Former Sonar Co-Owner Dan McIntosh Convicted, but Spared Mandatory Life Sentence

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Nov. 7, 2012

After a 25-day trial, Daniel McIntosh and Keegan Leahy were convicted on Nov. 1 by a federal jury that was convinced each played roles in a 16-member pot-dealing and money-laundering conspiracy (“Risky Business,” Feature, Aug. 15)—but not all the roles prosecutors alleged.

For McIntosh, the erstwhile co-owner of Sonar, the shuttered downtown Baltimore nightclub, the verdict means he will be spared the mandatory life sentence he would have faced, thanks to his prior pot convictions, if he’d been convicted of dealing 1,000 kilograms or more of weed (The News Hole, Sept. 13). Instead, the jury held him accountable for 100 kilograms or more, so he’s facing a mandatory minimum of 10 years, with the possibility of life.

The jury was not informed of the fact that one of the drug witnesses who took the stand against McIntosh, Andrew Lloyd, tested positive for heroin shortly after testifying (“Drug Test Shows McIntosh Trial Witness on Heroin,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 24), which McIntosh’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, sought to introduce as evidence.

McIntosh was also convicted of helping the conspiracy launder money, though not in connection with Sonar—the trial evidence of Sonar’s cash deposits being connected to drug dealing appeared flimsy (“Dollars and Sense,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 17). He was also acquitted of maintaining drug-involved premises at Sonar and at a house on Weldon Avenue in Medfield, but was found guilty of interstate travel to promote crime.

Leahy, meanwhile, faces a maximum five-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute less than 50 kilograms of pot and for interstate travel to promote crime. He was acquitted of money-laundering charges. He has no prior criminal convictions, so will likely be punished leniently.

Both men are scheduled to be sentenced on April 1, according to Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Marcia Murphy, who adds that McIntosh, who was free pending trial, is now jailed until then, while Leahy will remain on release.

Dollars and Sense: McIntosh trial includes flimsy evidence of pot-money laundering at Sonar

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Oct. 17, 2012

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Before the Sept. 11 start of the federal pot-conspiracy trial involving Daniel McIntosh, the erstwhile co-owner of Sonar nightclub in downtown Baltimore, prosecutors already had proven much about the alleged $30 million, Baltimore-based, cross-country marijuana business in which McIntosh is accused of participating (“Risky Business,” Feature, Aug. 15). They had, after all, secured guilty pleas from 10 co-defendants, who admitted to a large body of facts about the nearly decade-long scheme. But proving beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury the criminal accusations they’ve leveled against McIntosh and Keegan Leahy, the alleged operation’s pilot, who is also on trial, has been a complex undertaking – and not without pitfalls.

A central challenge for the prosecutors – assistant U.S. attorneys Deborah Johnston and Mara Greenberg – has been that, in essence, they are staging two trials: one against McIntosh and the other against Leahy, as the two men occupy distinct corners of the alleged conspiracy. McIntosh is accused of laundering drug money through Sonar and of picking up, delivering, and unloading pot shipments to Maryland-essentially a hands-on, street-level role in Baltimore, relatively far down the organizational chart. Leahy, meanwhile, is accused of helping to purchase, operate, and rent airplanes, which he piloted, to transport pot and cash across the country-a higher level role, involving some of the alleged conspiracy’s top leaders, and having very little to do with Baltimore other than occasionally touching down at airports in the region.

Putting on such a case has been further complicated by the efforts of McIntosh’s court-appointed attorney, Carmen Hernandez, to undermine the testimony of an important government witness: Timothy Green, an Internal Revenue Service criminal investigator.

Green probed the bank accounts of McIntosh and Sonar, ostensibly proving to the jury that, as he put it on the witness stand, McIntosh made “cash deposits commingled with proceeds derived from the sale of drugs.” To do so, Green prepared a summary chart of his findings, showing cash deposits made in six bank accounts, four of them in Sonar’s name, in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Even though Sonar was a cash-heavy business, based on its large crowd of alcohol-purchasing patrons, Green testified that such large cash deposits are evidence of drug-money laundering.

The problem, though, as Hernandez showed the jury, is that Green’s chart failed to include about $82,643 in cash deposits made in 2007 just prior to McIntosh’s control of the accounts-thus making it appear that large cash deposits only started after McIntosh took the reins. What’s more, the chart did not include cash deposits made to Sonar’s accounts during 2006, when Sonar’s bank accounts were controlled by its prior owner, Lonnie Fisher. During that year, Hernandez showed, Sonar’s accounts had $616,378.25 in cash deposits-more than the approximately $500,000 in cash deposits that were made during the entire three years that Green investigated when McIntosh controlled the accounts.

“McIntosh’s money was pot money, but Lonnie Fisher’s money wasn’t?” Hernandez asked. She added, “there were the same, or more, in cash deposits in 2006 – does that give you pause as to your conclusion [that McIntosh was laundering drug money]?” Green responded, “No.”

