Baltimore Police Missteps Prompt Dismissal of Federal Charges in Two Separate Cases

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 1, 2014

Credibility issues involving Baltimore police officers prompted federal prosecutors to dismiss charges against two men yesterday. The exonerated defendants had been charged in separate cases.

One, Kevin T. Jones, was charged and tried earlier this year before a jury for being a felon in possession of a firearm, but a mistrial was declared after the jury couldn’t return a verdict. As the retrial approached, earlier police testimony about the circumstances leading to Jones’ arrest was shown to be so conflicted that, as the defense put it in a motion, it raised “well known credibility problems associated with the Baltimore City Police Department.” The government’s motion to dismiss Jones’ charges was filed yesterday by assistant U.S. attorneys Jason Medinger and Bonnie Greenberg.

The other, Robert Lomax III, was charged last year in a heroin-conspiracy indictment, facing counts for being a felon in possession of ammunition and maintaining a drug-involved premises, but evidence against him was obtained through an unconstitutional warrantless search of trash on his property. Assistant U.S. attorneys Christopher Romano and Seema Mittal filed Lomax’s dismissal motion, stating that “the Government now believes that the trash pull conducted at Defendant Lomax’s residence ran afoul” of constitutional protections.

In Jones’ case, three officers’ conflicting testimony on the stand during a pre-trial hearing was made even more dubious when their case agent, Det. Edgar Allen, was questioned during the trial about official notes he wrote describing Jones’ arrest. The arrest, on Jan. 19, 2013, occurred after police approached Jones while he was leaning in through the open drivers’ side front door of his van, handling some clothes over the console area, and when the officers spoke to him, he tossed the clothing to the passenger-side seat, and a gun tumbled out. Three officers testified at trial, including James Kostoplis, and all three said Kostoplis saw the gun first, and seized it. But Allen’s notes contradicted that account, saying the gun was first seen and seized by a fourth, non-testifying officer, Steven Langjahr.

“This discrepancy reflected in Detective Allen’s notes,” Jones’ defense attorneys, federal public defenders Deborah Boardman and Joseph Evans, wrote in a motion, “relates directly to the credibility of the officers and the integrity of their account” and “raises the significance of the other inconsistencies in their testimony by challenging the core version of events.” Allen, they wrote, “recognized the central significance of the discrepancy when he testified” that the case “would have never come through” for federal prosecution if the officers had first said it had been Langjahr who seized the gun, then “came back later and said, ‘Oh, no, it was Kostoplis.” The defense attorneys added that “this was a stunning admission” by Allen that “the discrepant account was central to the case and central even to the original decision to authorize the matter for federal prosecution.”

Lomax, meanwhile, was indicted last fall in a 14-member heroin conspiracy headed by Antoine “Twizzy” Wiggins. The case made headlines because one of the defendants is Marlow Bates, the son of a famous Baltimore gangster who pleaded guilty to a 2009 Black Guerrilla Family prison-gang racketeering indictment, and because it involved the seizure of a small fleet of high-end luxury vehicles, including a Bentley convertible and an Aston Martin, and a 33-foot power boat. From the very beginning, though, Lomax’s attorney, Nicholas Vitek, sensed problems with police tactics involving his client.

“There are serious legal issues” with the warrant issued to search Lomax’s home, Vitek said at a Sept. 30, 2013, hearing in the case. “There is to my mind not sufficient probable cause. And even if there was sufficient probable cause, it was done in a way that violated Mr. Lomax’s rights. So there are serious legal issues with whether or not what can be recovered in the home can actually be used against him.”

Turns out, Vitek was right. The warrant was “defective because the probable cause for the warrant is premised on an illegal search that took place when the police entered Mr. Lomax’s property for the express purpose of obtaining information,” he wrote in a motion to suppress evidence filed in June. “The police crossed the curtilage of Mr. Lomax’s property and seized bags of trash without a warrant,” he continued, adding that “this warrantless search requires not only the suppression of the evidence directly obtained from the trash bags, but also all evidence that is the fruit of the poisonous tree.”

