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.”

Juris-Imprudence? Former Employee Claims High-Level Cabal at Baltimore’s District Court Perpetuates Longstanding Discrimination

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, March 12, 2014

A federal lawsuit’s claims of gender-based discrimination and retaliation at Baltimore City’s district court at Wabash Avenue may get ratcheted up to accuse high-level judges and administrators of more pervasive injustices, should a federal judge rule that the complaint may be amended. Included in the newly proposed charges is an allegation that Maryland District Court’s Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn recently quashed an investigation into the problems, which had been ordered by judge Barbara Waxman, the recently installed administrative judge of the Baltimore court. The court has been in upheaval with retirements and reassignments since the lawsuit first brought the issues to public light last year.

The initial lawsuit—a four-page handwritten document filed in Maryland federal court last February by Kim Sumner, a human-resources associate at the district court who remained in her job until resigning in January—claimed Maryland’s judiciary discriminated against her by “having a history of protecting” Lonnie P. Ferguson, the court’s longtime administrative clerk who has since retired. Sumner’s complaint called Ferguson, her supervisor, “a man in power with powerful friends” whose record of “being a sexual preditor [sic] of the women who work under him” was “condoned and has continued for many years.” Sumner’s experiences under Ferguson included an incident in 2010 when he gave her pornographic DVDs at work, and yet received only lenient discipline (“NSFW,” Mobtown Beat, Jan. 8, 2014).

Since then, Sumner has found a lawyer, Gerardine Delambo, who on Feb. 27 asked the judge in the case to approve the filing of an amended complaint—a 93-page document claiming “that the leadership of the District Court of Maryland allowed personnel management in its Baltimore City district to become ‘polluted’ with discrimination,” according to a press release emailed to City Paper by Delambo.

Sumner’s initial lawsuit made allegations against one defendant, named as “Maryland Judiciary/District Court of Maryland.” The amended complaint, if approved, would add seven more: Clyburn; associate judge John Hargrove Jr., who was the court’s administrative judge until, according to the press release, he “was removed” from the position in November; visiting judge Keith E. Mathews, who was the court’s administrative judge until March 2010, when he was succeeded by Hargrove; Ferguson, who the press release says was “forced” into retirement in November; administrative clerk Mary Abrams; division chief Angela Naylor; and deputy administrative clerk Lavone Grant, who the press release says was fired in November.

Sumner’s claims are being fought by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, whose spokesperson, David Paulson, wrote in an email, “sorry, but we can’t comment during the litigation,” a position repeated by Maryland judiciary spokesperson Terri Bolling, who assured City Paper that Mathews—the object of some of the amended complaint’s more serious allegations—would be alerted to City Paper’s request for comment. Delambo, too, declined to comment, other than to provide the four-page press release.

The press release says that “Clyburn and top court officials in Baltimore conspired to violate [Sumner’s] free-speech rights and to discriminate against her on the basis of her race and gender, and that they were motivated also by their ‘animus,’ or hostility, against whites and women who did not engage in sexual or romantic relationships with Mr. Ferguson or Judge Mathews.” Sumner is white, as is Waxman, while the proposed defendants are African-American—and Delambo’s press release says “the work force of the District Court for Baltimore City,” about 400 people, “is alleged by Ms. Sumner to be ‘98 percent black.’”

The amended complaint says that Mathews, while married and an associate judge and administrative judge, “engaged in relationships with female employees” at the court that “were sexual and/or romantic,” that other court employees “perceived” the relationships as “sexual and/or romantic and/or adulterous,” and that at least one of those relationships involved Mathews “exploiting and/or abusing the powers of his position” to “procure” favorable employment circumstances for the “female subordinates.” Thus, the complaint continues, Mathews “perpetrated quid-pro-quo sexual harassment and/or unlawful discrimination—on the basis of race, gender, age, marital status, and/or other nonmerit factors—against qualified individuals” who were “denied the advancement of their employment interests to which they were entitled by reason of their legitimate qualifications.”

