Good Times: Dion Fearon in Baltimore, asking all about Jean Brown

By Van Smith

Baltimore, March 21, 2019

Yesterday at Studio 4 in downtown Baltimore, producer Dion Fearon asked me questions about lifer Jean Brown, the Baltimore-based Jamaican who in 2009 ordered and oversaw the tortuous murder and dismemberment of Michael Knight, Brown’s friend and co-conspirator in a $1M-a-month Mexican cannabis-trafficking operation. Knight’s body, which was sawed to pieces, packaged, and tossed into various dumpsters in the Baltimore area, was never recovered.

I’d first written about Brown in late 2010, when a search warrant in the case dropped at U.S. District Court in Maryland, and ended up writing about her two more times. Fearon is now putting together a documentary about Brown, and managed to track me down just in time for me to go back over my records and writings quickly in preparation for the shoot.

We covered a lot of ground involving Brown, but Fearon also asked me about how the Brown conspiracy compared to other major pot-trafficking cases I’d covered. That prompted me to recall that the very building we sat in was once part of the real-estate holdings of Jeremy Landsman, who played a role in the globe-trotting, jet-setting cannabis conspiracy headed by Matt Nicka, and that next door used to be the location of Sonar, Dan McIntosh‘s nightclub that prosecutors contended, unsuccessfully, was part of the scheme.

When I arrived at the studio just prior to the appointed time, former federal prosecutor Stefan Cassella, who led the prosecution of Brown, was seated in front the cameras. When we were introduced, he was incredibly pleasant – considering all the words I’ve written about his work in Maryland over the years, much of which was critical reporting. There were stories about seizing assets from South Mountain Creamery, prosecuting online gambling and synthetic drugs, a forfeiture case marred by agents’ creating a faked drug-dog certification in litigation, and an occasion when Cassella drew the ire of a veteran federal judge – and that’s just what I can readily recall.

That’s Cassella on the right. Photo: Dion Fearon

When my interview was over, Fearon and I spoke about other stories, including Querida Lewis – Fearon brought her up her name, asking if I had heard of her – and Sean Hinton, the Baltimore police trainee whose body was found floating off Manhattan in 1992, and whose son Ronald Hinton was later convicted, on shaky evidence and a controversial confession, of raping and murdering a four-year-old girl.

I had presumed Fearon was a Californian – which she is – but it turns out she grew up in Baltimore. I predict we’ll be crossing paths again, and look forward to seeing what comes of her Brown biopic.


Evidence revealed in the long-running Matt Nicka globe-trotting pot-conspiracy case in Maryland

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Mar. 24, 2015


It’s been nearly half a decade since Matt Nicka (pictured), allegedly the shadow owner of the now-defunct downtown Baltimore nightclub Sonar, was first charged for sitting atop an international, high-volume, decade-long, pot-and-money-laundering conspiracy based in Baltimore. And still the case goes on.

Nicka and his co-defendant wife Gretchen Peterson were brought to Maryland last fall to answer the charges after being picked up in Canada in 2013, a few months after another top co-defendant, David D’Amico, was extradited from Colombia. Now, with California attorney James Bustamante at Nicka’s side, he’s fighting for his freedom, in part by challenging the legality of a 2010 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raid of a house he used to own at 4210 Clarkdale Road, in the woods just northwest of Television Hill in Baltimore. By doing so, Nicka put in the court record evidence against him that had not previously been in the public sphere.

At issue, according to the Bustamante-penned motion to suppress evidence against Nicka that was collected at the Clarkdale Road home, filed in court on March 20, is the constitutionality of the raid. Bustamante asserts that “probable cause to support the search” was “based on insufficient and stale information.” Regardless of how fresh and pertinent the information was for probable-cause purposes, it still sheds new light on how the investigation was developed by case agent Cindy Buskey of the DEA, who testified at the lengthy 2012 trial in which a jury found two of the conspiracy’s 16 defendants—former Sonar co-owner Daniel McIntosh and pilot Keagan Leahy—guilty of some, but not all, of the charges against them.

Buskey wrote the affidavit supporting the raid on the then-vacant house, which turned up no dope or money, but did produce a money counter, a heat sealer, photographs, maps, and various other documents, among other seemingly innocuous items. Her sworn statement described how investigators unearthed connections between the players, prompting them to interview D’Amico’s ex-wife, Liliana D’Amico, and Peterson’s mother and sister, Mary and Jessica Peterson. The affidavit also gave details provided by co-conspirator Andrew Sharpeta, who cooperated with authorities, about the scope of the pot-dealing operation, with the Clarkdale Road house serving as its nerve center. The affidavit also relates conversations with an unnamed neighbor, with whom Nicka had entrusted a key to the house.

Sharpeta, who testified before the grand jury that indicted the case as well as before the jury that convicted McIntosh and Leahy, told invesigators that he lived at the Clarkdale Road house in 2008 and 2009, and that Nicka had moved there about a year earlier. While there, “he, Nicka, D’Amico, and others had counted large amounts of money” using money counters, the affidavit states, and bundled them in $50,000 increments made up of 10 bundles of $5,000. Six $50,000 increments were then put in envelopes that were then “loaded into a suitcase or duffle bags” in increments up to $1 million. The suitcases were “locked and super glued shut” and then “taken to California on D’Amico’s airplane and/or a tractor trailer.” Aside from detailing the cash-management tactics undertaken at the house, Sharpeta also “described the delivery and distribution of hundreds of pounds of marijuana from this residence.”

When Mary and Jessica Peterson were interviewed in Pennsylvania in late 2009, Jessica Peterson said “Gretchen had told her that she acted as a money courier” for Nicka, and that Gretchen Peterson “was living beyond her means,” based on “her clothing and her social lifestyle” even though she was “unemployed.” At the restaurant where Jessica Peterson worked, employees were “happy to see Gretchen because she would leave extremely large tips.” Mary Peterson, meanwhile, “stated that she suspected that her daughter was involved in drug trafficking” because she’d found a “duffle bag in 2005-2006” that “contained marijuana” and “observed a stack of money that she decribed as being one and a half feet by one and a half feet on Gretchen’s bed.” Both women “also stated that Gretchen informed them that she left” Pennsylvania “in October of 2009 to avoid speaking with law enforcement” after “investigators attempted to serve a grand jury subpoena” on her there.

Investigators caught up with Liliana D’Amico after a 2009 raid at a house in Hampden turned up evidence that the conspiracy made use of an aircraft co-owned by David D’Amico, and her name turned up on database searches as associated with him. They found that in 2004 in South Carolina, she had been stopped in a vehicle registered to Gretchen Peterson that had an empty, hidden compartment, and the car was seized by the DEA after drug-sniffing dogs gave a positive alert. Found in the car were photographs, including one of Leahy, the pilot who flew D’Amico’s plane and had been involved in its purchase. When she was interviewed in 2009, she told them she was no longer married to D’Amico, and she denied any knowledge of drug trafficking, but admitted she’d seen D’Amico with large amounts of cash.

When investigators interviewed the Clarkdale Road neighbor in February 2010, they learned he “had not seen Nicka or any other individual at the residence in approximately one year.” Previously, though, “Nicka would leave the residence for weeks at a time,” and “had given the neighbor the key to 4210 Clarkdale Road” and “asked the neighbor to look after the residence during his extended absences.” During “the latter part of 2009, the water pipes burst in the residence on two occasions” and the neighbor “had attempted to contact Nicka on his cellular phone,” but it “was disconnected.” The neighbor also had seen Gretchen Peterson, Sharpeta, and D’Amico at the house.