What’s more, Vitek asserted that police included in their application for the warrant to search Lomax’s home “intentional false statements or statements that were made with reckless disregard for the truth” which “misled the issuing judge, the Honorable Nathan Braverman of the District Court of Maryland, into believing that a trash pull that was conducted from Mr. Lomax’s house had been lawfully conducted when, in fact, it clearly had not.” Applying for the warrant, according to court records, were Baltimore Police detective Julie Pitocchelli and Sgt. Steven Olson.

Romano had already indicated that Lomax’s dismissal was in the works. In a massive response to defendants’ many motions contesting issues in the government’s case, which he filed on July 28, Romano wrote in a footnote that “the Government will not be responding to Lomax’s motion to suppress” because it “intends to move for dismissal of the counts in which Lomax is named as a defendant.”

Biker Bust: Baltimore Man Nabbed in FBI Motorcycle-Club Probe in Philadelphia

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 13, 2013

The FBI has a long, storied history of infiltrating and prosecuting the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (OMC) as an organized-crime gang, including some high-profile cases in recent years. On Jan. 31, a Baltimore man put himself squarely in the middle of one such probe in Philadelphia by allegedly phoning in threats in an effort to collect money owed for about two pounds of methamphetamine, court documents show. What the Baltimore man didn’t know is that the person he allegedly threatened was pretending to be a biker-gang member and was actually working undercover to infiltrate the OMC on behalf of the FBI.

The man who made the alleged phone calls, 42-year-old Michael James Privett of 6600 Gary Ave. in East Baltimore’s O’Donnell Heights neighborhood, was charged with “collection of extensions of credit by extortionate means,” which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Privett appeared in Maryland U.S. District Court on Feb. 5, after his arrest, and his case was transferred to federal court in Philadelphia.

Records in the case also document threats over the meth deal made by a second person calling from Baltimore, but City Paper has been unable to determine whether that person has been arrested and charged too. The assistant U.S. attorneys handling the case, Jason Bologna and Robert Livermore, said in an email that “our investigation is ongoing, so we don’t have any comment at this time.”

The threats were received by the undercover’s phone just after the president of OMC’s Philadelphia chapter, Roland L. “Bugs” Sells of Churchville, Md., was arrested Jan. 31 on federal meth-dealing charges.

Sells, who was paroled in 1978 after a 1972 second-degree murder conviction in Ohio, had been keeping the meth at his Churchville home, near Belair, but was worried that his wife knew about it, so he transferred the drugs to the OMC clubhouse in Philadelphia on Jan. 17. While there, according to court documents, he told other OMC members, including the undercover, that “this shit can’t be in the clubhouse,” and “if the bosses find out, I’m going to be dead and so are you.” In subsequent days, the undercover and Sells spoke repeatedly about how the meth would be sold, and on Jan. 31 they met at the Philadelphia parking lot where Sells was arrested.

Almost immediately after Sells’ arrest, the undercover’s phone started receiving threatening messages. The first, allegedly left by Privett, referred to the undercover’s property being held hostage until payment was made. “I don’t got time for games, man,” the message said, “You want your bikes back, you need to come up with my money. Can’t get a hold of Bugs. Guess I have to start taking people apart, that’s all. See you around.”

The next message came from someone else using a Baltimore-area phone and was more direct: “You can believe one thing. You can fuck with me all you want to, but motherfucker, trust me, your family is in danger. Fuck you.”

The last one included in the court documents, also allegedly left by Privett, starts out by listing two street addresses, then says, “I’ll have the address for your son’s house in Florida this week. I got the tag numbers, I got your bike, I got your trailer. I want my money. Your whole family is going to be in danger if not. You need to pick up the fucking phone. You’re supposed to meet Bugs today; now he’s not answering the phone either. As far as I’m concerned, both you all in the same boat.”

Court documents reflect that Privett has a prior criminal history for second-degree assault and malicious destruction of property, and that he’s 6 foot 3 inches and 240 pounds. A man with the same name was being initiated into the Chosen Sons Motorcycle Club at the Haven Place strip club in Baltimore on April 24, 2008, when a brawl erupted, resulting in the shooting death of Norman Stamp, a 44-year Baltimore police veteran and co-founder of the club, according to press accounts at the time. Attempts to confirm Privett’s association with the Chosen Sons—which, when it was formed in the 1960s, was only open to law enforcers—were unsuccessful. Court documents in Privett’s case in Philadelphia describe him as a “patched” OMC member.

