Cat Crusader: “Mike the cat guy” has made befriending felines his mission

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Aug. 29, 2012

Ewan Meiklejohn frequents the Park Heights corridor, favoring the alleys and back streets. “Gran-be-bes! Gran-be-bes!” he calls out loudly as he approaches his spots, the same places he goes nearly every day as he plies his trade. In short order, desperate souls emerge from abandoned houses, stepping into debris-covered lots, eager to see him coming.

The call-and-response is not unlike what plays out over much of this stretch of drug war-torn Baltimore, where corner boys sling heroin and cocaine, calling out the brand names of the day’s mind-altering products, doing their parts in an enormous underground economy.

But Meiklejohn, who goes by the nickname “Mike,” is not selling heroin or cocaine. He’s giving away food and water. His customers aren’t junkies; they are cats and kittens. Thus, many who are aware of his mission in life simply know him as “Mike the cat guy.”

Meiklejohn makes 27 to 30 stops nearly every day, he says, setting out about 25 pounds of cat food and 15 to 20 gallons of water in various containers around the trash-strewn properties the cats have colonized. On a typical day, he starts at eight in the morning and gets home around 2 P.M., he says. After happily taking City Paper’s offer to drive him on his route on a recent morning, the whole outing took about three hours.

He’s been doing this since he came to Baltimore, in 1997, in between working odd jobs as a shop clerk, laundromat attendant, and cleaner for a variety of Park Heights businesses, in addition to doing laundry for a network of nearby clients. His cat-feeding capabilities have been greatly aided in the past year, though, since a community of animal lovers stepped up to help him out.

“I’m in all these alleys all the time,” Meiklejohn says. “When I came to America and I saw these dogs and cats that were being abused,” he continues, “I said to myself, ‘Wow, this is my time to shine.’ Maybe I can put a damper on it and a little bit of awareness. I started feeding them, taking them to the vet, and getting them well, finding homes for them. Sometimes I trap them, get them neutered, release them again.”

Growing up in Jamaica, Meiklejohn recalls a rough stretch he survived during adolescence. Though he says he grew up “privileged” before then, in the home of his adoptive parents, whom he describes as “jet-setters,” Meiklejohn spent three years on his own between the ages of 14 and 17.

“I lived in the streets, eating out of garbage cans, sleeping in abandoned buildings, being raped, beaten up, stabbed up,” Meiklejohn remembers, tears welling in his eyes. “So I grew up with this kind of abuse, sleeping in back alleys. I wasn’t able to go to school, I never slept in a bed. I would roam around, find a big trash can close to a restaurant, search for food, and then I would go and eat berries and grapes and sugar cane and bananas on properties where I didn’t belong.”

Reflecting on this part of his life, Meiklejohn draws an analogy between himself and the animals he cares for. “I was an abandoned cat, abandoned dog,” he says, “so there is no one better than myself to understand their plight. I lived it too. I’m [60] years old, not as young as I used to be, and I have aches and pains, but when I think about the animals, pain doesn’t come anywhere close to me. When they see me coming, they come out and it brings a joy over me. I’ve found my niche in life, my purpose, and I want to do it for as long as I can.”

Last summer, Meiklejohn was uprooted from his prior home base in the Park Heights corridor, after his abode and belongings were torn up by police conducting a drug raid. He says he neither does nor sells drugs, but that, thanks to his efforts to stop the drug activity in the house where he lived, he ended up as collateral damage.

He soon found new digs near the Mondawmin Mall and tapped into an animal-lover network that now supports his endeavors by helping with expenses and transportation. His two Facebook pages have fans such as Feline Rescue Association and volunteers and staffers at other animal-rescue organizations such as BARCS Animal Shelter. A recent post says, “Mike is in need of cat food! If anyone can help him out, please do!”

A recent tag-along with Meiklejohn on his cat-feeding routine shows he’s a fixture on his route. Along the way, friendly folks with garden hoses let him refill his water bucket. He greets an apparent drug dealer as “soldier,” and a postman is happy to see Meiklejohn, cracking jokes about his cat-tending ways. He tries hard to keep his stops low-key (he asked that no specific locations be disclosed in this article) for fear that someone might come to abuse the cats.

Over the years, Meiklejohn has met with some resistance—he recalls a woman chasing him with a baton, screaming for him to stop feeding the cats, and a man who showed him his gun, saying Meiklejohn was trespassing on his property—but such antics don’t stop him. “You can kill me,” Meiklejohn says, “but I’m not going to stop.” He feels empowered now, thanks to all the help from the larger Baltimore-area community of animal lovers who know and support him.

“I’ve tapped into a network now, bless their souls,” Meiklejohn says. “Things are on a roll now. They’re helping with food. Sometimes the cats have to go to the doctor, they help me with that, too, with eyedrops, antibiotics, and formula, and with TNR [trap, neuter, return]. All the people online, they’re involved with me now, so I’ve found some help. It makes a big difference.”

Best Intentions: The list of Baltimore’s drug-dealing gang-interventionists grows

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Aug. 8, 2012

Back in 2007, Brian Morris, then Baltimore City’s public schools board president, was impressed by Kevin Foreman. At the board’s Aug. 28, 2007, meeting, Foreman declared that he’d “left the private industry to come back and work . . . to service these children, these gangs, this issue with education, the drop-out rate and what have you” via a group Foreman had started with a former Baltimore City policeman, Trevor Britt. Morris responded, “We do need to find a way to plug you in.”

Earlier that year, Foreman and Britt were listed in incorporation papers as the two directors of Continuous Growth Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit that set out to provide “education, counseling, and mental health services to at-risk and/or disadvantaged youths,” ages 12 to 21. Britt also formed Continuous Growth, LLC, a business that provides “education and reclamation for high school dropouts in addition to counseling services,” according to its incorporation papers.

Four years later, in July 2011, Continuous Growth, LLC was indeed “plugged in” to the school system, having clinched a three-year contract for conflict resolution and extended learning services for city students. But Foreman was in big trouble: On June 16, he had been caught in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation, while trying to close a 10-kilogram cocaine transaction with someone he thought was directly linked to a Mexican drug cartel.

The investigation into Foreman’s drug-dealing activities began in January 2011, according to court records. That’s when one of Foreman’s co-conspirators, David Humphries, introduced him to someone Humphries thought was a Mexican drug-dealer, and Humphries had told the Mexican that Foreman was the “man with all the money.” Foreman told the Mexican that he could handle transporting shipments, as his drug organization “already had vehicles that had concealed compartments”—two of them, with a combined capacity of 30 kilograms. Foreman drove to meet the Mexican in an Audi SUV registered to Continuous Gro, LLC, at 2119 St. Paul St., two blocks south of Foreman’s apartment.