When a “subordinate male supervisor” confronted Mathews over this while he was administrative judge, the complaint contends that “Mathews responded by stating, ‘I don’t give a fuck’ about the impact” of his “improper behavior, which continued undiminished.”

As for the quashed investigation Waxman ordered into Sumner’s allegations, the amended complaint says the newly installed administrative judge started it because she was aware of Sumner’s lawsuit and “was aware also of the history of misconduct” by Mathews and Ferguson “involving abuse of the powers of their respective offices.” After it began, including “interviews of at least four employees,” Clyburn caught wind of it and ordered it to “be halted,” while also telling Waxman to give her subordinate, administrative clerk Abrams, “freedom to manage personnel matters.”

Clyburn’s directive, the amended complaint continues, “contrasted with his substantially more deferential treatment of [Waxman’s] two black male predecessors,” Hargrove and Mathews, and “constitutes invidious discrimination on the basis of gender.” Furthermore, the amended complaint continues, Clyburn’s treatment of Waxman is meant “to preserve and leave unredressed a longstanding pattern of invidiously discriminatory personnel actions” at the court and “to preclude any action or disclosures” that could support Sumner’s claims.

The amended complaint also alleges that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), whose wife, Catherine Curran O’Malley, is a Baltimore City district court judge, “has for years been personally aware of the above-described misconduct” of Mathews, Clyburn, and Hargrove, “and has chosen not to exercise his substantial power or prestige to bring about meaningful redress of that misconduct and its impact upon the efficiency and morale” of the court’s employees.

Last August, Sumner’s case was reassigned from Maryland U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake to Joseph R. Goodwin, a West Virginia U.S. District Court judge. The move may have been due to the fact that a material witness in Sumner’s case—Baltimore City District Court Judge Devy Patterson Russell—is the wife of Maryland U.S. District Court Judge George Levi Russell. Judge Devy Patterson Russell’s affidavit in Sumner’s case claims that the Baltimore City district court is beset with “gender based discrimination, harassment and/or hostile work environment,” and discloses that in 2012 she filed a complaint against judge Hargrove with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which disciplines judges.

According to the press release, one of the reasons Sumner resigned from her job on Jan. 3 was that “she learned that the judiciary leadership intended to ‘hide’ Mr. Ferguson” at a “‘secret’ worksite unknown to the public and the media,” enabling him to “continue to draw a salary of $115,000 per year,” so “she felt that her superiors thus viewed her as an adversary and that she would continue to be subjected to retaliation” and “would have no future in the court system.”

Whether Sumner’s amended complaint goes forward depends on a pending decision by Goodwin, after the Maryland assistant attorney general defending the Maryland judiciary, Michelle McDonald, files a response due by March 17. Delambo’s press release quotes “the rule governing such amendments” as saying that federal trial courts “should freely give leave when justice so requires.”

NSFW: Porn-DVD Incident Spawns Litigation Revealing Alleged Baltimore District Court Gender Hostilities

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Jan. 8, 2014

More than three years ago, Kim Sumner discovered her boss, then-administrative clerk Lonnie P. Ferguson of the Baltimore City District Court, had given her a passel of pornographic DVDs. The long-simmering aftermath of the incident, including an ongoing civil rights lawsuit brought by Sumner against the Maryland judiciary, has brought to light a tender issue: that, as Baltimore City District Court Judge Devy Patterson Russell claimed in an affidavit filed in Sumner’s case in September, there is “gender based discrimination, harassment and/or hostile work environment occurring in the District Court for Baltimore City.”