The Philadelphia probe comes on the heels of large FBI-investigated cases brought last year against the OMC in Georgia and Indiana. The Indiana case involves scores of defendants accused of running “an extensive criminal network” that “‘pumped a deadly mixture of drugs, violence, and fraud’” into “Indianapolis and throughout the Midwest,” according to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office there, while using “violence and the threat of force to collect personal debts from individuals.”

In Georgia, for two years, the FBI used undercovers—including one who was exposed while the probe was underway, thanks to a suspected public corruption leak that put the undercover’s identity in the OMC’s hands—to help build a drugs-and-guns case involving meth and cocaine against OMC members and affiliates. The case agent wrote in court documents that the investigation “uncovered 3 law enforcement officials that are maintaining close, unprofessional relationships” with targeted club members, and that through such relationships, “members often gain information that is obstructive to FBI investigations and dangerous to the safety of FBI informants.”

In the Philadelphia case, though, the FBI undercover ended up in danger not due to a public corruption leak or the OMC’s close relationships with law enforcers, but because two guys in Baltimore, allegedly including Privett, were owed money for meth. It’s a risk that comes with the job—and quickly resulted in criminal consequences for Privett.

Spicing It Up: Fells Point Smoke Shop Nabbed in Bath Salts Sting Helps in Fake-Pot Probe

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Aug. 29, 2012

Just-released records in Maryland’s federal court show the Dragon’s Den Smoke Shop in Fells Point and the Tobacco Shop in Bel Air are part of an ongoing drug investigation into the distribution of synthetic marijuana, sometimes marketed as “Spice” and “K2,” which was banned last year. The role each shop played is spelled out in a warrant for the seizure of more than $2.2 million from M&C Wholesale, a company in Laguna Niguel, Calif., south of Los Angeles, suspected of supplying synthetic marijuana to head shops, including the Dragon’s Den and the Tobacco Shop.

The seizure occurred July 25, the same day a multi-agency federal crackdown on banned designer drugs descended on 91 communities in 31 states, according to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) press release. Dubbed “Operation Log Jam,” the operation netted nearly 100 arrests and the seizure of more than $36 million and more than five million packets of synthetic weed and “bath salts,” designer stimulants that also were banned last year. Baltimore was not among Operation Log Jam’s long list of targeted communities, but Laguna Niguel was, perhaps due to the M&C Wholesale money seizure.

Last winter, the Dragon’s Den was implicated in an undercover DEA operation that resulted in an indictment against a Baltimore man, Carlo D’Addario, for allegedly supplying bath salts to distributors in Virginia (“Undercover in the Dragon’s Den,” May 30). The disclosure of the shop’s role in the fake-pot investigation came in court filings made public on the afternoon of Aug. 21, after City Paper went to press with an Aug. 22 article about the sentencing of Holly Renae Sprouse, D’Addario’s co-defendant in the Virginia bath salts case (“Bath Time,” Mobtown Beat, Aug. 22).

Sprouse, after prosecutors filed a motion recognizing her “substantial assistance” in prosecuting D’Addario, received a lenient, 20-month prison sentence on Aug. 14 for her role in the alleged conspiracy. The trial in the case, initially scheduled for May, has since been rescheduled twice. D’Addario is currently set to stand trial starting on Oct. 22.

The investigation leading to the M&C Wholesale seizure began last September, according to the warrant, when a DEA undercover officer entered the Tobacco Shop and purchased a gram of “Hysteria,” a fake-pot brand, for $20. In November, the same undercover officer returned to the shop and purchased another three grams of Hysteria for $47. The place was raided in December, turning up invoices for its wholesale purchases of the substances, branded not only as Hysteria, but also “Black Sabbath” and “Game Over.”

Using contact information from the invoices seized from the Tobacco Shop, agents arranged for a confidential source to order fake-pot products from the wholesaler in early April, and have it delivered to the Dragon’s Den in Fells Point. Two packages arrived there on April 4 and 5, containing packages of “Dr. Feelgood,” “Game Over XXX,” “Brain Freeze,” and “Black Sabbath,” along with documentation of the purchases from M&C Wholesale.