Though Foreman had told the Mexican in January that “he was currently out of cocaine and had many customers waiting,” and that he had enough money to buy 17 kilograms immediately, the deal was delayed until June 16, 2011, when Foreman and another co-conspirator, Andre Carter, went to the Fairfield Inn in White Marsh to meet the Mexican. They shelled out $150,000 for 10 kilograms of cocaine, with the remaining balance of $125,000 to be paid after the coke was sold.

The Mexican turned out to be a DEA confidential source, and Foreman and Carter were immediately arrested after the transaction took place. A search of Foreman’s Charles Village apartment turned up a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, 15 rounds of .45-caliber ammunition, a money counter, a digital scale, a kilogram of suspected cocaine, Foreman’s Continuous Growth business card, and a document reflecting that Britt owed money to Foreman’s landlord.

Foreman pleaded guilty, and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence, as is Carter. The two were caught as a result of a joint investigation involving the DEA, the FBI, and the Baltimore City Police Department, that also snared two other major drug-dealing operations, one of which caught former Baltimore City cop Daniel Redd, who is awaiting his sentence on a heroin-conspiracy conviction. Foreman has a prior federal conviction for wire fraud and, in 2004, was sentenced to three years of probation and nearly $40,000 in restitution.

According to David Barney, a publicist representing Continuous Growth, Foreman has a master’s degree in education “as well as years of classroom experience.” In an e-mail, Barney describes Foreman as a “dedicated and passionate professional whose genuine concern for providing support and guidance . . . made him a valuable asset to the organization.”

As for Foreman’s criminal conduct, Barney says Continuous Growth “can’t always be with our employees every minute of every day” and “cannot control what a person might do or has done outside of the organization. Just like the youth we try and reach, we know that we will not change the lives or direction of each and every youth that we look to serve. We can only do our best at providing skills and dedication needed to help bring about a change of habit and direct them in making a conscious decision to adopt new behaviors.”

After Foreman was arrested, Britt tried to convince the federal judge on the case to allow Foreman to keep working at Continuous Growth, though the motion to allow him to do so ultimately was withdrawn.

In a July 22, 2011, e-mail that was submitted as part of the court record, Britt called Foreman “an indelible part of our program,” and that, if allowed to continue working, he would “help the company conduct interviews, perform staff trainings in crisis prevention and intervention, negotiate services with schools, compose manuals concerning protocol as it pertains to services rendered, and solicit new services to principals in the Baltimore City public school system.”

Foreman joins several others in Baltimore who, in recent times, while working to help solve the problems faced by at-risk kids in Baltimore’s streets and schools, were accused and convicted of committing the same kinds of crime they ostensibly sought to prevent. Three men indicted and convicted for their parts in the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang—Rainbow Williams, Todd Duncan, and Ronald Scott—were so employed; Williams worked as a mentor for at-risk Baltimore City public school kids through a company called Partners in Progress, while Duncan and Scott were outreach workers for a West Baltimore group called Communities Organized to Improve Life. In addition, BGF leader Eric Brown incorporated Harambee Jamaa, a nonprofit that sought to promote peace and betterment in Baltimore’s poverty- and crime-stricken communities.

Heroin “Hustlin’”: Courthouse hot dog vendor sold heroin with cop

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 31, 2012

Shanel Stallings works hard selling hot dogs from a cart in front of Baltimore’s downtown circuit courthouses, as City Paper reported recently (‘Every Day I’m Hustlin’, July 18). But her other gig—at least between January and July last year, when she was indicted in federal court—was selling heroin.

Stallings, according to her April guilty plea, hustled between one and three kilograms of junk with four co-conspirators, including Baltimore City cop Daniel Redd, whose supplies were smuggled to the U.S. from Ghana. All five defendants have pleaded guilty, and all have been sentenced but Redd, who is scheduled to learn his fate on Sept. 6. Stallings received her sentence on July 11 and is set to start serving her 30-month prison stint on Sept. 10.

Stallings’ role in the conspiracy is detailed in FBI special agent Craig Monroney’s 51-page search warrant affidavit, used to justify searches of 11 locations last summer, including Stallings’ Cedonia home and the 2007 Cadillac Escalade she and Redd used. The document includes transcriptions of phone calls intercepted by wiretaps, which picked up Stallings and Redd discussing the hard times they’d been facing obtaining more heroin to sell and the potential need for Redd to intervene on Stalling’s behalf should she be stopped by police or be threatened with a robbery by customers looking to take her money or heroin.

Stallings’ conspiracy was unearthed as a result of a lengthy joint investigation by the FBI, DEA, and the Baltimore Police Department. The probe resulted in two other federal indictments: a cocaine case against Kevin Foreman and Andre Carter, and a heroin-and-cocaine case against Will Evans and five codefendants.

Foreman had been a Charles Village resident working as a gang-interventionist for at-risk Baltimore City Public Schools students through the non-profit organization, Continuous Growth, prior to his arrest. Carter has a long history of drug arrests and convictions. In June 2011, according to court documents, the two men went to a hotel room near White Marsh Mall, believing they were buying 10 kilograms of cocaine from a representative of a “Mexican-based drug-trafficking organization,” but it turned out to be a sting operation set up by the DEA. They have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to long prison terms.

The Evans case, which, according to court documents, was centered at Club 2300, a West Baltimore bar operated by codefendant Clifford Andrews, and supplied Eastern Shore communities, is still winding its way through the court, with two defendants—including Samuel Brown, in whose name the Cadillac Escalade used by Redd and Stallings was registered—still fighting the charges.

The Stallings-Redd case also overlapped with a case in which one of Stallings’ co-defendants – a Ghanaian named Abdul Zakaria, also known as Tamim Mamah – testified as a state’s witness in the federal heroin-conspiracy trial of Moses Appram, which ended with a conviction on May 2. That case involved other Ghanaians who smuggled heroin into the United States from West Africa using couriers aboard commercial flights.

Zakaria’s sentencing hearing was held on July 17, though what happened remains a secret, as the proceeding was sealed as a result of a motion by Zakaria’s attorney, who wrote in a since-sealed letter to U.S. District Judge William Quarles that CP’s recent coverage involving Zakaria (“Straight Outta Accra,” May 23) had given rise to threats against his client.