In addition, Green looked at McIntosh’s personal bank account and one in the name of another business he controlled, Independent Investments, Inc. The cash deposits made to McIntosh’s personal account amounted to $48,100 over three years, an average of $16,033 per year, Green testified. The Independent Investments account, meanwhile, had a total of about $40,000 in cash deposits during those three years.

“Doesn’t sound like 1,000-kilogram marijuana-conspirator money, does it?” Hernandez asked. Green demurred on that question, but when Hernandez pointed out that the man at the top of the conspiracy – Matthew Nicka (pictured), who remains a fugitive – made $16 million over one and a half years, Green confirmed the information. “I had heard that, yes,” he said.

McIntosh has much at stake in the trial. He has four prior pot-related convictions-three from 1998, when he was charged as a result of an investigation in Hanover, Pa., and one in 2005 in Baltimore County. Prosecutors will use them, presumably, to color McIntosh as a shameless, long-term pot dealer. The most dire consequence of McIntosh’s prior convictions, though, may kick in if the jury finds him guilty of possessing with intent to distribute 1,000 or more kilograms of weed. If that happens, federal sentencing law* dictate he serve a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

*Correction: McIntosh’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, points out that federal law, not federal sentencing guidelines, require a mandatory life sentence should McIntosh be convicted of possessing with the intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, due to his prior convictions.

Judgment Day: Dan McIntosh’s pot-conspiracy co-defendants to be sentenced in the coming days

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Nov. 14, 2012

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Now that a federal trial jury has found former Sonar co-owner Daniel McIntosh and Keegan Leahy guilty of some of the counts against them (Mobtown Beat, Nov. 7) in the massive, 16-defendant indictment alleging a cross-country, decade-long pot-dealing conspiracy (“Risky Business,” Feature, Aug. 15), the rest of the defendants who answered the charges with guilty pleas will soon meet their fates.

Four – Matt Nicka (pictured above), Gretchen Peterson, David D’Amico (pictured below), and Jeffrey Putney – remain fugitives and, thus, will suffer the peculiar penalty of being on the run. But the 10 who pleaded guilty before trial are scheduled to receive their sentences in the coming weeks and months.

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What follows describes the facts each admits is true, the counts to which they pleaded guilty, and the dates and times of their scheduled sentencing hearings, if available. All of the hearings will take place before U.S. District Judge Roger Titus in Courtroom 2C of the U.S. District Courthouse in Greenbelt, Md., located at 6500 Cherrywood Lane.

Joseph Spain

Alias: “Goose”

Scheduled sentencing: TBD

Guilty count: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: From about March 2008 until about March 2009, Spain served the conspiracy as a truck driver, bringing seven loads of weed to Maryland from California. He did so at the behest of Sharpeta and “solicited his brother Jeffrey Spain to assist with some of the trips.” The first trip was a 50-pound “test load” of pot, and the remaining six “ranged from 100 to 300 pounds.”

Amount of weed attributed to Spain: at least 400 kilograms, but less than 700 kilograms.

Sean Costello

Alias: “Chong”

Scheduled sentencing: TBD

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: There were two time frames for Costello’s involvement in the conspiracy: from about January 2003 until August 2006, and from the spring of 2008 to June 2009. During his first stint, Costello was busted while bringing about 30 pounds of pot on a train from Baltimore to Florida for D’Amico. During his second stint, Costello worked with D’Amico and Leahy, a pilot, to set up a business that owned and operated a small jet for transporting pot and money back and forth across the country and also helped the conspiracy launder money.

Amount of weed attributed to Costello: at least 400 kilograms.

Pot proceeds received by Costello: at least $50,000.

Michael Phillips

Scheduled sentencing: Jan. 15, 8:30 A.M.

Guilty count: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Phillips was “a mid-level dealer and distributor” who, between 2008 and July 2009, obtained pot from co-conspirators and distributed it in Pennsylvania. He arranged for deliveries via Peterson and traveled to Baltimore to pick them up from Andrew Sharpeta and others. On April 20, 2011, when he was arrested, Phillips acknowledged his role in the scheme.

Amount of weed attributed to Phillips: more than 100 kilograms, but less than 400 kilograms.

Andrew Sharpeta

Aliases: “Ken Thomas,” “Bird”

Scheduled sentencing: Nov. 19, 9 A.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Sharpeta was “directly involved with all aspects of the marijuana conspiracy” from about June 2008 to about June 2009, “including collecting monies, arranging for the transportation and storage of marijuana by airplane and tractor trailer, receiving orders for marijuana, transporting bulk currency to marijuana suppliers, and delivering large quantities of marijuana to mid-level dealers in and around Baltimore.” He also laundered money by participating in transactions “designed to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership and control” of the pot-dealing proceeds, including “transporting bulk currency across state lines, renting a warehouse under an alias for the receipt, division, and distribution of marijuana, and purchasing a van for the storage and transport of large quantities of marijuana.”

