By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith
Published in City Paper, March 26, 2008
U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz’s temper flared during the March 20 sentencing hearing of Baltimore mortgage broker David Lincoln, who pleaded guilty last year to bank fraud for his part in an alleged drug and money-laundering conspiracy headed by fugitive Shawn Michael Green (“Flight Connections,” March 12).
“I’m getting myself riled up here,” Motz said from the bench. “I don’t understand why Mr. Lincoln isn’t here as a co-conspirator . . . on the white-collar end of a major drug operation.” Green, himself a former mortgage broker, clothing-store owner, and record-studio executive with a thin rap sheet, has been in hiding since early last year, after being indicted for cocaine and heroin trafficking and money laundering. The indictment calls for the forfeiture of property and assets totaling more than $4 million.
The senior judge’s remarks came as assistant U.S. attorney Kwame Manley was seeking a 10-month prison term for Lincoln for helping Green launder drug money. Motz indicated he would prefer to put the 38-year-old mortgage broker behind bars for 10 years. The judge’s comments were unusually stark and echoed widespread discontent among the federal judiciary regarding decades-old sentencing guidelines that weigh heavily against low-level drug offenders and street-corner dealers.
“So I’m going to postpone the sentencing, think it through myself,” he said before rescheduling Lincoln’s hearing until April 4, the same day that Green’s mother, Yolanda Crawley, is scheduled to be sentenced for using her son’s drug proceeds to pay off fraudulently obtained mortgages on luxury homes in Florida, Georgia, and Maryland.
On March 18, Motz had been less stern when a third participant in the mortgage-fraud scheme–attorney Rachel Donegan, Lincoln’s ex-lover–appeared for sentencing. Donegan, who surrendered her law license after pleading guilty last fall, left Motz’s courtroom in tears, even though the judge had sentenced her to three years probation rather than prison time.
Motz had justified Donegan’s light sentence after defense attorney Gregg Bernstein argued that she was a minor participant who did not know she was dealing with drug money, and that her judgment was clouded by Lincoln’s dominance over her. “I think those arguments are very well put,” Manley said, agreeing with his adversary. “I don’t have any quibble with that at all.” Another mitigating factor, Bernstein argued, was that Donegan was distracted by a bitter custody battle involving her young niece. “Tough to give probation to somebody who committed mortgage fraud who is a member of the bar,” Motz replied, before doing just that.
But on March 20, with Lincoln before him, Motz said he may have misread Donegan’s role. “I came in based upon the Donegan sentencing” believing that “she was motivated into committing a crime because she was trying to maintain a relationship that had fallen apart with Mr. Lincoln,” Motz said. “That may be inaccurate,” the judge observed, after hearing Lincoln’s attorney, William Purpura, oppose attempts to transfer blame to his client.
In addition, Donegan and Lincoln have been sued recently in connection with mortgage irregularities that suggest their improprieties may not have been limited to phony loan applications on behalf of Shawn Green. One lawsuit seeks a full audit of their loan-processing activities.
Outside the courtroom after his hearing, which fell on his birthday, Lincoln seemed taken aback when told by a reporter that Donegan received probation after blaming him for her actions. When asked whether the blame was misplaced, he paused, then replied coolly, “After I think it through, I’ll call you.”
Finger-pointing aside, Motz said his larger concern was how the case reflects entanglements between drug dealers and white-collar professionals. “Seems to me, Mr. Lincoln was on the edge of society” with people who are “probably worse than street dealers,” the judge said. “Here’s an intelligent person . . . taking illegal money and putting it into the legal mainstream.” In contrast to Manley’s recommended sentences for Donegan and Lincoln, Motz continued, prosecutors routinely go for 20-year career-criminal sentences against street dealers.
Manley acknowledged there was “some evidence” that Lincoln knew he was helping a drug dealer, and that the government could have charged Lincoln as a co-conspirator. However, the prosecutor said, “To be fair to Mr. Lincoln . . . he did not participate in the selling of drugs.” In addition, Manley said, Lincoln offered prosecutors a list of 10 clients referred to him by Green: “When people sit down with the government and make efforts to talk with us, help us out, we will do so in response.”