The case against Stallings was remarkable for the presence of Redd, a heroin-dealing police officer who sold drugs while on duty and in uniform, including from the department’s Northwestern District parking lot. But Stallings, too, was not a typical drug dealer. Not only did she sell hot dogs in front of a courthouse where defendants, cooperators, and grand-jury witnesses regularly go in and out, but she also sold food at the municipal pools, according to court documents.

Stallings “prepares the tastiest food and work[s] tirelessly for patrons who attend the pools,” wrote Darryl Sutton, director of the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks Aquatic Division, in a June character letter, written on City of Baltimore letterhead and submitted as part of the court record in Stallings’ case. “She has become an essential member of our team,” Sutton continued, “as we serve more than 100,000 visitors at the pools each year.”

Another letter, written by a former employee of Stallings’ hot dog business, who was offered the job despite a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for drugs and armed robbery, was glowing in its estimation of Stallings’ character.

“I understand that she has made a grave mistake,” wrote Timothy Wrenn, “but if at all possible don’t take her from her children for too long. She is truly a great person.”

Machine-Gun Mama Goes Free: Despite multiple drug arrests, suburban mom gets time served for selling AK-style machine gun

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Sept. 5, 2012

Screen Shot 2019-03-31 at 3.07.00 PM
Jennifer Debois Dickerson’s Facebook photo from 2012.

Maryland U.S. District judge Richard Bennett on Aug. 27 gave a 32-year-old suburban Baltimore mother, who pleaded guilty to machine-gun possession, a chance to rehabilitate her drug-addled life without going to federal prison. Bennett sentenced Jennifer Debois Dickerson to the three months she’d already spent incarcerated on charges stemming from her sale, for $1,350, of an AK-style machine gun to an undercover agent of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) last November.

The maximum sentence faced by Dickerson was 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Bennett did not impose a fine, but put her on three years of probation, the first five months of which will be spent on home detention at Dickerson’s mother’s house in Bethany Beach, Del., where, the judge disclosed, he owns a second home.

The judge cited Dickerson’s drug-addiction problems and family situation in justifying the light sentence despite her two prior pot convictions. Though evidence in the case shows she sold a machine gun, Bennett stated that Dickerson “is not a machine-gun dealer,” adding that “the simple fact of the matter” is that she was “dragged into this by a husband that subsequently left her and her child.”

“I have looked very carefully at this case,” Bennett said to Dickerson, noting that he has a “second home within walking distance of your mother’s place” in Bethany Beach. “I was there just yesterday,” Bennett added, pointing out the irony of Dickerson’s “pain and heartache” amidst the resort community’s beachside beauty.

City Paper left a message at Bennett’s chambers, asking for comment, but did not hear back from him.

Similar machine-gun cases in Maryland federal court have had notably different outcomes. In 2010, Ernest Johnson was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to possessing the same kind of machine gun Dickerson sold. Johnson did not sell the gun, but his prior convictions lengthened his sentence.

A decade ago, Bennett himself sentenced Edgardo Nieves, Jr., to 21 months in prison for possessing a broken machine gun that he had stored in a guest house on his parent’s farm. Nieves, whose conviction was overturned on appeal, appears not to have had a prior criminal record and, like Johnson, he did not sell the machine gun—in fact, Nieves told agents where it was.

During Dickerson’s sentencing hearing, Bennett twice asked Dickerson’s retained defense attorney, Lawrence Rosenberg, and assistant U.S. attorney John Purcell, who prosecuted the case, if they’d like to seal the proceeding to shield it from public scrutiny. Each time, they declined.

Before telling Dickerson “it is ironic that you are here, but it may be a blessing,” Bennett noted that “this court sees many drug-addiction cases” in which defendants go to “prison for 15, 25, and 30 years.” Bennett added that Dickerson’s appearance before him is “perhaps the best thing that could have happened to you.”

Dickerson—who has a 9-year-old son and had, until her legal troubles mounted, a $30,000-a-year job as an office manager at her husband’s construction firm—faces an uphill battle to put her life in order. Based on court records, it appears to have fallen apart starting last September, when police executed a no-knock, predawn raid at her rented Green Spring Valley home, which she shared with her husband and son, and found pounds of marijuana, hundreds of prescription pills, about $1,300 in cash, and evidence of a cocaine party.

Dickerson and her husband, John Turner Dickerson, were arrested, as were two guests, Alan Franklin Chapman and Elizabeth Supharat McCarron. Dickerson pleaded guilty to pot possession and was sentenced to time served. Her husband received an 18-month suspended sentence and currently has an open warrant for violating probation in the case; his last known address was in Eureka, Calif., in Humboldt County. McCarron received a six-month suspended sentence and the charges against Chapman were dropped.

Chapman was present when Dickerson sold the machine gun to the undercover ATF agent, according to court records. The agent “entered a residence” in the Baltimore area “and Dickerson followed with Chapman and placed the weapon on a couch.” The agent then “asked if it was fully automatic. Chapman replied by stating, ‘I don’t know, it’s not mine,’” and Dickerson “stated, ‘It’s fully automatic.’” After counting the $1,350 the agent had handed her for the gun, Dickerson agreed to sell the agent “high grade marijuana for $4,500 per pound” and handed the agent “two loaded 50 round magazines” for the machine gun, saying, “You can’t buy the fifty ones here,” according to the records.

Dickerson’s unraveling continued in January, when she sold four ounces of weed to an undercover ATF agent for $1,300 in the parking lot of Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore City. A warrant for her arrest was issued about two weeks later, and after she was spotted leaving Brown’s Motel in Ellicott City with her husband, Dickerson was arrested. They found joints on her husband (who was charged and is currently wanted on a warrant in the case) and, on Dickerson, they found weed, heroin, a syringe, a tourniquet, and a burnt spoon.

Later that morning, police raided the home of Dickerson’s dad, at the end of Hobsons Choice Lane in the nearby Allenford development, where she had been living and where her husband’s company, JTD Building and Remodeling, was based. They found marijuana stored in labeled glass mason jars, hashish, hash oil, and LSD, along with a handgun and other evidence of a high-volume weed-selling operation. Dickerson and her father, Richard Evan Debois, were indicted in Howard County as a result. Debois was found guilty of pot-dealing at an Aug. 13 trial before a judge, and is awaiting his sentence, while Dickerson is scheduled for trial in September.

Dickerson was first charged in the machine-gun case on Feb. 16, the same day another man—Robert Taylor Holderman—was charged for selling a machine gun to an undercover ATF agent for $1,500 in the Severn area. Court records describe Holderman as Dickerson’s co-defendant, though Holderman, unlike Dickerson, has not been indicted by a grand jury. Nothing has happened in Holderman’s case since March, and he has not yet been arraigned, though he is out on conditional release while the case is pending.