Amount of weed attributed to Sharpeta: more than 1,000 kilograms, but less than 3,000 kilograms.

Pot proceeds received by Sharpeta: about $250,000.

Ian Travis Minshall

Scheduled sentencing: Nov. 19, 12 P.M.

Guilty count: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Minshall was a “mid-level dealer and distributor” for the conspiracy who “maintained” a property – 3835 Falls Road, owned by a company tied to co-conspirator Jeremiah Landsman – “for the purpose of storing and distributing marijuana.” In March 2009, Baltimore County police raided the place and seized 32 pounds of pot, nearly $16,000 in cash, digital scales, and two cell phones, all of which Minshall admits was part of the conspiracy.

Adam Constantinides

Aliases: “Matthew Thomas Anderson,” “Mike,” “Bossman,” “Ted,” and “A.D.D.”

Scheduled sentencing: Nov. 19, 3 P.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: A “mid-level dealer and distributor” for the conspiracy, Constantinides from 2002 until March 2009 handled “substantial quantities” of pot in Maryland: from 10 to 35 pounds every two weeks “when marijuana was in season,” and “up to 50 pounds on at least one occasion,” paying between $2,600 and $4,000 per pound. In addition, from 2006 until March 2009, Constantinides helped the conspiracy manage its money, using proceeds to rent vehicles and lease space to transport and store marijuana.

Amount of weed attributed to Constantinides: at least 700 kilograms.

Pot proceeds received by Constantinides: at least $50,000.

Anthony Marcantoni

Alias: “Mr. Purple”

Scheduled sentencing: Dec. 10, 3 P.M.

Guilty count: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: From 2008 through January 2011, Marcantoni “regularly obtained large shipments of marijuana” – from 50 to 250 pounds, as often as twice per month – “and also arranged for other individuals to receive large shipments on his behalf.” He received deliveries “at various locations in Baltimore,” including “the parking lot outside of the Whole Foods in the Mount Washington neighborhood.” He paid his pot suppliers “more than ten times,” giving them “more than $100,000” on “multiple occasions.” Marcantoni’s main supplier awarded his “performance selling marijuana” with “a Rolex watch.”

Amount of weed attributed to Marcantoni: more than 700 kilograms, but less than 1,000 kilograms.

Daniel Fountain

Alias: Danny Boy

Scheduled sentencing: Dec. 18, 2 P.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Fountain, “a mid-level dealer and distributor” for the conspiracy, rented a Landsman-owned house on Hickory Avenue in Hampden and subleased it to D’Amico. When the house was raided in March 2009, law enforcers found much evidence to advance their probe, including more than 100 pounds of pot, $20,000 in cash, 31 cell phones, and records about the small jet that Costello, D’Amico, and Leahy were purchasing to help transport weed and cash. From 2003 until August 2009, Fountain helped the conspiracy manage its money by handling rental payments for property used to stash pot and proceeds, using “at least one art gallery that he owned to conceal and launder proceeds,” and attempting to purchase the Hickory Avenue property from Landsman.

Like Landsman, Fountain also lied to the federal grand jury investigating the conspiracy. At his August 2009 appearance before the jury, for which he was subpoenaed, Fountain made “several false statements,” including “lying about D’Amico’s identity, how D’Amico came to rent” the Hickory Avenue property, and “his contact with D’Amico” while D’Amico lived there. Fountain “also presented a false and fraudulent lease agreement to the grand jury.”

Finally, Fountain went on the lam “for over a year” after the case was first indicted in December 2010, “living under an alias. While fleeing from the U.S. Marshal’s Service, at times Fountain abandoned property, used eight different cell phones, and obtained a government-issued identification in the name of his false identity.”

Ryan Forman

Scheduled sentencing: Dec. 19, 11:30 A.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: From 2006 until March 2009, Forman “assisted the conspiracy by locating and introducing large-scale local distributors to receive and distribute marijuana in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.” He also assisted with the rental and purchase of aircraft the conspiracy used to move pot and cash back and forth across the country, and came to Maryland at least twice “to deliver multiple Rolex watches to Nicka,” who “gave them to his co-conspirators as Christmas bonuses.” Forman also helped manage the conspiracy’s pot proceeds, depositing about $430,000 in cash into bank accounts and transferring proceeds to other accounts so it could be used to rent or purchase aircraft. In all, the money-laundering transactions involving Forman amounted to “more than $400,000 but not more than $1,000,000 in proceeds of the marijuana conspiracy.”

Amount of weed attributed to Forman: over 400 kilograms, but less than 700 kilograms.

Jeremiah Landsman

Alias: Jeremy Landsman

Scheduled sentencing: Jan. 7, 2 P.M.

Guilty counts: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Admitted facts under plea agreement: Landsman, a Baltimore developer who operates a host of companies related to his JBL Real Estate, headquartered in Fells Point, “personally distributed at least 100 kilograms of marijuana, brokered other conspirators’ purchases of marijuana, and maintained several properties used for marijuana storage and distribution.”