The jury trial of Nicka, Peterson, and D’Amico is scheduled to start next March, and run for five weeks. In the meantime, all three have consented to detention pending trial. Back when they were on the lam, all three, as well the only remaining fugitive in the case, Jeffery Putney, were the subject of “Most Wanted” media coverage. The jury that convicted McIntosh and Leahy, meanwhile, did not buy the government’s theory that Sonar was a money-laundering front, and arguments in the case alleged prosecutorial improprieties that were deemed inapposite by the judge. An interesting figure in the case was Baltimore developer Jeremiah Landsman, who received a relatively lenient sentence, though all the players bear some intrigue. When McIntosh was sentenced, he got the lowest penalty he could—10 years in prison—though some of the others received serious time too. In light of what happened to the others, it’ll be interesting to see how the case against Nicka, Peterson, and D’Amico—the top three defendants in the conspiracy—plays out.

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

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, June 4, 2014


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.”

Baltimore Real-Estate Developer Jeremiah “Jeremy” Landsman Among Those Sentenced in Pot-Conspiracy Case

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, June 4, 2014

One of the more intriguing defendants in the 16-member federal pot-conspiracy case involving the shuttered Sonar nightclub in downtown Baltimore (“Risky Business,” Feature, Aug. 15, 2012) has been 32-year-old Jeremiah “Jeremy” Brandon Landsman, the Baltimore real-estate developer whose JBL Real Estate, based in Fells Point, is tied to several properties that figured in the case.

Before Landsman’s troubles in criminal court started after the Dec. 2010 indictment, and even afterwards, Landsman’s been a high-profile presence on the Baltimore real-estate scene, especially in the pages of Baltimore Business Journal, which twice in the past year featured him as a source in trend stories about falling rents for restaurants and taverns. Also, the Jewish Times in 2008 profiled Landsman and his father, Jeff Landsman, about their experience going into business together – a piece that is featured on JBL’s website.

Landsman’s legit-biz image as a young up-and-comer contrasts sharply with the charges against him, to which he pleaded guilty last June: conspiracy counts for laundering money and possessing with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of pot. Perhaps the milieu to which he’s more acclimated, given his conviction, was described in City Paper‘s prior Landsman coverage in 2006, when armed robbers hit an illegal Greektown poker game he was playing in – though Landsman claimed he wasn’t actually gambling (“Luck of the Draw,” Mobtown Beat, June 7, 2006).

Either way, Landsman now heads to prison for nearly five years – less than the maximum sentences for the pot conspiracy (not less than five years, but no more than 40 years, plus a $2 million fine) and the money-laundering conspiracy (20 years, plus a fine of whichever is greater: $500,000 or twice the value of the laundered property). On Jan. 7, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. District judge Roger Titus sentenced him to 57 months of incarceration followed by four years of supervised release, plus he must forfeit $200,000 and a cluster of garages behind Keswick Ave. in Hampden owned by one of his companies, JBL Keswick LLC. He’s due to report to prison on March 4.

In addition to the relatively light sentence he received, Landsman can count himself fortunate that he wasn’t charged with lying to a grand jury. In the factual statement attached to his guilty plea, he admits to making “several false statements” when he was subpoenaed to testify in October 2009, including about the identity of and his contacts with co-defendant David D’Amico (pictured below right)– who remains a fugitive – while D’Amico lived at a Hampden property at 3522 Hickory Ave. owned by a Landsman-related company; and about “his knowledge of and involvement in” the conspiracy, including its leader, Matt Nicka (pictured below left), who also remains a fugitive, and other members.

Landsman’s guilty plea is notable, as well, for its description of the money-laundering he engaged in, which made use of his resourcefulness as a real-estate developer. Between about June 2003 and August 2009, the plea says Landsman participated in “several financial transactions involving at least $400,000 but less than $1,000,000” in pot proceeds, and facilitated the “lease, purchase, and/or sale of property to, for, and between members of the conspiracy” in order to conceal “the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of drug proceeds, disguising the source of those funds and promoting the aims of the conspiracy” via properties owned by Landsman under seven limited-liability companies: JBL 2, JBL Aqua, JBL Keswick, JBL Services, 3520-22 Hickory, Weldon Chapel Properties, and McCabe-Falls. Public records indicate those companies own 46 properties in the Baltimore area – 24 in Hampden, 14 in Fells Point, one in West Baltimore near the Gwynns Falls, five in Mayfield, and two in Towson – though the plea does not specify which ones were tied to the conspiracy.

In addition to Landsman, several others who pleaded guilty in the conspiracy have been sentenced:

– On Nov. 19, Andrew Sharpeta and Ian Travis Minshall were sentenced, according to court records. Sharpeta, who pleaded guilty to participating in the pot and money-laundering conspiracies, received a 63-month prison sentence followed by five years of supervised release, and an order that he give up $7,800 in seized cash and pay a $242,200 judgment, representing the amount of proceeds he obtained due to the conspiracy. Minshall, who pleaded guilty to participating only in the pot conspiracy, got four years in prison followed by four years of supervised release, plus he was ordered to forfeit $25,000 in cash and to pay a judgment of $25,000, the amount he made in the conspiracy.

– On Dec. 10, Anthony Marcantoni, who pleaded guilty to participating in the pot conspiracy, got 121 months in prison followed by eight years of supervised release, plus a $500,000 money judgment against him and an order that he “forfeit all property obtained as a result of the drug trafficking,” according to a Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office press release.

– On Dec. 20, Joseph Spain, who pleaded guilty to participating in the pot conspiracy, was sentenced to one day in prison, and given credit for time served, followed by four years of supervised release.

– On Jan. 3, Daniel Fountain, who pleaded guilty to participating in the pot and money-laundering conspiracies, was sentenced to eight years in prison followed by four years of supervised release, plus an order to forfeit $100,000, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Yet to be sentenced are the two defendants who took the case to trial and were found guilty – Daniel McIntosh and Keegan Leahy (Mobtown Beat, Nov. 7, 2012) – and four others: Sean Costello, Michael Phillips, Adam Constantinides, and Ryan Forman.

Descriptions of their roles in the scheme, based on their plea agreements, are here. In addition to Nicka and D’Amico, Gretchen Peterson and Jeff Putney remain fugitives.

Risky Business: Potrepreneurs’ High-Flying Operation Faces a Pricey Reckoning

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 15, 2012


The Lancair IV-P airplane is a sleek four-seater, capable of flying 330 miles per hour and more than 1,500 miles on a tank of gas. The one that was seized in June 2009 from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, near Denver, had been purchased the previous summer for $450,000. The buyer, a Delaware company called Air Sky Holdings LLC, still owed the seller about $64,000. But the Lancair was not repossessed due to outstanding debt. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took it.

What led law enforcers to that Lancair was a game-changing series of events for a sprawling, sophisticated outfit of Baltimore-based potrepreneurs whose illicit, high-volume business had been a veritable license to print money. Its seizure didn’t immediately end the flow of eye-popping amounts of premium weed they’d been moving, but it was a red flag, putting key players on notice that the gig was nosediving into a forest of cops, lawyers, and judges.

