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.

 

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

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing It Back Home: Baltimore Looms Large in West Coast Drug Case

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 2, 2011

Everyone knows Baltimore has a drug problem, with a high demand for narcotics fueling an active and violent drug trade. But how the drugs get here often goes unnoticed, since local drug cases overwhelmingly focus on corner boys serving street-level customers. Instead, the details of Baltimore’s supply chain tend to come out in major federal cases—including those brought by law enforcers elsewhere.

A recent California drug-trafficking and money-laundering case accomplished just that, showing how hundreds of pounds of cocaine allegedly reached Baltimore’s streets last year thanks to Hollywood-based traffickers, and how millions in drug proceeds left town: by private jet, shuttling between California and Martin State Airport in Essex.

As first reported in The Washington Times last year, the case, which stemmed from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation dubbed operation “Snow Bird,” alleges that glitzy Hollywood types may fuel Baltimore’s drug game along with more low-key traffickers. It also is emblematic of how “hometown boy does good” stories may not always hold water, since the case features three defendants with strong Baltimore ties who appear to have gotten some legitimate traction in the Hollywood entertainment industry.

The amounts of drugs and cash involved in the case are staggering by Baltimore standards, where a 40-kilogram bust is considered historic. Investigators produced evidence that the scheme transported nearly 400 kilograms of cocaine and more than $4 million in cash during a six-week period last fall. Of that, law enforcers were able to seize nearly 300 kilograms and $1.1 million in cash. Whether from their success in entertainment or drugs, the defendants became wealthy enough to own expensive vehicles, including two 2010 Aston Martin Rapides, a 2008 Mercedes CL63 AMG, and a 2009 BMW 750Li, all of which were seized in the investigation, along with a trove of weapons.

Three of the 14 defendants in the case—Ricky James Brascom, Charles Dwight Ransom Jr., and Darrin Ebron—have roots in Baltimore. Court records show that one of the main phones tapped in the case, used by Brascom, was subscribed to by a man named Thomas Jackson at an address at Reisterstown Road Plaza in Baltimore, and that Brascom had an Owings Mills address when he received a Baltimore County traffic violation in 2009. Ransom and Ebron both have Maryland arrest records dating from the 1990s, and Ransom owns real estate in Baltimore City. Ransom was released from federal prison in 2008, after a 2003 conviction for shipping cocaine to Baltimore and money back to Los Angeles in Federal Express packages.

All three went to California and entered the entertainment industry. But, if law enforcers are correct, they also exploited Baltimore’s appetite for drugs to enrich themselves, using five other Baltimore-based co-defendants—the indictment identifies them only by their nicknames, “Cuzzo,” “O.G.,” “S.O.,” “M,” and “SM”—as local distributors.

Brascom, Ransom, and Ebron “have ties to what appears to be legitimate music-industry business,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Villeza, the California prosecutor who’s handling the case. “But it is not uncommon for criminals to have legitimate businesses. They may profit from the business, but they can make substantial profits on the criminal side and it gets infused into the legitimate business.”

As for the alleged Baltimore distributors, indicted under their nicknames, Villeza says, “It’s an ongoing investigation.”

For Brascom and Ransom, the main vehicle for their entertainment careers appears to be a company called Behind Da Scenes Entertainment. Villeza calls them the “CEOs” of Behind Da Scenes, which promotes Paypa, a Chicago rapper who was signed last fall by SRC/Universal.

But Behind Da Scenes, which was formed last year in Maryland and lists its principal office on Church Lane in Pikesville, does not list Ransom or Brascom on its incorporation papers. Instead, it has one director: a real estate investor and construction company owner named Gerald Lamont Jones. Real estate records show that Jones’ construction company, JBL Construction, gave two Baltimore City properties—2705 Ashland Ave. and 815 N. Kenwood Ave., both in the Madison-Eastend neighborhood—to Ransom in 2007.