Russell’s affidavit disclosed that in June 2012 she filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which probes allegations of improper conduct by judges, against Baltimore City District Court Judge John Hargrove Jr., who then was the court’s administrative judge. The affidavit does not summarize the substance of Russell’s complaint but states that she has been “identified as a material witness” in Sumner’s case, and that “if I am subpoenaed to testify,” then “I will attest to the facts contained in my complaint against Judge Hargrove, as well as other matters not mentioned in the complaint supporting the past and ongoing gender based discrimination and hostile work environment” in the court.

Two months after Russell’s affidavit was filed in Sumner’s case, Hargrove left his position as the court’s administrative judge to become chair of the Judiciary Task Force on Pretrial Confinement and Release, which is exploring how the state can comply with a recent court ruling that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to have a lawyer represent them at their first appearance before a court commissioner. District Court Judge Barbara Baer Waxman assumed the role of administrative judge when Hargrove, who continues to hear cases, stepped down.

A call to Ferguson’s office, meanwhile, was met with the news that he no longer works there, and that the new administrative clerk is Mary Abrams, who used to hold that position in Prince George’s County District Court.

Sumner remains a human-resources associate at the court and continues to plug ahead with her lawsuit, which contends that the penalty meted out in 2011 for Ferguson’s porn-DVD conduct—30 days unpaid leave—was insufficient and that the Maryland judiciary is “failing to protect its women” from civil rights violations.

In the lawsuit, Sumner calls Ferguson “a man in power with powerful friends” who has a “well known and documented record of being vulgar around women and being a sexual preditor [sic] of the women who work under him.” She filed the lawsuit in February 2013, claiming that “I consider myself in an isolated hostile environment.” More recently, in August, according to court documents, Sumner was made uncomfortable by Ferguson’s nearby presence as she left the courthouse. “I find this man vile and abhorrent,” Sumner wrote, adding that “he makes my skin crawl.”

The DVDs apparently were lost during an internal investigation of the incident, but Sumner describes them as “hardcore degradation of women: two black men with a white woman, or two white men with a black woman, hands on their throats choking them while they engage in sexual activity.”

Since 2011, “I have looked for legal representation,” Sumner continued, and “it is my belief that because of where I work, who I work for, who this complaint is against, and the very nature of this complaint, that I cannot even get a lawyer to help me.”

Sumner proceeded to prosecute the lawsuit on her own, fighting against a motion to dismiss filed by assistant attorneys general H. Scott Curtis and Michele McDonald, representing the Maryland judiciary. A spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, Alan Brody, says “we don’t comment” on cases that are, like Sumner’s, “still pending.”

In August, the case was reassigned from Maryland U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake to another federal judge—Joseph R. Goodwin, who sits on the bench in West Virginia’s Southern District courthouse in Charleston. No reason was given for transferring the case to a judge from another state, but Russell’s presence as a material witness may have had something to do with it: Her husband is Maryland U.S. District Judge George Levi Russell.

Within weeks of taking over the case, Goodwin denied the state’s dismissal motion, handing Sumner a David-and-Goliath win by allowing her to proceed.

Sumner, Goodwin wrote, “has pleaded facts sufficient to show that the offending conduct was unwanted and based on her sex” and that it was “sufficiently severe and pervasive to create an abusive work environment.” Moreover, Goodwin continued, Sumner’s allegations are “sufficient to impute the behavior to her employer,” the Maryland judiciary, because she asserts that Ferguson’s conduct “has been condoned and has continued for many years, while the Maryland Judiciary either looked the other way, or when complaints were filed, applied minimal punitive actions.”

Shortly after Goodwin’s ruling, Sumner got an attorney: Gerardine Delambo, a solo practitioner in Baltimore. Asked why she took the case, Delambo says, “being a former Maryland state employee, I have great empathy for employees who have disputes with their superiors.”

Goodwin has set an ample schedule for the case to be litigated: Trial currently is set for next January in Baltimore.