The operation then began surveillance of M&C Wholesale’s offices in Laguna Niguel, watching on June 11 and 12 as operators and employees managed incoming and outgoing deliveries. Later, in July, investigators were contacted by a courier-service employee that made and picked up deliveries there, and had seen its operations. The courier informed them that the only activity going on inside was “eight to 10 individuals seated around a table handling piles of a green herb-like substance.”

The investigation also probed M&C Wholesale’s financial transactions, learning that it gets paid for providing supplies to smoke shops with names such as “Puff N Snuff,” “Happy Daze,” “Up in Smoke,” and “Sky High Smoking Accessories.” Payments would enter an M&C bank account at Wells Fargo. Then, on July 24—the day before the seizure—$2.2 million was transferred from that account to another Wells Fargo account, held in the name of individual who is a signatory of M&C Wholesale’s account.

CP searched federal court records as well as those in Orange County, Calif., where Laguna Niguel is located, and found nothing to suggest M&C’s owners and operators have been charged with any crimes. Two phone numbers for them were included in the warrant. One of the numbers has been disconnected, and messages left at the other were not returned.

According to the Operation Log Jam press release, the probe is a partnership of seven federal law-enforcement agencies—DEA, IRS Criminal Investigations, FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations—in tandem with “countless state and local law enforcement members.” DEA administrator Michele Leonhart is quoted, saying “this enforcement action has disrupted the entire illegal industry, from manufacturers to retailers,” and emphasizing that “we are committed to targeting these new and emerging drugs with every scientific, legislative, and investigative tool at our disposal.”

Metro Crime Stopper: Rookie Transit Cop Arrests Federal Fugitive, but Feds Dismiss Indictment

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 2, 2012

If you’re a federal fugitive, you better not skimp on paying the Baltimore Metro Subway fare when Generia Lawson is on the job.

On April 17, Lawson, a rookie Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) police officer, was in full uniform, doing routine fare checks at the West Cold Spring Metro Station on Wabash Avenue, when she accomplished what the U.S. Marshals Service has not done in three years: arrest 62-year-old Roosevelt Drummond, the only one of scores of indicted members of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang in Maryland who has not faced the federal grand-jury charges brought against him.

Drummond, who has prior convictions for drugs and guns, was charged federally with narcotics, robbery, and firearms crimes on April 8, 2009, and has eluded arrest ever since. A source from within the BGF who was not charged in the federal investigation but who asks to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, told City Paper earlier this year that Drummond is “an outlaw. The next time you’ll hear about him, it’ll be, ‘Oh, we got a dead black man in Montana,’ and come to find out it’s him. He ain’t going back to prison. It’ll either be the police kill him trying to get him, or he just dies. Or he probably ODs or something.”

Turns out, there was no showdown with the cops, no Butch Cassidy-style drama, just a routine inspection over a Metro ticket. Lawson’s suspicions were aroused when Drummond produced a discounted ticket he wasn’t entitled to, and then proceeded to give her false information about his identity. After she concluded he was a fugitive and arrested him, she found a small amount of heroin in his pocket and charged him with possession.

But a week after Drummond’s arrest, the open federal warrant that led Lawson to arrest him was ordered “quashed and recalled,” according to federal court documents. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner, the lead prosecutor in the BGF cases, filed a motion on April 24, seeking dismissal of the federal indictment against Drummond. The filing is spare in explaining why, stating only that “based upon information developed during the investigation of the BGF, the Government seeks to dismiss the Indictment.” The next day, U.S. District Judge William Quarles, who has handled the BGF docket since 2009, obliged by ordering the dismissal. The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the dismissal of the indictment against Drummond.

When reached by phone on April 30, Lawson, who says she finished her training as an MTA police officer about three months ago, remarks that “you have to expect these types of things” in a job like hers, and that she was “a little shocked” to have nabbed a federal fugitive while checking fares, “but not really.” Until City Paper’s inquiries about Drummond’s arrest, she adds, she did not know he was part of the BGF case, nor did she know that the federal indictment against him had been dismissed, which she says is “just the process.” As for her interaction with Drummond, she says “he was cooperative,” “very compliant,” and “calm” when being arrested, and “did not appear to be nervous.” In her job, she adds, she understands that “small things can turn into big things,” such as arresting Drummond.