Between about June 2003 and August 2009, Landsman helped the conspiracy launder money by participating in “several financial transactions involving at least $400,000 but less than $1,000,000 in proceeds of the marijuana conspiracy.” Among the methods he used was to facilitate 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.

Landsman also lied to the federal grand jury investigating the conspiracy when he was subpoenaed to testify in October 2009, making “several false statements,” including “lying about D’Amico’s identity, his contact with D’Amico” while D’Amico lived at a Hampden property at 3522 Hickory Ave. that was owned by a Landsman-related company, and “his knowledge of and involvement with” Nicka. Landsman “further lied about his knowledge of and involvement in” the marijuana conspiracy, “as well as his knowledge of and involvement [with] several members” of the conspiracy.

Former Sonar and Talking Head co-owner Dan McIntosh got the best pot-conspiracy sentence he could: a decade in prison.

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Mar. 26, 2014

When law enforcers first picked up Daniel Gerard McIntosh in 2011 on charges that he was involved in a massive cross-country, decade-long pot-trafficking and money-laundering conspiracy, he failed to recognize how much trouble he was facing, according to the lead prosecutor in the federal case against him and 15 others, Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Johnston. McIntosh, Johnston said in court on March 20, told his arresting officers: “Listen, I don’t believe for one minute my government’s going to sentence me to life in prison for selling marijuana.”

It turns out McIntosh, a co-owner of the now-defunct downtown Baltimore nightclubs Sonar and Talking Head, as well as McCabe’s in Hampden, was right.

At McIntosh’s sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Md., U.S. District Judge Roger Titus ended up giving him the statutorily mandated 10-year minimum sentence, followed by eight years of supervised release. Prosecutors had sought 20 years – a term Titus called “way in excess” of what McIntosh’s conduct deserved.

But until Titus pronounced McIntosh’s sentence just after 2 p.m., after about four hours of proceedings, the threat of being in prison until his 70th birthday approached, or even dying there, theoretically hung over the 38-year-old’s head.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, tabulated as a result of rulings Titus made during the hearing about McIntosh’s criminal history and the amounts of pot ascribed to him as part of the conspiracy, as well as his role in the enterprise, McIntosh should be getting 30 years to life in prison. As Titus remarked after he’d determined the categories into which McIntosh falls, the guidelines’ calculation “produces a big number,” whereupon McIntosh’s court-appointed attorney, Carmen Hernandez, exclaimed “Outrageous!”

In the end, though, Titus called the 30-to-life recommendation “greatly in excess” of what McIntosh deserved and indicated that even the mandatory 10-year sentence was too harsh, saying a “10-year sentence for what this man has been involved in is a very stiff sentence.”

While McIntosh was convicted of conspiring to traffic in 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, participating in a money-laundering conspiracy, and interstate travel in aid of the conspiracy, the jury at his six-week trial in the fall of 2012 acquitted him of participating at a higher, 1,000-kilogram-or-more level, laundering money through Sonar, and maintaining Sonar and a house in Medfield as drug-involved premises.

In an apparent attempt to take the edge off the sentence, Titus promised to make recommendations to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that “could reduce time” for McIntosh, saying there is “something salvageable about this defendant” and that “I have hope for you,” predicting he could “emerge from this a better man. It’s up to you.”

McIntosh has been incarcerated since his conviction in late 2012, so his release date should come in 2022 – or earlier, should he qualify for the limited early-release options afforded by the federal prison system.

During the hearing, Hernandez made impassioned factual arguments gleaned from evidence in the case, determining that the amount of pot McIntosh actually had been responsible for was 136 to 318 kilograms rather than the 2,066 kilograms Johnston had estimated to the court. Hernandez also tried mightily to persuade Titus that several of McIntosh’s prior convictions should not be counted in calculating whether he should be dubbed a career criminal, triggering the 10-year mandatory minimum, and that McIntosh was a “worker” in the conspiracy, not a “manager or supervisor,” as Johnston asserted.

Ultimately, Titus held McIntosh responsible for 954 kilograms of weed-the amount he’d determined after a hearing last year that resulted in a $6.3 million preliminary forfeiture order against McIntosh, which became permanent with his sentencing. Titus also agreed with Johnston that McIntosh was a manager or supervisor and dubbed him a career offender.

While Titus did not include in his calculations McIntosh’s 2004 Baltimore County pot-related conviction, ruling it was part of the conspiracy charged in the current case, he counted four others: a 2004 Baltimore City valium-possession conviction and three pot-related convictions in York County, Pa., arising from conduct committed over a one-month period in 1998 that had resulted in a two-year prison sentence.

The top three members charged in the conspiracy have not yet appeared to face the charges. Matt Nicka and Gretchen Peterson were arrested last summer in Canada, and David D’Amico, according to a press release from the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s office, is awaiting extradition from Colombia. A fourth, Jeffrey Putney, presumably remains a fugitive. Johnston told Titus during McIntosh’s hearing that some of those still awaiting their fate in the case will appear before him “in the hopefully not too distant future.”