During Dickerson’s sentencing in the machine-gun case, Bennett expounded in detail on U.S. Supreme Court rulings that, over the past decade, have liberated federal judges from mandatory sentences under the federal sentencing guidelines. Now they are free to depart, sometimes significantly, from the guidelines’ astringent calculus, Bennett explained, based on factors that they have great latitude in weighing.

After announcing that the guideline range for Dickerson was 21 to 27 months in prison, Bennett called a bench conference, leaving courtroom observers unable to know what was discussed. When it was over, he announced that Dickerson’s criminal history had been “overrepresented” in the prior calculation, and now her range would be “reduced considerably” to eight to 14 months in prison.

“You are here because you put yourself here,” Bennett told Dickerson, and warned her of “the cycle that is created” by addiction that “is passed to the next generation,” so if she’s not careful, “you’ll see your son up here at the age of 19 or 20 . . . I see it all the time.”

After announcing the time-served sentence, Dickerson’s mother, Cheryl Debois, wept, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “I intend to keep a thumb on this case,” Bennett said sternly to Dickerson, adding, “I’ve got loads of defendants that come before me who have children issues,” so “don’t let me down on this.”

Dickerson, reached by phone in Bethany Beach on Aug. 30, declined to comment. “I just don’t want to be in the paper,” she said, adding, “every day is a new day.”

The Rumrunner Diary: Maryland liquor stores suspected of supplying New York booze smugglers

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Sept. 26, 2012

For nearly two generations, court records show law enforcers have had evidence of large-scale illegal smuggling of Maryland-taxed booze to New York, where alcohol taxes are much higher. Only recently, though, have the revenue collectors taken to fighting it seriously, staging a raid last year on Northside Liquors in Elkton, Md., that resulted in the owner being criminally prosecuted and forfeiting to the government nearly $250,000 in seized, ill-gotten cash.

The crackdown continued this summer, according to a search-warrant affidavit filed in Maryland’s U.S. District Court on Sept. 14, before it was sealed from public scrutiny by a judge on the same day. The document reveals a series of raids on five other Maryland liquor stores, all in Cecil County, also suspected of supplying booze smugglers from New York: Happy 40 Discount Liquors in Elkton, Chesapeake Wine and Spirits in Chesapeake City, North East Liquors in North East, and Crown Liquors and Park Liquors in Perryville.

The warrant, signed July 12 by U.S. District Judge Beth P. Gesner, was written by M. Lisa Ward, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also suggests that liquor distributors, not just liquor stores, are in on the alleged smuggling scheme.

The latest round of raids were based on an investigation started last July, according to Ward’s affidavit, when law enforcers received information that liquor distributors in Maryland “have been engaged in selling liquor, knowing that it was being transferred for resale in New York, without paying New York State liquor taxes.”

Booze in Maryland is taxed at $1.50 per gallon, Ward’s affidavit explains, whereas in New York, the rate is $6.44 per gallon—plus another dollar per gallon in New York City. Thus, there is a significant margin of profit to be made in the alleged scheme—especially if, as Ward’s affidavit and other court documents claim, it has been going on for a long time, involving large volumes of alcohol.

When City Paper called James E. Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of Reliable Churchill, one of the wholesalers named in the affidavit, on Sept. 20, and started to share with him what the affidavit states, he said, “I have no comment. I don’t know anything about it,” and hung up the phone. Smith is also president of his industry’s trade group, Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland. Tom Cole, the New Orleans-based president of Republic National Distributing Company, the other wholesaler named in the affidavit, could not be reached for comment.

As for the law enforcers staging the investigation, ICE spokesperson Nicole Navas, in a Sept. 20 e-mail, stated “there is nothing for public release at this time,” while Marcia Murphy, spokesperson for the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, also had no comment. Cary Ziter, spokesperson for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, which Ward’s affidavit says is involved in the probe, writes in an e-mail that, while “our Criminal Investigation Division often is involved with local, state or federal officials around the country on investigations,” he won’t “comment on, or confirm, any particular investigation that might be in progress.”

Messages left with the targeted liquor stores and their attorneys were not returned by press time. Joseph Shapiro, spokesperson for the Maryland Comptroller’s Office, which court documents say has been aware of the alleged smuggling scheme, had no comment other than to say the agency “takes the illegal sales of alcohol very seriously” and is “very proud” of its “strong working relationships” with law-enforcement agencies.

According to sources cooperating with the probe, Ward’s affidavit explains, “it would be perfectly obvious to anyone with knowledge of the retail liquor business that it literally would take years to sell in retail the quantities of liquor that Republic or Reliable was delivering to Northside every couple of weeks.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Bank records, Ward’s affidavit explains, “show deposits from most Republic and Reliable customers around the state of Maryland to be under $3,000; exceptional are the Cecil County customers who routinely paid more than $15,000 and sometimes paid up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in each check.” The affidavit says, for example, that Chesapeake Wine and Spirits paid over $300,000 to Republic and $400,000 to Reliable in one 10-day period in late 2011.

Until the crackdown on Northside Liquors last year, law-enforcement attention to the problem had been spotty, according to court records. Though seven men from New York were charged federally, and five of them convicted, in a 2000 case involving Maryland liquor smuggled to Canada, Northside’s prior owner, Robert Pagliaro, was given wide latitude for years, despite much evidence of the store’s involvement in liquor smuggling.

In 1995, Pagliaro agreed to pay $5,000 to avoid criminal prosecution in connection with the alleged smuggling activities, according to court records. In 2004, when 160 cases of Northside-purchased booze were intercepted in a vehicle headed to New York, Pagliaro got another visit from authorities. In 2007, after Wilmington, Del., law enforcers seized a large amount of cash and liquor after a New York-bound vehicle was stopped, the driver said he’d been purchasing 100 cases of booze every three months from Northside. This time, when Pagliaro was visited by the authorities, he agreed to give up $5,000 in seized money and told agents he was selling the liquor store and moving to Italy.

Northside’s new owner, Tushar Patel, kept the scheme going, according to court records—and also kept Pagliaro’s son, Michael Pagliaro, in the corporate fold. Patel ended up pleading guilty to possession of untaxed alcohol in Cecil County Circuit Court and receiving probation before judgment. The federal government sued to keep nearly $250,000 in funds seized during the Northside raid, and Patel settled the matter by agreeing not to contest the money in return for the government returning nearly 600 cases of seized booze.

