percent. The city made the top-10 list in the country for average weekly wage growth in 2005, but at the same time lost more jobs–5,800–than almost all of the 323 large cities and counties studied. While the city’s employment outlook hits some harder than others, the jobs that remain are paying better, and the loss of jobs went along with ongoing loss in population.

The jobs lost under O’Malley came on the heels of all the jobs lost before him. In the Blue Book, O’Malley painted a bleak picture of the Kurt Schmoke years, describing job declines in manufacturing, transportation, retail, banking, and hospitals. The situation hardly improved after O’Malley was elected. Between 2001 and ’04, Baltimore lost nearly 5 percent of its jobs. A quarter of its manufacturing jobs, 15 percent of its banking and finance jobs, 5 percent of its retail jobs–all disappeared in a four-year span. The drop in public employment was pronounced, especially local government jobs, which fell by nearly 4,000 positions, more than 12 percent. Only three sectors posted major job gains: hospitals, educational services, and the hotel and restaurant industry.

Under Mayor Schmoke, the city lost an average of 722 jobs per month, O’Malley calculated in the Blue Book. Between 2001 and ’04 under O’Malley, the city lost an average of 432 jobs per month. That’s a dramatic improvement, but it is still a drastic rate of job loss–especially when the surrounding counties are alive with job growth. The Blue Book pointed out that the surrounding counties posted a gain of 104,000 jobs when Schmoke was mayor, an average of 963 new jobs each month. Between 2001 and ’04, with O’Malley as mayor, the surrounding counties added nearly 63,500 new jobs, an average of 1,322 jobs per month.

Thus, while the city’s job loss has slowed under O’Malley, it has not reversed, as O’Malley predicted. And the surrounding counties’ job growth accelerated by about 40 percent. Baltimore remains the hole in the doughnut of regional employment trends.

The public schools, well, they’re still a mess, but there are bright spots. As the city’s population declines, so does school enrollment–by an average of 2,900 students per year since O’Malley became mayor, bringing the total down to about 85,000. While some of the trends in standardized test scores are good, many others are not. Graduation rates are up for seniors getting a regular education, but down dramatically for the increasing share of students in special education. The money spent to achieve these results has increased dramatically on a cost-per-student basis, and has been the target of near-permanent scandal over the school system’s financial accountability.

In the Blue Book, O’Malley reported that in 1997 only 16.6 percent of third-graders’ scores were “satisfactory” under the state reading tests. This statistic is recited again on O’Malley’s campaign web site, and updated with the claim that O’Malley “helped 61% of the third graders meet those state standards last year.” The standardized tests were changed in 2002. Under the new ones, the percent of third-graders with “proficient” reading scores has risen annually, from 38 percent in 2003 to 59 percent in ’06, when the statewide scores had risen from 50 percent to 63 percent. The same happened with third-grade math scores, with the percent of proficient third-graders rising to 52 today from 40 in 2003, when the statewide scores had jumped only four points, from 50 to 54. That’s some of the good news.

Some of the bad news is that only 2 percent of special-education high-school students passed the high-school English standardized test in 2005. That 2.1 percent passed in 2006 is nothing to brag about, since it indicates that students in the city’s large special-education program don’t have much of an education to look forward to.

As students continue in school, their improved scores in earlier grades should be reflected in improvements as they reach higher grades. In some cases, this has happened, but not in others. The third-grade class of 2004, for instance, was tested again as fifth-graders this year, when its proficiency in math and reading both were significantly higher than those of prior fifth-grade classes. But the sixth-grade class of 2004, which was entering first grade when O’Malley was elected mayor, is another story. When the class reached eighth-grade this year, its share of students scoring proficiently dropped in both math and reading compared to its sixth-grade scores.

O’Malley’s Blue Book measured city schools’ graduation rates harshly, saying that “only 25 percent of ninth graders . . . ever graduate. This is unacceptable.” The percent of regular-education 12th-graders graduating is rising, from 58 percent in 2002 to 64 percent today. But the drop in the share of special-education 12th-graders graduating went from 65 percent in 2002 to 35 percent today.

When running for mayor, O’Malley’s intentions about special education were clear: He wanted significant improvements, and a reduction in the size of the program. He said that, at the time, 18 percent of the student population was enrolled in special education, and he wanted that number to drop to 13. By 2000, it had dropped to 17 percent, which is where it remained in 2005. Meanwhile, by O’Malley’s figures from his first mayoral campaign, the cost of educating each special-education student per year was $9,680. Since then, it has increased by a fifth, and stands at $11,722 per student.

In his governor’s campaign biography, O’Malley expresses pride in city schools, claiming that “for the past three years, elementary school students have posted higher scores in reading, language arts, and mathematics at every grade level.” That’s an accomplishment that would make any mayor proud. But O’Malley, by law, does not control the city school system. As mayor, he is an equal partner with the state in its success or failure–an equal partner with the government headed by his gubernatorial opponent, Robert Ehrlich. “Our children should not suffer due to adult disagreements,” O’Malley wrote in the Blue Book. “In the future, Baltimore should, once again, take greater responsibility for our school system. But we also must build continually on the partnership we have established with Annapolis–it is in the best interest of our children.”

The city-state partnership has suffered from scandal after scandal arising from lack of accountability in recent years, leaving the city school system in such a shambles that it is surprising some children are able to learn adequately. Neither the city nor the state has stepped up to take unilateral responsibility, though their collective responsibility is there for all to see. O’Malley takes credit for the good where he can–with some improved test scores in some grades–and, either as governor or as mayor, may be in a position to do more for at least a couple more years. But he’ll also have to live with the bad, until the system gets fixed.

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Baltimore under O’Malley is a mixed bag of results, and it’s hard to say changes in the crime rate made it so. By the raw numbers, though, Baltimore is safer now than when O’Malley started. In the first six months of 2000, when he was working off his obligation to clear the 10 corners, the city logged 141 murders, 161 rapes, 3,010 robberies, and 4,530 aggravated assaults, including 700 nonfatal shootings. In 2005, the totals from January to June were much rosier. Murder was down 3 percent, rape had dropped by more than half, robbery saw a 40 percent reduction, and aggravated assaults were reduced nearly a quarter, including a near 30 percent drop in shootings. The same number of under-18-year-olds–47–were murdered in 2002 as were in 1996, but in the first 10 months of this year 22 kids were killed, and all of last year saw only 14 juvenile homicides, so the situation appears to be getting less bloody for Baltimore’s teens.

Yet, despite these numbers and O’Malley’s optimism and declarations of success, frustrations and distrust about the prevalence of crime abound. Some of O’Malley’s crime numbers remain under the pall of a state effort to audit his numbers this year, an effort that the mayor rebuffed. And O’Malley’s earlier use of an audit of the 1999 figures to establish the baseline for his claims of crime reduction has been called into question.

O’Malley’s handpicked benchmarks in the Green Book set a high bar, and, although he didn’t meet many of them, they often moved in the direction he promised. His Green Book said public-safety improvements in the first two years of the O’Malley administration, for instance, should reflect New York’s as it first adopted quality-of-life policing under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the mid-1990s. When Giuliani was first starting out, murder went down 40 percent, robbery 30 percent, burglary a quarter, and rape by 8 percent, according to the Green Book’s figures.

By three of these measures, O’Malley fell short. His first two years saw nearly a fifth fewer murders and burglaries, and a quarter fewer robberies–all smaller drops than what Giuliani delivered. (Given the doubts about the Baltimore’s 1999 crime numbers, 1998 was used as the base year for this analysis, giving O’Malley three years to accomplish what Giuliani did in two.) But on the fourth category, rape, O’Malley achieved a reduction of about 40 percent, more than five times larger than New York’s. Rape later became a category of crime suspected in 2003 of being under-reported by Baltimore police, and, after an audit, a 15 percent upward correction in the 2002 numbers was ordered.

O’Malley’s second-guessed crime numbers have historical poignancy. When he was a councilman, O’Malley made a name for himself by proving that then-Mayor Schmoke’s police department was cooking its books to augment its mid-1990s crime-reduction claims. Today’s data-accuracy doubts suggest that perhaps O’Malley’s police department somehow has been aping the bad behavior of Schmoke’s department, though hard evidence of this has yet to arrive. Pending future findings, which themselves may end up subject to charges of inaccuracy, the numbers O’Malley’s police department reported to the FBI are the best available data about Baltimore crime.

The raw numbers about crime reduction that O’Malley likes to cite, though, tend not to take into account the decline in the city’s population. Do so, and Baltimore’s murder rate goes from 40.3 murders for every 100,000 residents in 2000 to 42 in 2005. Thus, it makes sense that many people believe Baltimore remains as murderous as it was before O’Malley became mayor–because Baltimore was, in fact, a bit more murderous, per capita, in 2005 than it was in 2000.

O’Malley pledged in the Green Book to make Baltimore a lot less murderous, by taking the toll down to 175 homicides in 2002. This bold goal helped him get elected 1999, when there were 305 murders. But when 2002 closed out, there were 78 more homicides than he’d promised. Boston, a city of a little less than 600,000 people, and one which the Green Book points to as a model for Baltimore to follow, had 60 murders that year, by way of comparison.

Baltimore’s crime rates look bad when compared to other large U.S. cities, and the numbers hardly improved from 2000 to 2005. After five years of O’Malley, there were 17.6 violent crimes for every 1,000 Baltimore residents in 2005, nearly 80 percent more than the big-city average. In 2000, as in 2005, the city’s murder rate was nearly three times higher than the average for cities of between a half-million and a million people. Robberies in 2000 were 2.6 times more common in Baltimore than in other large cities, and aggravated assaults (including shootings) were 2.2 times more prevalent. Five years into the O’Malley administration, the violence had fallen off, but still occurred at nearly double the rates in other large cities.

In With Change There Is Hope, O’Malley observed that “Baltimore is today the fourth deadliest city in the nation, and the city’s murder rate is seven times higher than in the average city.” Time hasn’t changed much in that regard. In 2005, Baltimore’s murder rate was still seven times the average for U.S. cities. In the 2005 Detroit mayoral race, the fact that only Baltimore had a higher murder rate than Detroit was put in play on the campaign trail. This year, in a ranking against 31 other cities with populations over a half-million, Baltimore was second most dangerous, with Detroit earning the top dishonor.