Lawson’s “statement of probable cause” to charge Drummond with heroin possession, filed in district court, tells the story pretty well. When Lawson asked Drummond for his ticket, shortly before noon on April 17, he showed her one that’s for senior citizens and disabled people, yet he did not have the MTA identification required of patrons who purchase such tickets. That prompted a slippery-slope interaction between Lawson and Drummond, in which he said he was “James Green,” and gave her a date of birth and Social Security number that did not jibe with the MTA dispatcher’s data.

When Lawson asked Drummond if he wanted to change any of the information he’d provided, he gave her his correct birth date. Soon thereafter, a photo of Drummond “was sent to my mobile” by the dispatcher, Lawson wrote, and “I was able to confirm” who she was dealing with, and conclude that “there was a warrant out” on him.

After arresting Drummond, Lawson found a small packet of heroin in a black velvet bag in his pants pocket. He was charged in Maryland District Court with heroin possession. Bail was set at $20,000, but online court records indicate he has not posted it and remains detained pending a trial scheduled for May 21, when he could face up to four years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

While Drummond’s treatment at the hands of a rookie transit cop appears to be straightforward police work, the dismissal of the indictment against him by seasoned federal authorities stands in marked contrast to his BGF co-defendants, some of whom are serving lengthy prison sentences.

Court documents in the sprawling BGF conspiracy cases, which include racketeering convictions against many of the defendants, indicate that Drummond’s role was limited to a March 13, 2009, incident involving three men in a car with a stolen handgun, handcuffs, rubber gloves, and a mask. The car was pulled over by Baltimore police, and Drummond was the only one arrested for possessing the gun. The state charges against him were dropped after his federal indictment. Now, three years later, Drummond is the only one of the men in that car who isn’t in trouble in federal court.

One of them, Randolph Edison, last year pleaded guilty to possessing a stolen firearm and is serving 96 months in prison. The other, Zachary Norman, entered into a plea agreement in October 2010 and is facing a superseding charge of conspiring to commit an assault.

Though Edison pleaded guilty, he afterward sought to rescind that plea—in part because, as he told Quarles at his sentencing hearing last August, “I never had possession of a gun, and nor did I know the gun was stolen.” Drummond, now that his indictment has been dismissed, doesn’t have to worry about that particular gun anymore.

Guilty Pleas in the Berg Brothers Recycling Case

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 16, 2010

Yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Adam Berg of Berg Brothers Recycling, along with the company and a co-conspirator, Jeffrey Mark Harmon, pleaded guilty to charges of bribing a government official, Robert Barry Adcock, in connection with recyclable metals delivered to Berg Brothers from the National Security Agency (NSA). Adcock, a civilian NSA employee responsible for waste removal, is scheduled for rearraignment on Dec. 21.

The first indication that Berg Brothers was the target of a criminal investigation was in 2009, when City Paper observed the company’s offices being raided by the Department of Defense Criminal Investigative Service agents. This summer, the indictment came down, charging Berg, the company, Harmon, and Adcock with a bribery conspiracy that deprived the NSA of full payment for the recyclable metals the agency provided the company.

The pleas are being entered not in answer to the grand jury indictment, but to superseding charges. Harmon’s plea agreement (see below) includes extensive factual background about the scheme.

Grave Accusations: Dead Prosecutor Luna Dubbed Bondsman Tillman Jr. a “Violent Drug Dealer”

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 23, 2008

In May 2002, federal prosecutor Jonathan Paul Luna stood up in a Baltimore courtroom and called bail-bondsman Milton Tillman Jr. a “violent drug dealer,” even though Tillman Jr. hadn’t–and still hasn’t–been convicted of violent, drug-related crimes. Luna was not yet famous; that would come after his violent death in a rural Pennsylvania stream, in December 2003. But Tillman Jr. was and is famous, at least locally, a fact that was part of Luna’s point: In gangland Baltimore, he argued, Tillman Jr.’s role as the patriarch of a drug-dealing family strikes fear in the hearts of other gangsters.

