Bad Seeds: Baltimore police misconduct profiled in lawsuits portrays a department beset by costly allegations of illegal violence and dishonesty

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Sept. 30, 2014

After Baltimore police officer Vincent Cosom apparently sucker-punched Kollin Truss at Greenmount and North avenues in June, it took about three months before a video of the incident hit the internet, prompting the matter to go viral in a maelstrom of media coverage and official handwringing.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts reacted quickly, holding a press conference on Sept. 16 at police headquarters. Speaking before a battery of television cameras and backed by a phalanx of white-shirted high-level police the day after Truss filed suit against Cosom, he said, “much like the public, I was shocked, I’m outraged, I’m disgusted by what I saw by an employee of the Baltimore Police Department.”

Batts, who has had his post for two years now, also acknowledged the incident was part of a broader police-misconduct problem that he’s been trying to tackle, saying that “these issues didn’t take place or were not built in the last two years,” and that “it’s going to take more than the last two years to correct them, but they will be corrected.”

Deputy police commissioner Jerry Rodriguez also took to the podium, asserting that “what defines the Baltimore police department is not just one incident” and that there are “many challenges that these officers face on a daily basis, in large numbers . . . in a very professional and heroic way.”

Batts suggested a way forward: “We rebound by doing the job correctly, professionally, constitutionally,” he said. For those who don’t work that way, he had foreboding words: “If there’s bad apples within the organization, we move them out. We get rid of them.”

In many cases, though, the damage is already done, and taxpayers have had to pay. A parade of settlements involving legal claims of police misconduct have come before the Baltimore Board of Estimates this year, including: $49,000 to Charles Faulkner, who claimed he was beaten while in handcuffs during his arrest; $63,000 to Ashley Overbey, on whom police used a stun gun in her apartment; $40,000 to Alex C. Dickson, who was injured in a fight with police trying to enter his apartment; $62,000 to Bolaji Obe and Akinola Adesanya, who said an officer assaulted them in a parking garage; $26,500 to Leah Forde, who’d claimed she’d been falsely arrested and assaulted by an officer; and $75,000 to John Bonkowski, who said officers pulled him out of his car and assaulted him after he’d left a parking garage without paying. The amounts approved for settlement payments from the public coffers do not, of course, include the litigation costs already incurred by having to mount defenses to the claims.

The lawsuits keep coming. The same day Truss sued Cosom, Abduljaami Salaam filed one in federal court against several officers and Batts, claiming he was brutally attacked in July 2013 after witnessing the officers assaulting another man nearby. Salaam describes driving by the prior assault while it was in progress and then parking his car in his nearby driveway, when the officers approached and dragged him out of his car, beat him, hogtied him, and then continued to beat and kick him before falsely arresting him on eluding-police charges that were later dropped. Earlier, on Sept. 5, Jermaine Lyons sued three officers, claiming they cavity-searched him in full public view in May 2013 after they stopped him as he was bicycling and asked him if he had any he drugs—a question he answered in the negative.

The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) is taking concrete steps to heal the damage to community trust that past bad conduct has wrought, including pursuing an effort to have police wear body cameras that record their actions and following the constructive criticism provided by an external audit of its internal-affairs function that investigates misconduct. Batts’ efforts have included the appointment of Lt. Col. Melvin Russell as chief of community partnerships, a new initiative designed to build bridges between BPD, communities, and their institutions, such as churches, in order to enhance public trust in the department.

Last year at an event at Enoch Pratt Central Library, Russell said Batts is trying “to go after the bad seeds in the department and pull them by the root and get’em out of the agency,” according to a transcript of the event. Batts, Russell added, “doesn’t accept it and he’s doin’ his best to root it out of his department.”

The department’s recent bad publicity includes a lengthy Baltimore Sun investigative story, published on Sept. 28, about more than 100 settled lawsuits involving claims of police brutality and other civil-rights violations. The story says that taxpayers have paid more than $11 million in settlements and litigation costs since January 2011.

The ongoing public outrage has not occurred in a vacuum. The Aug. 9 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, spawned not only unrest in that city, but a national outcry over law-enforcement culture and its perceived insensitivity to communities’ desires to assure safety without intrusive, fearsome, dishonest, and brutal police tactics. A survey of recent police-misconduct litigation involving BPD suggests that, in Baltimore, such concerns may not be unfounded.

Makia Smith

In March 2012, Makia Smith was stopped in traffic when she noticed four BPD officers—Nathan Church, William Pilkerton Jr., Nathan Ulmer, and Kenneth Campbell—beating a man, and began using her cellphone to take pictures of the spectacle. One of the officers, Nathan Church, noticed what Smith was doing, and proceeded to grab and destroy the telephone by stomping on it before pulling Smith out of her car and beating her. The other three officers then joined in on the assault before arresting Smith, while threatening to transport her 2-year-old daughter, who was in car’s back seat, to the Department of Social Services. Charges that Smith assaulted Church and obstructed traffic with her car were later dropped. Smith received medical treatment for injuries to her face, neck, and body.

U.S. District Court judge Marvin Garbis in March ruled that Smith’s claims against BPD and Batts could go forward, despite their efforts to have them dismissed, and so the case is proceeding to two trials: first as to the individual officers, then as to BPD and Batts.

Church tried to have Smith’s lawsuit stayed because he’d sought bankruptcy protection shortly after it was filed, but Garbis denied the request, noting, “it appears that Defendant Church made false statements, under oath, to the United States Bankruptcy Court, regarding the pendency of the instant lawsuit.” More recently, former Baltimore City Solicitor Thurman Zollicoffer, now with Whiteford, Taylor, and Preston, and helping represent Church and the other officers, on Sept. 15 filed a letter to Garbis, asking the judge to allow the officers to file motions for summary judgment on the grounds that “Church had probable cause to arrest Ms. Smith,” since she’d “refused lawful orders” to move her car and produce her driver’s license.

One of the officers who joined in the beating of Smith, Ulmer, was named as a defendant in Salaam’s newly filed lawsuit, which, like Smith’s, alleges that “the Officers tormented Mr. Salaam by telling him that his son,” a 3-year-old who was present in the vehicle when Ulmer and the other officers allegedly beat him while he was restrained, “would be sent to Social Services.”

An important element of Smith’s case has been Church’s seizing and smashing the phone she was using to record the officers. The “factual allegations as to the March 8, 2012 incident, combined with the allegation regarding numerous other incidents,” Garbis wrote, “plausibly establish the inference that BCPD had an official policy or custom of preventing citizens from being able to record police officers performing their official duties in public.”

Shortly before Garbis’ ruling was docketed on March 25, BPD announced a new policy allowing citizens to record police conducting their business, as long as the recordings don’t interfere with police business, an announcement that came on the heels of the city agreeing to a $250,000 settlement of a lawsuit brought by a Howard County man who said BPD officers seized his phone and deleted video of them making an arrest at the 2010 Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. The new policy tightens up an earlier one that the U.S. Department of Justice said did not go far enough to protect citizens’ rights.

Troy Williams

Troy Williams says he is cousins with Lt. Col. Melvin Russell, the BPD’s chief of community partnerships, a connection that would seem to give him an edge after, as he claims in a lawsuit filed in April, a BPD officer struck him unconscious with a police radio in July 2011 as Williams walked out of a church where he’d gone to attend a friend’s funeral, and police then filed false drug-possession charges against him. The attack, Williams claims, was part of a conspiracy to retaliate against him for filing an earlier police-brutality complaint. Whether or not Williams’ family tie helps his cause remains to be seen, as the court proceedings are at an early stage, with the officers claiming that their alleged conduct was not a conspiracy and fell within the scope of their duties, even if unauthorized.

Williams’ suit asserts that Brian Flynn, the officer who allegedly attacked him, did so because he’d filed an internal-affairs complaint about a month earlier, after seeing another unnamed officer beat a man in a jail cell where Williams had been briefly locked up without charges. Williams claims that the unnamed officer, like Flynn, served under Russell at the time, and that Williams later told Russell about the brutality complaint he’d filed. Flynn only realized he was dealing with his superior’s cousin, the lawsuit explains, after he’d struck Williams unconscious, when another officer arrived on the scene and informed him.

At that point, the lawsuit states, in “an effort to save face,” Flynn asked Williams “where it was” without saying what “it” was, and then “threw Mr. Williams in the backseat” of a cruiser and drove him to the Johns Hopkins Hospital emergency room. There, Williams’s scalp was “closed with surgical staples,” and Flynn allegedly told the emergency-room staff “to note in Mr. Williams’ file that Mr. Williams is addicted to heroin, which is a pattern, practice, and/or policy and custom . . . utilized by police officers after they have brutally attacked so-called suspects.” The lawsuit adds that “Mr. Williams is not a heroin addict and Defendant Flynn had no reason to believe that Mr. Williams was a heroin addict.” After Williams’ release from the emergency room, another officer, Dane Hicks, booked him on drug-possession charges that were later dropped, since “there was never any controlled dangerous substance recovered,” the lawsuit states.

Williams’ lawsuit includes allegations that the city is loath to hold officers accountable for their misdeeds. It is “not news to anyone in” BPD or the mayor’s office, the lawsuit states, “that officers are free to make false arrests and manipulate evidence without fear of meaningful punishment or reprimand because their supervisors control their punishments, and there is a pattern, practice, and/or policy and custom” of “not punishing officers’ misconduct or providing meaningful reprimand, many times involving backdoor deals.”