Ward’s affidavit describes “a cycle of proceeds from the New York smugglers to the Cecil County liquor stores and then to Republic and Reliable,” characterizing the conduct as breaking wire-fraud and money-laundering statutes. While her affidavit refers to several arrests of New York smugglers while on their return trips with vehicles laden with booze, it appears that none of the liquor store owners and wholesalers have been formally accused of committing any crimes.

Laid Bare: Case of drug-dealing stripper murdered for snitching headed for trial

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Oct. 3, 2012

From left to right: Cherrie Marie Gammon, Donte Bernard Baker, and Gary Thenor Cromartie.

Cherrie Marie Gammon, a 25-year-old stripper at Club Pussy Cat on Baltimore’s Block, was due in court on Dec. 17, 2010 to answer to drug-possession charges filed that August. She didn’t show up.

Five days earlier, she’d died in a hospital after having been found by police, shot five times in the chest, near Leon Day Park in West Baltimore. Federal prosecutors allege she was killed over a $100 drug debt owed to the crew she was dealing drugs for, who suspected she was an informant who’d helped police make recent arrests, according to court records. The four people charged with murdering her are also accused of running a $14,000-a-week drug business, supplying heroin and cocaine to customers on the Block, using strip-club dancers as sellers.

A three-week racketeering-and-murder trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 5 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Prosecutors had hoped to seek the death penalty against three defendants—22-year-old Donte Bernard Baker, 23-year-old Gary Thenor Cromartie, and 30-year-old Tyrone Johniken—but their request to do so was denied by the U.S. Attorney General in March. Baker’s mother, 42-year-old Monica McCants, was added as a defendant in January 2012.

McCants is expected to testify for the prosecution, court records show, though she has yet to plead guilty in the case, which includes evidence that defense attorneys contend was improperly obtained from defendants’ statements to the police and from search warrants executed in the aftermath of Gammon’s murder.

The weapon used to kill Gammon has never been found, prosecutors said in recently filed court documents, though in August 2011 Cromartie divulged to police that it was in the home of Baker’s girlfriend.

Immediately after Gammon’s murder, court records explain, police canvassed potential witnesses, gleaning that Gammon worked at Club Pussy Cat as a stripper, that she’d been selling crack and heroin for Baker and owed him money for drugs, that members of Baker’s crew had been arrested, and that she was suspected of being the cause of those arrests by cooperating with law enforcers about Baker’s drug-dealing operation.

Recorded phone calls made from jail by McCants, Baker, and Cromartie are also expected to be introduced as evidence, and prosecutors have used some of them in motions filed recently. Conversations between Baker and McCants—who was charged with drug crimes in October 2010 and held in jail until being placed on home detention before Gammon was murdered—appear damning.

On Nov. 25, 2010, Baker told McCants that Gammon had told him that someone had stolen drugs from her locker at work. In response, according to court records, McCants said, “Take the bitch around the corner. Smack the shit outta her ass. Tell her that I’m gonna fuck her up when I come home. If she fucked up, she gotta get that money, work for that shit.” The next day, Baker told McCants that he would “make Cherrie give the money back.”

After Baker’s Dec. 27, 2010 arrest on state drug and guns charges, Baker told police he’d been a Block habitué since about 2003 but denied providing drugs to Gammon or having any knowledge about her murder. Cromartie, who was with Baker when he was arrested, but was not charged at the time, told police that Gammon was his “heart” and that she was killed for being a snitch; he couldn’t bear to look at the photograph of Gammon that police tried to show him.

Later, during an interview with police on Feb. 16, 2011, Cromartie said he “knew that Gammon had owed $100 because she used all of the pills from a package she was supposed to sell,” court documents say. On the same day, Baker initially told police he made $500 to $600 per night selling powder cocaine, but not heroin or crack, on the Block and supplied the operation by buying an eighth of an ounce about twice a week. But in the same interview, he came clean, saying he did sell drugs with Cromartie and Johniken and supplied Gammon, who made deliveries to customers in the club. Baker estimated he made about $14,000 a week in profits, using strippers “from different clubs” who would send runners to him “to purchase narcotics for the club,” according to court records.

Investigators tracked the location of Baker’s cell phone on the night of Gammon’s murder and found that it traveled from the area of Gammon’s home to the Block, then to the Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park area—where Gammon was shot—and onto the vicinity where McCants was on home detention, in the 3900 block of Edmondson Avenue. Gammon’s cell phone has never been recovered, prosecutors say in court documents, but records show the last call she made before her death was to Baker, who promptly cancelled his cell phone service after Gammon’s death.

Prosecutors anticipate that McCants will testify at trial, when she’s expected to repeat what she said during a January 2011 recorded statement she made to police: that she’d heard Gammon was a “snitch” and had shared that information with Baker, Cromartie, and Johniken, who arrived at McCants’ home-detention house in the early-morning hours of Dec. 12, 2010, after Gammon was shot. That’s when Johniken told her, “I shot [Gammon] five times in the chest,” and Baker said, “I wasn’t the shooter.” Johniken, court records say, has asserted an alibi, saying he was in Pittsburgh on the night of Gammon’s murder due to his father’s death.

Trial testimony is also expected to include an eyewitness who heard Cromartie tell Gammon, as he picked her up at her home on the night of the murder, “You know why I’m here, bitch.”

Direct Connections: Evidence mounts that foreign sources, including the Los Zetas cartel, deal directly with Baltimore traffickers

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Mar. 3, 2010


“The goal of any drug dealer is to cut out as many middle men as possible in order to increase profits.”

That statement was made by Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein a year ago, when he unveiled Operation Xcellerator, a U.S. Justice Department initiative aimed at laying low the long reach of the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. “I do believe,” he said at the time, “there are Baltimore drug dealers who do this by having connections with drug distributors outside of the U.S.” He vowed to “continue to trace the drugs back to the source, work our way to the top, and ultimately indict the major players.”

Since then, law enforcers here have successfully ferreted out some international ties to Baltimore’s entrenched drug economy. Though Rosenstein’s office points to only one Xcellerator case in Baltimore–a conspiracy with ties to Hollywood and Baltimore City Hall (“Mexican Connection,” Mobtown Beat, March 4, 2009)–City Paper has found three recent examples of evidence filed in U.S. District Court that indicate direct ties between Baltimore and foreign sources of supply, including the fearsome Los Zetas cartel (whose symbol is pictured above) in Mexico.