And nosedive it did, ultimately resulting in at least three federal cases and possibly dozens of state-level ones, all in Maryland. The central federal case accuses 16 people, indicted in Dec. 2010, of participating in a Baltimore-based conspiracy that used not only airplanes, but trains, trucks, warehouses and other real estate, and legitimate businesses—including Baltimore’s now-shuttered Sonar nightclub (“Future of Sonar in Doubt” May 4)—to perpetuate its sophisticated efforts to satisfy the seemingly bottomless market for weed (“Smoked Out,” Mobtown Beat, Feb. 29).

The $30-million, decade-long operation, evidence in the case shows, got its pot from Canada and California, then distributed it not only in the Free State but also in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kansas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia (“The Smoke Thickens,” Mobtown Beat, March 21). Four of the defendants are fugitives, and all but four of the remaining 12 have pleaded guilty. The final four, if they don’t plead guilty soon, are scheduled for a month-long trial starting in September.

When law enforcers discovered the plane’s connection to the alleged pot conspiracy, one of the first pieces of the house of cards to fall was an actual house in Woodberry Woods, also called Green Acres, near Television Hill, which the conspirators quickly abandoned.

That house, at 4210 Clarkdale Rd., sits amid thick forest cover at the end of a dead-end street. It had been purchased in Aug. 2007 for $367,000 by Clarkdale Properties LLC, a company formed the same day the deed transferred. The LLC was formed by Anthony Thacker, an alias for Matthew Nicka (pictured), according to a federal forfeiture lawsuit that put the property in government hands.

Nicka allegedly used the house for nearly two years to receive, repackage, and distribute large volumes of weed, and to count lots and lots of money, according to the forfeiture case. “The money was counted approximately three to four times a week,” according to court documents, “and bundled into $50,000 increments and then placed in Tyvex [sic] envelopes in $300,000 increments.”

“Nicka abandoned the Property and left Baltimore” shortly after a house in Hampden was raided, court documents say—the same raid that drew a bead on the Lancair. He remains a federal fugitive.

Other than the alleged Nicka conspiracy, a related federal case against two others implicated in the operation—Kevin Brandes and Michael Borakove—has already wrapped up with guilty pleas. Brandes is serving a four-year prison term, and Borakove got 18 months. According to their plea agreements, they dealt many thousands of pounds of pot from Canada and California between 2002 and 2010, at prices between $2,200 and $5,000 per pound. Taking the least amount they dealt—8,000 pounds—at the lowest price, that translates to at least $17,600,000 in transactions.

One of Brandes and Borakove’s suppliers during the earlier part of their conspiracy was Jeremiah “Jeremy” Landsman, according to court records. A Baltimore real-estate developer whose JBL Real Estate owns, via one of its many LLCs, the Hickory Avenue house where the Lancair documents were found, Landsman’s companies own or co-own numerous Baltimore-area properties. Several of them also figure in the alleged Nicka conspiracy, including properties leased by Sonar and McCabe’s Restaurant in Hampden, both of which were or are operated by another Nicka co-defendant, Dan McIntosh. Landsman pleaded guilty to his role in June and is scheduled to be sentenced in November.

In his plea, Landsman admits to using properties owned by seven of his companies to help facilitate the massive pot conspiracy. By City Paper’s count, those companies own 46 properties in the Baltimore area—24 in Hampden, 14 in Fells Point, one in West Baltimore near the Gwynns Falls, five in Mayfield, and two in Towson—though his plea does not specify which ones were used to aid the conspiracy. Under his plea agreement, the only properties he will turn over to the government are seven garages behind Keswick Road in Hampden. In addition, he agrees to hand over $200,000 to the government—but he’s escaped obstruction-of-justice charges for lying before the federal grand jury investigating the conspiracy.

Another Baltimore developer, Jacob Harryman, was one of the biggest customers of Brandes and Borakove, according to their pleas. Harryman, while not indicted in federal court, figures prominently in the evidence of both cases. In addition, as a result of a wiretap on Harryman’s phone, in Nov. 2010 at least 21 people were arrested on pot-related charges amid a series of police raids around the Baltimore region.

The third and earliest case related to the sprawling federal investigation appears to have been against Charles Koplow, whose name appears in charging documents in the Nicka case. Koplow was charged in Nov. 2009, the same month he pleaded guilty to conspiring to deal 100 kilograms or more of pot between Oct. 2007 and May 2008. In his guilty plea, he admits to running a threatening operation involving guns, an assault, and a robbery. This past May he was sentenced to two years in prison.

Of the 16 defendants in the Nicka case, four remain at large: David D’Amico, Jeffrey Putney, Gretchen Peterson, and Nicka himself. Only four of the remaining 12 – Keegan Leahy, McIntosh, Anthony Marcantoni, and Ryan Forman – have not pleaded guilty. They are running out of time to do so, since the month-long trial-and the defendants surely are hoping this isn’t a bad omen-begins on Sept. 11.

From small things, big things can happen and such is the case with the Lancair.

On March 11, 2009, a police investigation out of Montgomery County, Md., brought a drug-sniffing dog to storage unit 8-14 at S&E Mini Storage on Wilkens Avenue, next to St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. The dog smelled drugs, and a week later, on March 18, a surveillance team watching the storage unit hit pay dirt.

The team saw one of the subjects of the probe, Adam Constantinides, enter the unit around 11 A.M. with some empty cardboard boxes. When he left, he carried three full cardboard boxes, which he put in his 2001 Ford truck. The team followed Constantinides to Bond and Aliceanna streets in Fells Point, where he handed the boxes to Jeffrey Putney, who put the boxes in his Toyota 4-Runner. He drove to the rear of 3522 Hickory Avenue, in Hampden, and took the boxes inside.

While they were being followed, Constantinides and Putney pulled U-turns and drove across parking lots and down dead-end streets. Their tactics didn’t work. Moments after Putney left the Hickory Avenue house and drove away, he was pulled over. He had $2,000 cash on him and another $5,000 was in the truck.

When investigators searched the storage unit, they found more than 30 pounds of pot. What was inside of 3522 Hickory Ave., though, suggested something huge-and explains why Nicka fled Baltimore.

In addition to nearly 100 pounds of pot, the house contained about 30 cell phones, four money-counters, two scales, $20,000 in cash, money wrappers, and drug tally sheets detailing more than $1.5 million in transactions. Also found: documents about the purchase and maintenance of a Lancair aircraft, tail number N516DB, and near them, paperwork reflecting prices and amounts of drugs, including the names of customers and suppliers.

Air Sky Holdings, the airplane’s owner, is incorporated in Delaware, a state where corporate charter laws can make it difficult to ascertain companies’ true owners. But documents in the Hickory Avenue house allowed investigators to pierce the veil: three men – David D’Amico of Baltimore and Massachusetts; Keegan Leahy, a licensed pilot from Chicago who has a Canadian passport; and Sean Costello of Hawaii-controlled Air Sky.

Five days after the Hickory Avenue raid, D’Amico, Leahy, and Costello had met in San Francisco to put in place financial maneuvers intended to conceal their connection to the aircraft and their drug-derived cash, according to court documents. On April 1, 2009, about two weeks after the raid, D’Amico left the United States for Caracas, Venezuela, and he remains a fugitive.

The Lancair was at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport undergoing repairs when law enforcers showed up to take it. Why was it there? Just like the far-flung pot conspiracy that helped its owners acquire it, it crashed.

The Nicka indictment seeks to take $30 million in allegedly illicit proceeds from the defendants, but a little math would indicate that’s a very conservative estimate of how much the operation may have yielded.