Daniel Rockwell

Rockwell, who court documents describe as “mentally challenged,” fled to the roof of his house when officers arrived there to serve an arrest warrant on him in February 2011, and, as he moved to reenter the house as directed, police officer Clyde Rawlins used a stun gun on him, and Rockwell fell off the roof of his house, resulting in fractured vertebrae. After Rockwell landed on the ground, officers rolled him over onto his stomach and handcuffed him with his arms behind his back.

Rockwell was a minor at the time of the incident. His lawyers’ efforts to obtain police documentation about the incident, which would provide them with the officers’ names and official accounts of what happened so that a lawsuit could be filed, were stymied by BPD, and initially the department took the position that no such records existed. Eventually, Rockwell sued over the issue and won in February 2013, when a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ordered BPD to turn over its records of the incident. Rockwell and his mother, Demetria Holden, filed suit shortly thereafter.

Rockwell’s lawsuit is now in federal court, and in March U.S. District judge Richard Bennett ruled that it survived efforts by BPD and Rawlins to have it dismissed. The case against Rawlins, alleging assault and battery and gross negligence, will be litigated first, followed by claims that BPD engaged in a civil-rights conspiracy by withholding documentation of the incident.

Working on Rockwell’s behalf is Robert Klotz, a police-procedures expert who used to run the Washington, D.C., police department’s special operations division. Klotz is quoted in court filings as saying that the way Rawlins allegedly used the stun gun against Rockwell “would be a violation of the national police standards” and that “no reasonabl[y] trained officer could believe this action would be proper.”

The legal battle over Rockwell’s claims has been pitched. Recently, Rawlins’ attorneys moved to bar Rockwell’s statements from proceedings in the case, since he has been deemed in criminal courts to be incompetent to stand trial. “Rockwell conveniently claims that he is incompetent when it suits his purposes to avoid criminal prosecution,” the filing states, “but then inexplicably becomes competent when it serves his purpose of extracting money from the City of Baltimore.” In addition, the filing claims “Rawlins feared that Rockwell was reaching for a gun,” and “deployed his taser against Rockwell in self-defense.”


Mark Harrell 

Though his case was dismissed in April, the racial-discrimination suit brought by Mark Harrell and a woman, Roslyn Wiggins, revealed what U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake described as “unacceptable behavior by members of the Baltimore City Police Department, including a warrantless home search.” In essence, Harrell and Wiggins may have received a better result in court had they sued not over allegations of discrimination, but over violations of the U.S. Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The suit was filed against BPD officers Joseph Donato, Valentine Nagovich Jr., Iris Martin, and William Rivera. Nagovich and Donato each wrote police reports when, in September 2010, they arrested Harrell for loitering and impeding traffic. Nagovich simply stated Harrell was arrested after he was ordered to stop loitering, and after about 45 minutes, he still was—while also arguing with and cursing at the officers. Donato’s report added that Harrell “appeared to throw a dark object into the door” of a house, and, after Harrell’s arrest, Donato “used force to enter the front door” of the house, damaging the door, despite having no warrant to do so.

In her ruling, Blake wrote that the version of events related by Harrell and Wiggins “adds troubling details regarding police behavior,” including that Donato “completely destroyed” the door to the house and that, when asked what he was arresting Harrell for, Donato said, “I’ll think of something.” A few days later, Harrell was again arrested, and this time when Donato was asked what the charges were, he allegedly responded: “Let’s take it up a notch, how about conspiracy?” Harrell was placed in a police cruiser, at which point he was allegedly shown what appeared to be heroin and asked, “Oh, what do we got here?” After 17 hours in lockup, Harrell was released without charges.

Donato’s been in trouble before, drawing lawsuits for a drug raid based on an allegedly perjured warrant and for allegedly assaulting a man whose cellphone he seized because the man was using the phone to record the police beating two men in handcuffs. Blake’s ruling in the case brought by Harrell and Wiggins states that “since the events alleged in this case, Donato and Rivera have been removed from active duty as a result of disciplinary actions, although they remain employed by the Baltimore City Police Department.”


Thomas Robert Foster Jr.

In a case that shows the potential value of installing surveillance cameras around one’s home, Thomas Robert Foster Jr. and his father and sister sued several BPD officers for false arrest, a falsified sworn statement of probable cause, and an illegal search of their home. The accused officers—Thomas E. Wilson, Keith Gladstone, Carmine Vignola, and Gregory Fisher—have not answered the lawsuit, which was filed last December, but a motions battle that resulted in the city being dismissed as a defendant has revealed key facts and circumstances.

On May 24, 2012, Foster exited his home, an act that was recorded by his surveillance cameras. Moments later, he was arrested by Wilson and Fisher, and Wilson allegedly punched Foster in the face while he was handcuffed. Wilson’s sworn statement to justify Foster’s arrest says he was carrying a black bag containing drugs when he left his house. What the camera recorded, though, was Foster walking out of his house “without a black bag or any similar item in his hands,” according to court documents.

Immediately after arresting Foster, Wilson and Fisher entered Foster’s home without a warrant, and were soon joined by Gladstone and Vignola—all of which was captured on video. Wilson then sought a warrant to search the house, and in doing so swore, once again, that Foster was carrying a black bag with drugs in it. Still, Foster was indicted and held in jail for 197 days before prosecutors declined to pursue the charges.

Foster’s lawsuit points out that Wilson has a track record of “making false representations to a Court,” having drawn a rebuke from a federal judge in a 2003 for telling “knowing lies” in testimony and an affidavits in a criminal case, yet BPD “allowed him to remain in his position as a drug enforcement officer.”


Marlow Humbert

After spending 14 months in jail before rape charges against him were dropped in July 2009, during which time he was dubbed the “Charles Village Rapist” in the media, Humbert in March convinced a federal judge that his malicious-prosecution claims against three BPD officers—Christopher Jones, Dominick Griffin, and Caprice Smith—should proceed. DNA tests excluded Humbert as a suspect within a month of his arrest, yet, despite the victim’s apparent uncertainty in identifying Humbert as the man who raped her, the case continued as Humber languished in jail.

In their effort to establish probable cause to arrest Humbert for the rape, according to the judge’s ruling in the case, officers may have purposefully misconstrued the strength of the victim’s photo-identification of Humbert, and then, at Humbert’s arraignment, they apparently ignored the victim’s statements that she “had even more doubt” that they had the right suspect after seeing Humbert in person.

The defendants contend that the victim’s identification of Humbert was, in fact, positive, and so they continued to prosecute the case, despite the DNA exclusion. The charges were dropped, court documents state, due to the victim “becoming discouraged with the justice system due to numerous postponements,” so “she no longer wanted to participate in the case.”

A one-week trial is scheduled to begin in the federal courthouse in Baltimore next April, but a key question is still undecided: will the victim, who has since moved to Flint, Michigan, be required to testify in person or via live transmission from another location? Court documents say “she reports to fear for her safety” in Baltimore, yet the defense attorneys point out that Flint “is more dangerous than Baltimore” and is “the second most dangerous city in the country.”


Jerome Dale

The way Jerome Dale puts it, in January 2011 he was chased by two men through the streets of Baltimore at night during a snowstorm, escaped his pursuers by catching a passing MTA bus, and then got off the bus to seek protection from police officers at a 7-Eleven—but the officers he was asking for help proceeded to arrest him when the victim of an earlier rape arrived, with the men who had been pursuing Dale, and identified him as the rapist, though one of the officers noted that the identification was weak. As a result, Dale—who in 1979 was awarded the Young American Medal for Bravery by President Ronald Reagan for rescuing two small children from a house fire—spent seven months in jail until DNA exonerated him and the charges were dropped.

Dale’s complaint alleges that BPD officers “knew that they did not have probable cause to” arrest Dale since a “note written by one of Mr. Dale’s arresting officers” stated that “they didn’t believe that Mr. Dale committed the reported rape.” Yet, as they proceeded with the case, they “hindered the testing and production” of his “exonerating DNA evidence,” the complaint continues, “as a means of prolonging the revelation that they had, in fact, arrested and charged another innocent man.” The lawsuit makes references to Humbert’s case, arguing that Dale’s alleged experience is part of a trend, in which “false arrests are made in reported rape cases and, subsequently, the testing and production of exonerating DNA evidence is hindered” while the accused “are left to languish indefinitely in pre-trial incarceration.”

A key part of Dale’s claim is that the police ceased investigating the victim’s reported rape once they’d arrested Dale base on the victim’s identification, and “did not make any attempt to confirm Mr. Dale’s alibis, despite his vehement statements that at least four different people could attest to his whereabouts on the evening” it occurred. This, the lawsuit alleges, goes against federal, state, and city law-enforcement guidance that an “investigation will not be concluded or otherwise cease based solely on a potential eyewitness identification,” but “will continue until all physical evidence has been collected and examined, all witness identified, and all reasonable leads explored.”


Guy Jackson 

After allegedly being forced by two men with guns to drive a stolen vehicle to a West Baltimore intersection, where the men got out and started shooting at someone, Guy Jackson was shot by police while he sat in the car in April 2013. It’s what happened afterward, though, when Jackson was being treated at Maryland Shock Trauma that, according to a federal judge’s July ruling, is a triable claim of unreasonable search and seizure.