The Los Zetas connection arose on Feb. 17, when a superseding indictment was filed in a conspiracy case involving 44-year-old Jamaica-born Baltimorean Wade Coats (“Armed Drug Dealer for Steele?” Mobtown Beat, June 17, 2009). Coats and his co-defendants–43-year-old Ronald Brown of Baltimore and 42-year-old Jose Cavazos of Midlothian, Texas–were snared by law enforcers last April, when Coats and Cavazos used a room at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel to conduct an alleged high-dollar cocaine and heroin deal. The superseding indictment names a fourth defendant, 38-year-old Baltimorean James Bostic, whose presence in the case added evidence of dealings with Los Zetas.

Prior to the superseding indictment, the government’s case seemed tenuous, since the Baltimore police detective who swore out the initial complaints in the case–Mark James Lunsford–has since been charged federally with lying and embezzlement (“Costly Charges,” Mobtown Beat, Nov. 11, 2009).

Investigators learned of Bostic’s alleged acts involving Los Zetas in December, according to court documents, when a confidential source said that Bostic “would be making a large cash payment to a representative of the Los Zetas Mexican Drug Cartel for previously obtained cocaine and marijuana on December 29, 2009 at the Marriott Residence Inn in White Marsh.”

After receiving the information, the documents say, investigators “pre-wired a room for audio and visual recording” at the hotel. Bostic arrived at the appointed time, allegedly carrying a suitcase containing $590,000, which he gave to cartel representatives at the meeting. The documents say he complained to them about “the poor quality of the marijuana he had received and asked when he could expect his next shipment of cocaine.” Cartel representatives then allegedly counted the money, placed it in heat-sealed bags, and hid it in a Ford Explorer. According to the documents, as the cartel representatives were leaving the state the next day, “a vehicle stop was conducted of the Ford Explorer,” and the same amount of money Bostic had turned over was recovered.

The investigation continued on Feb. 2, according to the documents, when the confidential source told law enforcers “that a multi-kilogram drug transaction” involving Bostic and a cartel representative was about to occur at the same White Marsh Marriott. The investigators again pre-wired the room. Bostic and a cartel representative met and “the representative produced a suitcase.” Bostic opened it, “began counting kilograms of cocaine,” then left with the suitcase. After a short foot chase in the hotel’s parking lot, Bostic was arrested and “recovered from his person was a large hunting style knife and a large sum of U.S. currency.” The suitcase, which Bostic had dropped when the chase began, contained approximately 12 kilograms of cocaine.

The court documents do not say what became of the Los Zetas representatives who met with Bostic. According to the Justice Department’s 2008 National Drug Threat Assessment, Los Zetas is “the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel” and some of its members are former Mexican Special Forces soldiers who “maintain expertise in the use of heavy weaponry, specialized military tactics, sophisticated communications equipment, intelligence collection, and counter surveillance techniques.” More recently, according a 2009 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) press release, Los Zetas has “evolved into not only a security force but a drug trafficking organization in their own right,” merging with the Gulf Cartel to become a powerful entity known as “The Company.”

None of the attorneys representing defendants in the Coats case would comment for this article, since it involves an ongoing matter.

Another recent federal drug case involving Baltimore and Mexico nabbed Santiago Vargas-Ponce, who was charged Feb. 17. The case against him, like the one against Bostic, was built on information provided by a confidential source, followed by recorded surveillance. That source, according to court documents, was “in negotiations” in January with “a Mexican drug-trafficker . . . to deliver a large quantity of cocaine to Baltimore.”

Vargas-Ponce, the court documents say, arrived in Baltimore on Feb. 15 with a drug-laden vehicle, met with the confidential source, and arranged to do the drug deal the next day. After the source picked Vargas-Ponce up at a hotel and “gathered tools to extract the cocaine from the vehicle,” the two headed to “a secured garage located in Owings Mills,” which investigators had equipped with a hidden camera. Once the source dropped Vargas-Ponce off at the garage and left the area to go get money, agents watched Vargas-Ponce “disassemble the vehicle” and “extract a large object from the engine compartment.” The agents then arrested Vargas-Ponce and proceeded to discover another object in the engine compartment. In all, the two objects held approximately six kilograms of cocaine, the court documents say. Vargas-Ponce’s attorney from the federal public-defender’s office, who was appointed on Feb. 24, did not wish to comment for this story.

The third recent case is a Nov. 2009 DEA search warrant for two Baltimore storage lockers leased by a Baltimore man named Paul Sessomes. The warrant relates DEA intelligence-gathering by its offices in New York and Bogota, Colombia, dating to 2008, and names recently convicted drug-dealer Thomas Corey Crosby, who in turn was tied to (but not charged in) a 2007 federal case involving convicted drug conspirators who used Fat Cats Variety store in Southwest Baltimore (“All the Emperor’s Men,” Mobtown Beat, Aug. 27, 2008).

The November search warrant turned up $535,200 in cash stuffed in a large dufflebag, and mortgage documents in Sessomes’ name. The items were retrieved from a Public Storage locker near Security Square Mall. The affidavit supporting the warrant describes how Sessomes used a cell-phone to discuss “the delivery of drug proceeds” with targets of a DEA heroin-trafficking-and-money-laundering investigation conducted by DEA New York and DEA Bogota. “In fact,” the affidavit states, “during September 2008, Paul Sessomes was observed by the agents meeting with Diego Neira and Maria Espitia-Garcia, known money launderers for the Bogot?, Colombia based Espitia heroin organization under investigation, in Baltimore.”

Public records show that Sessomes has a used-auto dealership, Westport Auto, and owns real estate in the area, including a house in Columbia and a condominium at 414 Water St. in downtown Baltimore. State court records show that Westport Auto has been a defendant in four Baltimore City forfeiture cases brought by Rudolph Drayton of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office since 2005. Co-defendants in each of the cases were charged or convicted drug dealers.

Sessomes’ attorney, James Gitomer, says he doesn’t “have anything to say about” the search warrant, but points out that Sessomes has not been charged with a crime and that “there has never been a claim made for that money” seized from the storage locker leased by his client, suggesting that it might not belong to Sessomes.

The three recent instances of alleged direct Baltimore ties to foreign drug-world suppliers suggest that Rosenstein’s office, even after prosecuting the Sinaloa-tied Xcellerator case, is still finding that some Mobtown dealers are indeed able to cut out the middle-men in the global drug game and go straight to source.

The “Scarface” Treatment: Missing Baltimore man believed killed and dismembered in large-scale pot conspiracy

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Dec. 10, 2010

Michael Paul Knight, 50, was last seen around 8 P.M. on Dec. 16, 2009, when he left his Woodlawn home driving a green 1991 Honda Accord after telling his family “he was going out to meet someone,” according to a Baltimore County Police missing persons flier. “Police and his family are concerned for his well-being, and do not know of any remarkable medical issues with Mr. Knight,” the flier continues.