Where violence is concentrated is where the greatest crime reductions are possible. Traditionally in contemporary Baltimore, the brunt of the violence has disproportionately fallen on the Eastern and Western police districts, compared to the other seven districts. After a period of increasing violence in O’Malley’s first term, it is here, in the Eastern and Western districts, where crime numbers show improvements–fulfilling some of the expectations O’Malley created.

From 1999 to ’02, the share of the citywide homicides happening in the Eastern and Western districts rose from nearly 30 percent to more than 40 percent. Murders were dropping in the city (from 305 in 1999 to 253 in 2002), yet these two districts were showing substantial increases in their body count. That’s now changed. In 2005, the Eastern and Western’s combined tally had dropped 30 percent from 2002’s level, while the rest of the city’s homicides had jumped up a quarter. The burden is shared now by four other districts–the Southern, Southwestern, Northern, and Southeastern–joining the Western with more murders in 2005 than they’d had in 1999.

The recent geographical shift in Baltimore homicides suggests O’Malley in some ways is starting to mirror Giuliani’s 1990s crime-fighting success in New York. In 1999, just before O’Malley declared for mayor, the New Republic ran a cover story on Giuliani that examined an important trend in the Big Apple’s crime reduction: The sharpest crime drops were seen in the area’s that needed them the most. Harlem’s crime fell 61 percent between 1994 and ’98, for example, and East New York’s murders went from 110 in 1993 to 37 in ’98. Similarly, in Baltimore, the Eastern and Western police districts have recently shown substantial improvements, although several other districts have experienced increases in crime.

Overall, though, the picture on the crime front is pretty bleak compared to O’Malley’s expectations and how it compares to the rest of urban America. “With public will, energy and political leadership,” O’Malley wrote in the Blue Book in 1999, “Baltimore will join the ranks of America’s great rejuvenated cities that are growing safer, larger, and more diverse . . . That is my pledge.” Now it’s seven years later, and Baltimore continues to earn its title as one of the most violent cities in America.

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Unlike his crime figures, O’Malley’s budget figures aren’t a matter for debate. In the Green Book, O’Malley indicated that the added cost of his crime plan was, well, nothing, or not much more. “The real solution in Baltimore is not to double size of the broken system,” he wrote about the police department, “but to implement the simple procedural reforms that will make greater use of the substantial resources already in place.” And in the 1999 phone interview, he said crime reductions under his watch would cover the reform costs, explaining that he planned to “increase city revenues by making this city a dramatically safer place quickly, and thereby reversing our loss of population.” He predicted that crime reduction would pay for everything, and then he pulled a George Bush I, promising that “I am dead-set opposed to raising taxes.”

The upshot from the police budget trends is this: a growing proportion of cops at desks, costing a larger amount of money. The department’s budget went up 25 percent from 2002 to ’07, the current fiscal year. Two parts of the departmental budget went up more than 100 percent: Administrative Direction and Control jumped from to $15.5 million to $32 million, while money for the Office of Criminal Justice Policy more than tripled, from $3.5 million to $12 million. Together, the administrative and policy slices of the police pie grew from 7 to 13 percent, while all other parts of the department saw their slices shrink. Though the overall budget went up, department-wide staffing levels dropped by nearly 5 percent from 2002 to today. Administrative staffing jumped nearly 8 percent–the only kind of police staffing that grew. Yet O’Malley’s campaign web site states that he “put more cops on the streets as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce crime.”

The five-year growth of the police budget wasn’t paid for with revenue resulting from an increased city population, as O’Malley had predicted. Population continued to fall, though more slowly. Rather, money was available to expand the police budget because of rising real-estate values and the mayor’s new taxes on energy, cell phones, and real-estate transactions, O’Malley’s prior no-new-taxes pledge notwithstanding. Because of the additional revenues, he was able to keep some promises.

O’Malley vowed in the Green Book to increase funding for the State’s Attorney’s Office “as long as it stays committed to the path of reform, and committed to keeping repeat violent offenders off the street.” The city’s contribution to State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy’s office has been boosted from $21.6 million in 2002 to $30.4 million today, a more than 40 percent raise that has allowed staffing levels for prosecutions to increase by 55 positions.

The mayor has been true to drug treatment, too. “Since 1996, annual funding for drug treatment in Baltimore has doubled from $16.5 million to $33 million,” O’Malley wrote in the Green Book, indicating this is a positive trend he’d like to continue. And he has. Drug treatment funding under O’Malley increased to $53 million in 2005.

Teen motherhood and other health indicators affect crime trends over the long term, and O’Malley aimed to oversee their decline. He pointed out that in 1997 “nearly 10 percent” of city girls aged 15 to 19 had babies. There was a steep decline after O’Malley took office, and in 2004 the proportion of girls that age who had babies was 6.8 percent. He wanted infant mortality to decline, reporting that the city in 1997 lost newborns at a rate of 14.4 babies per 1,000 live births, “nearly double the state’s rate,” he wrote. It dropped significantly. In 2005, the infant mortality rate had declined to 11.3, half again as high as the state’s.

O’Malley pointed out in the Green Book–as Jay Leno was saying, too, on The Tonight Show at the time–that Baltimore is “the syphilis capital of the United States.” As O’Malley wrote those words, the syphilis rate was in steep decline. In 1999, Indianapolis became the syphilis capital, after Baltimore’s rate had dropped 45 percent in one year. In 2002, Baltimore was ranked 11th among U.S. cities, with an incidence rate of 18.6 cases per 100,000 people. That year, 120 cases were reported. But the disease jumped sharply in 2004, when 209 cases were reported for a rate of 33.2, placing Baltimore third in the nation, behind San Francisco and Atlanta.

Two other sexually transmissible diseases were mentioned in O’Malley’s book, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Baltimore “is rated number two in the U.S. for active cases of gonorrhea,” he wrote at the time. It has dropped significantly since then, but Baltimore was still the fourth-highest city on the list for active cases of gonorrhea in 2004, the most recent ranking available. When O’Malley sought to become mayor, he explained that Baltimore’s national rank was “third for active cases of chlamydia.” The city’s chlamydia rate has actually risen significantly since then, yet its national ranking dropped to seventh highest–an improvement, of sorts.

O’Malley recently summed up his disease-fighting record much more succinctly, and no less truthfully: “Syphillis [sic] is down 75% since 1997 and Gonorrhea is down 45% since 1995.” These surgically selected statistics are posted, along with the rest of O’Malley’s Oct. 5 Hopkins speech, on his campaign web site (www.martinomalley.com).

Baltimore’s improved status on drug-related emergency-room visits, an important indicator of drug abuse, is impressive, but still marginal in the national context. In 1999, O’Malley wrote that Baltimore is “rated number one in the nation for hospital emergency room admissions involving substance abuse.” In 2005, it was tied with New York and Boston for third in the nation.

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But O’Malley failed on some important other promises, such as the one about reducing the need to arrest people. The Green Book was adamant about giving police expanded power to issue civil citations for minor crimes, which was expected to free the courts of petty cases. “Through the use of citations–which make fewer arrests necessary–and courthouse reforms that keep innocent people and minor criminals from languishing in jail for weeks before trial,” O’Malley predicted that “fewer people may actually be locked up using quality-of-life policing strategies.” At the very least, he promised that “quality-of-life policing does not mean arresting and locking up our city’s young men indiscriminately.”

Under Schmoke, there had been 70,000 arrests in 1997 and 85,000 in 1998. After several years of quality-of-life police work, in 2004 O’Malley’s expanded civil-citation powers were put in place. In 2005, city police logged around 100,000 arrests. In 2006, the city was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who raised charges of widespread indiscriminate arrests. So much for the less-arrests theory of zero-tolerance policing.

O’Malley’s record on police corruption and misconduct has a level of intrigue appropriate to the cloak-and-dagger milieu of internal investigations. His campaign pledges on the issue were zealous. “We know,” he wrote in the Green Book, “that when the police are encouraged to be more assertive, government must become more assertive and open in its policing of the police.” He’d been complaining about police corruption and misconduct under Schmoke’s commissioners for years, and yet “our problem has only gotten worse,” he insisted, adding that “There is nothing more harmful to effective law enforcement, and more devastating to the morale of law-abiding citizens and law enforcement officers, than police misconduct.”

To fight it, O’Malley pledged in the Green Book to “open the Police Department’s internal investigation process, to assure the public that police problems are not being swept under the rug by colleagues’ complicity.”

Immediately after gaining City Hall, O’Malley asked outside consultants to look at the department’s problems. Among their tasks was a survey of police personnel about street-level corruption, which showed that 23 percent of the department believed that more than a quarter of its officers were “involved in stealing money or drugs from drug dealers.” The survey put numbers on the idea that the Baltimore police had a corruption problem.

And yet nothing much happened. Not for years. There were two corruption arrests that didn’t pan out. The case against officer Brian Sewell, suspected in 2000 of planting drugs on an innocent suspect, became suspicious when police evidence against him disappeared during a break-in at internal investigators’ offices, and the charges were dropped by prosecutors in 2001. Officer Jacqueline Folio, accused of a false drug arrest, was found not guilty in a 2003 criminal trial, and the department’s administrative case against her was so full of exculpatory evidence and apparent attempts at cover-ups that she was cleared entirely–and settled her own lawsuit against the city over the whole, career-ending episode. At the end of 2003, police said they had conducted 202 “random integrity tests” to catch bad cops since 2000, yet the only cops nabbed were Sewell and Folio.

The quiet continued. In early January of this year, The Washington Post reported that O’Malley had been booed at a legislative hearing over his department’s high volume of arrests, and that the mayor countered that aggressive arrests would be reflected in increased misconduct complaints, which were down. He was soon to lose the use of that argument at hearings, for 2006 quickly became a memorable year in the annals of Baltimore police misbehavior.