BPD homicide detective Julian Min—whose prior police conduct contributed to the city settling a lawsuit over a young man’s false attempted-murder charges—arrived at Shock Trauma about six days later and allegedly told the doctors treating Jackson that he was taking him to the medical facility at the Baltimore City Jail. The doctors advised him not to, but Min escorted Jackson out of the hospital anyway, and instead interrogated him at police headquarters before putting him out on the streets. Jackson was thus left outside near President Street, his jaw wired shut and a feeding tube inserted in his stomach, wearing only a hospital gown.

Jackson, along with the one other man who survived the barrage of police bullets, remains charged with attempted murder, along with handgun and stolen-vehicle counts. But his attorneys maintain he is charged for a crime that prosecutors know he didn’t commit.


Anthony Anderson Sr.

After Anthony Anderson died as a result of a 2012 beating he received by BPD officers Todd Strohman, Michael Vodarick, and Gregg Boyd, his family and his estate sued the officers, the city, and BPD last October. In March, U.S. District Judge George Russell III let the city and BPD out of the case, but it’s proceeding against the officers, who, though the medical examiner ruled Anderson’s death a homicide, were not charged criminally, since their use of force against Anderson was not deemed excessive.

Anderson’s lawyers paint a partial picture of the incident in the lawsuit, not making any mention of the much-publicized facts that police had observed Anderson conducting a hand-to-hand drug deal and that, after they’d restrained him, they found drugs in his mouth. Nonetheless, Russell’s brief recitation of what happened, memorialized in his ruling, bears repeating.

Anderson “was returning home from a local corner store on September 21, 2012,” Russell wrote, “when Officer Strohman approached him from behind in a vacant lot, lifted Anderson from his knees, and threw him to the ground head and neck first. Officer Strohman handcuffed Anderson while he lay on the ground. Moments later, Officers Vodarick and Boyd approached. The three officers proceeded to kick Anderson repeatedly in his ribs, stomach, back, and chest, causing him significant injuries from which he later died.”


Yardell Henderson

In August, Yardell Henderson won a $100,000 verdict from a Baltimore City Circuit Court against BPD officers Kody Taylor and Matthew Sarver, over a 2010 incident in which they beat up Henderson, who was 16 years old and about 120 pounds at the time.

Henderson’s attorney, Cary Hansel, issued a press release after the verdict, claiming that the officers first “provoked” Henderson to run from them “by shouting racial epithets and other insults at him,” and then chased him to behind his home, where, before witnesses, he was “beaten, punched, kicked, choked and handcuffed,” and then “transported to a different location,” where “he was searched and released without charges.”

Hansel argued that the officers’ decision to move Henderson was “part of a cover up so that when supervisors responded to the minor’s new location, there would be no witnesses there to the attack,” and that the incident was “a pretext to search and interrogate” Henderson “about any crime in the area.” Henderson, though, “had no such information to provide them and the search turned up no contraband.”

Taylor and Sarver have left BPD, according to Hansel, and during the trial Taylor refused to testify about what led to his departure: “an integrity sting” that “resulted in allegations that Taylor was involved with pocketing money recovered from an undercover officer posing as an arrestee.”


Christine Abbott

After BPD officers Lee Grishkot and Todd Edick arrived at a party in Hampden in June 2012, responding to a noise complaint, they talked with Jacob Masters Jr. and asked him to put out his cigarette. When Masters refused, they threatened to use a stun gun on him, at which point Christine Abbott intervened, asking the officers and Masters to “calm down” and suggesting there was “no need” to make such threats, according to the lawsuit Abbott filed against Grishkot and Edick last November.

At that point, Abbott claims, the officers “grabbed” her and “threw her to the ground,” causing her “dress to go up over her back, revealing her underwear” and her shoulder to be “cut and bleeding.” When the officers stood her up, her “dress was ripped” and her “breasts were exposed,” yet they “refused to allow” Abbott to “pull up her dress or otherwise conceal her breasts.” They then handcuffed her and put her in a police transport van, but “did not strap or harness her in the back” of the van, which they “maniacally drove” to the police station, “thereby tossing” Abbott “around the interior of the van,” causing “further injuries.”

Abbott was charged with “assault, resisting arrest, obstructing and hindering, and disorderly conduct,” and was detained for 19 hours before being released. The charges against her were later dismissed. Grishkot and Edick have denied wrongdoing, but admit that some of Abbott’s allegations are true, including that they threatened to use a stun gun on Masters and that Grishkot threw Abbott into the van and proceeded to give her a rough ride.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Jan. 1, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trash Talk: Troubles for Baltimore’s Newest and Long-Delayed Waste-to-Energy Plant Are Mounting

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 22, 2014

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Drivers approaching the entrance of the former FMC Corp. chemical-making complex on Baltimore’s industrial Fairfield peninsula are welcomed by a large and well-lit green sign mounted on a landscaped terrace: “Future Home of Fairfield Renewable Energy Power Plant.” They’ve been so welcomed since at least June 2011, when Google Street View captured images of the same sign and the 90-acre site, where the only visible changes since are the removal of a smokestack and the installation of a series of metal beams on the property’s eastern edge.

On a recent visit, a car and a motorcycle were parked behind the closed gates at the entrance, the only signs of human presence. Other than two large buildings, the security post, and a few trailers, the property is a yawning expanse of concrete and grass pocked by a few tanks and the occasional pile of rubble.

This is not how the defunct FMC site, which the company mothballed in the mid-2000s, was supposed to look in the summer of 2014. By today, it was meant to house the largest waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerator in the country by far, and the first new one constructed in the U.S. since 1995. Each day, more than 230 trucks were supposed to be delivering 4,000 tons of refuse-derived fuel for incineration in boilers capable of generating nearly 160 megawatts (MWs) of power, enough to satisfy the electrical demands of more than 130,000 homes and more than double the WTE-generation capacity of Maryland’s three existing incinerators. Construction of the plant was supposed to have already generated 1,300 jobs, with another 600 derived from its operation, including almost 150 positions at the plant itself, where the annual payroll would be $12.5 million.

The still-dormant site must be a bit of an embarrassment for Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D), Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), U.S. Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-Md.), FMC Corp. president and CEO Pierre Brondeau, United Steelworkers vice president Fred Redmond, former Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition executive director Carol Eshelman, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deputy administrator Robert Perciasepe—and a source of great frustration for Patrick Mahoney, the president and CEO of the Albany, NY-based Energy Answers (EA), the company that wants to build and operate the plant on FMC Corp.’s property.

On Oct. 18, 2010, after EA’s proposed plant had gotten all the necessary regulatory go-aheads, each of those leaders sat on a temporary stage at the FMC Corp. site and rose, one by one, to a podium, giving grandiose speeches at the project’s ceremonial kickoff event, portions of which are memorialized in a video on EA’s website. They extolled the virtues of a technology that, as the WTE industry group Energy Recovery Council claims in its publications, each year in the U.S. burns more than 30 million tons of trash that would otherwise go to landfills in order to sell vast quantities of electricity while recovering hundreds of thousands of tons of metals for recycling.

O’Malley, declaring that “Maryland’s economy is an innovation economy,” stood to say the plant “fits directly into this innovation economy and where we’re going in this fight for a cleaner, greener, more sustainable future with more jobs.” Rawlings-Blake said, “I’m proud, very proud, to have this project in Baltimore City,” and deemed the event “truly a great day in Baltimore,” claiming it would provide “jobs for skilled union workers” and serve as “a national model for green, renewable energy.” After Ruppersberger said that “this is the way that we need to do things in our community, in our country,” Perciasepe added that “it’s projects like this that show the right thing to do for the environment is also the right thing to do for the economy. We don’t have to choose between the two.”

On the day of the event, coverage of the project showed up on the trade website Waste Business Journal, announcing that “construction of the power plant is expected to begin in December 2010, with completion and commencement of commercial operations by December 2013.” Today, EA’s brochure about the Fairfield project predicts it will be in operation in the spring of 2016.

Beset by construction delays, financing difficulties, and an ongoing permit violation for which fines are currently mounting at the rate of $25,000 per day, EA’s Fairfield project is now suffering a public-image threat. A vocal, impassioned group of students at a nearby high school has targeted the project as fundamentally unjust, and they’ve gotten a lot of attention by invoking human rights when arguing their community has enough pollution already without an additional load from EA’s proposed new smokestacks, which will be allowed to emit more brain-damaging mercury than all of Maryland’s coal-burning power plants combined.

The planned and permitted incinerator’s problems continue despite Maryland’s best efforts to help: In 2011, O’Malley signed into law a measure making EA’s prospective product–WTE-generated electricity–a preferred commodity on the energy markets, as it is in most states around the country. Even with this boost, though, proposed WTE generators in Maryland have struggled to come on line. In addition to EA’s long-delayed Fairfield project (the planned plant is pictured above), plans for a proposed WTE incinerator in Frederick that earlier this year finally received its permit now seems on the verge of collapse.

City Paper asked EA to explain the project’s current status and how the company is handling community opposition, but received no response. By delving into the public record and talking to people knowledgeable about the project and WTE in Maryland, though, it becomes clear that there is a fundamental dilemma with the technology: It needs special treatment from the government to work, yet, by working, it competes with cleaner alternatives. Its special status on the electricity-supply markets puts it in direct competition with non-polluting renewables, and its raw material is trash, of which it needs a large and constant supply, and that’s precisely the resource that the recycling and composting industries need to thrive.