When McIntosh entered the courtroom at the beginning of the day’s proceedings, his most obvious health problem – degenerative arthritis – was manifest: He limped in, aided by a cane. He also suffers from Lyme disease, Hernandez said during the hearing. When McIntosh made his statement to Titus, given while seated rather than standing, as is customary, due to his infirmity, he opened with a reference to the loquaciousness which earned him the nickname “Talking Dan.”

“First of all,” said McIntosh, still bearing his trademark mustache and soul patch, “I’d like to apologize because it is going to be difficult for me to speak, which is new to me.” He proceeded to sketch out a difficult childhood when he “felt abandoned by my father,” which “made me callous and mean.” This upbringing prompted him to seek solace in intoxicants at an early age, starting with beer and cigarettes at 11 years old, progressing by the time he was 17 to “crack, heroin, everything,” he explained, since he found that, through drugs, “I could alter how bad I felt.” He had “no reason to trust anyone” and “wound up in jail,” an “absolute hell” that he “came out [of] knowing that I had to do something better.” Though “I knew that I couldn’t fix everything,” he “had to take steps,” and he now wishes “that I had made them faster.”

“I got off [hard] drugs but I was still miserable,” McIntosh continued. “Music literally saved my life,” he explained, crediting Bob Dylan and other titans of the modern music pantheon as “my teachers,” helping him to “figure out a new way of thinking” and to “find a way of not being so abrasive.” McIntosh “obviously still was involved in marijuana,” he explained, and those “were not good choices,” but at the time, he thought “I could not inflict pain on people” by being so involved-“I have a different view of it now,” he said.

Eventually, as the years passed, “music and art gave me a place to be helpful.” He found that “I could be somebody, for the first time in my life, that I could be proud of”-though “not without mistakes.” He learned that “my most important job was actually my children,” and “the fact that this is happening is almost unimaginable.”

He tearfully told Titus that “when you love your children as much as I love mine, sir, two days away from them . . . 10 years, 20 years . . . I don’t know how my mind can even comprehend that.” Confirming the words Johnston attributed to him when he was first arrested, McIntosh told Titus that “I had no sense that I would ever get into this kind of trouble” and that “I was so stupid for not understanding the possibility of 20, 30, life.”

McIntosh also broke down in tears as numerous people testified on his behalf, pleading for the judge’s mercy. The principal of the Medfield school attended by McIntosh’s children called him a “decent and generous man” as he described the toll McIntosh’s post-trial incarceration since late 2012 had taken on their school performance. A businessman who coordinates volunteers for local shelters, who spoke of McIntosh “perpetually volunteering,” called him “contrite” and “a good guy.”

Roman Kuebler, McIntosh’s former partner in Talking Head and the frontman of the Oranges Band, credited McIntosh for having “really validated all of the things I’ve been doing in my life with art and music.” McIntosh’s stepfather called him a “difficult teenager” who “turned himself around” to become “an excellent father.” His wife, Danielle McIntosh, implored for leniency, saying “I really need my partner back,” as “I don’t have any help” raising their children.

John Bourgeois, a prominent Baltimore criminal-defense attorney, spoke highly of McIntosh at the hearing, describing him to Titus as “forthright and candid”-and called the guideline sentence of 30 years to life “horrific, out of all proportion in a civilized society.”

The 10-year mandatory minimum, Bourgeois added, “is a massive sentence.”

In an email to City Paper after the hearing, Bourgeois opined that “the government took an especially harsh approach to Dan because he insisted upon standing on his Constitutional rights by putting the government to its proof” and that “the sentence vindicates Dan’s decision to go to trial” because “my understanding is that Judge Titus sentenced Dan to substantially less time than the government offered in plea negotiations.”

 

Titus explained that part of his job at sentencing is to “avoid disparities” in penalties given the various co-defendants in a case, while assuring that a message of deterrence is delivered-and Hernandez tried to assist by pointing out the fates of others caught up in the investigation that snared McIntosh. One in particular she singled out: Jacob Jeremiah Harryman, a real-estate developer who was one of the first people arrested among many, though he was not charged in the federal case.

Hernandez told the court that Harryman was videotaped by detectives saying he got “a million dollars a month” at the height of his pot-dealing, yet today he is “out on the street.” Harryman “was not a nice man,” Hernandez said, yet “he got to keep most of that money” and “was way over Mr. McIntosh in terms of profit and drug-dealing,” asking “is that the message” of deterrence that should be sent?

Harryman, reached by phone, said he had “no comment” about Hernandez’s characterizations. Court records show he currently has an electrical-contracting company that recently settled a lawsuit over unpaid wages to nine workers-though a tenth one continues to press the matter.