According to evidence in the case, Marcantoni, who owns martial-arts studio Ground Control Academy in Owings Mills-there are others in Canton and Columbia-was distributing 500 to 750 pounds of pot each month. If true, that translates to 6,000 to 9,000 pounds annually. The operation dealt in high-grade weed from California and Canada, which can sell on the street for about $3,000 a pound-up to $5,000 or more for super-premium bud. That means Marcantoni alone could have been grossing $18 million to $27 million or more each year.

Marcantoni has already done a five-year stint in federal prison for pot dealing, identity fraud, lying to law enforcers, and money-laundering, after a 2004 jury trial was cut short with his guilty plea, two and a half weeks after it began. The case arose after police in Houston, Texas, found him with nearly 150 pounds of pot and $28,000 in cash. His current indictment charges him with the same conduct-large-scale weed dealing-while he was on supervised release for his prior federal conviction. He’s facing up to life in prison if convicted in the Nicka case.

Marcantoni’s predicament actually may be better than his brother’s in one sense: at least he gets to answer to the accusations. His brother, Rafael “Rocky” Marcantoni IV, just has to grin and bear being described in court documents as a participant in his brother’s bulk pot dealing, without the benefit of a judge or jury to weigh the evidence.

The allegations came from a cooperating witness, dubbed CW1, and were included in a July 2011 search warrant for two locations connected to Anthony Marcantoni. CW1 is described as one of Anthony Marcantoni’s pot suppliers.

“CW1 explained that [Anthony] Marcantoni knew Jujitsu and owned a gym called Ground Control” in Canton, the warrant states, adding that “Marcantoni and his brother … ‘Rocky,’ worked together and were receiving marijuana from Matthew Nicka and Kevin Brandes. CW1 recalled delivering 50-100 pounds of marijuana to Marcantoni and/or ‘Rocky,’ whom investigators have identified as Rafael Marcantoni IV, on eighteen (18) to twenty (20) occasions between September 2008 and March 2009,” for a total of 1,000 to 2,000 pounds. “Marcantoni and/or his brother paid $3,000 to $3,500 a pound,” and CW1 “recalled receiving as much as $100,000 in cash on a few occasions.” If true, that translates to between $3 million and $7 million in weed, and it means the flow stopped when the Hickory Avenue house was raided.

City Paper‘s attempts to reach Rafael Marcantoni through a variety of channels-lawyers, Ground Control Academy, friends and associates-were fruitless. One man, though, said he’d try to get word to Rocky: John Rallo, a professional fighter who is the primary owner of the Ground Control Academy gym in Canton.

Rallo calls Anthony Marcantoni “a very nice guy” and “a friend,” and says “I don’t want to believe” the accusations against him, which he characterizes as “movie stuff.” He points out that each of Ground Control’s three locations is a separate business entity the three men co-own: Rallo has the one in Canton, which is the original one; Anthony Marcantoni has the Owings Mills location; and Rafael Marcantoni’s is in Columbia. He says he was subpoenaed to testify before the federal grand jury investigating the case, so he’s not free to speak about the details. He calls CW1’s claims “bullshit.”

Rallo confirms something that has come up in court proceedings in the case: that Ground Control had drawn law enforcers as customers, but they’ve taken their business elsewhere since Anthony’s troubles began. “We used to do a lot of law-enforcement guys,” says Rallo, estimating that they lost 40 or 50 customers in total in the indictment’s aftermath. Rallo adds that he believes the government’s case against Marcantoni lacks hard evidence.

The Nicka indictment alleges that Anthony Marcantoni “used Ground Control to facilitate the drug business, including as a location to receive and deliver large quantities of marijuana and bulk currency payments.” But one of his attorneys, Howard Cardin, stressed “the weakness of the government’s case” at a February hearing. Cardin added that the government’s witnesses are “looking for a benefit from the government,” and that they’ve presented “conflicting stories” about Marcantoni’s alleged pot dealing.

Cardin said “no money, no marijuana, no owe sheets, no payment records, no evidence whatsoever linking Mr. Marcantoni to this conspiracy” were found during three raids, according to the court transcript. “Mr. Marcantoni runs a business, pays taxes, and there is no evidence of suspicious activity within his accounts,” Cardin continued.

There are, however, wiretaps of Jacob Harryman’s phone, intercepted by Baltimore County police in the fall of 2010. Transcriptions of the phone calls have Harryman, who has not been charged publicly (although he has lost assets to the federal government in civil court), talking about his dealings with Marcantoni – though not always in the friendliest terms. Until, that is, Harryman needs him.


“I just gave him $140,000 in the last two weeks and he can suck a fucking dick,” Jacob Harryman says on Oct. 4, 2010. He’s telling Jordan Barraco, who has since pleaded guilty in state court to pot-conspiracy charges, about having paid down his weed debt to Marcantoni, who he calls “the Italian” and “Boss Man.”

Three days later, Harryman is at the Sudsville Laundry in Reisterstown, talking to Barraco again, saying he’d just been with “Boss Man.” The cops on Harryman’s trail watch him leave the laundromat. They notice Marcantoni in the parking lot, seemingly counting money for nearly an hour in his red Chevy truck.

A couple of weeks later, on Oct. 25, Barraco complains to Harryman that the pot market is “flooded again,” hurting sales. “That’s from the Italian,” Harryman says, “because he just told me, he . . . got rid of four hundred last month or so. I’m sure it’s flooded.”

In the early afternoon on Nov. 13, Harryman talks on the phone with Mitchell Kalavan, who would soon be charged in Baltimore County in a high-volume pot case that is scheduled for trial this fall. Harryman says he’s going to meet “the Italian.” The surveillance team watches Harryman enter Captain Harvey’s Restaurant in Owings Mills, then leave a half-hour later with Marcantoni. By mid-afternoon, Harryman’s telling Kalavan that “the Italian would not serve him until he gets his outstanding balances paid down.”

“His shit is garbage anyway,” Harryman complains. A couple days later, though, Harryman’s take on Marcantoni turns rosy.

On Nov. 16, the police raided 925 Binney St. in Canton, finding 30 pounds of pot and two guns, for which Andrew Sunell is arrested, charged, and later convicted, receiving a five-year sentence despite the efforts of his attorney, Stephen Tully. The property is described as one of Harryman’s “stash houses where large amount of high-grade marijuana is stored.”

Marcantoni, according to court documents, was instrumental in mounting Sunell’s defense and helping Harryman manage the damage his arrest posed to their pot-dealing operation.

The day after the Binney Street raid, Harryman and Kalavan talk repeatedly about how to deal with Sunell’s arrest. Harryman says he “can always go back to the Italian and beg.” Later, Harryman says Marcantoni’s advice is for Kalavan, who had made large pot deliveries to the Binney Street house and may have been noticed by police, to get rid of his truck, find a new place to live, and establish a new “stash spot” for the pot. Harryman adds that Marcantoni “will not directly deal” with them anymore, “until they know the depth of the police investigation regarding Sunell.” Marcantoni, Harryman says, paid Sunell’s lawyer $7,500 and Harryman kicked in $2,000.

“When times are tough,” Harryman concludes, Marcantoni “really does have my back.”