Greg Smith, a longtime anti-burn advocate who heads a Takoma Park-based nonprofit called Community Research, offers a nuanced counterpoint to Perciasepe’s win-win rhetoric: “If you do the right thing environmentally, you’re likely going to be able to do the right thing fiscally and economically, but if you do the wrong thing environmentally, you’re more than likely going to have a really hard time doing the right thing fiscally and economically.” While O’Malley says WTE fits in with Maryland’s innovation economy, maybe, without new WTE capacity, Maryland will have a better chance of growing cleaner, greener ways to innovate on the waste-management and electricity-generating fronts than building more mercury-emitting trash-burning plants.

 

At first, it seemed that EA’s Fairfield project was wired for success.

Certainly, the display of impassioned support from government, union, and community leaders at its kickoff ceremony in Oct. 2010 gave that impression. The show was all the more impressive because it came right on the heels of serious controversies over the project at the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC), which cleared it to proceed with an August 2010 order granting a required “certificate of public convenience and necessity.”

The PSC’s order had prompted a lawsuit by some powerful national and local players in the solid-waste arena: the National Solid Wastes Management Association and Wheelabrator Baltimore, the owner of the city’s existing trash-burning incinerator, commonly known as the BRESCO plant. They contended, unsuccessfully, that a July 2010 settlement agreement between the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), the Department of Natural Resources Power Plant Research Project (PPRP), and EA illegally gave the company waivers from legal requirements that prohibit solid-waste incinerators from being built within a mile of a school and that require such facilities to obtain a refuse-disposal permit, like Wheelabrator has for the BRESCO plant. While they dismissed the lawsuit a few months after filing it, their point was clear: EA was getting preferential treatment.

Then came O’Malley’s 2011 decision to sign the bill making WTE part of Maryland’s renewable-power mix as a Tier I resource under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). This was key, since Maryland’s RPS program gives power-supply companies credits for buying electricity from renewable sources, and by law the amount coming from such sources must increase in stages to 18 percent by 2022, with an additional two percent coming from solar energy by 2020. As a Tier 1 resource, WTE now gets counted the same as—and, in essence, competes with—power generation from wind, biomass (such as burning chicken manure), landfill gas, and small hydroelectric power.

After these successes for EA, on December 29, 2011, the first signs of trouble emerged. Under the conditions of the PSC order, the Fairfield project was required to start construction by Feb. 5, 2012, and EA didn’t think they could make it. As EA’s Baltimore attorneys, Todd Chason and Michael C. Powell, explained in a PSC filing made that day:

“Energy Answers has worked diligently and in good faith to construct the Fairfield Facility, but to date has been able to enter into contracts for some, but not all, of its electric output and fuel requirements. Until additional contractual commitments are secured, financing cannot be obtained. Efforts to sign contracts are ongoing, but may not be finalized until after the deadline.”

Though EA’s energy-sales contracts weren’t enough to qualify for financing, the filing explained that EA “has made progress” by “executing a deal for 25 MWs with the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee.” The committee is a group of local-government entities—Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford, and Carroll counties, as well as their respective public-school systems, along with the City of Annapolis—organized under the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to make purchases together to get better deals on goods and services. In addition, the filing said EA had gotten “a Letter of Intent with Maryland’s Department of General Services for up to an additional 10 MWs,” while it had “secured a waste/fuel sourcing agreement with the Maryland Environmental Service,” a self-financed government agency that serves as an environmental contractor for other government agencies and private entities.

Clearly, agreements from public agencies to purchase about 15 percent, or possibly 20 percent, of the Fairfield plant’s expected generation capacity, together with another agreement to get an indeterminate amount of refuse from another public agency to serve as fuel, was not enough to impress whatever financiers were thinking about backing the plant’s construction.

Yet, the filing continued, “since first coming to Maryland in 2008, Energy Answers has spent millions of dollars developing this project and continues to do so,” while also “working to reform Maryland’s energy policies to promote the Fairfield Facility, including participation in last year’s successful effort to make refuse-derived fuel a Tier 1 resource.” In other words, paying engineers, lawyers, and lobbyists to plan the project, navigate the regulatory framework, and urge the passage of favorable laws is expensive.

Ultimately, after environmental groups, the NAACP, and local government leaders in Anne Arundel County weighed in, on Dec. 10, 2012, the PSC gave EA an 18-month extension on its construct-start deadline, to Aug. 6, 2013.

At this point, the resilience of EA’s Fairfield project to the near-death experience started to prompt amusing observations among regulators. One of the key players is the PPRP, which advises the PSC as to the suitability of proposed new power generators. PPRP’s administrator for atmospheric sciences John Sherwell, an old hand at the agency who has been there since 1993, wrote an email to colleagues in early Sept. 2012, summing up the sentiment: “EA just keeps going—like the energizer bunny’s evil twin.”

“The governor,” Sherwell explains in a recent interview to give a bird’s-eye view of the project’s progress, “has been pushing renewables, waste-to-energy, which is now considered to be a renewable energy source, and he had been encouraging Energy Answers to come and build this facility. The official goal for the companies actually delivering electricity to your door is to be 20 percent from renewables by 2022,” he says, “and the regulations allow the renewable energy sources to be from outside Maryland, but as much as possible they would like for them to be from inside Maryland–and the Energy Answers plant would be big for a waste-to-energy facility, roughly twice the size of BRESCO, a big undertaking. So they are very keen to support that, though wind and solar, particularly offshore wind, are the preference.

“But it was a controversial project,” Sherwell continues, “as these always are wherever they are proposed, and it’s been start-and-stop ever since. A lot of the delays were due to working through the issues to get the emissions lower, because when the permitting first came along for Energy Answers, Maryland was regulating emissions for coal plants more strictly than for waste-to-energy, so there was a push for stricter controls, and now they are lower than the industry standards. Then, after the company got an extension for starting construction, they were right on the edge of needing to get another extension when they began construction on one of the boilers last summer.”

Sherwell then starts to explain the next hang-up for EA’s Fairfield plant, saying “they failed to obtain the necessary emission offsets recently,” but points out that “I’m not sure how MDE enforces that. We’ll see what they can work out.”

Turns out, those emission offsets Sherwell mentioned are a big deal.

Under the terms EA agreed to before the PSC granted its order to proceed, the company needed to purchase about 1,500 tons of the offsets, covering nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, fine particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide, prior to starting construction of the Fairfield facility. The offsets, in essence, are tradable units of pollution rights created under the federal Clean Air Act, allowing a polluter who ceases polluting in one location to sell them to a proposed polluter in another location.

On June 2, an offset seller in Texas, the chemical company Sasol North America, contacted MDE to report that EA had failed to exercise its option to buy nearly 80 tons of emissions offsets from Sasol, according to a June 19 letter to EA from Roberta James, an assistant Maryland attorney general representing MDE’s Air and Radiation Management Administration. That failure, the letter explained, violates Maryland air-quality laws, so EA “must discontinue all construction operation” at the Fairfield site until the company “is able to demonstrate to the Department’s satisfaction that it has replaced all the emissions offsets for which Energy Answers had an option to purchase from Sasol.”

While James’ letter points out that EA could be on the hook for $25,000 for each day the violation continued, it also offered “an opportunity to resolve, in advance of litigation, a civil penalty claim” over the issue. According to a July 14 email to City Paper from MDE spokesman Jay Apperson, “we verified that construction did stop,” and “we have offered the company the opportunity to pursue settlement,” but “no settlement has been reached” and “the company still must satisfy the requirement for offsets before construction can resume.”

“This certainly indicates that there is a problem,” says Leah Kelly, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) who has made PSC filings over EA’s Fairfield project and monitors the WTE situation in Maryland. “For us, it’s a really big concern,” she adds, pointing out that the offset purchases are “a key provision of the Clean Air Act.” And, since Baltimore is beset with ozone-laden air that impinges on public health and aggravates asthma sufferers, EA’s “failure to obtain the offsets is very important for us, and anyone else concerned about air quality.”

To Community Research’s Smith, EA’s failure to purchase the offsets, in conjunction with the construction delays—“they were supposed to have started construction by last August, and now it’s a year later, and they’ve begun work on one of the burners?”—makes it seem like the Fairfield project “doesn’t have any legs.” The Maryland coordinator of the national environmental group Clean Water Action (CWA), Andy Galli, who was the first outside party to file a notice of interest with the PSC after EA’s initial May 2009 filing to seek permission to build the Fairfield project, agrees. “It makes it seem that they are struggling financially,” Galli says.

“When this came out,” Galli adds, “I heard from allies in Puerto Rico, where Energy Answers is trying to build another project, and they were happy about what was happening here because it seemed like the company was struggling.”

For the Fairfield project’s public image, news of the offset violation came at a particularly bad time. A group of students at Benjamin Franklin High School, a Curtis Bay public school located about a mile west of the planned plant, began attracting public attention last fall over concerns about the incinerator’s allowable emissions. The students argued that EA’s plant would pose additional public-health risks in a community already beset with pollution sources, including from the nation’s largest medical-waste incinerator, operated just a few miles away on Hawkins Point by Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services.

The students’ voices had been resonating louder and louder as fall and winter gave way to spring and summer. Press coverage by City Paper, Baltimore Brew, the Real News Network, the Baltimore Sun, and local television stations focused public attention on their campaign, which included hundreds of supporters marching from the school to the Fairfield site in December, testimony in support of an environmental-justice bill before the Maryland General Assembly in February, and a May 27 presentation to the Baltimore City public-schools board that included rap performances and a Shakespearean soliloquy and  drew a standing ovation from board members. Despite the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition’s formal support for the project under Eshelman, who has since retired and did not respond to City Paper’s effort to contact her, the students’ efforts were giving the distinct impression that the locals were turning against the project.