If investigators are right about Knight’s fate, he was beaten, tied up, and murdered, and his body was then dismembered “with a power-type saw” and disposed of, according to Detective Carroll Bollinger of the Baltimore County Police homicide unit, who believes the alleged crime is related to a cross-country marijuana trafficking organization.

Bollinger’s suspicions about Knight’s case are contained in an affidavit for a search-and-seizure warrant filed in U.S. District Court on Dec. 9. The warrant was used in mid-November to collect evidence from a Rosedale apartment—especially its bathroom, which is believed to be the scene of the dismemberment—and a vehicle where he had allegedly been beaten prior to the murder. Knight’s body “has not been recovered,” Bollinger’s affidavit states, and the warrant was needed to help develop leads about its whereabouts.

At precisely whose hands Knight was murdered remains unclear, though Bollinger’s affidavit names two people—Jean Therese Brown and Carl Smith, who is also known as Mario Skelton Jr.—as present when Knight was beaten in a vehicle and taken to the apartment where he is believed to have met his death. Smith is no longer around to help solve the crime, because he “was murdered on April 26, 2010, in Tijuana, Mexico,” the affidavit states. Brown, meanwhile, recently pleaded guilty in federal court to bulk-cash smuggling and is due to be sentenced in February.

Bollinger’s affidavit says the alleged details about how Knight died were obtained from Brown and “others closely associated with the events.” Those others remain unnamed “due to the violent nature of the individuals involved in this investigation and the magnitude of the drug operation.”

Who killed Knight—or even if he was killed—and where his body might be remain undetermined, but Bollinger’s affidavit draws a clear picture of why he may have been killed. He was “holding as much as a million dollars” for Brown and Smith—money that “was being held for an upcoming drug transaction”—and “possibly as much as $250,000, was missing.” The missing money, the affidavit suggests, may have cost Knight his life.

Brown and Smith were participating in “a large scale marijuana smuggling and distribution operation,” the affidavit states, “which included the states of California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and Florida,” and used a “trucking company to transport the marijuana and money across the country.” Knight’s prior dealings with Brown include a Dec. 25, 2008, trip to deliver cash to Jamaica for Brown, Bollinger’s affidavit says. Knight and two others—including Brown’s co-defendant in the bulk-cash smuggling case, Debbie Ann Shipp—were stopped as they entered Jamaica that Christmas day, and $565,035 in U.S. currency was found on them.

City Paper’s attempts to contact Knight’s sister, who is named in the affidavit as the person who reported him missing last year, were unsuccessful.

Clocked: Baltimore port timekeepers convicted of fraud over no-show work

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Oct. 6, 2010


A federal jury in Baltimore returned a guilty verdict on Sept. 30 against three union port workers, finding that they conspired to defraud their employer, the stevedoring company Ports America Baltimore, Inc., by submitting payroll information that caused them to get paid for time when they weren’t on the job. The jury found that federal prosecutors proved that International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 953 members William Richard Zichos Jr., Dale Martin Kowalewski, and Joseph Ross Bell intentionally engaged in a mail-fraud conspiracy that, from 2004 to 2008, netted them nearly $42,000 in wages and benefits for work they did not perform.

The convictions are likely to send a strong message to waterfront workers that the practice, which was described during the trial as longstanding and commonplace, is illegal and can be successfully prosecuted.

“The evidence showed that the defendants used their positions as timekeepers to falsify their attendance reports and receive salary payments for lengthy periods of time when they were not at work, including many occasions when they were on vacation overseas,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement issued after the verdict.

“We thought—and still think—there wasn’t any intent to defraud Ports America out of anything,” Zichos’ attorney Steven Wrobel said after the verdict. “Ports America is not a victim, but the jury didn’t see it that way.” Ports America, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment. The attorneys for Kowalewski and Bell did not return messages seeking comment. Messages left at the Local 953 office and for ILA President Richard Hughes Jr., who testified at the trial, also were not returned.

The case against the three men, whose timekeeping duties involve logging hours worked by themselves and by others who help load and unload ships, stemmed from an August 2008 raid on their office, Building 1200A at the Dundalk Marine Terminal, which is known as the “timekeepers’ shack.” The target of that raid was not the timekeepers, but Milton Tillman Jr., an ILA Local 333 member who is also a politically connected bailbondsman and real estate investor (“Collateral Catch,” Mobtown Beat, March 31).

Tillman Jr. and his son, Milton “Moe” Tillman III, were charged early this year in a wide-ranging indictment for tax evasion, illegal insurance-writing, and, in respect to Tillman Jr., mail fraud for getting paid for no-show work at the docks. As the Tillman investigation progressed, the timekeepers were interviewed by law enforcers and brought before the grand jury, and as a result ended up charged themselves.

In an Oct. 4 phone interview, Rosenstein acknowledged the connection between the Tillman investigation and the timekeepers’ case, saying the latter were pursued, in part, because “sometimes you’re not looking for fraud, but you come across it and can’t ignore it.” He also said the case was important because the timekeepers’ fraud scheme raised questions about “the integrity of the entire process” of payroll on the docks.

While never explicitly permitted, drawing pay for work not performed—known along the waterfront as “covering” —has been seen as a victimless practice, according to Baltimore longshoreman John Blom, a member of ILA Local 333, who was interviewed shortly before the timekeepers’ verdict was returned.

“Everybody [who works at the port] has been covered at one point or another in their working careers,” Blom says. “It happens all the time, and [Ports America] knows that. Formally, it has never been that covering is allowed, and I don’t condone it either. But I can’t see how Ports America was harmed—under [union contracts] it is obligated to hire ‘X’ number of workers to get the job, so they just would have to hire somebody else instead. The only person who should be complaining is the guy who didn’t” get called up to replace an absent worker.

Blom claims that last year’s indictment of the timekeepers, even before their conviction, prompted a change in behavior on the waterfront. “Covering doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to,” he says.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Martin Clarke and Stephen Schenning, who are also prosecuting the Tillmans, handled the case against the timekeepers. During final arguments, Clarke told the jurors that “the evidence is overwhelming” that the defendants submitted fraudulent paperwork to get paid for unperformed work. He recounted the voluminous exhibits in the case, proving that the defendants had been paid for working when in fact they were elsewhere: Zichos and Kowalewski had taken vacations abroad, for instance, while Bell had been out getting and recovering from surgery.

“And so,” Clarke continued, “we’re at the next stage—they’re caught. And having been caught, they really can’t mount a defense that they didn’t do it.” Rather, “they circled the wagons” and, during the trial, attempted to create a factual basis that they had a “good-faith belief that it was all right” to engage in covering.