Delambo, meanwhile, says she will be filing an amended complaint soon, explaining that it’s a “massive undertaking and a work in progress” and that “more individual defendants” will be added. If Sumner’s allegations are true—that Ferguson “has had sexual relationships with multiple women at the same work location at the same time” and “has transferred out those women that he is through with or women that fight him and try to report him”—there may yet be more plaintiffs coming forward too. And given Russell’s affidavit, gender-based hostilities are still thought to be ongoing—though the recent shuffling of staff may have helped soften them.

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.

Maryland Super-Lobbyist Bruce Bereano Aims to Erase His Fraud Convictions

by Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Nov. 16, 2011

Seventeen years after his 1994 convictions for mail fraud, Maryland lobbyist Bruce Bereano is looking to clear his name. He’s doing so based on last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Skilling v. United States, which found that the provision of the federal mail-fraud statutes that formed the basis of his prosecution—known as “honest services” —was unconstitutional. The now-stricken statute said it was fraud to deprive the public of honest services—in Bereano’s case, by fraudulently billing his firm’s clients. Fraud that results in loss of money or property is still a crime.

Bereano’s trial and sentencing were major political spectacles in the 1990s, as he rallied his supporters, including some of the biggest players in Maryland’s political class, in an unsuccessful attempt to avert convictions and a jail sentence. Charged with stealing from his clients by fraudulently charging them for “legislative services” and using the money to make disguised contributions to politicians through his political-action committee, Bereano claimed the crimes were victimless. After his convictions were upheld on appeal, in 1998 he was sentenced to spend five months incarcerated and five months in home detention, and to pay a $30,000 fine. He was disbarred as result of his convictions, but has continued to be an important lobbyist, representing powerful interests in Annapolis and elsewhere.

Attorneys Timothy Maloney and Matthew Bryant filed Bereano’s petition to overturn his convictions in April, and, at first, it appeared that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland may have been willing to negotiate a deal. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Leotta initially was handling the case, and in July he requested an extension to reply to the petition “so that the government and defense can explore whether there is a way to resolve the matter by agreement.” In August, after assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise took over the case from Leotta, he raised the same possibility in a second request for an extension.

Ultimately, in late September, Wise submitted his opposition brief, writing that the jury found not only that Bereano committed now invalid “honest services” fraud, but also “traditional pecuniary fraud” that “defrauded his clients of money.” In their legal briefs, though, Bereano’s attorneys argue that “all of the alleged ‘victims’ testified that they were not victimized and did not suffer losses,” so at trial prosecutors instead emphasized to the jury that Bereano had deprived people of “honest services,” which is no longer illegal.

Should Bereano’s petition prevail, and his convictions be overturned, he would be entitled to have the $30,000 fine returned, with interest. According to his attorneys’ interest worksheets of the fine, the total amount to be returned would come to nearly $60,000.

“This is an extremely interesting case,” says University of Maryland Law School adjunct professor Frank Razzano, who uses Bereano’s case in his business-law classes. Bereano is arguing that “he was convicted of something that is not a crime,” Razzano says, but “the government says he also was convicted of something that still is a crime—he stole $100 from four clients [via billing], so he’s a bad guy.” The judge, Razzano says, “is going to decide whether the jury was instructed on honest-services fraud as the overall theory of the case.”

Razzano cautions that he’s “only read the briefs, not the original jury instructions” in Bereano’s case, but, based on what he knows, he thinks “Bereano has the better of the arguments.”

Former assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Levin, now a criminal-defense attorney with the firm Levin and Curlett, says Bereano and his lawyers “have made a valiant effort to right a perceived wrong.” The issue for the judge, Levin contends, “boils down to whether or not Mr. Bereano stole the money. If the court concludes that he did, the court will likely find that the erroneous instruction to the jury was harmless. If the court concludes otherwise, the conviction should be reversed.