(In addition to Sunell, Tully has been the go-to attorney for numerous individuals in the alleged Nicka conspiracy, including Putney, Constantinides, McIntosh, Ian Travis Minshall, and Daniel Fountain in state-level cases leading up to the federal indictment. Tully says he can’t comment on the alleged payments by Marcantoni and Harryman for representing Sunell because of attorney-client privilege. As for the others, he says he was notified by prosecutors shortly after their state-level arrests that he was conflicted out of representing them further.)

In short, the Sunell situation is the least of Marcantoni’s concerns. His life, as well as those of dozens of people targeted in the Nicka investigation, is upended by indictments, forfeitures of valuable property, and the need to hire expensive attorneys and make bail. Business reputations are tainted. Children and other family members have to be told something about what’s happening with their father, brother, or son. And then there’s the nagging, unverifiable concern about who’s going to turn state’s evidence-and where else the investigation may turn.

As assistant U.S. attorney Stacy Belf said at a February court hearing, “the case is still under investigation and we keep finding more evidence every day.”

Just who is cooperating is hard to say, but there are cooperators. They’ve already appeared as CW1 and the like, in affidavits filed in the case. And court records show their numbers are growing, even if their names aren’t yet disclosed – as are the numbers of potential targets in the ongoing investigation.

According to court documents, prosecutors have been using a book of photographs of persons of interest in the case to show potential cooperators. When they first made the book on Aug. 12, 2009, it contained nine photographs. As of April 20, there were 118. That’s a lot of people with cause to be nervous.

The Smoke Thickens: $30 million Baltimore-based pot-conspiracy case part of broader investigation

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Mar. 21, 2012

The $30 million cross-country pot conspiracy first alleged by a Maryland federal grand jury in December 2010, involving 32-year-old Baltimore real estate developer Jeremiah Brandon Landsman and 15 others (“Smoked Out,” Mobtown Beat, Feb. 29), is connected to numerous other Maryland criminal cases, court records show. Central figures in the investigation, which involve the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Baltimore County Police Department (BCPD), are another Baltimore developer, 33-year-old Jacob Jeremiah Harryman, and 34-year-old Andrew Jin Park of Pikesville, who pleaded guilty in the mid-2000s to drug and assault charges in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Landsman, whose holdings include storage facilities and properties that house popular Baltimore nightlife destinations, had a role in at least one other recent federal case. The defendants—30-year-old Kevin Brandes of Owings Mills and California, and one of his distributors, 31-year-old Michael Borakove of Locust Point—recently pleaded guilty, admitting that they were involved in moving thousands of pounds of pot shipped to Maryland from California and Canada over the better part of the last decade—a scenario much like the one in Landsman’s pending case.

According to their guilty pleas, Landsman supplied pot to Brandes and Borakove in the early 2000s, and Harryman was one of Brandes’ “biggest customers.” The DEA “developed several cooperators” who purchased “approximately 8,000 pounds of marijuana in the course of the conspiracy” from 2002 to 2010, court documents say.

Initially, the pot in the Brandes/Borakove conspiracy was brought to Maryland from Canada by couriers, who would deliver it to Brandes at the Renaissance Hotel near Harborplace in downtown Baltimore. Later, the pot traveled to Maryland from California in a recreational vehicle, and then, after Brandes moved to California in 2009, he started shipping it by mail. “Brandes was not the ultimate source of supply,” court documents state, “but was always purchasing it from someone else.”

Brandes’ attorney, Kobie Flowers, declined to comment, and Borakove’s attorney, Andrew White, did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment. Landsman’s attorney, Barry Pollack, also declined to comment, as did the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Neither Harryman nor Park is currently facing criminal charges—at least not publicly; if they’ve been charged under seal, there’s no way to confirm it. But in recent years both have lost assets to the federal government in civil court cases, known as forfeiture proceedings, that describe them as large-scale pot dealers. Attempts to reach Harryman and Park for comment, including through lawyers who represented them in the past, were unsuccessful.

Events in November 2010—just prior to the Landsman indictment—were watershed moments in the probe. That’s when conversations between Harryman and Park were intercepted by BCPD investigators, according to a warrant that resulted in more than $125,000 being seized from Harryman’s investment accounts as ill-gotten gains. Law enforcers quickly learned that Park was one of Harryman’s main marijuana suppliers, that Harryman and Park were expecting a large shipment of pot from California that they intended to split for distribution, and that the shipment was being driven across the country by 45-year-old Robert Alan Tryson of Sykesville, court records show.

When Tryson drove into Western Maryland, he was pulled over for speeding and arrested when 90 pounds of pot were found in his car. Tryson, who had no criminal record and worked as director of credit operations for Polk Audio in Baltimore, told investigators he’d been transporting pot for Park for about a year, and would bring Park’s shipments to 33-year-old Jamel Maurice Reid at his Northway Apartments residence in Tuscany-Canterbury. Reid, court records show, has a history of arrests for illegal drugs and firearms and a 2000 drug-dealing conviction.

On Nov. 30, 2010, Reid’s apartment was raided—as were numerous other locations in the Baltimore area. City Paper has not been able to confirm the entire number of places raided and people arrested as a result of the Harryman-Park investigation. At least nine locations were raided, though, and in addition to arresting at least 21 people, the police seized large quantities of marijuana; smaller amounts of cocaine and prescription drugs; guns and ammunition; hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash; numerous cell phones, computers, and documents; and jewelry and other valuables, including vehicles. Forfeiture proceedings then were filed against real estate holdings and money seized from homes, bank accounts, and investment funds.

At least three people caught up in the Harryman-Park investigation faced federal charges: Brandes, Borakove, and 31-year-old Anthony Marcantoni, a co-defendant in Landsman’s case. Marcantoni’s most recent federal charges came when he was on supervised release after serving a prison sentence for prior federal pot-and-fraud convictions, and he is facing a possible life sentence in his current case. Marcantoni allegedly used his Owings Mills business, a martial-arts studio called Ground Control, to aid the conspiracy.

Prior to the November 2010 raids, forfeiture proceedings in federal court have stripped Harryman and Park of assets tied to large-scale pot dealing. In 2005, two properties Park owned in Roland Park and Lutherville were raided, resulting in the seizure of about 110 pounds of pot, almost $19,000 in cash, and paperwork indicating about $500,000 in drug debt owed to Park. Prosecutors settled the case, and Park got to keep the Roland Park home and money that had been seized from his bank accounts, but lost the Lutherville property and the cash found at his home.

In 2008, the federal government sought to keep $12,796 seized by Carroll County police from a house Harryman owned in Pikesville after they raided the place, along with another Harryman-owned house in Westminster. At the Westminster raid, a 243-plant pot-growing operation was in place, and one of the two men there told the raid team, “This is a lot bigger than it seems,” according to court records. Prosecutors settled the forfeiture, allowing Harryman to keep $8,000 of the seized cash.

Most recently, on March 9, federal prosecutors filed a forfeiture action to take four of Harryman’s Baltimore-area rental properties, which are held by two companies Harryman co-owns with another man, 45-year-old Mark Anthony Jones, a military veteran who lives in Owings Mills. The affidavit supporting the forfeiture, written by IRS Special Agent Matthew Hooker, explains that the two companies, First Chesapeake Investment Properties LLC and FCIP II LLC, “purchased 15 real properties between May 2007 and June 2010 for a combined cost of $622,700.”

In interviews with investigators, Harryman’s co-conspirators “stated that, along with distributing marijuana received from Harryman, they also worked for him doing construction and maintenance” on the properties, according to the forfeiture affidavit, and that he paid them in cash. The forfeiture case also seeks to allow the government to take $71,057 in cash and a Breitling Super Avenger wristwatch taken from Harryman’s residence when BCPD and IRS agents raided it in November 2010.