“I know that Mr. Jones would not want to speak to you,” says Behind Da Scenes’ Pikesville-based attorney Diane Leigh Davison. “He has no involvement in or awareness of” the drug-trafficking accusations against Ransom and Brascom. The “unfortunate” indictment, Davison adds, has “dragged in and affected an emerging artist”—Paypa—and “also affected other people in the business who have nothing to do with the two individuals under indictment.” Furthermore, she adds, “the real estate transactions have no relation to the recent allegations or to Behind Da Scenes Entertainment, Inc. Mr. Jones . . . has always tried to assist and mentor family and friends in business, and tried to do the same for his former college fraternity brother, Charles Ransom.”

In sum, Davison says, Behind Da Scenes “has nothing to do with any of these allegations.” Villeza echoes that conclusion, saying the company “has nothing to do with the evidence against” the defendants.

Ebron (“DJ Darrin Ebron Takes a Fall,” The News Hole, citypaper.com, Nov. 10, 2010), however, has brought Behind Da Scenes into the drug-trafficking case in his efforts to be released on bond pending trial. He is arguing, in ongoing hearings on the matter, that the wiretapped conversations the government is using to accuse him of drug trafficking were actually about his music-industry work on behalf of Behind Da Scenes Entertainment.

To support this contention, a declaration was entered into the court record from Virgil Roberts, a Harvard-educated entertainment lawyer and former president of SOLAR Records, who reviewed the wiretap transcripts. Roberts concluded that “all of the conversations . . . clearly pertain only to the work” Ebron was doing on behalf of Behind Da Scenes and its artist, Paypa, and “has no relationship to any other activity.” Roberts wrote that Ebron “was retained” by Behind Da Scenes “to produce music” and “was paid in cash for all of his work.” The disputes over money captured on the wiretap were over payments for this work, not drugs. To support this argument, Roberts attached as an exhibit “a copy of the budget and handwritten notes prepared by Mr. Ebron as he worked on the PayPa project.” (Davison says that Behind Da Scenes Entertainment “has no knowledge of these purported expenses.”)

The charging documents also include celebrity references, caught on wiretaps recording the defendants’ conversations. The alleged traffickers used jets owned by a Las Vegas company called Marquez Brothers Aviation; one of the pilots, Leonardo Concepcion, is named in the indictment. Concepcion spoke of a scheduling conflict in his alleged work for the traffickers because he needed to fly Janet Jackson somewhere. And Drew Sidora Jordan, an actress and singer who is Brascom’s girlfriend, allegedly tells him that she’s worried he’ll get arrested, after he told her law enforcers seized some of the group’s cocaine.

When the charges were first filed on Nov. 2, 2010, Ebron remained a fugitive until he voluntarily surrendered in New Jersey, where he had his first court appearance on Nov. 19. The judge at that hearing released him on $500,000 bail, secured by two pieces of real estate, including one on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. (That property, in Grasonville in Queen Anne’s County, is owned by a Baltimore funeral director, John L. Williams IV, who could not be reached for comment.) When Ebron appeared in California on Dec. 6 to face the indictment, though, the judge ordered him temporarily detained as arguments over the issue are debated. The next hearing on whether Ebron remains in custody or goes free on bond is scheduled for Feb. 7.

Ebron’s criminal-defense attorney, Winston McKesson, says “we do not think the underlying charges [against Ebron] have any basis in fact,” and states that “Mr. Ebron has no experience with drugs.” (The charging documents say Ebron was caught sending five kilograms of cocaine to New York in 2008, yet was not charged to avoid undermining an ongoing investigation, but McKesson says those facts are “not accurate.”) McKesson says Roberts’ interpretation of the wiretap evidence—that “the conversations are consistent with music-industry talk, not slang for drug sales”—carries the weight of Roberts’ reputation as “one of the best known, if not the best known, entertainment lawyers in the world.” Whether that will convince the judge to let Ebron go free pending trial remains to be seen.

Attorneys for Brascom did not return e-mails seeking comment, and the case docket does not list an attorney representing Ransom.

“Mr. Ebron can certainly claim these [wire-tapped conversations] were music-related,” Villeza says, “but we have strong evidence that they were about drugs and that he was involved in the cocaine conspiracy.”