Two days after the legislative hearing, on Jan. 6, a city grand jury charged three officers with rape, unearthing evidence that their undercover squad was corrupt in other ways as well. In April, a federal jury convicted two Baltimore police detectives for robbing drug dealers, a city grand jury charged an officer with stealing rims off a car belonging to an arrested citizen, and an officer caught a gambling conviction. In July, two officers were charged in Baltimore County in separate crimes–fraud and theft in one case, and burglary and stalking in the other. And in August, a Baltimore officer was charged with identity theft in Pennsylvania.

As a councilman and mayoral candidate, O’Malley was passionate about the idea that the police department needed a housecleaning. Police officers “after all are only human,” he said in the 1999 phone interview, so they must be policed “to insure that temptation, unchecked anger, and prejudice do not tarnish the moral authority necessary for a police department to effectively perform its job.” After five years of relative quiet punctuated by weak corruption cases under O’Malley, what he predicted in 1999–“well publicized arrests of clusters of officers who are lured away by the easy money and lucrative money of the drug trade,” as he put it in a 1999 phone interview–is finally coming true.

 

The Green Book set down an anecdote about Schmoke’s police commissioner Thomas Frazier coming before the City Council in September 1996, on the heels of councilman O’Malley’s return from New York to study its policing strategies. “You don’t have to tell me about zero tolerance. I know what they do in New York,” Frazier was quoted as saying. “They’re doing the same thing I started doing here with Greenmount Avenue–close down the open-air drug markets, drive them indoors, and you reduce the violence. . . . I have to be a team player. When we start closing down the open-air drug markets, the judges complain that we’re crowding their courts and the Mayor makes me back off. . . . Tell the judges. I’m only one piece of this criminal justice system.”

And so is Mayor O’Malley only one piece of the city’s public-safety complex, though you’d never know that from reading the Green Book. To get elected, he made it seem like he was a one-man crime-fighting machine, that all he had to do was hire a police commissioner to deploy known policing strategies proven successful in other cities, and it would all fall in place–an instant urban revival. It’s doubtful any mayor could have met the expectations O’Malley set for himself, much less one who hasn’t gone through four police commissioners and three interim commissioners the way O’Malley has. Still, he scored points for seeming to try and for being in power when interest rates dropped. This Nov. 7, the state’s voters will decide whether he tried hard enough. Either way, he still owes.

Room Service: Morgan student charged after heroin “pellets” found in Marriott Waterfront Hotel

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Mar. 25, 2009

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To hear his attorney tell it, Edward Aboagye is an immigrant success story. The slight, bespectacled 27-year-old Morgan State University senior, majoring in finance and accounting, came to the United States from Ghana nine years ago, and married in 2005. The Laurel couple became the parents of twins in January. He’s a resident alien with a green card who owns a lawfully obtained handgun and a car-dealing business in Pigtown. He has no prior record of criminal behavior.

But according to U.S. Attorney Albert David Copperthite, Aboagye is believed to be part of a heroin-smuggling conspiracy that used a courier to swallow five “pellets” of the drug, which were delivered on March 14 “by natural processes” to co-conspirators at a Marriott Waterfront Hotel room (pictured) rented by Aboagye.

In all, the hotel housekeeping crew found a half-kilogram of heroin worth about $45,000 in Aboagye’s room safe and $6,200 in cash behind the counter in the bathroom. Another $4,900 was recovered from a jacket and a purse. A later search of Aboagye’s Pigtown business address turned up more heroin, some marijuana, a .40-caliber pistol registered to Aboagye, and 28 bullets in two magazines.

In open court on March 19, Aboagye’s attorney, Ivan Bates, tells U.S. District Court judge Paul Grimm that his client is not someone who should be locked up pending trial on federal drug-conspiracy charges.

“He’s a family man that is trying to be a student,” Bates says, adding that aspects of the government’s case require a “leap and a stretch” to be believable.

“He leads two lives,” the prosecutor contends. One “with his wife and children in Laurel–and they don’t know what he’s doing in Baltimore.”

Noting that the government’s contentions are as yet “untested,” and that the defense maintains that Aboagye was at the hotel “to sell a man a car”–not to engage in a drug transaction–Judge Grimm allows Aboagye to be on monitored home detention with $50,000 in unsecured bond put up by his wife.

“There are a number of factual matters that [Aboagye] intends to challenge at trial,” the judge notes.

Another Ghanian living in Elizabeth, N.J., Mohammed Marga, also was charged in the conspiracy with Aboagye. Both, according to the charging papers, were interviewed by law enforcers after their arrests, as was a woman–20-year-old Stanina Akonnor–who was initially detained with them, but later released without charges.

Whereas Aboagye denied knowledge of the recovered heroin and money, and claimed he was at the hotel to conduct a car sale, Marga told investigators that he met with Aboagye at the hotel room, where Aboagye told him to call a man named Malik to arrange a heroin sale. On March 13, Marga says, Aboagye drove him to meet and set up the transaction with Malik, who Marga described as a stocky, dreadlocked black male, about 5 feet 9 inches, driving a black Range Rover.

Once the two were arrested the next day, though, the alleged drug deal never went through. Malik was displeased, as was evident from a voicemail he left on Marga’s phone. The voicemail, the charging papers contend, “showed that Malik was upset that they did not show up to deliver the heroin and did not call him to let him know what was going on. Additionally, Malik said that he was not going to deal with them anymore.”

Aboagye’s Baltimore car business, Asco Global Company LLC, is based at 824 Washington Blvd. Its incorporation papers describe it as a “wholesale automobile/vehicle dealer” also engaged in the “import and export of general goods.” At 3:13 a.m. on Jan. 22, Aboagye was clocked by police in Howard County going 85 miles per hour in a 1991 Acura with Pennsylvania plates, heading south on I-95. He is scheduled for a March 25 trial on the resulting speeding ticket.

The Marriott Waterfront’s director of sales and marketing, Rob McCulloch, tells City Paper the hotel does “not have any official comment” on the incident. When asked if large amounts of heroin had been found at the hotel before, McCulloch says, “Not that I’m aware of.”

Straight Outta Accra: West Africa looms large in Baltimore heroin-trafficking cases

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 23, 2012

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Last April, thousands of miles from Baltimore in the West African country of Ghana, a man known as “Wagba” got on the phone and mediated a Baltimore heroin-dealing dispute.

Nana Boateng, who supplied Baltimore dealers with heroin shipped under Wagba’s direction by couriers traveling to the United States on commercial flights leaving West Africa, was in a heated argument with another Ghanaian, Krist Koranteng, who also supplied Baltimore heroin dealers with courier-carried heroin from West Africa.

The two were threatening one another, with Koranteng saying he’d arrange for men to come from Ghana to kill Boateng if he didn’t pay up for short-changing Koranteng’s friend, Moses Appram, on a 200-gram heroin deal. Boateng, in response, vowed to come to Ghana and kill Koranteng himself.

Since Boateng’s phones were wiretapped as part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation, his conversations with Wagba were recorded for posterity. As a result of the probe, Boateng, Koranteng, Appram, and three others were indicted last year in Maryland federal court for participating in a heroin conspiracy. All of them pleaded guilty except Appram, whose three-day trial in Baltimore’s federal courthouse ended on May 2 with a jury conviction. Koranteng testified as a government cooperator, and Wagba’s name, as well as the recorded, translated, and transcribed phone conversations he had with Boateng, came up often during the trial.

Ultimately, no one was killed or attacked as a result of the dispute, and Koranteng testified that he ended up taking the loss on Appram’s ill-fated deal with Boateng. But Wagba’s dealings with Boateng did not end there. In late May 2011, according to court documents, Wagba coordinated a courier shipment of heroin to Boateng, who waited for six hours at Washington Dulles International Airport as the courier, who was caught by law enforcers as she arrived with 3.3 kilograms of heroin in her luggage, was detained and questioned by authorities. At the agents’ direction, the courier called Wagba, who told her “someone would get back to her. Shortly thereafter, a call from Boateng was received” on the courier’s phone, the court documents state.

That a phantom, faraway figure like Wagba could play such an intimate role in Baltimore’s heroin trade, both by managing a street-level flap like Appram’s flimflamming at the hands of Boateng and by orchestrating a subsequent intercepted delivery, speaks volumes about how closely tied Baltimore’s heroin trade is to West Africa, even though the two are thousands of miles apart. And that Koranteng, who was in Ghana as he argued over the phone with Boateng, suggested he could send Ghanaian killers to do his dirty work in Baltimore further emphasizes how small a world the global heroin trade sometimes can be.

But when looked at from a broader perspective, the heroin trade involving West Africa can seem immense, complex, and highly geopolitical, since the region is considered by the United Nations, the United States and other countries, and an array of nongovernmental organizations to be currently one of the world’s foremost transshipment points for narcotics from Asia and Latin America.

The reason for this, DEA special agent Todd Edwards explained on the stand at Appram’s trial, is that it is “difficult” for producers to ship directly to the United States from the source countries—Afghanistan, Pakistan, Laos, Cambodia, Colombia, and Mexico—because “everyone knows” they are source countries, so law-enforcement scrutiny will be greater. Heroin producers, therefore, prefer to “go to other countries to have the heroin shipped to the U.S.,” Edwards continued, “and Africa is one of those places, and Ghana and Nigeria are two of the major ones.”

Thus, criminals in West Africa not only get lucrative narco-business serving the transportation needs of the world’s heroin producers; they may also become strategically important to the producer’s larger strategic agendas. And increasingly, the United States is presenting evidence that those agendas have turned West Africa into a key locale for terrorists’ drug-trafficking and money-laundering activities.

In 2009, the same year the DEA opened an office in Accra, Ghana, three al Qaeda-linked men from Mali were arrested in Ghana and charged by U.S. authorities with drug trafficking in aid of terrorism—the first use of a new federal law passed in 2006. West African drug trafficking is also implicated in two other terror-financing cases filed recently in New York, one involving the Taliban and the other Hezbollah, a militant Muslim group and political party based in Lebanon that the United States and a handful of other Western and Middle Eastern countries regard as a terrorist group.