 

“The real voice of the residents is being heard now—the students,” says Rebecca Kolberg, a science-savvy citizen activist from Anne Arundel County who lives on the Patapsco River near the Brandon Shores coal-burning power plant. Kolberg says that last November she and Mary Rosso, a former state delegate and longtime environmental activist, “met with the kids on a Saturday out in front of the incinerator site, and we were so impressed that that many would turn out on a cold weekend day. The community’s early backing of Energy Answers may be dissipating now. People are beginning to realize that it’s about the dirtiest kind of power you can produce, plus you have a bunch of diesel trucks that’ll be hauling the trash in there. The kids know their stuff.”

The students began looking into the planned EA incinerator after Greg Sawtell—a social-work student and former Peace Corps volunteer who works for United Workers, a Baltimore-based human rights group that advocates for low-wage workers—came to the high school about three years ago to start a human-rights study project called Free Your Voice (FYV). It has since grown to include about 15 core student leaders who meet every week at the high school, Sawtell says, with “a network of students, parents and teachers that they have built that’s much larger.” City Paper tried unsuccessfully to reach Destiny Watford, an 18-year-old Benjamin Franklin graduate now studying at Towson University who has emerged as FYV’s strongest voice, and so has relied on Sawtell’s input to learn about the group.

“We didn’t start the incinerator project as an anti-incinerator campaign,” Sawtell explains, “but a human-rights project that focused on this issue.” As the students dug in on the topic, he says, “they realized that Maryland was allowing the nation’s largest trash incinerator to be built right down the street from the high school, and they wanted to understand how that decision was made, since this is already an overburdened community that has the biggest medical waste incinerator in the country and there are 18 other schools that are three miles away or less. The students started to look at the issues of waste and energy in a way that is more comprehensive: We’re going all in on this giant incinerator project rather than looking at zero-waste strategies that would create recycling and composting jobs that would make it unnecessary. So they began trying to stop it.”

They wouldn’t be the first. As Smith told a Maryland General Assembly committee during a hearing on an anti-incinerator bill in March, “I’ve done this work for 25 years,” and “I’ve never encountered a local community, once they’ve began to learn about the potential impact side, say, ‘Yeah, come give us this large polluting industrial facility so we can make our kids sicker.’” Instead, he added, “they typically try to fight these off, and they’re doing it on a very unlevel playing field.” PPRP’s Sherwell points out that WTE proposals tend to draw opposition, and he says EA’s was delayed in part by “other parties taking pot shots at the project.” Among them were established environmental groups: EIP, CWA, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Environment Maryland, which all filed public comments during the PSC proceedings.

But FYV was coming in late in the game, years after EA’s permits were issued and public-comment periods in regulatory proceedings were closed. So the students came up with a different, nuts-and-bolts strategy: try to undermine the incinerator’s business plan.

 

Energy Answer’s lawyers, in their December 2011 PSC filing asking for an extension to the start-construction deadline, referred EA’s 25 MWs energy-buying contract with local government entities organized as the BRCPC. The students started to target that contract, telling the Baltimore City school board, for instance, that they could opt out of purchasing the power if EA’s plant didn’t start delivering electricity to them within 48 months of the agreement. According to Sawtell, that deadline arrives next April, well before EA’s current forecast for starting operations at the end of 2016.

Baltimore City school board member Cheryl Casciani says the students’ late-May presentation at the school-board meeting was “very impressive,” that they “had a command of the facts” which made her think, “good for them, they deserve an audience.” As for students’ request the school system opt out of the electricity-purchase contract with EA, she says “we don’t have a position on this right now” because “we are still very much in the information-gathering mode.” The contract “was part of this larger purchasing consortium,” she adds, and there are “a lot of factors involved in the decision to enter into it,” so there is “a lot more work to understand the contract, and we are doing that.”

Opting out of the purchase contract with EA was not the only proposition the students made during their presentation, Casciani says. The other was an invitation to a site visit, and “within a few weeks, a few of us made a very good site visit to Curtis Bay,” she adds. In addition to meeting the students to take a look around the neighborhood, they went to the Fairfield site, and Casciani says she was struck because “Energy Answers, when you are standing at the site, unless I was missing something, there’s no evidence of construction.” Then, Casciani recalls, “the day after our site visit, the articles appeared” in the press about EA’s failure to purchase the emission offsets, prompting her to think, “what’s up with Energy Answers missing all these deadlines? What does it mean?”

Other than serving as a Baltimore City school-board member, Casciani also chairs Baltimore City’s Commission on Sustainability, which, along with city’s Office of Sustainability, is tasked with conceiving and implementing the Baltimore Sustainability Plan to guide the city’s efforts to grow in an environmentally and economically sustainable fashion. Casciani says some of the FYV students have also gained an audience with the commission and, as with the school board, the commission is following up on their concerns. In particular, with respect to the Fairfield project’s delayed construction, Casciani says the “commission is asking the regulatory bodies, what does this mean for the ongoing viability of this plant? And we’re waiting to hear back.”

In the big picture, though, Casciani says, “I wish the commission had taken a position” on the 2011 bill making WTE a renewable form of energy, “which I consider to be a very key decision that opened a door for this kind of thing, so I regret not being more active in Annapolis on that. We have found our sea legs on this stuff now, but on this one, we didn’t.” While there “is nothing in Baltimore’s sustainability plan to say the way to solve our issues is incineration,” she continues, “it does call for relying more on renewable energy, and now it is considered part of that. We are very much leaning toward a more zero-waste strategy for the city, with a much more aggressive, progressive approach to waste management, which would make this moot because it would starve incinerators. But this bill changed the equation.”

The question is whether a student-led anti-incinerator campaign, along with broader misgivings about WTE generation in Maryland generally, can change it back.

 

When O’Malley signed the 2011 WTE-as-a-renewable bill, he issued a public statement.

“Despite the success of recycling programs in our State,” he explained, “the reality is that Marylanders generate tons of solid waste each and every day.  If there is no waste-to-energy facility available, these tons of trash are simply dumped into landfills, no value is derived from the waste, and our State continues to rely on coal-fired generation to account for 55% of our energy needs. Therefore, the question is not whether waste-to-energy facilities are better for the environment than coal-fired generation or better for the environment than the land filling of trash, but rather whether waste-to-energy facilities are better than the combination of coal and land filling, based on the best available science.  The answer to that question is a qualified ‘yes.’”

The “qualified” aspect of his approval of the bill had to do with mercury emissions, which he called “the most worrisome aspect of waste-to-energy facilities.” But clean-energy and sustainability advocates point to what they consider a fundamental flaw in the governor’s reasoning: that waste not burned for energy would end up in landfills.

“It’s a false dichotomy that it’s either burn it or landfill it,” says EIP’s Kelly. “You should put in better requirements for recycling and waste reduction and composting before incineration is turned to as a waste-management practice,” she adds.

What Kelly is referring to is a zero-waste strategy, and the O’Malley administration nominally embraces it. In April, MDE issued a draft document entitled “Zero Waste Maryland: The O’Malley/Brown Administration’s Plan to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Nearly All Waste Generated in Maryland by 2040.” It explains that “zero waste is an ambitious, long-term goal to nearly eliminate waste sent to landfills and incinerators,” and quotes the Zero Waste International Alliance’s advice that getting to that goal will require “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.”

Clearly, the zero-waste strategy is at odds with O’Malley’s pro-burn policies to support WTE. The document ignores this conflict by openly embracing WTE as a preferred alternative landfilling.

City Paper asked the campaign of Maryland lieutenant governor Anthony Brown, the Democratic contender of governor in the coming November elections, “what are Anthony Brown’s policy views of WTE as an answer to Maryland’s energy needs, and do they differ from what O’Malley pursued as governor?” The answer came from Jared Smith, Brown’s deputy campaign manager, in the form of a statement attributed to Brown that avoided the question.

“Renewable energy will remain a critical part of our effort to create jobs for Marylanders while building a strong and sustainable future for our state,” the statement reads. “We will work in partnership with the private sector to expand Tier 1 renewable energy production in Maryland while ensuring that local communities have a strong voice and input throughout the process. And as we look to the future, I am committed to neighborhood-focused sustainability that helps grow our economy and gives consumers affordable, environmentally friendly energy options.”

The campaign spokesman of Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, Adam Dubitsky, engaged in an off-the-record discussion of the topic with City Paper, but it did not result in an attributable statement.

No wonder, then, that while WTE opponents’ arguments for cleaner, more sustainable approaches would seem to invite more job-creating innovation than simply burning mountains of trash, not all of them are holding their breath for Maryland to ratchet back its legislated preference for WTE generation.

“We can’t fight climate change by incentivizing emissions producers,” says Smith, but “I’m not prepared to say the tide is turning” because “we keep having to work hard to stop some really bad pro-burn legislation brought by Energy Answers or Covanta,” another WTE company that runs the Montgomery County Resource Recovery Facility. For an example, he points to a 2013 bill that he says sought to assure additional trash flows to plants by penalizing counties that failed to send all of their post-recycled trash for WTE incineration. As it stands, he says, “hundreds of thousands of tons of compostable and recyclable resources are getting burned every year in Maryland, destroying dollars and jobs, because composting and recycling would produce more local jobs than either landfilling or incinerating.”