During the hearing, Titus went down the list of McIntosh’s co-defendants who have already been sentenced-all but one of whom accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty rather than go trial. Andrew Sharpeta, Titus said, got 63 months in prison after cooperating and testifying at trial. Sean Costello got 57 months, and Daniel Fountain got 96 months. Ian Travis Minshall, who got 48 months, was “comically stupid,” Titus said, for continuing his pot-dealing career after using it to pay his way through West Virginia University. Michael Phillips got 70 months, and Ryan Foreman got two years. Jeremiah “Jeremy” Landsman, a Baltimore developer who procured properties useful for the conspirators’ drug-dealing operations and helped launder money, got 57 months. Adam Constantinides cooperated and got 70 months. Joseph Spain, who had “very grave health problems,” Titus explained, got a one-day sentence, deemed already served. Titus called Keegan Leahy, who got 36 months after being convicted of some charges at trial with McIntosh, a “foolish man” who piloted airplanes in support of the conspiracy.

Of those convicted, Titus had the most damning words for Anthony Marcantoni, a previously convicted pot dealer who did five years in federal prison and came out to open Ground Control Academy martial-arts studio in Owings Mills-while also immediately resuming work as a pot dealer. Marcantoni “did not please me at all,” Titus said, calling him an “absolutely incorrigible person” who benefited from a “very generous plea agreement” obtained through “skilled negotiations,” resulting in “the highest sentence in this case so far,” 121 months-a month more than McIntosh.

Hernandez sought to minimize McIntosh’s role compared to these others, saying he did not, as others did, use fake identification; go on the lam; have attorneys’ fees paid by Nicka; or perjure himself to the grand jury investigating the matter, as did Landsman and Fountain (who also ran from the charges until being caught and brought back from California). Hernandez argued that “perjury before a grand jury is more damning to our system of justice than marijuana.”

 

McIntosh realized “so little enrichment” from his involvement in the conspiracy, Hernandez continued, that “it just boggles the mind that he is the person the government paints.” She added that Sharpeta, Minshall, and Landsman were “people who were integrally involved” and that “this conspiracy could not have run without them,” but McIntosh “had stopped” his involvement “more than two years” before the indictment came down in late 2010.

Johnston, though, while asserting “this is a sad day for all of us” and that she has “deep sympathy” for McIntosh’s wife and children, urged a long sentence for McIntosh. “He got a second chance” after his Pennsylvania convictions landed him in prison for two years, she said, but “he ignored that.” McIntosh’s crimes caused harm, Johnston said, because “we don’t know how many kids” ended up smoking the pot he dealt, causing them to miss school and waste opportunities for advancement, “so there is still an impact on the community.” And while the other conspirators “accepted responsibility,” McIntosh “has not done that,” which is “the first step” to rehabilitation. Given “the harm he has done” due to “his own selfish acts,” she urged a 20-year sentence, “well below the guideline range” of 30 years to life.

After the hearing, while chatting with well-wishers and McIntosh’s family and friends in the courthouse parking lot, Hernandez was almost embarrassed to be celebrating the outcome. “It’s a warped system,” she said, “that, for a non-violent marijuana offender, I’m celebrating that he got 10 years.”

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

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 15, 2012

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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.

Late to the Party: David D’Amico Extradited From Colombia To Answer 2010 Federal Pot-Trafficking And Money-Laundering Indictment In Maryland

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Sept. 9, 2014

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David D’Amico turned 50 a week before his Aug. 28 appearance in Maryland U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, where he consented to pre-trial detention in a massive 2010 pot-trafficking and money-laundering case in which most of his 15 co-defendants—including Daniel McIntosh, co-owner of defunct Baltimore nightclub Sonar—are serving prison sentences. He looked a shadow of his formerly beefy, smiling self, as seen in the “Most Wanted” photo of him distributed by the U.S. Marshals Service in early 2013 (pictured), when he was a fugitive. Now, having been extradited from Colombia, D’Amico looks gaunt and tired—every day of his age, and then some. Five years on the run seems to have depleted him.

D’Amico’s name is peppered throughout the voluminous transcripts of the seven-week trial in the case, which ended on Nov. 1, 2012, when McIntosh and Canadian pilot Keegan Leahy were convicted of several charges—though acquitted of the most serious ones—that they have since appealed. D’Amico was described as a top player in the decade-long, cross-country, $30-million scheme, the man who oversaw its day-to-day operations in three arenas—transportation, wholesale distribution, and finance and real estate—and harbored ambitions of taking the reins from the conspiracy’s overall leader, Matt Nicka, who now, along with his wife, Gretchen Peterson, is in the hands of Canadian authorities as the U.S. seeks their return to face the charges.

With D’Amico’s extradition from Colombia and appearance in Maryland federal court, a jury may yet get to weigh the evidence against him. Neither D’Amico’s court-appointed attorneys—Richard Finci and Jennifer Mayer—nor assistant U.S. attorney Deborah Johnston would comment on the case, but existing court records bring the story of D’Amico’s alleged dealings into tight focus.