In fact, Clarke argued, the defendants “had their own little union within a union,” engaged in a “well-known corrupt practice” of covering—and “they paid who they wanted to pay, to keep them in the club” of no-show timekeepers.

The government’s case involved testimony from two other Local 953 timekeepers who had engaged in covering too. Both—Michael Schaeffer, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for taking the witness stand, and George McKenzie Jr. —told jurors that the practice was wrong, and they knew it was wrong when they did it.

Bell’s attorney, William Butler, attempted to persuade jurors that his client had nothing to hide and was only doing what port workers had done for a long time—that he “merely complied with past practices.” He said Ports America and other stevedoring companies knowingly tolerate covering because all they want to do is “get the job done, mission accomplished,” and this ages-old practice serves that end. Nonetheless, the federal government stepped in, so the timekeepers ended up “charged criminally for activities that have been going on for many, many, many years.”

John Bourgeois, Kowalewski’s attorney, demonstrated a deep sense of outrage over the charges during closing arguments, stressing that the defendants’ conduct harmed no one, that Ports America never protested the well-known practice until the law enforcers started to build a criminal case, and that the amounts involved were “a pittance.” Bourgeois kept repeating “$41,656 among three men over five years,” adding that Kowalewski’s take amounted to 17 days of work, or about four days a year. “Would these men throw away their livelihood, their honor, for four days a year?”

Evidently, the jury’s answer to that question was, “Yes.”

Truth or Consequences: Cop credibility undermines two federal cases built on Baltimore Police traffic stops

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Dec. 15, 2010

U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett tossed out evidence in a gun case Dec. 6 because, as he wrote in his opinion, the testimony of the Baltimore police officers who arrested the defendant “simply strains credulity.” In September, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz did the same in a heroin case.

In both instances, the evidence was obtained as a result of traffic stops for minor infractions, and was at issue during motions hearings at which the arresting officers testified. In both cases, the officers’ credibility did not survive scrutiny, raising questions about the efficacy of the police practice of using minor traffic violations as a pretext for going after major crimes.

The most recent case charged Travis Gaines with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Gaines was arrested in January near Pennsylvania Avenue and Mosher Street by three members of the Central District Operations Unit: Jimmy Shetterly, Frank Schneider, and Manuel Moro, according to Bennett’s written opinion. Two of them were allegedly assaulted by Gaines after one of them patted him down and found a gun in his waistband. The problem, Bennett wrote, was the officers’ reason for pulling over the car in which Gaines was a passenger: that they saw a crack in its windshield.

“This Court does not believe it was possible for the police officers to see the crack in the windshield,” Bennett wrote, so “the gun must be suppressed as the fruit of the illegal stop”—despite Gaines’ alleged assault of the officers, since it occurred after the unlawful search. The “gun was discovered before the assault, and the fact that Mr. Gaines engaged in allegedly unlawful behavior after the discovery of the gun does not expunge the government’s unlawful conduct in making an illegal traffic stop” (emphasis in the original).

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein says his office is “reviewing the case and there is a strong probability that we will appeal” Bennett’s ruling. In the second case—against Stephen Chester, who was charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin—Rosenstein’s office did not appeal Motz’s ruling to throw out the government’s evidence, but instead opted to dismiss the charges against Chester.

Motz did not issue a written opinion in Chester’s case. But the courtroom drama exposing the false testimony of the police who took the stand during the motions hearing is reflected in the transcript.

During the Aug. 31 hearing, two Baltimore Police detectives—Timothy Stach and Jamal Harris—testified that they and other officers pulled over Chester’s car on April 16, 2009, in the Mondawmin Mall parking lot, because they saw he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt; and that they flashed their unmarked police vehicles’ lights as they conducted the traffic stop so that the defendant would know they were police. Yet, on cross examination, defense attorney Chris Nieto of the Office of the Federal Public Defender played video footage of the stop, which convinced Motz that the detectives’ version of events was false.

“I think that the video speaks for itself,” Motz said to Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Celeste at the end of the hearing, as he granted the defense motion. It’s “a scenario where there’s certainly a reasonable inference that Mr. Chester thought he was being robbed. And that sort of makes . . . your case fall apart.”

It is “rare” for evidence to be thrown out in federal cases, Rosenstein says, because “these cases are carefully reviewed” by his office before they are charged. Prosecutors first sift through the police reports and then they “meet with the police officers face-to-face and interview them about the facts,” a process that “screens out potential problems.” But it is still “possible that new evidence might come up, and that’s what happened in the Chester case.”

“The video,” Rosenstein adds, “shows that [the police detectives’] testimony is incorrect.” While he declined to comment specifically about any repercussions from the Chester case, he says “whenever there are concerns about officers’ credibility, we discuss it with departmental officials.”

Baltimore Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi says “we obviously take extremely seriously” any instance when police credibility on the witness stand is found lacking, and such cases are “normally referred to internal investigations” to probe whether or not disciplinary proceedings are in order. Because Bennett’s ruling in the Gaines case happened only recently, Guglielmi was not in a position to discuss the status or existence of such a probe. By press time, he had not produced any information about any repercussions for the officers who testified in the Chester case.

As for the practice of pulling people over for traffic violations in pursuit of larger crimes, Rosenstein says “as a police tactic, it is useful. A lot of times, all it results in is a traffic citation. But in other cases, the result is a major arrest for drugs or guns. It is part of [a police officer’s] job to stop people for traffic violations,” he adds, and the tactic “is accepted by the [U.S.] Supreme Court as good police work.”

But the defense attorneys for Gaines and Chester say it comes with a price—the confidence and trust regular, law-abiding citizens place in their law enforcers.

“For every suspect traffic stop that results in the recovery of contraband,” Nieto says, “there are countless more involving law-abiding citizens whose rights are violated when they are pulled over, removed from their cars, and searched for no reason.” Those instances don’t receive public attention because “the people involved are never charged with a crime.” Yet, Nieto continues, “These citizens are the same people that sit on our city juries, who hear Baltimore City officers testify, and are asked to believe every word they say. It surprises me that prosecutors and the police department don’t understand that it is this type of bullying that contributes to our city’s juries being so skeptical and distrusting of Baltimore City police.”

Nieto’s colleague in the public defender’s office, Joseph Evans, who represented Gaines, adds, “The larger point is that people are beginning to realize that this is very counterproductive. It generates disrespect for the law and law enforcement and creates a lot of antagonism in African-American communities in particular against law enforcement. And this is actually a shame.”