Galli harbors hopes that a bill to repeal the Tier 1 designation for WTE will arrive in Annapolis, or perhaps a measure that would “move it back to Tier 2 over time,” where it will not command the preferred credits that Tier 1 renewables do, “or maybe have an efficiency standard that plants would have to meet to be eligible for Tier 1.” In the meantime, Galli says he’d like to see the legislature pass a measure similar to a Delaware law that prohibits the siting of new incinerators within three miles of homes, schools, or hospitals.

Such a law would stop EA’s Fairfield plant in its tracks. But in Frederick, a long-proposed WTE plant appears to be on the rocks even without restrictive legislation. It has been in the works since the mid-2000s, and early this year received its permit from MDE—but then, in April, Carroll County, which had signed on to be a 40-percent partner in the project with Frederick County, decided to pay a $1 million penalty to withdraw from the deal. Now, come July 31, Frederick County could follow suit without penalty, according to a recent editorial in the Frederick News-Post.

“If we had to bet,” the editorial states, “our money would now be on this highly controversial project not going forward. If it plays out that way, it will be due in large measure to those many in the community who worked long and diligently to expose the weaknesses in this plan, the financial liability that Frederick County could incur, and the many health, safety and environmental issues they believed it presented.”

Carroll County, Galli explains, “has commissioners who are politically conservative, but they became advocates against the incinerator, saying how unwise that investment was, that we don’t have to do this, do some of these other things, like reduce, recycle, reuse, instead. Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

“It’s a sleeping giant, though,” Galli continues. “Companies continually suggest and propose to build these things, and you have to be in these battles for the long haul, because the companies have the ability to keep it going at a slow pace.”

As for the EA Fairfield project, Galli says, “Free Your Voice is making great inroads,” and “the company floundering the way it has has added to the idea that this might not be the way to go.” Kolberg, meanwhile, suggests that, thanks to FYV, it’s EA that should be worried about what lies ahead.

“If I were Energy Answers,” she says, “I’d know I’m in it for the long haul, because these kids ain’t going away.”

Mainstream Extremism

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 30, 2014

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Anne Arundel County’s Fifth Councilmanic District is the whitest, most educated, and richest of the county’s seven districts, and its voters lean heavily in favor of Republicans. If that pattern holds true in November’s general election for the council seat, the district’s 75,000 residents — 87 percent white, 97 percent with a high-school diploma, and about half with a college degree or higher, and with a median household income of $111,000, higher than any Maryland county — will be turning for constituent services and leadership on local issues to the GOP candidate, Michael Peroutka.

Peroutka, a highly successful debt-collection attorney whose brother and law partner Stephen Peroutka is a board member of the Babe Ruth Museum, also is white, smart, and rich, but it’s doubtful that many of his potential constituents have used their advantages in the way he long has: to advance a militant theocratic agenda.

A decade ago, Peroutka already had a record of supporting the formation of local militias when he ran for U.S. president under the Constitution Party banner, with a campaign slogan — “God-Family-Republic” — that dressed up his extremism with rhetoric that run-of-the-mill patriotic Christians might find innocuously attractive. Similarly, the name of Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution (IOTC) fails to communicate its actual mission: creating theocratic governance based on both testaments of the Bible, similar to how extremist Muslims would like to establish states based on sharia law derived from the Quran.

Peroutka has now hit on a more pragmatic approach: run for something winnable, like a local race where the outcome is relatively malleable for someone like Peroutka, whose fundraising capabilities are virtually limitless within the usual legal constraints. He has more than a quarter-million dollars in his campaign chest as of late June, and surely much more has come in since. Top supporters include Roy Moore, the Bible-thumping chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court who believes the separation of church and state is an attack on Christianity and to whom Peroutka has dedicated a field and monument at his 40-acre Prince George’s County property called Gladway Farm; prominent Christian evangelical lawyers William Olson and Herbert Titus, a former Constitution Party vice-presidential candidate; and ex-con Franklin Sanders, a Tennessee metals-trader with secessionist sympathies.

Peroutka’s campaign treasurer is Tom Pavlinic, a sex-crimes defense attorney who specializes in defending clients accused by very young victims. Pavlinic was Peroutka’s attorney when he unsuccessfully sued a social worker who had helped Peroutka’s step-daughters when Peroutka and his then-wife, Diane Peroutka, despite his strongly voiced belief that the state should not be in the parenting business, had placed them in the care of the government’s foster-care system after one of them had accused Peroutka of sexual abuse and then recanted.

Though the Fifth District is a pretty solid GOP stronghold, most of its voters recently came out in support of something that Peroutka is stridently against: same-sex marriage. When the Maryland General Assembly in 2012 passed the law extending the right to marry to same-sex couples, Peroutka reacted by stating that “no earthly government body can redefine marriage any more than it can redefine the law of gravity” and that therefore “there is no reason to consider this a valid legislature or this a legitimate governor. Other than fear, I can think of no reason to further obey their dictates.” Yet when the law went up for referendum that fall, nearly 55 percent of the Fifth District’s voters supported it. Only in four of the district’s 34 precincts, clustered in its far northern reaches near where Peroutka lives in Millersville, did majorities oppose same-sex marriage.

Even if he loses the council race to Democratic contender Patrick Armstrong, Peroutka still won an elected position in the June 24 primary election: he’s now a member of the Republican State Central Committee in his district, making him a leader of the local GOP faithful — whether they like it or not.

And clearly, some of the drivers of mainstream GOP thinking find Peroutka to be a philosophical pariah. In February, when Peroutka’s name was being bandied about as a possible GOP candidate for Maryland attorney general, Mark Newgent penned a blog at Red Maryland pointing out that Peroutka is an avowed Christian Reconstructionist. This God’s-law-reigns-supreme approach was birthed by Rousas Rushdoony, and Newgent summed up its goal: “a civil government whose first duty is to carry out a religious mandate to do what God requires as written in the Old Testament, including executions for adulterers and homosexuals.”

Cato Institute senior fellow Walter Olson has called Peroutka a “wackypants anti-gay crusader,” and on his Free State Notes blog in June he wrote that Peroutka’s IOTC “promotes a deeply erroneous view of the U.S. Constitution as an essentially religious document.” And in pointing out that the man is stridently anti-Republican, Olson quoted a Peroutka screed from last fall imploring “anyone, including those who identify with the ‘Tea Party,’ who loves America and desires real reform” to “disengage themselves from the Republican Party and their brand of worthless, Godless, unprincipled conservatism.”

In 2012, Peroutka, a prodigious donor to deeply conservative causes, gave $10,000 to the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which was working to defeat marriage-equality referendum question that ultimately passed muster with the voters. The donation drew the attention of the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-marriage-equality group, which promptly broadcast Peroutka’s strong ties to the League of the South, a Southern secessionist outfit that the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a racist hate group. Today, Peroutka’s ties to the League have become a serious concern for Maryland GOP leaders, including gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, who disavowed Peroutka after the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, played up Peroutka’s extremism.

On July 30, Peroutka held a press conference at a Glen Burnie hotel to try to manage the fallout. He was flanked by two African-American men who support him and his candidacy: Republican state-senate candidate Eric Knowles (who lost in the primary, and has previously run as the Constitution Party’s candidate for governor) and Robert Broadus, who ran as a Republican for U.S. Senate in 2012. Peroutka refused to back down from his support for the League, which he called a “Christian, free-market group,” and, in response to a question, said he’d made no mistake when he sang “I Wish I Was In Dixie” and called it “the national anthem” at a League event in 2012, a YouTube video of which has drawn attention since his primary win. Peroutka sought to cast doubt on the SPLC, referring to “the dangers” of its endeavors, in which he said it engages in “smearing together obvious hatred, such as Neo Nazis or the Klan, with groups,” like the League, “where the SPLC simply doesn’t like their politics.”

Peroutka’s effort to separate the League from neo-Nazis is a blurry endeavor itself, though. As the Huffington Post’s coverage of Peroutka’s press conference pointed out, the YouTube video of Peroutka singing “Dixie” in 2012 “was shot by Michael Cushman, a former member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group, who now leads the League’s South Carolina chapter.”

Newgent, meanwhile, saw all this coming when Peroutka was being discussed as a candidate for attorney general. “Imagine the field day the media, not to mention Democrats, would have” with a Peroutka GOP candidacy, he wrote, adding that it would be an “embarrassment and drag on other candidates.”

Some of the most intelligent analysis of Peroutka, though, is coming from the left.

On Huffington Post, Jonathan Hutson has chronicled Peroutka’s ongoing alliance with the League of the South, and quotes its president, Michael Hill, promoting guerrilla warfare and the deployment of “death squads” to obtain the League’s goals. “The primary targets will not be enemy soldiers,” Hill wrote on July 15. “Instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don’t run.”

Political Research Associates‘ Frederick Clarkson, meanwhile, writes that Peroutka’s run, as well as that of the GOP candidate for Anne Arundel County Sheriff, Peroutka and League of the South ally Joseph “Joe” Delimater III, “may signal a small, but significant, national trend in applied theocratic theory.”

Peroutka and his followers and allies “believe that holding local office empowers them to defy state and federal law under the rubric of an ancient concept called The Doctrine of the Lower Civil Magistrate,” Clarkson continues. He explains that this doctrine “has been adopted by conservative Christian leaders who are opposed to religious pluralism and separation of church and state, as well as such matters as abortion, LGBTQ rights, taxes, public education and gun control laws,” saying it empowers them “to overthrow ‘tyrannical government.'”