Bereano’s attempt to overturn his convictions based on the Skilling decision harkens back to the case of another famous Marylander whose convictions were overturned in 1987: former Gov. Marvin Mandel. Ten years after he was convicted of 17 counts of mail fraud and one racketeering count, Mandel cited a then recent Supreme Court ruling against the “honest services” fraud charge, and cleared his name. Congress then passed an “honest services” statute in 1988, which was used liberally by federal prosecutors until last year’s Skilling decision put an end to its use once again. (The federal corruption case against Maryland state Sen. Ulysses Currie—which ended recently with acquittals on all charges for the Prince George’s County Democrat—initially included seven honest-services charges that prosecutors dropped after the Skilling ruling.)

Razzano says Bereano’s attorneys “have pretty sound precedent in the Mandel case” in arguing their client’s case. Razzano was no fan of the “honest services” provision, saying it was “an incredibly vague statute” and that “I was delighted to see the Supreme Court of the United States finally strike it down.”

Bereano’s attorneys and the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case, which is before U.S. District Judge William Nickerson. A court hearing for oral arguments in the case has been requested by Bereano’s attorneys, but has yet to be scheduled, according to the court docket.

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.

Shut Your Pie Hole: Mouthy Judge Faces Rare Suspension

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Sept. 12, 2007

Baltimore County District Court Judge Bruce Lamdin is known for telling it like it is (“Bench Talk,” Mobtown Beat, April 18), but the rhetorical boundaries he crossed on the bench may end up unseating him for a spell. On Aug. 28, 10 members of the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities (CJD), which is responsible for holding judges accountable for their conduct, unanimously ruled that Lamdin’s pattern of making inappropriate comments from the bench were “actionable conduct” for a judge. The CJD’s order recommended to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, that Lamdin be suspended for 30 work days without pay and that his courtroom behavior be monitored regularly by CJD staff.

If the Court of Appeals accepts the commission’s recommendation, Lamdin, who was appointed in 2002 by then-Gov. Parris Glendening, will become the first Maryland judge to be suspended without pay as a result of the 41-year-old commission’s work since 1996. That’s the year the CJD was reconstituted after public outcry over its toothless leniency in disciplining judges who made outrageous comments about crimes against women. Since then, its public cases normally have resulted in reprimands. In some instances, judges have resigned rather than face the commission’s charges in public hearings.

Lamdin’s case looked like it was headed to a reprimand, too, but was ratcheted up to a recommendation for suspension after the June 18 hearing on the matter before the commission. The CJD’s counsel, Peter Keith, and Lamdin’s attorney, Alvin Franklin, had mutually agreed to a public reprimand, the written decision explains, but the commission felt that wasn’t sufficient. “The imposition of a public reprimand,” the commissioners wrote, “is not commensurate with the serious pattern of misconduct in office committed by Judge Lamdin and does not not reassure the public that Judge Lamdin will be deterred from making similar comments in the future.”

Now that the CJD has sent it recommendation to the Court of Appeals, Lamdin’s legal options are spelled out in the Maryland Rules of Procedure. He has 30 days from the date he received the commission’s order to file “exceptions” to it with the high court, and, if he does so, the commissioners have another 15 days to respond to them. Then a hearing is scheduled, after which the Court of Appeals may do one of three things: impose sanctions (either those recommended by the CJD, or any others permitted by law), dismiss the case, or send it back for more proceedings. If Lamdin chooses not to file exceptions, then the Court of Appeals may reach its decision without a hearing.

Lamdin stipulated to the commissioners that his courtroom speech in 14 cases before him violated the state’s Canons of Judicial Conduct, and the commissioners found his comments to be “undignified, discourteous, and disparaging.” His offensive speech included comments about children, the Baltimore City judiciary, the Maryland correctional system, the state of Pennsylvania, the Baltimore County Circuit Court and its judges, and drug treatment. “Do you think I just came in on the watermelon truck today?” he asked one defendant. To another, he declared that “if there is a pile of shit there you’ll step in it,” according to the CJD’s findings of fact in the case.