The D’Amico narrative that played out before the McIntosh/Leahy jury started in early 2000s, when co-defendant Sean Costello—an energy consultant from Hawaii at the time of his 2012 guilty plea in the case—was D’Amico’s roommate from 2003 to 2005. Costello recalled for the jury that D’Amico was a concert promoter and day-trader in stocks who sold concessions at large events like the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. In 2003, after “a Phish concert in Miami” where “we did our normal orange juice plus alcohol sales,” Costello said, he, D’Amico, and Nicka “started distributing weed” at a rate of “50 to 100 pounds per month,” with Costello helping move it from Baltimore to Atlanta and Miami, and “money back the other direction.”

At this stage, Costello continued, Nicka would call “breakfast” meetings in “downtown Baltimore” between “most of the people in the conspiracy”—anywhere from six to 10 people, including D’Amico—where they “just caught up with each other personally.” While they ate and socialized, Nicka would “talk with people individually and pull them outside” to discuss “how many pounds of weed they needed or wanted” and “how much money they owed Matt for said weed.”

The last such meeting Costello attended was in June 2005, he testified, because “I was arrested either that day or the day after” by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration while “on a train from Baltimore to Miami” with “24 pounds of marijuana” that belonged to D’Amico and Nicka. D’Amico paid for Costello’s attorney and offered him “50 grand” if “I kept my mouth shut,” Costello recalled. He did, in a sense—Costello admitted he actually told agents a mixture of truth and lies about the pot’s provenance, saying he’d gotten it from a “an over-weight white male of Russian decent” at the train station, and that he was being paid $2,000 by a someone he only knew as “Man”—and served six months’ incarceration in Florida for the crime.

In early 2007, after Costello’s release, D’Amico dropped in on him in Orlando, Florida, and “was trying to convince me to get back into selling and distributing weed,” Costello testified. D’Amico drove him to meet with Nicka in Jensen Beach, Florida, and “I think Matt assumed that I was going to get back into helping them sell and distribute weed, which I didn’t want to do at the time,” Costello continued.

A little over a year later, in May 2008, though, Costello helped the conspiracy by introducing D’Amico to a pilot—Leahy—to fly pot and money back and forth across the country. “Back in 2004, 2005,” he explained, “we had always been looking for a pilot so that we could fly instead of drive, because there’s quite a bit of money that was seized by the government during that time for traffic stops” and “you can’t get pulled over by the cops in the air.”

Costello had gotten to know Leahy after they’d first met in 2006, when they explored developing a solar energy plant in south Florida. Leahy “fit the personality type of the people that we work with,” Costello explained, adding that he “seemed cool” and that he “was the only pilot I knew.”  So “I asked him if he wanted to fly for a friend of mine,” Costello continued, but “I wasn’t going to tell him that it was distributing thousands of pounds of weed.”

Shortly after Costello introduced D’Amico to Leahy, the three set out to buy an airplane, a Lancair IV-P, and title it in the name of a company they formed, Air Sky Holdings. Before it ever made a trip for the conspiracy, though, Leahy damaged it so badly in a crash that it was never used. So Leahy instead piloted a leased Cessna 400, the fastest single-engine production aircraft on the market, and by all appearances he was simply D’Amico’s personal pilot—though Costello pointed out that, given the strong and distinctive odor that loads of pot give off, it would be hard not to suspect what was inside of the bags with which D’Amico travelled. When the bags were filled with cash, Costello testified that they held up to “$500,000 at a time.”

Costello eventually wanted out of the arrangement, he testified, and in February 2009 met D’Amico in Boston “to get rid of my responsibility with Air Sky Holdings” and “dump everything on to Dave hopefully.” It didn’t work, though, and in early March, 2009, Costello met D’Amico in Baltimore at D’Amico’s rented house on Hickory Avenue in Hampden—a house owned by a company controlled by co-defendant Jeremiah “Jeremy” Landsman, a Baltimore real-estate developer who is currently in prison after pleading guilty in the case—and watched as a load of pot was shipped into and out of the house. Then, Costello continued, he, D’Amico, Leahy, and another person went to “some state airport . . . near Baltimore” and tried, unsuccessfully due to the snowy weather, to fly out with a duffel bag full of money. The inside of the plane, Costello said, “smelled like weed.”

 

A few weeks later, D’Amico summoned Costello and Leahy to San Francisco. “He seemed very agitated,” Costello recalled. It turned out that the Hickory Avenue house had been raided by police, who had found nearly 100 pounds of pot, about 30 cell phones, money counters, scales, $20,000 in cash, and documentation of more than $1.5 million in drug transactions, including the names of customers and suppliers. Also in the house were documents about the Lancair, connecting it to D’Amico, Costello, and Leahy. Just prior to the raid, another co-conspirator—Jeffrey Putney, who is now the sole remaining fugitive in the case—had been arrested immediately after coming out of the house, because the cops who had been tailing him saw him drop off boxes of suspected pot there.