In an earlier post in June, Clarkson recalls an interview he had with Peroutka donor Titus in 1996, when Titus was running for vice president. Titus “told me at a press conference that lower-level government officials (called ‘lesser magistrates’ in the archaic language of the ideas on which his views are based), may refuse to enforce ungodly laws and policies of the government, and rise up against a government that has become corrupt or tyrannical.”

Given Peroutka’s attraction to militias and overthrowing the government, the highly educated voters of Anne Arundel County’s Fifth District could be forgiven if they worry that his candidacy presents a potential threat to civil society. If they happen to fall into debt that Peroutka’s firm tries to collect, though, they might also worry about his tactics.

Consider the case of Antonietta Serruto, who, after gaining bankruptcy protection in 2012, was still illegally targeted for collection by Peroutka’s firm, which took court action against her in 2013, despite her alerting the firm that the debt they sought to collect had been discharged. She ended up suing the firm (and quickly winning a $20,000 settlement, plus costs, expenses, and attorneys fees), after a processor server showed up at her home, where she lives alone, on Thanksgiving night last fall to pound on her door and demand she “open up,” according to her lawsuit. Serruto “was terrified by the pounding and the demands of the unknown male at her door,” the lawsuit states.

As Peroutka’s county-council campaign continues, gaining the attention it deserves, at least the district’s voters won’t be casting votes for or against an unknown male anymore. He is what he is: an extremist dressed up for mainstream appeal.

The High Seas: Baltimore’s narcotic history dates back to the 19th-century shipping-driven boom, quietly aided by bringing Turkish opium to China

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Oct. 21, 2014

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With its longstanding reputation as a high-volume heroin town, Baltimore’s modern black-market economy is openly opiated, driving sizeable budgets for maintaining the criminal-justice apparatus to combat it. Far less appreciated, and only opaquely understood, is the role another poppy-derived narcotic—opium—had in forming Baltimore’s 19th-century fortunes, when trade with China helped fuel the city’s shipping boom.  In fact, merchant John O’Donnell was the first to bring goods from the Chinese city Canton to Baltimore and it was such a boon that he named his waterfront plantation Canton, and the name for the area persists today (along with its O’Donnell Square).

Despite Baltimore ships being central to several historic events in America’s opium trade to China, Baltimore merchants’ overall piece of the trade seems to have paled in comparison to the quick fortunes made by famous merchant families from Philadelphia to New England. So, when historians eventually pieced together what such towering American capitalist families as the Astors, Forbes, Perkins, Delanos, Peabodys, and Girards had actually been up to in China—selling Turkish opium, competing with the enormous British supplies brought there from India—Baltimore’s role got little attention.

At the time, “all of this was able to occur really under the radar,” says Towson University history professor Elizabeth Kelly Gray, “because there were no reporters, and if someone came back with a huge fortune and said, ‘Oh, I was in the China trade,’ people wouldn’t necessarily assume that opium was involved. People seem to have kind of kept their mouths shut about what they did, and even though I found a couple of published comments where someone would say, ‘Don’t you know that Americans are involved?’ it didn’t seem to catch anyone’s attention. We can dig back and find it now, but it wasn’t known then.

“There was a recognition that this was disreputable, this was smuggling,” Gray continues, since China outlawed opium in 1799. So merchants tended to justify it by saying “‘we couldn’t make a profit if they wouldn’t buy it,’ or ‘if we don’t do it someone else would,’” while arguing that “we’re not actually breaking the law because the opium we’re bringing is 12 miles” away from the Chinese port of Canton, in ships anchored in Whampoa Reach or Macoa Roads, “and then it’s brought in by others.” Given the controversial nature of the trade, she adds, “some of the merchants were able to cover their tracks,” since “they’re thousands of miles from home, everyone that they’re hanging out with is fine with this, and they’re making lots of money. So we don’t have the smoking gun with some of them that we have with others.”

The secrecy surrounding America’s China opium trade came out when the first Opium War between Britain and China broke out in 1839, after China, dismayed at the damage addiction was causing among its people, started to seriously enforce its opium ban and seized sizeable British cargoes. The war prompted Congress to get interested in the American involvement, and “then you have this sort of sheepish admission to Congress that, well, we are involved in the opium trade,” Gray says, “which some of the congressmen already knew, but it wasn’t public.

“We definitely know that Baltimore was involved,” Gray adds, but details are elusive, and more northern American cities appear to have been more deeply entrenched. While “the British were earning tens of millions of dollars” from opium in China, historian Eric Jay Dolin told China Business Review last year, “the Americans were earning millions of dollars,” and the late historian Kenneth LaTourrette concluded that, “although she began early,” Baltimore “was never as actively engaged in the trade as were the more northern ports.” Historian Dael Norwood of Yale University, sums it up in an email to City Paper: While “the New Englanders and New Yorkers were (for the most part) running the show alongside the Brits, “you might say that the Baltimore money was keeping its hand in.”

One smoking gun linking Baltimore to the China opium trade is the Eutaw, a Baltimore ship owned by John Worthington and captained by Christopher Gantt. The history books credit the Eutaw with bringing the very first delivery of Turkish opium by an American ship to China. It left Smyrna, Turkey (pictured above), in November 1805 with several tons of opium, and arrived in Canton in 1806. Sussing out Worthington’s significance in Maryland society has proven elusive, but Gantt later became a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and served as a customs clerk in Baltimore for the U.S. Department of Treasury.

A second smoking gun is the Wabash, another Baltimore ship captained by Gantt, which in 1817 suffered an attack that became known as “the Wabash incident.” While anchored in the Macao Roads near Canton, Chinese pirates boarded the ship, murdered some of its crew, and took its cargo, including opium. The American consul at Canton—Benjamin Wilcocks, himself an opium smuggler—wrote to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams about the incident, explaining that he’d reported it to the Chinese authorities, but “was careful not to mention the opium.” The Chinese, after they later found the pirates with a large quantity of opium, expressed “not a little disgust” over the contraband, Wilcocks explained, and shortly thereafter announced a crackdown on Americans trying to bring opium into China.

In 1821, the Terranova incident involved a Baltimore opium ship at Canton, and produced “lingering bad memories” which, the late Sino-American historian Jacques Downs wrote, “would help shape the first U.S. treaty with China” in the 1840s. It involved an Italian sailor, Francis Terranova, on the Baltimore ship Emily, owned by John Donnell and captained by William Cowpland. The Emily was “anchored peacefully in Whampoa Reach,” Downs recounted, “gradually selling off its cargo of opium,” when Terranova somehow caused a woman who’d approached the Emily to fall into the water and drown—and for this, China convicted and sentenced the sailor to execution, which shocked the community of Western traders there.

 

Downs described Donnell as “the great Baltimore China merchant” who was “among the largest shippers of the drug” in the period after the War of 1812. After the Bostonians led by the Perkins family, Donnell was “probably the most important of all” the “very substantial merchants who sent opium cargoes to Canton.” After Donnell’s death in 1827, his nephew Griffin Stith—who had served as agent for the Emily—formed another American firm in the China opium trade, Issaverdes, Stith & Co., a partnership  of Stith and John B. and George Issaverdes. Stith’s papers, describing his experiences in the opium trade in China and Jakarta, are held in the collections of the Maryland Historical Society.

Donnell in 1800 purchased Willow Brook, an estate where West Baltimore’s Union Square neighborhood now stands that was built by his wife’s uncle, Thorowgood Smith, who served as Baltimore’s mayor from 1804 to 1808. Today, a complete replica of Brook’s Oval Room is on permanent display at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Another famous Baltimore-China trade merchant, Isaac McKim, served in the Maryland Senate and served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and also was a director of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. His part in the American opium trade is described in “Tidewater Triumphs,” a book by naval historian Geoffrey Footner. “McKim developed an ingenuous plan which began with the purchase of Turkish opium for resale to other traders, mostly Baltimore merchants,” Footner wrote, “then used the proceeds to buy copper and other products.” In 1816, McKim’s ship the Plattsburgh left Fells Point with cargo bound for Smyrna, where the captain was instructed to “sell the cargo and use the proceeds to buy opium,” but the crew mutinied, and the resulting legal wrangling “revealed Isaac McKim’s plan for broadening his narrow export base.” While there is “no record of any McKim ships sailing in the China trade,” Footner explained, “there is circumstantial evidence that McKim resold opium acquired in Turkey to other Baltimore and Philadelphia merchants doing business in China.”

Evidence of Baltimore ships being involved with shipments of Turkish opium also come from the U.S. Senate, which in 1838, on the eve of the First Opium War, made records of American ships entering and leaving Smyrna over the years, including McKim’s schooner, the Yellat, picking up 45 cases of opium and Donnell’s brig, Midas, taking on 111 cases of opium in 1824, part of their proceedings. Another entry mentions the brig Torpedo, owned by William Patterson (one of the founders of the B&O Railroad) and his son George Patterson.  Finally, an English translation of the geneology of a prominent Dutch family says that Jacob van Lennep & Co., based in Smyrna, made “large shipments of opium” to “a company in Baltimore for onward shipment” to China. And, last year at the Smithsonian Institutions, an intern uncovered historical documents of a shipment of 10 tons of opium arriving in Canton in 1821 on the Baltimore brig Ea.

While Baltimore’s role in Smyrna-to-Canton opium smuggling may have been less robust than those of more northern American cities, it made a mark because its opium-laden ships, explains Norwood, “attracted the harsh attention of Chinese authorities” thanks to the sacking of the Wabash and the Terranova affair. Still, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the drug trade quietly drove significant creation of wealth in Mobtown’s early economy—as it still does today.