The case at hand was against Eric Lamont Bennett’s drug organization, which had operated in the late 1990s in Baltimore and Westminster, and the crimes Luna was prosecuting included the East Baltimore shooting, in 2000, of Tillman Jr.’s son, Milton Tillman III, nicknamed “Mo.” The violence erupted over a drug deal gone bad, and though Mo survived, two other men were murdered before the night was out.

By May 2002, Luna had won convictions against men held responsible for these and other crimes, including Bennett, Solomon Jones, and Tavon Bradley. The three have since won appeals and Jones and Bradley been reconvicted and resentenced. Bennett was scheduled to be resentenced on April 18, but the hearing was postponed and has not yet been rescheduled.

The three convicts had been part of a team of drug dealers who had sold Mo and two other buyers a bag of baking soda for $3,000 on Jan. 18, 2000. Before Mo and his friends could learn they’d been burned, Bennett’s gang went gunning for them. Luna asserted that, having robbed Tillman Jr.’s son, they figured they were as good as dead unless they struck first.

Luna based his comments on the trial testimony of Damien Simmons, the man who shot Mo three times in the back and became a cooperating witness against Bennett and the others, and on a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration memo. That document, dated March 2000, called Tillman Jr. the head of a crime family with a 20-year history in the East Baltimore heroin trade and warned that the then-imprisoned Tillman Jr. appeared to be conspiring to hit back at Bennett and his crew.

The portrait of Tillman Jr. painted by Luna at Bennett’s first sentencing hearing complicates Tillman Jr.’s public persona, which has been forged by years of press coverage. News consumers would think Tillman Jr. is simply a politically connected bail-bondsman, real-estate investor, and nightclub impresario with convictions in the 1990s for attempted bribery and tax evasion. Luna’s statements about Tillman Jr., which have not been disclosed in news reports until now, get at the Tillman family’s street-level reputation as a force to be reckoned with in Baltimore’s drug-fueled shadow economy.

Luna’s focus on Tillman Jr. does not discount the alleged criminal career of at least one other family member: Stanford Stansbury. After Tillman III was shot in 2000 and thought he might die from his injuries, court records show, he told detectives that his cousin Stanford Stansbury would know the last name of “Ericky,” the man Tillman III believed to be responsible for the shooting. Last March, Stansbury and two other men, Harry Burton and Allen Gill, were federally indicted for running a murderous, decade-long drug conspiracy based at the Latrobe Homes housing project in East Baltimore. Today, Stansbury has secured a guilty-plea agreement in which he is a cooperating witness against Burton and Gill, whom prosecutors are seeking to give the death penalty in a trial scheduled for June.

Stansbury’s lawyer, Stuart O. Simms, a former Baltimore City state’s attorney and former secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, did not return a call for comment. Simms, as city state’s attorney in the 1980s, oversaw probes into Tillman Jr.’s suspected criminal activities. In 2006, New Trend Development, Tillman Jr.’s main real-estate company, contributed money to Simms’ failed run for Maryland attorney general.

The Tillman family’s business dealings drew public attention during a trial last year in which a jury determined that Tillman Jr., his son, and the other defendant, Bernard Dixon, did not intend to post multiple bails on properties in order to spring high-bail defendants out of lockup, as state criminal charges had contended. Since March, City Paper has published five articles in which Tillman Jr. was part of the story. Two were about a fugitive drug trafficker (“Flight Connections,” Mobtown Beat, March 12; “One Angry Man,” Mobtown Beat, March 26); one was about a felonious, bounty-hunting minister (“Preacher, Teacher, Forger, Spy,” Feature, April 16); another covered the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners’ scant control over criminals influencing the city’s bar business (“Creative Licensing,” Mobtown Beat, April 9); and one second-guessed the deaconlike image of a former heroin trafficker (“Redemption Song and Dance,” Mobtown Beat, March 19).

Tillman Jr.’s success in bail bonds and real estate appears to have soared since his release from prison in 2000. His Four Aces Bail Bonds has rapidly put a large dent in the dominance of the Baltimore City bail-bonds market traditionally enjoyed by Fred W. Frank Bail Bonds. “There is no question he has affected our business,” company President Barry Udoff confirms. New Trend Development, related businesses, and Tillman Jr. associates have acquired nearly $10 million in Baltimore-area real-estate holdings since 2000, according to property records. Meanwhile, Tillman Jr.’s political clout has also grown, as measured by the thousands of dollars in donations from Four Aces and New Trend to local politicians since his release from prison.