The Taliban case, filed in February 2011, accuses seven men, two of them U.S. citizens, of conspiring to help the Afghan religious movement’s heroin- and cocaine-trafficking enterprises and to sell weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, that the Taliban would use to protect its heroin-processing facilities in Afghanistan from attacks by U.S. forces. The lead co-conspirator, Maroun Saade, is described in the indictment as a “narcotics trafficker operating in West Africa” who agreed to transport “multi-ton shipments of Taliban-owned heroin” to Ghana, where “portions of those shipments would be sent by commercial airplane to the United States to be sold for the financial benefit of the Taliban.” Saade and the others allegedly believed they were dealing with the Taliban, but in fact they were dealing with confidential sources working on behalf of the DEA.

The other case is a civil forfeiture suit in which the U.S. government seeks to take ownership of the assets of businesses and banks involved in an alleged half-billion-dollar drug-money-laundering scheme to aid Hezbollah.

The central drug-trafficking figure accused in the Hezbollah case is Ayman Joumaa, a Lebanese man who is currently a fugitive from U.S. justice in a Virginia federal case charging him with bringing 85,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States and laundering more than $850 million in Mexican drug-cartel money. Saade, from the Taliban case, also figures in this case, allegedly helping to move laundered cash derived from used-car sales in West Africa to Lebanon.

Though no prosecution brought so far in Maryland has drawn connections between Baltimore heroin dealers and West Africans tied to terrorism, the Hezbollah forfeiture case in New York includes two Maryland car dealers—one in Columbia, the other in Burtonsville, a small Montgomery County town of about 10,000 people, near Laurel—whose assets are being targeted for forfeiture because of evidence they helped launder Hezbollah drug money by accepting millions of dollars in wire transfers to buy cars and ship them to West Africa, where they were sold for cash bound for Lebanon.

In essence, the 65-page Hezbollah complaint describes an alleged scheme in which drug-derived cash was temporarily converted into cars. This would eliminate the risks of detection and headaches of shipping bulk cash back across the Atlantic Ocean to West Africa. Once the cars arrive there, though, they can quickly be converted back to cash—with a profit margin, given the higher prices the cars fetch in West Africa.

Both Appram and Koranteng were in the cars-to-West-Africa business, according to evidence in Appram’s trial. So were other co-conspirators who testified at Appram’s trial, as well as defendants in several other Maryland cases involving heroin from West Africa. In each instance, there is nothing to suggest the car-shipping enterprises were anything but legitimate. The coincidence is striking, however—especially in light of the fact that Appram and Koranteng are both residents of Burtonsville, where one of the car dealers with alleged Hezbollah ties is located.

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Though heroin comes almost entirely from poppies grown in Asia and South America, as special agent Edwards explained during Appram’s trial, criminal trade routes of varying geography and sophistication convey it across the world. Judging by the Appram case, and numerous other recent cases in federal court here and in Virginia, law enforcers are mounting a sustained, multi-front assault on the West African route to Baltimore, especially through Ghana and Nigeria.

Commercial-air travelers entering the United States from West Africa as paid heroin couriers are a key element of the supply chain, court records show. With practice, so-called “internal smugglers” ingest “pellets”—finger-sized, egg-shaped packages of heroin—in seemingly impossible numbers. Adding to the flow are couriers who pack heroin not in their stomachs, but in their luggage, clothing, or wigs.

How much of this heroin smuggled from West Africa is bound for Baltimore’s streets is hard to say, but judging from the pace and scope of recent prosecutions, it’s significant. Here’s a chronological sampling:

Edward Aboagye, a Baltimore-based Ghanaian car dealer who exported vehicles to West Africa while enrolled as a student at Morgan State University, was charged in a heroin conspiracy, along with two others, after a half-kilogram of heroin in pellets was found in the safe of his hotel room at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel in downtown Baltimore on March 14, 2009. He pleaded guilty and testified against one of his co-conspirators, who was found guilty by a jury.

Two weeks later, Frank Aidoo, a Ghana-born Dutch citizen, was caught at Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) with 100 heroin pellets in his stomach; his business, according to court records, was buying clothing abroad to resell in Ghana. He pleaded guilty, but recently won an appeal of his sentence.

In January 2010, Suleiman Zakaria arrived at BWI on a flight that originated in Ghana, and three kilograms of heroin were found within the lining of his luggage. He was convicted at a jury trial after mounting a defense that included facts about his business: shipping used cars purchased in the United States to resell in Ghana.

In April 2011 in Virginia, eight people were indicted for a heroin-importation conspiracy that supplied Baltimore, along with other areas, with heroin that was brought by couriers from West Africa to the United States. Nearly all of the defendants have pleaded guilty.

In July 2011, Baltimore City Police officer Daniel Redd was among five indicted in a heroin conspiracy supplied from West Africa. One of the co-conspirators in the case, Abdul Zakaria, aka Tamim Mamah, is Suleiman Zakaria’s brother. He testified as a government cooperator at Appram’s trial, where, in explaining his work history, he said he “was buying cars and shipping them to Africa.” All five defendants in the Redd case have pleaded guilty.

Just after Christmas 2011, two men, Nana Bartels-Riverson and Awal Mohammad, were arrested on I-95 in Howard County after nearly a kilogram of heroin was found in the car they were driving. When interviewed by DEA agents, Mohammad explained that the heroin had come from Ghana via courier, and that they were taking it to Baltimore to sell to a dealer. Their case is still in court.

On Dec. 29, 2011, a wiretap investigation by DEA investigators targeting three alleged drug traffickers suspected of having couriers smuggle heroin into Maryland from Africa—Eddie Patrick, Kenneth Ukoh, and Chrisanti Ignass, who, court documents state, conducted heroin transactions at the InterContinental Harbor Court Hotel in Baltimore—culminated with an African courier in a Maryland hotel room, expelling what eventually turned out to be 80 heroin-filled condoms from his gastrointestinal tract. Their case is still in court.

In March, a Nigerian woman, Ngozi Helen Omokoh, and two Maryland men—David Shenard Merritte of Baltimore and Larry Deen Hutchinson of Prince George’s County—were charged after all three were found in a Maryland hotel room where Omokoh had delivered 725 grams of heroin pellets. Their case is still in court.

On May 3, after a 15-month wiretap investigation, the DEA arrested Joseph Osiomwan, a 51-year-old car dealer who lives in idyllic Monkton, near the posh Manor Tavern five-star restaurant, and owns Woodland Motors, a used-car dealership on Reisterstown Road in Baltimore City. He was arrested as he left an alleged stash house in Northeast Baltimore, and when the agents searched him, they found what they described in court documents as three “fingers” or “eggs” of heroin, commonly used for “heroin to be smuggled into the United States via an internal body carrier.”

One of the common themes running through the stories of the defendants in many of these West African-tied heroin cases in Maryland is that many of them are not solely drug dealers, but also pursue legitimate-looking enterprises—especially buying cars in the United States for resale in West Africa.

How illegitimate such enterprises allegedly can be is illustrated in the Taliban and Hezbollah cases filed in New York. In the absence of any such accusations involving West Africa’s heroin trade in Maryland, though, all the public can know is that people like Wagba in Ghana coordinate shipments of heroin to Baltimore and mediate street beefs—or perhaps settle them—from afar, and that the heroin couriers will continue to come, supplying Baltimore’s streets with heroin.

Special Treatment: Tracy Love’s killing snuffs out a snitch-filled Baltimore life

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Nov. 20, 2013

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When 29-year-old Tracy Robin Love (pictured) bit the bullets in West Baltimore shortly after midnight on Nov. 9, he was nearly two years out of federal prison. How he got there—and the reason he was freed so much earlier than some of his co-defendants—says volumes about the carnage crime causes in a city whose street culture condones assassinating those who cooperate with law enforcers.

Between 2002 and 2006, the “Special” drug organization worked the area just east of where Loch Raven Road approaches Greenmount Avenue, taking in about $25,000 a day selling cocaine and heroin and protecting their enterprise with violence. As the law came down on the crew, which was headed by Melvin Gilbert, suspected snitches were shot dead in hails of bullets—including John Dowery, who, after surviving the shots he took in a 2005 hit attempt, was murdered on Thanksgiving Day in 2006 at the Kozy Korner bar on Bartlett Avenue, smack in the middle of Special territory.

Dowery had testified previously against Love and his younger half-brother, Tamall Parker, two top Special lieutenants who were on trial in state court for murdering James Wise in 2004 after Wise and an accomplice robbed their drug crew.

The Baltimore City jury didn’t convict Love and Parker—but in 2009 the two became snitches themselves, cooperating with authorities. Love testified before a federal jury against their Special co-defendants, fingering them for murder, shootings, and drug dealing.

For cooperating, Love and Parker earned an eventual return to the streets, with Love regaining his freedom in December 2011 and Parker set to follow in November 2016. Those they testified against—Gilbert and the other Special co-defendants who went to trial, James Dinkins and Darron Goods—escaped the government’s desire to put them to death but instead were sentenced to life in prison. (Gilbert, meanwhile, surfaced on wiretaps in the 2009 Drug Enforcement Administration investigation into the Black Guerrilla Family [BGF] prison gang, which recorded his cellphone conversations with BGF leader Eric Brown about corrupt correctional officer Alicia Simmons.)

Back in April 2007, photographs of Love and Parker appeared in The Atlantic magazine’s lengthy, award-winning article by Jeremy Kahn, “The Story of a Snitch.” The piece went deep into Dowery’s tragic experience, detailing how his interactions with Love and Parker ended with bloody retribution for snitching on them, and drove a national discussion prompted initially by the 2004 release of a Baltimore street-culture documentary, Stop Fucking Snitching, which advocated deadly violence to silence witnesses.

Love’s silence, like Dowery’s before him, now is permanent. Shortly after midnight on Nov. 9, detectives found him in a car on North Athol Avenue, where it separates the new Uplands housing development and Edmondson West-Side High School. He’d taken numerous shots to the head. A survivor, unidentified by police other than to confirm his name is “Allen,” took bullets in the belly.

Prior to this, Love in September had been arrested by Baltimore police and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and escape. He had been scheduled to appear in federal court on Nov. 14 so a judge could review whether his charged conduct amounted to a violation of his supervised release.