Jones, Harryman’s partner in First Chesapeake and FCIP II, has a luxury-transportation company, How We Roll Inc., that he says provides tour-bus services for high-profile entertainers. He was caught up in the Harryman pot probe—his condominium was one of the locations raided in November 2010—but the charges against him did not result in convictions. In a March 14 phone conversation with City Paper, Jones claims law enforcers “know I’m not part of the conspiracy.”

The raid on Jones’ condo was based on the cops’ faulty interpretation of wiretapped phone conversations he’d had with Harryman, Jones says. “They had wiretaps on Harryman’s phones,” he explains, “and because of a conversation I had with him possibly being encoded, they went on that [as a basis for the warrant]. Look, I’m from New York City, the Bronx, and I don’t talk straight English. I wasn’t talking about drugs or anything else. I mean, I can fight, I can talk shit, I have sex with many women—does that make me a bad person? I could have been talking about anything.”

Jones recently filed suit against BCPD for the return of property seized from him, including $237,000 in cash, six handguns, a cache of loaded magazines and ammunition for those guns, and a bullet-proof vest. Of the federal government’s recent move to take real-property Jones co-owns with Harryman—as well as BCPD’s response to his lawsuit, which states that the $237,000 is in the DEA’s hands “to pursue forfeiture in the federal court system—Jones says, “Oh well.”

As for the nearly quarter-million dollars in cash at his home, Jones says that’s how he gets paid in legitimate business. “I work hard for my money,” he explains. “I travel with high-profile entertainers, and I get paid in cash a lot, and I don’t put all of it in the bank. I mean, it’s not unusual for the people I hang with to have $20,000, $30,000 in cash, and that’s how they pay me. I went to Europe twice with L’il Wayne—that’s the kind of people I’m talking about.” The guns, he says, were lawfully owned: “I have all of them registered, I bought them at gun shops.” He adds, “I’m not guilty of nothing.”

Smoked Out: Baltimore developer revealed as co-defendant in cross-country pot conspiracy

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 29, 2012

When Jeremy Landsman was robbed at gunpoint at a Greektown poker game in 2006, along with 20 other people, he said he hadn’t been playing poker. “I’m in real estate,” he said, explaining the $900 the robbers took from his wallet, which the cops quickly got back for him (“Luck of the Draw,” Mobtown Beat, June 7, 2006), “so I always carry a lot of cash.”

That was 2006, when people in real estate were expected to have fat wallets—but as the real estate market crashed and the Great Recession ensued, Landsman, who’ll turn 32 in March, continued to expand his portfolio. His indeterminately large family of LLCs, many if not most of which have “JBL” in their names, manages and lists for sale others’ properties, and owns or co-owns commercial, storage, and residential properties of its own. The most recent indicator of its near-decade of success was Landsman’s planning-committee role in the International Conference of Shopping Centers (ICSC) conference at the National Harbor on Feb. 21 and 22, with The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol as the keynote speaker.

But even as the ICSC conference was winding down, Landsman’s star was darkening. Since December 2010, he’d secretly been a defendant in a partially sealed marijuana-conspiracy indictment in which the federal government seeks to allow the federal government to take ownership of $30 million worth of allegedly ill-gotten gains. On Feb. 22, this fact was revealed in the court docket, and the next day City Paper obtained a copy of the fully unsealed indictment.

The conspiracy case had been populated by nine named and six unnamed co-defendants accused of moving pot grown in Canada and Northern California to warehouses in Maryland, where it was divvied up for sale in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kansas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, and elsewhere. The scheme the indictment describes was vast and enduring: From at least 2001 until June 2009, the conspirators moved pot and cash using “aircraft, tractor trailers, commercial carrier, trains and other vehicles, including at least one vehicle containing a trap device to secrete items for transport.”

Landsman “distributed marijuana, brokered other conspirators’ purchases of marijuana and maintained several properties used for marijuana distribution,” the indictment alleges.

In addition to seeking forfeiture of $30 million in assets, the indictment aims for the government to keep more than $70,000 in cash seized by law enforcers in 2009 and 2010 and to gain forfeiture of real estate in Sonoma County, Calif., and two properties in Baltimore, including garages behind Keswick Avenue in Hampden owned by JBL Keswick LLC, one of Landsman’s many real estate companies.

“I have no comment,” Landsman, whose legal name is Jeremiah Brandon Landsman, told City Paper over the phone on Feb. 23, before abruptly hanging up.

Barry Pollack, an attorney who says he represents Landsman, sent an e-mailed comment on Feb. 24, stating, “Jeremy Landsman has operated a successful real estate business in Baltimore for nearly a decade. He takes this matter very seriously and has asked me to represent him. We will not comment further until the case has been resolved.”

Early last year, JBL partnered with David Berg, of the Berg Corporation demolition firm, in purchasing the downtown property that houses Sonar, a sizable nightclub across from the Hollywood Diner near City Hall. The purchase occurred after the indictment was handed down but before Sonar’s main owner, Daniel McIntosh, was revealed as a co-defendant in the case (The News Hole, July 8, 2011 ). McIntosh also co-owns McCabe’s Restaurant, a popular eatery on Falls Road in Hampden; JBL is McIntosh’s landlord there too.

The indictment describes McIntosh as a large-scale pot distributor who allegedly “picked up,” “delivered,” and “unloaded large shipments” once they arrived in Maryland. McIntosh and another defendant—Anthony Marcantoni, an alleged large-scale distributor on supervised release for a prior federal pot felony—are the only two whose businesses are named in the indictment. While Marcantoni’s business, a martial-arts studio in Owings Mills called Ground Control, is described in the indictment as having been used in the scheme, McIntosh’s are not.

Marcantoni is facing a possible life sentence if convicted, and is being detained pending trial. His lawyer, Steven Levin, has been fighting—so far unsuccessfully, but with an appeal pending—to have him released to await trial. “Mr. Marcantoni maintains his innocence,” Levin says, “and is looking forward to regaining his freedom pending trial.”

At one of Marcantoni’s detention hearings in the case, Maryland State Police Sgt. Lee Link, who worked out at Ground Control, testified as a character witness, calling Marcantoni “a friend” and “confidant” who “has a good heart” but has “made bad decisions in the past,” according to the hearing transcript. The prosecutor contended that Marcantoni “was facilitating his drug activity . . . right under the noses of law enforcement who use that gym.” Link, reached by phone recently at the MSP’s Glen Burnie Barracks, said “I no longer go to that gym” since Marcantoni’s legal troubles “came to light.”

The case has been marked by intrigue from the start, given that so many names had remained blacked out in court documents. As several of the defendants appeared in court last spring and summer, their identities—Andrew Sharpeta, Keegan Leahy, Sean Costello, Ian Travis Minshall, Michael Phillips, Adam Constantinides, and Joseph Spain, in addition to McIntosh and Marcantoni—were revealed, but little else was, other than the general accusations against them.

When Landsman and the five other sealed defendants—Matt Nicka, David D’Amico, Gretchen Peterson, Jeffrey Putney, and Daniel Fountain—were revealed, more came into focus. State court and real estate records show Landsman’s ties to Nicka, who allegedly “supervised and directed” the scheme’s activities, “recruited conspirators,” and “obtained large quantities of marijuana in exchange for bulk currency payments,” according to the indictment; Putney, who allegedly handled logistics by picking up, delivering, and unloading shipments as he “accessed residences and storage units where marijuana was kept”; and two alleged mid-level dealers, Fountain and Minshall.