The three met in a hotel lobby in San Francisco, where D’Amico said “that somebody had gotten arrested that knew a lot of information” and “it would be smart to leave” the country and get rid of their cellphones. Leahy “got upset and walked away,” Costello continued, and D’Amico explained “how he was going to get me a quarter million dollars” to “finance leaving the country.”

The next day, on the recommendation of a weed supplier for D’Amico and Nicka—a person Costello only knew as “Bear”—D’Amico and Costello sought advice from a legal titan: J. Tony Serra, a legendary civil-rights and criminal-defense attorney who was portrayed by James Woods in the 1989 movie “True Believer.”

“We talked at length” with Serra “about how or if we should sell the aircraft,” Costello recalled, and “about minimum maximum penalties and what we could be charged with.” They were also “asked the scope and depth of the case, how many people, how much money, how much weed,” Costello continued. Serra’s fee would be $100,000 and, Costello continued, “Dave voluntarily . . . put money on Tony’s safe on the way out the door,” about $10,000 or $20,000. While Costello said Serra “looked like he smoked weed,” he did not think he was part of the D’Amico/Nicka conspiracy.

Also that March, D’Amico first gave Costello a sense of the breadth and depth of the conspiracy: that it involved sending “150 to 250 pounds east . . . every two to three weeks,” Costello recalled, and that it involved “40 to 50” people.

At some point after the Hickory raid, Costello recalled waiting at a mall in Berkeley for D’Amico and Bear to “come back from somewhere further north,” where they had gone so that D’Amico could “pick up his balance of all the money that was owed to him.” After they returned, they transferred the money to Costello’s rented car and, after Costello dropped D’Amico at a hotel, “I drove away” with the money, Costello recalled, since “I assumed that it was the money that Dave had promised me the day before” and “I wanted to be done with the relationships with Dave.”

In the ensuing months, after the government seized the Lancair and started court proceedings to keep it as a criminally derived asset, Costello filed a claim for it, saying it was obtained lawfully. D’Amico—who had fled the U.S. for Caracas, Venezuela in early April—put the kibosh on that move, Costello recalled, by telling him “in no uncertain terms that he would come and kill me if I did not give up the aircraft, verbatim.” D’Amico “just seemed very, very upset,” Costello explained, “because I took off with money that he was supposed to give me of his own accord and I just took it.” So, he continued, “I released all interest in the Lancair aircraft on behalf of Air Sky Holdings.”

Costello also told the jury that he still feared D’Amico: “He could come to my house and hurt me and come to my house and shoot me,” Costello said. “I’ve always been concerned about that. And I’m still concerned about that to this day, in fact.”

But D’Amico may have been too busy enjoying life in Colombia to bother trying to harm Costello. An expatriate American who co-owns a hotel in Colombia where D’Amico stayed in 2010 and 2011 provides a glimpse of D’Amico’s life on the lam. City Paper confirmed the identity of the hotelier, who provided evidence to back up stories of D’Amico’s time there, but the hotelier asked not to be named in this article “because of the cloud that Dave brought” to the hotel.

D’Amico “looked like the typical gringo businessman who comes to Colombia looking for business opportunities along with some fun and excitement,” the hotelier recalls in a series of emails, but “the reality soon became evident—Dave had come to party.”

He was “certainly a very colorful character, and sometimes wild,” the hotelier observes, adding that “I learned this within a few days of his arrival, when a worker at the property led me to Dave’s suite one morning to show me that he was passed out on the floor of his room, surrounded by garbage. Once awakened, Dave told me that he occasionally enjoyed sleeping on the floor—and he said it with a serious face.” On another occasion, the hotelier recalls, “while trying to leave the hotel very late at night when the outer gate was locked,” D’Amico “tried to destroy the lock and the gate’s hinges so he could get out of the building, instead of waiting for the night clerk to return and open the door for him to leave the building.”

D’Amico “spent nearly a year here,” the hotelier continued. “I tried to get rid of him, but couldn’t. The property damage and neighborhood shame were costly,” since D’Amico was “doing whatever he wanted.” D’Amico disappeared from the hotel after a fire “started in the (locked) apartment where Dave had been living.”

The hotelier first learned about D’Amico’s indictment in Maryland after he’d disappeared. “Frankly, if I had known he was on the run at the time he was destroying my property,” the hotelier explains, “I would have turned him in to the authorities to stop the losses.”

After years as a fugitive, D’Amico now will see if he’s able to stop the loss of liberty the government wants him to suffer. He’s the most high-ranking member of the conspiracy to be brought to court so far, and those convicted for playing lower-level roles—including McIntosh, who is serving a mandatory-minimum 10-year sentence, meted out earlier this year—are currently paying the price. Despite his good times at the hotel in Colombia, D’Amico, too, based on his physical appearance recently in court, has already started to pay the price.

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.”