U.S. probation officer Toni Duncan, though, on Oct. 22 had advised the court that Love “was found Not Guilty” of the charges, according to court records, and requested that “the pending alleged violations of supervised release be withdrawn.”

That’s the tail end of what had been an intriguing and dramatic series of events.

Love’s arrest occurred on Sept. 19 at the Madison Park North Apartments on North and Park avenues in West Baltimore, and the circumstances were described in court documents written by police officer Peter Johncox.

Johncox and two other officers were in a patrol car near the apartment complex at about 7 p.m., and “observed a large group of persons standing in the open area between the apartment buildings,” Johncox wrote. Among them, “the officers observed a light skinned black male wearing a gray jogging suit and gray hat who the officers know as Tracy Love Jr.,” and Johncox added, “Mr. Love does not live in the apartment complex.”

When Love spied the other two officers coming, he ran—around a corner and right into Johncox, who arrested him and put him in handcuffs, telling him “he was under arrest for trespassing,” Johncox wrote. Then Johncox “noticed a clear plastic bag containing various multi-colored topped vials containing white rock substance, suspected cocaine,” and when he “reached down to pick up” the drugs, Love “pulled away” and “ran.”

Johncox ran after Love, telling him to stop, but Love kept going—even as Johncox “drew his taser and fired” it at Love, but “the probes did not make contact,” so Love “continued the foot chase.”

When Johncox “was finally able to catch up to Mr. Love and drive stunned him in the torso” (“drive stun” means to hold the taser against the body, without projectiles), Love “fell to the ground where he started kicking his legs and flailing,” so Johncox “drive stunned Mr. Love again in the torso” and “was successful in taking him into custody.”

The drama did not end there, though. “Mr. Love was screaming and yelling and a large group of people began crowding around,” Johncox wrote, and as Love was escorted to a police wagon and taken away, his “yelling incited more of a crowd.”

Love was taken to the Central District, according to Johncox’s report, “where he was debriefed by homicide detectives.”

Three days later, Love made $25,000 bail and was released pending trial, when he was exonerated. Despite the drug evidence described by Johncox, Love did not face drug charges.

An unnamed source—the person asked not to be named “due to the caliber of the dudes” in the picture of Love’s life—says the mother of both Love and Parker is Mayreda Henderson, who court records confirm has shared an address with Parker in Essex, where the police say Love lived. Attempts to reach Henderson, including by leaving detailed messages on cellphones believed to be hers and a relative of hers, to ask her for comment on Love’s recent arrest and violent death were unsuccessful.

The mother of Love and Parker has been an important part of their public lives, though, as she was part of their alibi the night James Wise was killed—according to The Atlantic article, they claimed they were at their mother’s hair salon in West Baltimore, across the city from where Wise was murdered. Henderson, court records show, as recently as last year was doing business as Mayreda’s Hair and Nail Salon. It was located at 736 W. North Ave.—an address at the Madison Park North Apartments, where Love was arrested. The 45-year-old is also a federal drug convict herself, having been released in 1999 after a prison sentence for her part in a massive 1980s conspiracy headed by Tommy Lee Canty Jr.

By the time Love testified in federal court against his Special co-defendants on May 26, 2009, his and Parker’s culpability for the Wise murder was clear, exposing the falsity of their alibi. Yet, perhaps to avoid implicating his mother, while on the stand, Love would not admit it had been concocted.

“No,” Love said, according to the court transcript, when Dinkins’ attorney asked him, “You didn’t have your mother say, ‘Oh, the time Mr. Wise got killed, he was at the hair salon with me?’” When pressed, Love said, “not as I recall, no,” adding “that was a long time ago.”

During his testimony, Love also tried to limit his role in Wise’s murder, saying that he only pointed the direction Wise had run so his brother could go do the deed. This scenario, though, conflicts with the version told in The Atlantic article—that right after Wise was shot dead, “I got that motherfucker, six times in the chest,” Dowery heard Love yell down the street for all to hear, including his Special crew. “Next time, one of y’all gonna do it. I’m tired of doing this shit.”

Either way, now that someone else has done it to Love, he’ll never have to do it again.

The Game Remains The Same: Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale’s new charges ring familiar

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 10, 2013

Over the last half-decade or so, City Paper has done in-depth reporting about how Baltimore’s drug game is tied to heroin arriving from Africa, gangsters who double as gang interventionists, the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) gang’s broad reach in prisons and the streets, and legendary old felons getting charged anew. Now, with federal drug-and-gun charges unsealed Nov. 26 against Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, one man embodies all four themes.

The case involves Barksdale’s alleged dealings with co-defendant Suraj Tairu, a man with a 1990s New York conviction for helping to import heroin from Africa, and involves heroin contained in an “egg-shaped object”—a type of heroin packaging that is commonly swallowed and later excreted by so-called “internal smugglers” from Africa who bring them to the U.S. on commercial airline flights. Initially, only Tairu was charged in the case, on Sept. 12, and court documents state that he was supplying heroin to “a long-time, high ranking member of the BGF”—who, once the indictment was unsealed, was revealed to be Barksdale.

Barksdale grew up hustling in West Baltimore’s since-demolished Lexington Terrace projects in the 1970s and 1980s, and by the end of that decade he had become a local criminal legend whose violent exploits were depicted in a 2009 docu-drama project spearheaded by Kenneth Antonio “Bird” Jackson, a stevedore and strip club manager with his own outsize past in Baltimore’s drug game. The project, The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired, claimed Barksdale was the inspiration for Avon Barksdale, a key character on the HBO series The Wire—a claim The Wire’s co-creator David Simon rejects. Two other old school Baltimore gangsters whose identities were used to create Wire characters—Savino Braxton and Walter Lee “Stinkum” Powell, whose names were applied to characters who were enforcers for Avon Barksdale, Savino Bratton, and Anton “Stinkum” Artis—have also faced federal drug charges in recent years and are now in federal prison.

The Baltimore Sun’s reporting on Barksdale’s latest arrest revealed that he’d been working as a gang interventionist for Safe Streets, a publicly funded project managed by local nonprofits that seek to employ ex-felons to diffuse street violence before it happens. The Sun’s coverage quoted Safe Streets’ Delaino Johnson, director of the outfit’s branch in Mondawmin, as saying Barksdale “had a large impact on reducing violence in our targeted area.”

In a wide-ranging City Paper interview in 2009 for a feature about Unwired, Barksdale described how, at that time, he worked “informally” with his nephew, Dante Barksdale, a Safe Streets worker, to help stem violence among the younger generation.

“I try to keep some of them from traveling the same path I’ve traveled,” Barksdale said, noting that, “when I show up, it keeps some stuff from happening.”

Hiring ex-felons as street-violence mitigators has long been proposed and carried out, with mixed results. Radio talk-show host Marc Steiner in 2008, for instance, urged “cities, states, philanthropies, and businesses” to “spend millions” to “hire, train, and supervise hundreds of ex-felons to work in the streets with youth and families.” That year in Chicago, two anti-violence workers for the program after which Safe Streets was modeled, CeaseFire, were indicted and later pleaded guilty to drug dealing, and one of them, according to prosecutors, “promoted controlled violence among gang members in an effort to avoid subsequent and random retaliatory murders.” Also in 2008, the executive director of an anti-gang nonprofit in Los Angeles, No Guns, admitted to gun-running charges and another gang-interventionist pleaded no contest to drugs and firearms charges.

Subsequently, Safe Streets emerged in prior federal BGF cases in Maryland in 2009 and 2010. “Operation Safe Streets located in the McElderry Park and Madison East neighborhoods is controlled by the BGF, specifically Anthony Brown, aka ‘Gerimo,’” court documents in those cases state, adding that “BGF members released from prison can obtain employment from Operation Safe Streets.” Another Baltimore anti-violence nonprofit that previously had received Safe Streets funding, Communities Organized to Improve Life (COIL), employed two men who were convicted in that round of BGF cases: youth counselor Todd Andrew Duncan, who prosecutors described as the BGF’s “city-wide commander” at the time, and outreach worker Ronald “Piper” Scott.

Still, Baltimore’s Safe Streets program is credited with having stopped much bloodshed. A 2012 Johns Hopkins University evaluation of the program concluded that its workers mediated 276 incidents between July 2007 and December 2010, 88 percent of which “involved individuals with a history of violence” and three-quarters of which “involved gang members.”

Barksdale’s name emerged in the 2010 round of BGF indictments, which were investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He was described in court documents as “an active BGF member” and a “B. Barksdale” was thanked in the acknowledgements section of The Black Book, a 122-page, soft-bound self-help guide published by BGF leader Eric Brown that authorities portrayed as a gang-recruitment tool whose sales helped finance the BGF.

“Hell, no!” Barksdale told City Paper at the time, when reached by phone at the number listed in the court documents and asked if he was an active BGF member. “I ain’t no motherfuckin’ member,” he says. “When I was in prison, I mean, yeah—but that was 20 years ago. I’m a filmmaker. I’m pushing 50, man. I’m too old for that. That’s for teenagers.”

In the current case, the heroin-possession charge against Barksdale and Tairu arises from their alleged interactions on June 22—when Barksdale allegedly tried to hoodwink Tairu after a police stop for a seatbelt violation resulted in the seizure of 1 ounce of heroin in the egg-shaped package. The stop occurred shortly after the two met at a Rite Aid parking lot off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, court documents say, though Barksdale was not arrested. About a half-hour later, Barksdale called Tairu to explain what had happened and told Tairu that the police “took both of them.”

“Based upon that conversation,” a federal agent wrote in court papers, “I surmised that” Barksdale “had actually been in possession of two ‘eggs’ of heroin and that the second ‘egg’ was still” in Barksdale’s possession, but that he “misled Tairu into believing that both ‘eggs’ were seized.”

On Nov. 27, Barksdale pleaded not guilty to the charges, which are being prosecuted by assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner, who handled the complex series of cases filed against the BGF in 2009 and 2010. Barksdale’s court-appointed attorney, Nicholas Vitek, declined to comment. The case was initially assigned to U.S. District Judge William Quarles, who scheduled a three-to-five-day trial starting Feb. 24, but on Dec. 6, the case was reassigned to U.S. District Judge George Levi Russell III.

