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

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 31, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Mar. 25, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rare Internal Smuggler” Caught with Heroin Pellets at BWI

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 1, 2009

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Frank Aidoo must have an accommodating stomach. When he arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport last Friday evening, March 27, from London, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) already had information that he was suspected of being part of a Nigerian heroin-smuggling outfit, and he didn’t hold up well under questioning by agents. As soon as his initial story didn’t check out, Aidoo, a 55-year-old Ghana-born Dutch citizen, admitted to having ingested pellets of heroin-and later he passed 100 of them, containing a total of 1.2 kilograms of heroin, according to federal charging papers.

“Internal smugglers are relatively rare, especially here at BWI, so these CBP officers should be applauded for detecting this seriously dangerous concealment method and keeping heroin off our nation’s streets,” said James Swanson, CBP Port Director for the Port of Baltimore, in a press release sent out today. “Carriers run an enormous risk of a pellet breaching. It could mean almost certain death if only one pellet breached inside a carrier’s body.” Aidoo is “lucky to be alive,” Swanson concluded. The press release included a photo of the pellets that had traveled inside Aidoo’s intestinal tract.

Two weeks earlier, hotel security at Baltimore’s Marriott Waterfront Hotel alerted law enforcement to a half-kilo of heroin in a room rented by Edward Aboagye, a 27-year-old Ghanian who prosecutors accuse of being part of a conspiracy that was smuggling heroin pellets (“Room Service,” Mobtown Beat, March 25). Aboagye, a Morgan State University senior and car salesman, maintained his innocence, insisting that he rented the hotel room in order to meet a man about a car transaction.

Other than the alleged use of pellets and the fact that both defendants are of Ghanian descent, there appears to be no connection between the two arrests-though Aidoo’s case, coming so quickly on the heels of Aboagye’s, suggests that Ghana-tied “internal smuggling” may not be so rare, after all. Turns out, there’s a track record of busting similar operations in Maryland.

In 2006, a couple from Bowie, Godfrey Bonsu and Victoria Boateng, were convicted of heroin smuggling by a federal jury. They had been bringing heroin into the U.S. from Ghana, Germany, and the United Kingdom, using Ghanian couriers who swallowed pellets, arrived at BWI, and delivered them at hotel rooms, where Boateng and Bonsu retrieved the drugs.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), “West African criminal groups, primarily Nigerian, employ couriers to transport heroin” to BWI on “twice-weekly commercial flights from Ghana.” In August 2000, the NDIC report continues, two such couriers were arrested within a week of one another at the airport, bringing in a combined total of nearly two kilograms of heroin.

Since Ghana is known as a country from which travelers to BWI smuggle heroin pellets, another recent federal case involving a Ghanian arriving at BWI is worthy of mention.

On March 23-between the arrests of Aboagye and Aidoo-a woman arriving from Ghana on British Airways flight 229 (the same that Aidoo took, days later) presented herself as a U.S citizen, returning from a three-month visit with friends and family in Ghana. She had a passport in the name of Melinda Rochelle Chapman, but in her baggage were photo IDs bearing the name Mabel Penelope Aryee. Under questioning, according to the charging papers, the woman admitted that she is actually Aryee, is from Ghana, and is not a U.S. citizen.

Given the sudden prevalence of Ghanian heroin pellets arriving at BWI, it’s a pretty good guess that the questions law enforcers have for Aryee are only just beginning.