Walter Ingram pleads guilty while crying foul in federal heroin case in Baltimore

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, June 4, 2014

In 2010, when Walter Louis Ingram was 59 years old, he was charged in a Baltimore-based heroin conspiracy, three years after his release from federal prison for a 1992 cocaine-conspiracy conviction. Since the new charges were filed, the Baltimore gangster – famous in the 1980s and early 1990s for beating murder raps and other serious charges here and in New York City – has been fighting them from his jail cell.

His efforts, which have spanned more than three years and as many defense attorneys, came to an end Oct. 2, when he pleaded guilty before U.S. District judge J. Frederick Motz and received a six-year prison sentence – less than expected in CP‘s prior coverage of the case.

Given the long time it’s taken the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office to convince Ingram to admit his guilt, it’s worth noting that Ingram’s plea agreement gives him credit for “apparent prompt recognition and affirmative acceptance of personal responsibility for his criminal conduct,” the document states, and for his “timely notification of his intention to plead guilty.”

Three years is a long time for the feds to put a case to bed, and Ingram’s posture during the lengthy proceedings has been, to put it kindly, intransigent. Given this background, the agreement’s liberal use of the terms “prompt recognition” and “timely notification” seem almost sarcastic. The plea agreement also includes a waiver of appeal rights for both Ingram and the government should the sentence actually imposed be 72 months – which is precisely what Motz gave him.

Even in pleading guilty, though, Ingram sounds like a fighter. City Paper today received a jail letter from him, which states that “after careful thought and consideration, I accepted the government’s recent plea offer very reluctantly,” noting that, in his view, the case against him “had begun to reveal a [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] cover-up of illegal cell phone tracking and a systematic disregard for the Federal Rules of [Criminal] Procedure, Rule 41,” which dictates conduct involving searches and seizures.

Ingram writes that, based on “the very limited disclosure of discovery material in my case,” he believes that electronic-surveillance orders used in his and other federal probes in Maryland have been unlawfully obtained from state judges, rather than federal judges, based on applications by federal agents “not acting with and under the direction of a state law-enforcement officer” – a no-no, he asserts, under his reading of Maryland and federal laws.

“This erroneous practice,” Ingram continues, “has been systematically perpetuated for several years under seal” – meaning, sealed from public view under judges’ orders – and “there are many other cases involving the same illegally used procedure.” He adds that “this type of conduct undermines the integrity of the federal judicial process” because “federal agents are using illegally obtained information for federal prosecutions and covering up how the information was obtained.”

The pattern of such alleged abuse, Ingram claims, continues in the case of Richard Anthony “Richie Rich” Wilford, who was a co-defendant of Ingram’s in the 1992 conspiracy case and is also currently being prosecuted in a federal drug conspiracy – though Wilford’s case so far remains unresolved.

When Ingram gets out of prison this time, he’ll be pushing 70 – maybe a good age to retire from the streets and instead go to work for a criminal-defense firm. After all, his storied past – including his legendary association with Kenneth Antonio Jackson, the politically connected strip-club owner, longshoreman, and filmmaker who was Ingram’s co-defendant in a famous 1991 New York murder acquittal orchestrated by super-lawyer Robert Simels, who’s currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for witness intimidation – is now ancient history.

Stop Fucking Snitching’s “Goose” Gets Cooked for Slinging Heroin in Prison

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, June 4, 2014

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Sherman “Goose” Kemp, one of the cash-loving, drug-dealing stars of 2004’s anti-rat Baltimore street-culture documentary Stop Fucking Snitching Vol. 1, already had a prodigious list of prior drug-related convictions before he was charged anew in early 2012 with conspiring to smuggle heroin into federal prison, where he was serving a 30-year sentence, and sell it at a huge mark up: two federal convictions in the 2000s and one Maryland conviction in the 1990s. Now, having copped to the new charges, Kemp’s list of priors is even longer.

After signing a guilty-plea agreement in October, Kemp (pictured, in a Stop Fucking Snitching scene) was recently sentenced – and received a pretty good deal, given that such priors often result in draconian sentences: four more years added to his existing term, shifting his release date from 2035 to 2039, when he’ll be about 60 years old. He actually got a 10-year sentence, but U.S. District judge Catherine Blake ordered six of them to be served concurrently with his existing prison term.

According to the plea’s statement of facts, “beginning in April 2011, through November 7, 2011, Sherman Michael Kemp, agreed with Lasheta Claybourne and others to smuggle heroin from Baltimore, Maryland, into FCI Beckley, West Virginia, where he was serving a federal sentence. Once the heroin was smuggled inside the prison, Kemp and other distributed the heroin at approximately $600 per gram.”

The statement has an additional sentence, with lines drawn through it, indicating that Kemp and the government do not agree that this could be proven: “Additionally, in September through November 2012, Kemp worked with others to try to smuggle heroin into the Chesapeake Detention Facility in Baltimore, Maryland, where he was being held pretrial.” The facility is run by Maryland’s prison agency and now is used to house federal pretrial detainees, but until early 2011, it had long been used as the state’s “Supermax” prison, formally known as the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center.

Kemp’s 2008 firearm-and-cocaine conviction in Maryland, for which he received a 180-month sentence, was followed with a jury conviction in a Pennsylvania case that yielded Kemp’s 30-year sentence and $31 million judgment for his part in the sprawling and murderous Phillips Cocaine Organization, in which other Baltimore players were in the picture, including Anthony Ballard and Shawn Green. Kemp’s name also appeared in court documents in the 2010 racketeering case against the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang in Maryland, with his phone tied to that of the gang’s on-the-streets heroin dealer, Kevin Glasscho.

Feds Name-Drop Baltimore’s Sonar Nightclub in New Pot-Conspiracy Indictment

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, June 4, 2014

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Daniel McIntosh has long maintained he’s been the majority shareholder of Sonar nightclub in downtown Baltimore since he took over from co-founder Lonnie Fisher in 2007. But if new federal charges against McIntosh and nine others, filed May 2 in Maryland federal court, are true, McIntosh has had a silent partner in Sonar: Matt Nicka, pictured above, the lead defendant in the decade-long, $30-million, cross-country pot-conspiracy case that was first filed under seal in Dec. 2010.

Court records do not indicate that Nicka has ever been arrested and arraigned for the charges, so, presumably, he’s a fugitive, along with three other co-defendants in the case. His nicknames are “Surfer Dude,” “Grump,” and “Morrow,” according to the indictment, and he also uses the following aliases: Anthony Thacker, Matt Smith, Matt Marino, Matt St. John, Calvin Bartlett, and Matthew Johnson. Other than information in the new, 26-page indictment, which describes Nicka’s leadership role in a scheme that used trains, planes, and trucks to move pot and money around the country for years, and that engaged in a host of activities to hide the proceeds, City Paper has learned little about Nicka.

In 2008 and 2009, the indictment states, Nicka and McIntosh “did manage and control” Sonar, and made it “available for use, for the purpose of unlawfully storing, distributing and using marijuana,” verbiage that the indictment distils down to “maintaining drug-involved premises.” They also are accused of laundering money together by wiring pot-dealing proceeds to “purchase sound equipment for Sonar” in July 2007. While Nicka and McIntosh, who is 36 years old, are lumped in with all the defendants as accused pot-dealing money-launderers, they are the only two named in connection with Sonar.

Jeremy Landsman, a 32-year-old Baltimore developer who last year partnered with David Berg, of the Baltimore-based Berg Corporation demolition firm, to purchase the real estate where Sonar is located, and who is also the landlord for McIntosh’s other business–McCabe’s Restaurant in Hampden–was revealed in February to be a co-defendant in the case.

In the new superceding indictment, Landsman is not listed as a defendant, though he is mentioned as having participated in the conspiracy’s pot-dealing and money-laundering activities. Property records indicate that Anthony Thacker–one of Nicka’s aliases–gave a property on Weldon Avenue in Medfield to one of Landsman’s real-estate companies in 2008. That property, which Landsman’s company sold for $226,500* in 2009, is two doors down from the property that was posted to make McIntosh’s bail in the case.

McIntosh is the lone defendant in two of the new indictment’s 16 counts. They allege that, during 2008, he used property on Weldon Ave. to deal and use pot, and that, also in 2008, he traveled to and from California on pot business. Landsman’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, did not immediately return a phone call and e-mail for comment. A voice message left on Berg’s cellphone was not immediately returned. McIntosh’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, wrote in an e-mail today that McIntosh continues to maintain his innocence.

The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office does not comment on pending cases as a matter of policy. Nicka does not have an attorney on record in the case, and his whereabouts are unknown. The original indictment in the case listed 15 co-defendants. Six of them–Landsman, Andrew Sharpeta, Sean Costello, Daniel Fountain, Adam Constantinides, and Joseph Spain–are not on the roster of co-defendants in the new indictment.

Four of those no longer named–Sharpeta, Costello, Constantinides, and Spain–have entered plea agreements with the prosecution, and three–Sharpeta, Costello, and Constantinides–have already pleaded guilty to superceding charges.As City Paper reported in March, the Nicka indictment is tied to other cases in state and federal court in Maryland. Another Baltimore developer, 34-year-old Jacob Jeremiah Harryman, and 34-year-old Andrew Jin Park of Pikesville, are central figures in the investigation that connects the cases, which has been conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and the Baltimore County Police Department.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed the sale price as “more than a quarter-million dollars.”