Frisky Business: Faked drug-dog certification puts Baltimore drug-money forfeiture at risk

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 23, 2014

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Early last year, the U.S. Supreme Court elevated the legal status of drug-detecting dogs, ruling that a police search can be presumed lawful if it is predicated on a positive alert by a well-trained dog with basic paperwork. Such training, though, is bunk if not accompanied by valid certification of the dog and its handler. Not only was it lacking in an ongoing drug-money forfeiture case in Maryland U.S. District Court, in which the government is seeking to keep $122,640 in cash seized last September from a passenger’s luggage at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, but a fraudulent certification was produced by Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MTAP) and used by federal prosecutors, who sought to disguise and downplay the document’s false provenance, according to a Baltimore attorney’s recent filing in the case.

When the government is caught producing a fraudulent document in litigation, and then proceeds to stand by it, suffice it to say the matter is highly sensitive. It came to light during a July 9 deposition in the forfeiture case, which the government filed last December, and was made public last week in a claimant’s motion to dismiss the case.

The claimant is an Indiana real-estate investor, Samantha Banks, whose attorney, C. Justin Brown, asked U.S. District judge James Bredar not only to dismiss the case, but to “impose any other sanction the Court deems appropriate, on the grounds that the Government violated its duty of candor,” the motion states. The lead prosecutor, Stefan Cassella — a titan in the field, who wrote a 1,250-page book on federal asset-forfeiture law — cited personal reasons in asking for an extension until September to respond to the dismissal motion.

Brown’s motion calls to mind a dust-up last year involving Cassella, when he was reprimanded in another drug-related asset-forfeiture case by U.S. District judge Paul Grimm for coming “uncomfortably close” to violating his “duty of candor to the Court” by disingenuously cherry-picking supportive elements of cases in prior court rulings that, in their entireties, actually undermined the government’s position.

“The motion speaks for itself,” says Brown of the Banks’ case, “and beside that, I can’t comment.”

Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy provided an emailed statement, saying that “we are looking into the document issue” and that “there was no intent to deceive anyone.” She also explained that Cassella is “on long-term family medical leave, and we won’t be able to respond to the claim until he returns,” but “the U.S. Attorney’s Office will file a full response to Mr. Brown’s allegations.” She noted that “the dog did not find the money,” but “subsequently was brought in to sniff the currency” after “a Transportation Security Administration [TSA] employee found $122,640 bundled in heat-sealed plastic in a bag checked for a flight from Baltimore to Atlanta.” The money, Murphy added, “is subject to forfeiture if it is from an illegal source, regardless of whether it had the odor of drugs.”

The cash was seized last Sept. 12 from Jerry Lee Banks, Samantha Banks’ husband, after a TSA inspector opened his unlocked, checked luggage and saw “a clear plastic vacuum sealed bag containing a large amount of U.S. Currency” that was sitting “on top of the clothing,” wrapped in “black rubber bands,” according to an affidavit signed by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task-force officer Kevin Davis, which was attached to the initial forfeiture filing. Another bundle was found “concealed inside a pair of sweat pants located in the bag,” the affidavit continues, and still others were found “underneath more articles of clothing in the bag.” Jerry Lee Banks’ explanation for the money was that “he was in the real estate business and that some transactions are done in cash,” the affidavit states.

After the cash was seized, MTAP K-9 officer Joseph Lambert had his drug-detecting dog, Falco, sniff it, and Falco gave it a positive alert for the presence of narcotics. This is not surprising, since forensic studies have shown the vast majority of bank notes in circulation are contaminated with narcotics, especially cocaine.

Three days later, on Sept. 15, Samantha Banks talked on the phone with law enforcers about the cash. She “stated that she was the owner of Banks Management,” Davis’ affidavit explains, and that “she felt that she had done nothing wrong.” She told agents the money was for a real-estate purchase, though “she could not provide an address or a person that she was purchasing from” or explain why it was “concealed in a suitcase in vacuum sealed freezer bags.” She added that “she had researched how to travel with U.S. currency with TSA and Delta Airlines and stated that she wasn’t doing anything illegal.”

Within a month of the government’s December filing of the forfeiture case, Brown filed a claim for it on Banks’ behalf. The litigation proceeded in the usual fashion, with Cassella providing discovery to Brown, including documentation in support of the government’s seizure. On April 15, a packet arrived with a cover letter from Cassella, stating that the certification for Lambert and Falco, dated Aug. 16, 2013, was included. Cassella described it as “a reproduction of the original certificate.”

Brown’s motion last week called the document “a critical piece of evidence” because it “would have been operative for the dog and handler at the time of the narcotics scan of the defendant currency.” Brown’s attention was drawn to the document not only because of its legal significance, but because, as he wrote, it was “produced as a color copy,” the only document “produced in this form.”

Brown’s efforts to get more documentation from Cassella to back up the K-9 team’s training ended with a June 16 letter from Cassella, stating that “after a reasonable search of the files in the possession of MTAP’s training personnel, the certification score sheets and photographs for the Aug. 16, 2013 Certification cannot be located.” It added that “this office is unaware of any information relating to any lack of competency, integrity or reliability on the part of Cpl. Lambert.”

The game-changing day in the case came on July 9, during a deposition of Michael McNerney, described by Brown as the head trainer of MTAP’s K-9 trainers. Cassella and another assistant U.S. attorney, Evan Shea, who is not the attorney of record on the Banks forfeiture, at the last minute had tried to cancel the deposition, but Brown’s efforts to have it go forward prevailed — and it unearthed remarkable admissions by McNerney.

The sworn deposition of McNerney, a partial transcript of which is included in Brown’s motion, revealed that he believed the certification was a fake; that it had been made specifically for the Banks forfeiture case on a home computer by one of MTAP’s K-9 trainers, officer John McCarty, who provided it to Lambert; that MTAP’s chain of command knew about the document’s production, as did MTAP’s assistant attorney general, Sharon Benzil, and federal prosecutors Shea and Cassella; and that all of them, when he raised concerns about the document, responded by saying simply that it was a duplicate.

During a break in McNerney’s deposition, Brown “questioned the two prosecutors about how they could use such a document in litigation,” his motion states. “Shea initially claimed that he had verbally told [Brown] about the true nature of the document,” and when Brown told Shea “this was not correct,” Shea “then changed his position and stated that the nature of the document had been disclosed in a letter from Cassella,” a point on which “Cassella agreed.”

The two prosecutors then referred to the April 15 letter from Cassella that called the document a “reproduction of the original certificate,” and, according to Brown’s motion, “took the position that, by calling the document a ‘reproduction,’ they had adequately disclosed the truth about the document.”

They also “took the position that Cpl. Lambert, Officer McCarty, and others at the MTAP had done nothing wrong in this episode – despite Officer McNerney’s assertion that his colleagues had committed fraud. Shea and Cassella further stated that they had made no follow up inquiry and had not contacted either Lambert or McCarty about the document.”

Brown contacted McCarty, though, who explained that “because Lambert was his superior officer, he felt that he was compelled by a direct order to produce the certificate,” according to Brown’s motion. McCarty described the certificate as having “no value,” the motion continues, because it lacked “underlying documentation, and he had no way of knowing whether August 16, 2013, was the correct date of the certification. When he faxed the document to Lambert, he did not know that the document he produced would be passed off in litigation as a ‘reproduction.'” As Brown point out in his motion, “somehow, the certification was transformed from a black-and-white fax” sent to Lambert from McCarty “into a color document with a gold seal.”

After McNerney’s deposition, Brown’s motion states, “the U.S. Attorney’s Office proceeded as if nothing remarkable had happened.” Brown’s motion, though, suggests he was shocked at what had transpired.

“This episode,” the motion states, “amounts to a violation of the Government’s duty of candor and merits dismissal of the case. It is not disputed that the K-9 Falco and the handler Lambert were actually certified at the time in question. But to focus on that fact misses the point. What matters is the lengths to which members of MTAP and the U.S. Attorney’s Office went to mislead the Claimant and gain an advantage in litigation. What matters is the institutional harm caused when officers of the court commit this type of conduct. It is inescapable that the April 15, 2014, letter was designed to prevent the Claimant from learning the truth about how the document was created. In addition, it appears that the letter was at least partially intended to provide cover in the off chance that somebody discovered the truth.”

Cassella’s letter, despite his knowledge of the certification’s fraudulent origins, also vouched for Lambert’s character, stating that “this office is unaware of any information relating to any lack of competency, integrity or reliability on the part of Cpl. Lambert.”

In arguing for dismissal and sanctions, Brown’s motion stresses that “it is irrelevant that Falco and Lambert were probably actually certified around the time in question” because “the Supreme Court has rejected this very type of argument” in a case in which a party’s attorney had introduced into evidence an article the attorney had co-authored, but claimed the co-author was the sole author. When “proof of the fraudulent claim regarding authorship surfaced,” the Supreme Court noted that one can’t “escape the consequences” of deception just because the fake document’s contents were truthful, saying “truth needs no disguise.”

Whether Cassella and the U.S. Attorney’s Office can escape the consequences Brown is asking for is in the hands of Bredar, who will rule after Cassella responds to Brown’s motion sometime in the early fall.

 

Prove It: Judge Still Not Satisfied That Drug-Dealer’s Mercedes Is Drug-Related Property

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Oct. 8, 2013

Maryland U.S. District judge Paul Grimm spent more than 15 years as a federal magistrate judge before being elevated to his current perch in 2012. That’s a lot of time to gain a nuanced understanding of the rules of evidence that must be met before law enforcers can lawfully seize or search property – one of a magistrate’s key bailiwicks.

So now that Grimm is a district judge with a docket that includes civil proceedings, called forfeitures, in which the government seeks to keep criminally derived property it has seized, he has a sensitive nose for the required legal thresholds – and in one case this year, he’s twice cited a dearth of evidence in denying the government’s move to keep convicted drug-dealer John Edward Butler Jr.’s 2003 Mercedes Benz CL500.