Lincoln and Donegan offered title services and mortgage brokering for real-estate transactions, turning out loan applications via two companies: Guilford Title and Escrow and First Metropolitan Mortgage. Green is described in court proceedings as a social and business acquaintance of Lincoln.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein told City Paper on March 20 that Green’s alleged conspiracy includes at least two other men charged with drug-trafficking crimes. In 2006, Green was stopped in a car containing nearly $1 million in cash, along with Maurice K. Phillips and Anthony W. Ballard, who since have been indicted in Pennsylvania and Maryland, respectively. Phillips is the alleged kingpin of the Phillips Cocaine Organization, whose members are charged with murder-for-hire to protect a $31 million international enterprise that stretched from Mexico to the U.S. East Coast. Unlike Green, Phillips and Ballard are in federal custody awaiting trial.
Adding to Green’s mystique are his ties to a pair of politically connected East Baltimore businessmen: Noel Liverpool Sr. and Milton Tillman Jr. Green turned to Liverpool Sr. in the mid-1990s for help in setting up a now-defunct urban apparel store, Total Male II, in Mondawmin Mall. Tillman Jr., a convicted felon and former club owner who boasts the largest share of Baltimore City’s bail-bonds market, is a founding board member of the company that owns the Total Male trade name, which Green used with the company’s written permission.
Law enforcement documents obtained by City Paper also show one of Green’s addresses as 2330 E. Monument St., a location shared by Total Male and two of Tillman Jr.’s companies: Four Aces Bail Bonds and New Trend Development.
Green and his far-flung connections loom over the pending sentencing hearings for Yolanda Crawley and David Lincoln–and the lenient sentence that Motz already handed to Rachel Donegan.
Challenging Donegan’s love-gone-bad story are court records claiming that other home loans processed by Guilford Title and Escrow are improper. Two lawsuits recently filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court portray a pattern of questionable conduct rather than an “isolated, aberrant episode” during the summer of 2005, as Donegan’s attorney successfully argued before Motz. The lawsuits allege that, since that summer, she failed to record numerous loan documents with the courts, a lapse that has clouded title to at least seven properties in the Baltimore area.
One lawsuit claims the total number of affected properties is unknowable without a full audit of the company. That has yet to happen, but the lawsuit contends available records “raised additional questions concerning the proper handling of funds received and disbursed by Guilford,” and calls transactions in and out of Guilford’s escrow account “highly unusual.”
The other lawsuit makes the same claim–that Donegan failed to record loan documents–regarding a home purchase by Carolyn Pratt and Cynthia Glover, also named as defendants. Pratt confirms she was in the bail bonds business at the time of the purchase and wrote bails in conjunction with Milton Tillman Jr.’s company as recently as 2006. A public-records search for contact information for Glover leads to an address related to Shawn Green’s drug conspiracy: 2339 Eutaw Place. The Reservoir Hill apartment building was owned by Green until the government seized it in a forfeiture proceeding and sold it at auction on March 20–the date of Lincoln’s cut-short sentencing hearing.
Pratt says she knows little about Donegan and Lincoln, and nothing about Green. “This mixes us up with something that we don’t even know anything about,” she says, adding that she and Glover are “kind of stuck in the middle of not knowing what these people are up to.” City Paper‘s attempts to reach Glover, including through Pratt, were unsuccessful.
Green’s alleged ties to the Phillips Cocaine Organization add to the intrigue. Details of his own conspiracy case remain under seal, but the Phillips indictment offers a road map for the convoluted world of high-level drug dealing.
The 62-page Phillips indictment that federal authorities filed last September identifies several key modus operandi requiring the services of lawyers and money managers. They include: compartmentalizing the organization so that members of the conspiracy do not know what the others are doing; using fraudulently obtained loans to purchase investment properties, and drug proceeds to repay those loans; employing relatives, friends or money-laundering associates to open bank accounts and purchase expensive homes and cars; and making cash payments to attorneys representing co-conspirators and other drug traffickers to engender loyalty.
The question Judge Motz will be asking at David Lincoln’s sentencing on April 4 is: To what extent was he knowingly involved with more than simply a handful of bogus loans? The question Lincoln and his lawyer could be asking is: How did Rachel Donegan get off without facing a single night in prison?