Luna’s career was cut short by his death in Pennsylvania in early December 2003. His body was found before dawn, drowned in a stream in Lancaster County, midway between Philadelphia and Harrisburg along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He’d been stabbed dozens of times, though not deeply, and his car sat idling close by. He had last been seen late the night before at his downtown Baltimore office. The local authorities deemed it a homicide, while the FBI leaked information to the press suggesting it was suicide, but the case remains unsolved. A book has been written about it, The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna (“Plot Device,” Books, Feb. 23, 2005), and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, continues to press for progress in getting it solved.

The Bennett prosecution was but a piece of Luna’s caseload against violent drug dealers, and it was over a year and a half before Luna died. There is nothing to suggest that the mysteries surrounding Luna’s death are in any way tied to Tillman Jr. or members of his family.

Luna’s insights into the Tillmans in the Bennett case gives the public an evidentiary record that the family was in the drug game. “Let me speak very frankly,” Luna said, according to the court transcript. “It is not news to most people in this courtroom that Mr. Tillman is the son of one of the most notorious drug dealers in Baltimore City history. That is a fact.” Luna also said that “there is no question that Mr. Tillman’s father is a reputed drug dealer, a violent type of guy.”

Underscoring Luna’s contention was a March 2000 DEA memo stating that the agency’s “investigation into the Tillman family has revealed that the family has been active for the past 20 years in the Baltimore, East-side based, heroin traffic. Milton Tillman, Jr., the patriarch, is currently in the last six months of a Federal prison sentence in Butner, North Carolina for tax evasion. Phone conversations made by Tillman, Jr., from . . . Butner to his son and associates indicate that a retaliatory strike against the Bennett organization is imminent.”

The Bennett trial testimony of Damien Simmons, the man who shot Tillman III, also supported Luna’s statements that Tillman Jr. was known as a feared, high-level player in the drug game. The trial transcript shows that Simmons answered “Yes,” when asked if Bennett told him to shoot Tillman III and his associates because of whom Tillman III’s father is. Simmons pleaded guilty to his part in the Bennett organization’s crimes and is scheduled for release from federal prison in 2017.

“Jon Luna wasn’t just relying on the DEA memo when he said these things about Tillman Jr.,” recalls defense attorney Harvey Greenberg, who represented Jones in the Bennett case. “He also had Simmons’ testimony. Luna was trying to be frank about the background of the shooting and what prompted it. He was being open and honest, and telling what he knew to be true with evidence to back it up.”

Tillman Jr. did not respond to detailed messages left at his office and with his attorney, Greg Dorsey. U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy says her agency would not comment about Luna’s statements regarding Tillman Jr., and also would not respond to questions involving the Bennett or Stansbury cases, because “we don’t discuss our charging decisions or prosecution strategy.”

Some of the politicians who have received campaign support from Tillman Jr.’s companies, however, did respond to City Paper‘s inquiries. “I did?!” Baltimore County Circuit Court Associate Judge Mickey Norman exclaims, when told his judicial campaign committee in 2005 got money from one of Tillman Jr.’s companies. “I honestly don’t know about that,” Norman says, explaining that judges’ campaigns are set up so the judges themselves are insulated from the fundraising process and have little, if any, knowledge of who’s supporting their candidacies.

“Did I?” Baltimore City Deputy Mayor and former state delegate Salima Siler Marriott asks when told about Tillman Jr.’s donation to her campaign. She says she doesn’t know the man, either by name or personally. Messages left with nine other politicians–eight of them Democrats, including Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith; House of Delegates Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (45th District); Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot; former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich; and Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (45th District), the chairman of the Baltimore City state Senate delegation–were not returned by press time.

Greenberg, however, is intrigued by City Paper‘s inquiries, suggesting that what Luna had to say about Tillman Jr. is already widely recognized among lawyers, law enforcers, and others familiar with the local crime scene. “Do you find Luna’s comments remarkable?” he asks. “Because I don’t.”

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Anderson And Chris Landers