In 2009, Minshall was arrested when police executed a search warrant at a JBL-owned property at 3835 Falls Road, next to McCabe’s. The raid turned up approximately 32 pounds of high-grade pot that sells for $5,000 per pound, for a street value of $160,000, along with nearly $17,000 in cash, a money counter, a digital scale, and a heat sealer. Two weeks later, Putney was arrested for large-scale pot possession (prosecutors later declined to proceed with the charges), and the case record gives two addresses for him: one in Santa Cruz, Calif., and the other at a JBL-owned property, 3522 Hickory Ave., in Hampden.

In 2008, a JBL company acquired a home at 1207 Weldon Ave., in Medfield from Anthony Thacker—one of the many aliases the indictment ascribes to Nicka, the conspiracy’s alleged supervisor—for free, and then sold it in 2009 for $226,500. The property is two doors down from the house posted as bail for McIntosh’s release pending trial.

Fountain was picked up by the U.S. Marshal’s service in California in late January on the pot-conspiracy charges, and was described in court papers as a fugitive. In 2007, he incorporated DB5K Gallery, an art gallery in Fells Point, using as a contact address a property near the Baltimore Beltway that is co-owned by Landsman. Fountain and Landsman have shared that address—7203 N. Charles St.—in court records, and Fountain has also used in court records another address at a JBL development on Portugal Street in Fells Point.

On its web site, JBL ( describes 10 of its projects. McCabe’s and Portugal Street are two of them. The others are a Fells Point tavern; a salon on the Avenue in Hampden; a shopping center in Lauraville/Mayfield; storage garages in Highlandtown; the LaTerra building in Hampden, which also has storage garages for rent; the Pinkney Manor apartments in Northwest Baltimore; a retail office building in Arbutus that it converted to mixed use with residences; and the Bell Foundry, a Greenmount West building populated by artists and students. JBL’s real-estate agents, including Landsman, currently list 34 office, retail, restaurant, bar, land, or mixed use properties for sale in Baltimore and surrounding areas, including seven in Washington, D.C. (Disclosure: JBL hosted a City Paper photography exhibit at a property it co-owns at 231-235 Holliday St., near Sonar, in June 2011.)

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to say anything about the case, citing its policy against commenting on pending matters. The trial is scheduled to start on Sept. 11 and last for eight weeks.

Luck of the Draw: Police Bust Gunmen Robbing Greektown Poker Game

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, June 7, 2006

IN A 15-MINUTE PERIOD AROUND 11 P.M. on Thursday, May 25, Baltimore City racked up 21 victims of violent crime in Greektown: 18 armed robberies and three attempted armed robberies. The incident is a blow to the victims and to Mayor Martin O’Malley’s attempts to reduce violent crime in the city—a central theme of his campaign for governor. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the two suspects were caught while robbing $23,827 from a high-stakes poker game, an illegal activity that O’Malley made light of last fall, after police raided two poker games that netted charges against nearly 100 players.

Last Nov. 17, O’Malley discussed the poker raids on WBAL Radio, relating cheekily how he had asked police commanders, “‘How many people do we have assigned to the poker task force? Do you think we could reassign them to the violent-crime and drug task force?’” He continued, “It seems like we’ve become obsessed with poker games. I think there are more deadly challenges facing our city and our citizens.”

As of press time, the police department had not responded to City Paper’s request for information and comment about the Greektown poker robbery. When mayoral spokeswoman Raquel Guillory was asked if the mayor’s thoughts about poker enforcement had changed after the robbery, she had only this to say: “We have a vice squad who, along with other crimes, track these as well. These particular types of games pose a risk to the players because there is usually a large amount of money and the police don’t know about them. But these are illegal.”

One of the victims, criminal defense attorney Stephen L. Prevas (a brother of Baltimore Circuit Court Judge John N. Prevas), rues that the poker-game heist chalked up a host of offenses on the city’s violent-crime tables. “One event that takes 10, 15 minutes,” he points out in a telephone interview after the robbery, “and it skews the statistics.”

Another victim, Jason Thomas Lantz, was pistol-whipped during the incident, according to a police report contained in the court records. “It opened up a nice gash on the guy’s head,” Prevas recalls. “It was ugly, but everybody remained rather calm.”

The timing of the robbery, Prevas adds, was perfect. “Of any time to strike,” he says, “that particular time on a Thursday night was good, to maximize the benefits” of a robbery, because more than the usual amounts of cash were on hand.

Prevas, who represented two dealers charged with gambling in one of last November’s poker raids, would like to see poker legalized and regulated in Maryland. However, “when it is done in this fashion”—illegally, with lots of money on the table—he opines, “the biggest negative is that someone will get robbed. Any time you put a bunch of people with a lot of money in their pockets in one place, it is going to put a gleam in someone’s eye. I may start going to Atlantic City again—it keeps you honest.” Or, he adds, “I may just stay in games that are in someone’s home where I’m familiar with people.” At any rate, Prevas says, “as I understand it, the game will not reopen at that particular place.”

Prevas, who has been a member of the Maryland Bar since 1973, had $1,700 taken from him during the robbery and says that money is now in police hands. He contends that, while a poker game was in progress at the time, he wasn’t playing. “You can infer what you want,” he asserts when asked why he had so much money while watching a poker game. “But in the scheme of things, it’s not that big of a bankroll. I am used to having cash on my person.”

Another victim, real-estate investor Jeremiah B. Landsman, says he had $900 in his wallet when it was taken from him by the robbers. “I got most of it back,” he says, after the police busted the perpetrators. He, too, contends that he wasn’t playing poker. “Everybody knows gambling is illegal,” he states in a phone interview. “And I don’t want to do anything illegal.” As for the amount of money he possessed at the time, he explains that “I’m in real estate, so I always carry a lot of cash.”

While police found $23,827 in the robbers’ bag once they were detained, court records indicate that only $15,429 was attributed to the 18 individuals who were robbed. The court records don’t explain the discrepancy, but the remainder may have belonged to the game’s organizers. “I have nothing to say about the house money,” Landsman says when asked about the differing sums.

The arrested suspects are 31-year-old Todd Mikal of Glen Burnie and 27-year-old Ronnie Lee Jones of Parkville. Mikal is charged with 131 counts, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, although a search of court records shows that this is the first time he’s been charged with a crime in Maryland. Jones was charged with 127 counts in connection with the poker robbery. Court records reveal that, since 1997, Jones has faced 17 charges for crimes including auto theft, illegal firearms, assault, robbery, theft, and juror intimidation. He was never convicted, though in 1999 he received two years of supervised probation before judgment for assault.

According to the police report, the crime was interrupted after one of the victims, Wayne Byers Long Jr., flagged down a passing patrol car and stated that a robbery was in progress at 4600 Eastern Ave. Long’s Parkville address is an apartment a few blocks away from Ronnie Jones’ home. Attempts to reach Long, in order to ask him if he knows the suspect, were unsuccessful.

The robbers, Prevas recalls, entered the back room of the premises through a side door.

“They came in behind a guy who’d been playing in the game fairly regularly,” he says. “[Someone] saw him through the peephole [in the door] and let him in.” One of the robbers “was doing all the talking, and was very loud and intimidating, and the other was the bag man,” who put the cash and wallets into a sack.