Butler was a St. Mary’s County drug dealer who pleaded guilty in a large federal cocaine conspiracy, and in 2011, the government filed a forfeiture case to keep his seized Mercedes. Grimm’s second denial, issued on Oct. 2, was in response to the government’s motion for reconsideration of his first, which was handed down in July. What’s clear from the second is that Grimm’s patience with the government’s arguments is wearing quite thin.

Grimm recapped his July decision by explaining that, “although the Government had shown that” Butler purchased the Mercedes from Gaunzie Hart for $4,000 up front, with the promise of another $9,500 over time, and that “the vehicle was seized in front of a location” that Butler used for drug-dealing, “the Government had not shown that Mr. Butler’s payment to Ms. Hart was proceeds from drug transactions” or that Butler “drove the Mercedes to and from the drug distribution location or that he drove it to distribute drugs, rather than to visit his mother.”

“Significantly,” Grimm continues, “the Government has not alleged that the Mercedes was Mr. Butler’s only vehicle at the time or that he never visited his mother’s residence without engaging in cocaine distribution. If either were the case, then I could reasonably believe that, on at least some of the occasions that Mr. Butler drove the Mercedes to his mother’s residence, he drove it there to engage in drug trafficking.”

Grimm aimed stinging criticism at the prosecutor in the case, assistant U.S. attorney Stefan Cassella – who, as CP has noted before, is considered the nation’s top asset-forfeiture prosecutor, having written a 950-page book on the intricacies of seizing and forfeiting criminally derived property.

In essence, Grimm accuses Cassella of making disingenuous pleadings in the case of Butler’s Mercedes because his arguments ignored the court’s contrary position in prior forfeiture cases Cassella had brought since he was hired in 2009 by Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein.

“While I do not find Counsel’s failure to disclose this history of directly contrary rulings to be a violation of his duty of candor to the Court,” Grimm wrote, “it comes uncomfortably close.”

In order for the government to keep Butler’s Mercedes, Grimm explained, Cassella will need to put on the record enough detailed evidence to support a reasonable belief that “at trial, the Government will be able to prove the nexus between the Mercedes and Mr. Butler’s criminal activity by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Cassella had argued that this threshold could be sidestepped because, despite the fact that all the required public notifications had been made about the impending forfeiture of Butler’s Mercedes, no one came forward with a timely and legitimate court claim to it. Grimm acknowledged that Cassella, citing precedents in various districts, had found “some instances” in which that was sufficient to grant forfeiture – but he implied that Cassella was again being disingenuous by leaving out important elements of the cited cases that cut the other way.

“It appears that the Government has cited these cases selectively to support the proposition that I should reconsider my denial,” Grimm wrote, adding that “far more significant is what the Government has omitted from its discussion of the cited cases.” Looking at them “in their entireties,” Grimm continued, “supports the conclusion reached here, that, at least in this district and perhaps more broadly, the Government has the obligation to provide sufficient facts to support a reasonable belief that the Government will be able to demonstrate a substantial connection between the defendant property and the alleged criminal conduct by a preponderance of the evidence at trial.”

Grimm has invited Cassella, again, to present such facts. Absent that, though, it’s looking like Butler may someday be able to drive his Mercedes to his mother’s house again. Either way, given Grimm’s stern admonishments, it’s a safe bet that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland will be seeking to tighten up its evidence in future forfeiture cases – and certainly so in cases that come before Grimm, whose name must seem especially poetic these days to Cassella.

Rather than life in prison, 51 months is sought for Baltimore cocaine trafficker and money launderer George Frink

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 29, 2014

After being caught red-handed with kilograms of cocaine, and after bank records showed him repeatedly laundering money, prosecutors last fall said George Sylvester Frink, Jr. of Baltimore was looking at a maximum sentence of life in prison. Now, though, under the terms of a guilty-plea agreement filed on July 25, Frink is likely to get just 51 months at his sentencing hearing, scheduled for Oct. 31, for his part in a vast, sophisticated conspiracy that law enforcers say was responsible for bringing in as much as 3,000 kilograms of coke from California.

The alleged leader of the scheme in Baltimore, body builder Gerald Lamont Jones, has not been charged with any crimes. But court documents in Frink’s case and in a civil suit, in which the government seeks to take title to numerous pieces of real estate, describe Jones as a sophisticated high-volume drug trafficker and prolific money launderer whose criminal conduct remained hidden behind his legitimate business pursuits. Jones, a real-estate and construction entrepreneur, also owns a Gold’s Gym in Owings Mills and Rami Bros., a chain of Baltimore car dealerships that trades under the name Pimlico Motors. Frink, according to court records, was employed by Golds Gym and Pimlico Motors, in addition to having his own real-estate company, GSF Enterprises.

Jones and Frink came to law enforcers’ attention as a result of a high-volume California coke-conspiracy case with glitzy Hollywood ties involving Baltimore natives Charles Dwight Ransom, Jr., Darrin Ebron, Ricky James Brascom, and others, who used private jets to move drugs and money across the country. Indicted in 2011, the case resulted in convictions for all three Baltimoreans, though Ransom is not yet sentenced, while the conspiracy’s alleged leader – Heriberto “Eddie” Lopez, with whom law enforcers say Jones had dealings – remains a fugitive.

Since Frink’s arrest last fall, when he was found with 14 kilograms of cocaine in front of Jones’ Pikesville office, Pimlico Motors has fallen into hard times financially, being sued successfully by a bank, while some of Jones’ real estate, including 141 acres of land in Reisterstown that is one of the assets the federal government is seeking to forfeit, has fallen into foreclosure. Frink, meanwhile, on July 14 filed for bankruptcy protection, listing nearly $500,000 in assets and nearly $1.2 million in liabilities.

Jones and the government have been engaged in settlement discussions in the forfeiture case, according to July 16 letter filed in court by assistant U.S. attorney Richard Kay, who wrote that “our discussions are now including criminal implications and a potential global resolution.” In other words, charges against Jones may still be coming.

Frink’s case, though, has been resolved already. Among the factors weighing for his light treatment is the U.S. Department of Justice’s support of anticipated changes to federal drug-sentencing guidelines by the United States Sentencing Commission, which are expected to result in the early release of tens of thousands of federal inmates around the country in coming years. The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office in recent months has been agreeing not to oppose downward departures from the sentencing guidelines for drug defendants, including Frink, based on how the guidelines are expected to change.

To get a sense of how lenient Frink’s anticipated punishment is, consider how some repeat low-level drug-offenders have been treated in federal court in Maryland. One, Barry Green — a low-level, non-violent repeat drug offender in Baltimore — in 2011 got more than a dozen years in prison for possessing three vials of cocaine and $214 in cash. While Green was a hand-to-hand dealer in the streets of Baltimore, Frink was caught up in a sophisticated, cross-country conspiracy involving the movement of hundreds of kilos of coke and millions of dollars in cash in airplanes and trucks.  While Frink’s admitted role was a fraction of the overall scheme — he’s copped to 14 kilograms of coke and laundering nearly $100,000 — his punishment is likely to be a fraction of Green’s.

 

Missing Evidence: Possibly Exculpatory Documents Not Given to Defense Team in Child Rapist/Murderer Case

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 6, 2008

“Absolutely not,” Sandra Goldthorpe says when asked if she’s seen an annotated, front-and-back diagram of a human form, describing the head-to-knee external injuries to 4-year-old Ja’niya Ebony Williams’ body, as observed by the Baltimore medical examiner at her autopsy on June 24, 2006. “That would have been useful to have from the get-go,” she says, because it shows that “there are way too many bruises on her for what Ronald confessed to doing.”

Goldthorpe is talking about her client, Ronald Albert Hinton*, who is serving a life sentence, plus 25 years, for raping and murdering Williams. A Baltimore City jury decided in May that Hinton’s false-confession defense and the prosecutors’ flawed DNA evidence at trial did not raise reasonable doubts about his guilt. Hinton, who was Williams’ baby sitter and had just turned 15 when the child was killed, maintains his innocence and has filed an appeal.

Goldthorpe and her law partner, Janice Bledsoe, are in their downtown law office on July 30, looking at Baltimore Police Department (BPD) records of the investigation that led to Hinton’s conviction. City Paper‘s recent feature article about the case (“Puzzling Evidence,” Feature, July 30) was based largely on these documents, and showed how Hinton’s jury was not privy to available evidence that some of Williams’ many injuries–including bite marks that Hinton confessed to giving her–were described as “old” or “faded” at the time of the June 21, 2006, incident that led to her death several days later. But Hinton’s lawyers say they haven’t seen some of the documents before, which they would have liked to use for his defense at trial since doubts about his guilt could be raised by the existence of prior injuries at the hands of others.

“That’s the first I have heard of that,” Bledsoe says, when shown a detective’s notes of efforts to compare the bite marks on Williams’ body to Hinton’s teeth. BPD homicide detective Todd Corriveau, who attended Williams’ autopsy, had the medical examiner prepare to-scale photographs of the marks with the hope of comparing them to molds of Hinton’s teeth. Corriveau’s notes show that on June 28, 2006, he conferred with an expert, University of Maryland forensic dentist Warren Tewes, who told him a comparison could not be made because the marks lacked the necessary definition.

“I would have called up Tewes,” Goldthorpe says, especially in light of the fact that Corriveau’s notes say that “Tewes provided general, basic information regarding the bite marks on the victim’s skin that may or may not be of relevance” at trial, and that “details” of that information were not included in the notes. “I would want to know more about that,” Goldthorpe says. “And we didn’t get the to-scale photographs of the bite marks, which would have been very helpful” Bledsoe says.

“In fact, I had never seen any of Corriveau’s notes concerning the autopsy,” which showed that the detective described “faded” bite marks on Williams’ buttocks. “I would have wanted to ask him about that when he was on the stand,” Bledsoe says, adding that “I’m a little concerned about [Corriveau] saying [in his notes] there were prior bite marks and then [prosecutors Joanne Stanton and Temmi Rollock] not giving that [information] to us.”

Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Margaret Burns says “prosecutors followed the law and complied with Maryland’s discovery rules and disclosed all evidence” to Hinton’s defense attorneys. Though the office has what’s called an “open file policy,” in which defense attorneys have access to everything the prosecution has, it has nonetheless long been criticized for failures to provide exculpatory information. Bledsoe, in fact, is representing another Baltimore defendant, Kenneth Perry, who won a new murder trial because of the state’s failure to provide exculpatory evidence at his first trial when he was convicted in 2001.

Bledsoe is hesitant to argue, based on what documents she knows she did not have at trial, that Stanton and Rollock failed to provide her with exculpatory evidence, as required. “Is it exculpatory? It’s right on the line,” she asserts. “It might be a cumulative thing,” in which, taken altogether, documentation not provided to the defense could have been used to persuade the jury to have reasonable doubts about Hinton’s guilt.

Hinton confessed to biting Williams, for instance, but the jury knew that DNA recovered from the bite wounds did not come from Hinton; in fact, female DNA was recovered from bite marks on the upper thigh. Thus, the dental expert’s conclusions about the size of the bite marks, as documented in Corriveau’s to-scale photographs, may have been useful to the defense in further suggesting to the jury that Hinton could not have bitten Williams, despite his confession. But Hinton’s lawyers didn’t know about the dental expert, so they didn’t know to explore the possibilities of what he might say in front of a jury.

City Paper attempted to contact Tewes to ask him what he told Corriveau about the photographs of the bite marks. E-mails including detailed questions sent to him and the University of Maryland Dental School media office got no response, and neither did multiple phone messages.

Bledsoe acknowledges that the prosecutors did provide her with some documentation of older injuries on Williams’ body that the jury never saw because she was frustrated in her efforts to elicit corroborating testimony.

“I’m trying to be self-critical,” she says. Bledsoe, despite her evidentiary frustrations, emphasized the prior injury theory in her closing arguments at trial.

In particular, Bledsoe’s files contain documentation that the doctor who cared for Williams at the hospital observed “old bites on chest, and left thigh,” and that one of the medics at the scene of the incident noted “bruises were older” than indicated by Hinton’s interpretation of what injured her–that she had just fallen off the bed.

The doctor’s observations appeared in the search-warrant application in the case that was filed before Hinton’s confession, but not in the one filed afterward, perhaps, Bledsoe suggests, “because his confession was not consistent with old bruises and bite marks,” so the phrase was omitted from the second application. The medic’s comment, Bledsoe continues, were contained in a transcript that was provided to the defense after the start of the trial, so she missed it in the rush to prepare.

Goldthorpe takes a phone call while Bledsoe continues to go through City Paper‘s documents from the BPD files. It’s Steven Drizin calling for Bledsoe. Goldthorpe takes a message: Drizin is the legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, and he has just read the City Paperarticle about Hinton.

Drizin specializes in juvenile false confessions. As of press time, Drizin and Bledsoe had not yet had the opportunity to discuss the case. But Hinton’s mother, Francine Toney, who is convinced by the DNA evidence that her son falsely confessed, says any attention to the case by a specialist such as Drizin “is hope, and we need hope.”

*Ronald Hinton is the son of the late Baltimore Police Department trainee Sean Hinton , whose body in 1992 was found floating off Manhattan with his wrists tied in front of him by the drawstrings of his jacket, and whose death was ruled a suicide despite allegations of police corruption immediately prior.

On the Rocks: Baltimore businessmen in federal crosshairs for massive cocaine conspiracy

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 18, 2013

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Gerald Lamont Jones of Randallstown is a “self-made entreprenuer [sic] who clearly understands hard work, commitment, and discipline,” according to his bodybuilding website, joethebodybuilder.com (pictured). But if federal authorities are correct in the allegations they’ve recently disclosed about Jones, who owns Gold’s Gym in Owings Mills, the Pimlico Motors chain of auto dealerships, and JBL Construction, among other companies, then his entrepreneurial success has a secret ingredient: large-scale cocaine trafficking.

Jones has not been publicly charged with any crimes and has no prior criminal record in Maryland. But on Oct. 28, just days before Jones took second place at the International Drug Free Athletics bodybuilding championships in Ontario, one of his employees, George Sylvester Frink Jr., was charged in Maryland U.S. District Court with possessing 15 kilograms of cocaine while in the parking lot of the nerve center of Jones’ business affairs, a small Pikesville office building at 8 Church Lane.

In the ensuing weeks, more details emerged in Frink’s case, including court documents implicating Jones. A search-and-seizure warrant affidavit signed Oct. 25 by DEA special agent Robert Blanchard and docketed in the court record on Nov. 12 says that a California drug organization’s cocaine shipments to Jones and others came in 24 shipments of between 50 and 60 kilograms of cocaine, 10 shipments of between 50 and 120 kilos, a 150-kilo shipment, and a 200-kilo shipment. That means that, if Blanchard’s affidavit is to be believed, Jones and others—the affidavit suggests the bulk of it was bound for Jones—received between 2,050 and 2,990 kilograms of cocaine, eye-popping amounts whose wholesale value comes to about $60 million to $90 million.

The probe is being conducted by DEA and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division. Part of Blanchard’s 21-page affidavit—which supported an application for a warrant to raid two properties associated with Frink, including 8 Church Lane—describes alleged patterns of money laundering in records of Jones’ personal and business banking accounts, which showed 380 cash deposits totaling more than $2.6 million between 2008 and 2012.

Attempts to reach Jones by phone and email were unsuccessful, as were efforts to determine whether he is represented by a criminal defense attorney. Jones’ civil attorney, Diane Leigh Davison, who manages legal aspects of many of his business dealings, wrote in an email to City Paper that “I have no comment as I know nothing about any of these allegations.”

Blanchard’s affidavit dubs Jones’ alleged California suppliers the “Lopez-Brascom DTO,” short for drug-trafficking organization, and notes its members were indicted in California in 2010. City Paper covered the case (“Bringing It Back Home,” Mobtown Beat, Feb. 2, 2011), since it involved Baltimore-bound cocaine and three defendants—Ricky James Brascom, Charles Dwight Ransom Jr., and Darrin Ebron—who originally hailed from Baltimore.

In that case, which involved shipments of 400 kilograms of cocaine and more than $4 million in cash during a six-week period, DEA wiretaps recorded conversations between Brascom and his alleged girlfriend, the actress and singer Drew Sidora Jordan, while Ebron—a star-tied fashion designer and deejay who performed at Eddie Murphy and Tracey Edmonds’ 2008 wedding on the island of Bora Bora—claimed his wiretapped conversations were not about drugs but about music-industry work he was doing for Brascom and Ransom’s company, Behind Da Scenes Entertainment, which produced the rapper Paypa.

At the time, City Paper determined that Behind Da Scenes was actually Jones’ company and that Jones had given two pieces of Baltimore real estate to Ransom in 2007. When reached for comment, Davison said Jones had “has no involvement in or awareness of” the allegations in the “unfortunate” California indictment and explained that “the real estate transactions have no relation to the recent allegations,” adding that Jones “has always tried to assist and mentor family and friends in business, and tried to do the same for his former college fraternity brother, Charles Ransom.”

While Ebron—convicted and currently in prison, set to be released in 2017—and Brascom—with a 2019 release date—met the same fate, Ransom escaped from a South Carolina jail shortly after the indictment and remained on the lam until his arrest in California in March. He pleaded guilty in September and is scheduled to be sentenced in January. The indicted head of the DTO Heriberto Lopez remains a fugitive, according to Blanchard’s affidavit.

The investigation into Frink and Jones began in October and November 2010—just as the California indictment was handed down—when a “cooperating defendant” that Blanchard’s affidavit calls “CS1” told DEA agents that he or she “routinely got kilograms of cocaine” from a man named Paul Alexander at “On the Rocks” bar on Liberty Road in Randallstown, and that Frink, who owned the place and was Alexander’s cocaine partner, would be present at the meetings. According to business records, Frink’s bar was actually On the Roxx, located in the Randallstown Plaza Shopping Center.

CS1’s information paled in comparison to that provided by CS2, a “cooperating source” interviewed by DEA agents in February 2011, according to Blanchard’s affidavit. The Lopez-Brascom DTO brought hundreds of kilos per month from California to Maryland, CS2 explained, and in 2008, shortly after CS2 introduced Ransom to Lopez, Jones flew to California to meet with them. Ransom told CS2 that Jones was his “partner in the cocaine distribution business.”

When the scheme got up and running in 2008, the affidavit continues, Jones allegedly received 10 shipments of 50 to 120 kilograms of cocaine hidden in secret compartments in cars that Jones and Ransom had provided to Brascom and Lopez. The coke-laden cars would then be placed on “tractor-trailer auto-carriers that were destined for Baltimore,” the affidavit states, and once the coke was sold, the cars’ secret compartments would be filled with cash for shipment back to Brascom and Lopez in California. Then the cross-country circuit would begin again.

But in May 2009, the affidavit continues, after law enforcers stopped a Honda Ridgeline being transported from California to Pimlico Motors’ Liberty Road location and seized cocaine, the DTO switched up, opting instead to ship the coke hidden amidst legitimate cargo carried by tractor-trailers.

Other than information provided by the two cooperators, much of Blanchard’s affidavit is filled with observations gleaned from surveillance, which circumstantially links Jones to criminal conduct—if the agents’ conclusions based on what they saw were accurate.

They noted, for instance, that on July 2 Jones moved items from one vehicle to a minivan in the parking lot of 8 Church Lane, and concluded that “Jones was moving bundles of cash into the minivan, preparing it for transportation out of state to purchase more kilograms of cocaine,” since “Jones and his coconspirators in the drug business have a long history of moving drugs and money in this fashion.”

While Jones has not been charged, Frink is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, according to the prosecutor on the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Kay, speaking at a Nov. 21 court hearing. Frink had initially been ordered detained pending trial, but at the hearing he won supervised release after his attorney, Kenneth Ravenell, pointed out that what the government had called Frink’s lies—about his employment at Gold’s Gym, for instance, and where he resided—were, in fact, true.

“You were given information that was not accurate,” Ravenell told U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth Gesner at the hearing, “by a less than stellar investigation.”

Jones must be hoping the same is true of the affidavit calling him a high-volume cocaine trafficker.