Lamdin failed to impress the commissioners during the June 18 hearing, according to the written order. “During his sworn testimony at the Hearing,” the order reads, “Judge Lamdin admitted that his stipulated comments were ‘wrong,’ but never indicated any appreciation of exactly what was ‘wrong’ about those comments. … Judge Lamdin expressed no remorse for his comments; instead, he attempted to justify his comments through explanations and excuses. In response to questions from members of the Commission, Judge Lamdin was generally defensive, sometimes evasive, and, on at least one occasion, arrogant and hostile.”

The hearing was lively, if transcripts set down in the order are any indication. Lamdin grew combative with commissioner Paul Shelton, for example, who had asked Lamdin whether he would still tell “a person that appeared before you that the Circuit Court judges are spending the afternoon drinking cocktails?” Though Lamdin was stipulating that his from-the-bench comments broke rules of judicial behavior, he sometimes tried to defend them. For instance, when he had asked a lawyer whether his client’s head was “out of where he had it inserted earlier today,” Lamdin told the commissioners, “I think the comment fit the situation quite frankly at the time.”

Lamdin told the commissioners that, in some instances when his speech turned offensive, he was attempting humor. Such was the case, he explained, when he had described himself to a defendant as “a merciless SOB” – a comment he told the commissioners had been taken “out of context” in CJD’s charges. Another attempt at humor, which he admitted was “a mistake,” was when he said this in open court: “I get in trouble because I told some lady we confiscate cell phones and we put the cell phones in plastic bags and send them down to Annapolis. I suggested maybe we ought to do the same thing with children except poke holes in the bag.” In regard to this, the commissioners wrote that Lamdin “never expressed remorse, nor did he acknowledge that his disparaging comments about children in [that instance] might lead the public to believe that he was biased or prejudiced against children.”

The general excuse Lamdin offered regarding his offensive speech was that he was trying to communicate to defendants in “terms [they] could understand.” When the commissioner’s chairman, Court of Special Appeals Judge Patrick L. Woodward, asked what Lamdin was doing now that was different from before the charges arose, Lamdin said he was taking defendants back to his chambers to talk because “I can find out where their true desire is and whether they really want treatment or help, of if they’re a lost cause. And if they’re a lost cause there’s not much time to be wasted on talking to them.” The commissioners wrote about this answer: “Did he intend to continue using profanity, vulgarity, and name-calling, only now ‘back in chambers,’ or did he simply want a setting more conducive to finding out whether he could help a particular defendant? The commission truly hopes that it is the latter. Nevertheless, Judge Lamdin’s answer is disturbing to the Commission.”

Reached by phone at his court office in Towson on Sept. 7, Lamdin was characteristically feisty: “Why would you think I would want to talk to you?” he asked. When told a reporter must attempt to contact the subject of a story, he added, “I have nothing to say.” Asked whether he intended to file exceptions to the CJD’s order, Lamdin referred questions to his attorney, Alvin Frederick. As of press time, Frederick had not returned messages. Keith and staff at the CJD declined to comment on the case.

The CJD’s business is done largely in private, and only enters the public domain when the matter rises to a level of severity that calls for a hearing by the commission. Approximately 53 cases taken by the commission since 1996 resulted in measures that fell short of the public-hearing threshold, such as warning letters, private reprimands, or probationary terms. Eleven cases involved public outcomes – a dismissal, nine reprimands, ad a recommendation for removal from the bench.

Nationwide in 2006, only 18 judges were suspended without pay, according to Cynthia Gray, who tracks such things as director of the Center for Judicial Ethics of the American Judicature Society.

Lamdin has backers, including attorney David Irwin, who says he wrote a character letter to the commission to defend the judge. Irwin has in the past served as co-counsel with Lamdin before Lamdin became a judge. “I’ve just known and admired Judge Lamdin for a long time, and I hope it’s not over for him,” Irwin says, adding that “he’s a really good judge, and it saddens me” to hear of the recommended suspension.