Once Long had hailed the police, “in seconds there were bunches of police there,” Prevas continues. “The friendly perps were just finishing up their business, saying ‘Good night and thank you, gentlemen,’ or something to that effect, when three cops appeared at the landing with their guns drawn. One guy gave it up immediately, and the other guy took off out the door,” Prevas recalls. The police quickly chased him down.

“It was a sense of vindication that they actually got caught,” Prevas says.

State records show the owner of 4600 Eastern Ave. to be Pete Koroneos, whose other interests over the years include a strip club and a restaurant on the Block, a Fells Point bar, and the Broadway Diner, located just east of Greektown on Eastern Avenue. A sign for the diner graces the side of the nondescript building that hosted the ill-fated poker game, and is the only identifying mark on the newly painted building other than the street number affixed to the mailbox on the front door. Attempts to reach Koroneos at his Otterbein condominium, in order to ask him about the poker game held in his Greektown property, were unsuccessful.

Landsman and Prevas indicate that the property has long been a home for poker—though Landsman insists that it was “only for fun, only for chips, not money.”

“It’s a men’s club,” he continues, “where we would eat, drink, watch games. It was a really nice group of people and a really good time. I would go once a week. It was a great place to network with other professionals from Baltimore.”

Another victim, Gilbert Roden, is more direct. “It was a bunch of guys that get together and play poker,” he says over the phone.

The list of 21 robbery victims includes 11 people whose names also appear on the membership lists of two other poker clubs: the Owls Nest, which was raided by police last fall, and a related entity called the Orioles Nest (“Fouled Nests,” Nov. 23, 2005). Two of the Greektown victims had been arrested for gambling at the Owls Nest raid, and their charges were later dropped.

None of the poker-playing victims of the Greektown robbery has been charged with a crime—in contrast to the gambling charges that resulted from last November’s raids of the Owls Nest and another game at the Aces High Club on Harford Road. Without police comment, City Paper has not been able to determine whether the decision not to charge the gamblers resulted from O’Malley’s public statements that enforcing the law against poker games squanders police resources.

Landsman, however, says he believes “the police handled [the Greektown poker robbery] perfectly. It was a bad situation with the best possible outcome.” Nonetheless, he states, “obviously, these games draw crime. It’s unfortunate.”

Future of Sonar in Doubt: Shuttered Club’s New Ownership May Involve Milton Tillman III

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, July 18, 2012


Even before Baltimore’s Sonar nightclub suddenly closed after its July 8 show (“Death of a Rock and Roll Club,” Noise, July 9, 2012), plans for its future had already been put in place, public records show.

On June 27, the Baltimore City Liquor License Board received an application to transfer Sonar’s liquor license to Eagle Entertainment LLC, which disclosed in its application papers that it had put up a $10,000 down payment on the $65,000 price tag for the license, with the balance due at closing. The payee, Daniel McIntosh, would be the majority owner of Sonar’s current license. Whether that transaction will actually take place is unclear, though, since the company’s attorney, Neal Janey, told City Paper on July 16 that the application will be withdrawn and a new one will be submitted instead, possibly involving a separate company.

The application’s resubmission would likely delay the potential reopening of the club, which was going to take time and significant investment in any event, given what online photographs of the club last show—damage to the club’s bathroom, at the very least, and a sign announcing a “liquidation sale” of its contents.

Eagle Entertainment’s June 27 liquor-board application lists Brian L. Winfield as the anticipated licensee. Winfield is described in the application as an 80-percent stockholder in the company, with the other 20 percent held by Milton Tillman III.

Tillman III is the son and business partner of Baltimore bail bondsman and real-estate investor Milton Tillman Jr., a three-time federal convict who is currently serving a 51-month prison term for tax-and-insurance fraud and owes $120,000 in restitution. Tillman III was charged in the same 2010 indictment as his father (“Milton Tillman and Son Indicted in Bailbonds Conspiracy,” The News Hole, March 17, 2010) , but the charges against him were dismissed last year as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to failing to file tax returns and received five yeas of probation and a $12,500 restitution order, which he still owes, according to court records.

In 2000, Tillman III survived a gunshot wound after a botched drug deal spawned a violent dispute that left two other men dead, according to court records of the successful federal prosecution of the drug organization involved in the incident. During 2002 court proceedings in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Luna stood up in court and called Tillman Jr. “one of the most notorious drug dealers in Baltimore City history,” adding that “there is no question that Mr. Tillman [III]’s father is a reputed drug dealer, a violent type of guy” (“Grave Accusations,” Mobtown Beat, April 23, 2008). Luna’s lifeless body was found face down in a Pennsylvania stream in 2003, a mysterious and controversial death that continues to haunt law enforcers.

Winfield, who has faced charges of petty theft and bouncing checks, has a history of business dealings with the Tillmans, including at Lucky’s Tavern at 1601 N. Milton Ave., a Tillman-owned property that has been in the Tillman family for years. In 2009, Winfield filed to take over Lucky’s liquor license (“Creative Licensing,” Mobtown Beat, April 9, 2008).

In the liquor-license transfer application for Sonar, Winfield says he worked in the mortgage business until 2009, when he went to work for the Baltimore City Department of Finance until Aug. 2010. Since 2006, according to the application, he’s also worked for Baltimore Winfield Showcase, which its website describes as a vending-machine and catering-equipment rental business.

Calls to Winfield and the attorney who filed the liquor-license application, Melvin Kodenski, were not returned. Tillman III, though, spoke briefly to CP on July 12, confirming that he’s “just a stakeholder” in Eagle Entertainment, and that “I’m not going on the license at all.” He then cut short the conversation, saying he wanted his lawyer, Neal Janey, to handle the interview. Later that day, Janey said that Tillman III “is not a 20-percent owner,” and that “the information in that application is incorrect.” Asked if Tillman III would have any involvement at all in the proposed club, Janey said “the only possible involvement would be as a contingent guarantor” on Eagle Entertainment’s debt.

On July 16, Janey informed CP that “the application will be withdrawn; a new application will be filed” that reflects that Tillman III “will have no interest in the business,” though he allowed that it is “still possible” that Tillman III will be a contingent guarantor. “It will probably even be a different LLC [than Eagle Entertainment] that will be involved in the transaction now.”

Under McIntosh, Sonar is alleged to have played a role in a massive, cross-country marijuana conspiracy, currently being prosecuted by the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office (“Feds Namedrop Baltimore’s Sonar Nightclub in New Pot-Conspiracy Indictment,” The News Hole, April 12, 2012). McIntosh is one of 16 people charged in the case, and, unlike most of his alleged co-conspirators, has not pleaded guilty; he is scheduled for trial in September. Baltimore developer Jeremy Landsman (“Smoked Out,” Mobtown Beat, February 29, 2012), a stakeholder in the LLC that owns Sonar’s building, pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy in June. In his plea, he admits that a number of his property-owning LLCs—including the one that owns the Hampden property where another McIntosh business, McCabe’s Tavern, is located—also played a role in the conspiracy.

Since shortly after Sonar closed July 8, McIntosh has been telling CP that he intends to post a prepared statement online to explain his ordeal with the club, including why it shut down, and that he would grant an interview about the situation once he had done so. As of press time, the statement had not been posted on Sonar’s website or Facebook page, and McIntosh has not responded to CP’s emails since July 13.