Unstopped Snitching: Skinny Suge’s Prison Cell Phone Seized

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 24, 2008


Ronnie Thomas, also known as “Skinny Suge” and “Suga da Pimp,” is a tenacious media hound. He made a name for himself with the 2005 release of his video, Stop Fucking Snitching Vol. 1, a rambling, low-budget documentary that opened a frenzied national discussion on street-level abhorrence for police cooperators.

Now Suge’s in the Supermax prison, serving time for a 2007 assault conviction and awaiting trial on federal gang-related conspiracy charges. But according to federal court documents, that didn’t stop him from shouting out to friends and fans over a contraband cell phone taken from his prison cell on Nov. 24. The documents, which include the phone numbers of incoming and outgoing calls and text messages contained in the phone, indicate that authorities learned of the phone through an informant’s tip.

Many of the text messages transcribed in the court records are Thanksgiving greetings (“Happy Turkey Day!”) or about routine matters (“Do u still got tarsha number from the salon?” and “What’s up mike got locked up this morning.”), but others are just plain cryptic–apparently, even to Suge. “SO U PLAYING GAME WITH ME BITCH,” reads one, sent to Suge in the early morning hours of Nov. 24. “What u talking bout,” Suge texts back.

The same question could be asked when reading this message, sent by Suge (pictured, in a scene from the movie) to a WERQ radio deejay: “BIG L, Real words from da ckitys realest negro, Smash &ckrip r somegood lil negros an im definitely bhind dem boyz wishin dem nothing but da best! Let dem ckats know, on my word da whole Bgang is Bhind dem! GET MONEY PIMPIN-DA BIG HOMMIE, SUGA DA PIMP E.A.”

The deejay, Big L, explains the communiqué this way: “Suge texted me a message and asked me to play a song or give him a shout-out while I was on the air,” he says during a Dec. 10 interview with City Paper. “There was a local rap group on the air with us, Smash ‘n’ Crip, and he just was listening and wanted to let them know they sound good. To hear him say something like that is a plus for them,” Big L says of the rap group–which, he adds in reference to the word “Crip” in the group’s name, “has no gang affiliation.”

Suge, Big L says, “is an old friend of mine from growing up in the neighborhood. He was a good guy, despite the things he might have done wrong. He always showed me respect, like I shown him.”

Suge’s lawyer, Michael Montemarano, says he is aware that a phone was seized from his client’s prison cell, but explains that “I can neither confirm nor deny that he had the cell phone.” Montemarano also says that, “to the extent that it would be true” that Suge had a cell phone in prison, “it would be troubling,” because “how could he have gotten the phone without the help of someone in a blue suit?”–referring to uniformed correctional officers.

“Cell phones are not allowed in prison,” says Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli, “and they are a major problem that we have been trying to address.” Neither Vernarelli nor U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy had anything further to add about the incident.

Cooking Goose: “Stop Fucking Snitching” figure gets snitched on in prison

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 24, 2013


Sherman “Goose” Kemp, one of the cash-loving, drug-dealing stars of 2004’s anti-rat Baltimore street-culture documentary Stop Fucking Snitching Vol. I, already had a prodigious list of prior drug-related convictions before he was charged anew in early 2012 with conspiring to smuggle heroin into federal prison, where he was serving a 30-year sentence, and sell it at a huge mark up: two federal convictions in the 2000s and one Maryland conviction in the 1990s. Now, having copped to the new charges, Kemp’s list of priors is even longer.

After signing a guilty-plea agreement in October, Kemp (pictured, in a Stop Fucking Snitching scene) was recently sentenced – and received a pretty good deal, given that such priors often result in draconian sentences: four more years added to his existing term, shifting his release date from 2035 to 2039, when he’ll be about 60 years old. He actually got a 10-year sentence, but U.S. District judge Catherine Blake ordered six of them to be served concurrently with his existing prison term.

According to the plea’s statement of facts, “beginning in April 2011, through November 7, 2011, Sherman Michael Kemp, agreed with Lasheta Claybourne and others to smuggle heroin from Baltimore, Maryland, into FCI Beckley, West Virginia, where he was serving a federal sentence. Once the heroin was smuggled inside the prison, Kemp and other distributed the heroin at approximately $600 per gram.”

The statement has an additional sentence, with lines drawn through it, indicating that Kemp and the government do not agree that this could be proven: “Additionally, in September through November 2012, Kemp worked with others to try to smuggle heroin into the Chesapeake Detention Facility in Baltimore, Maryland, where he was being held pretrial.” The facility is run by Maryland’s prison agency and now is used to house federal pretrial detainees, but until early 2011, it had long been used as the state’s “Supermax” prison, formally known as the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center.

In the prison-heroin case, another Beckley inmate ratted Kemp out, according to court records, prompting investigators to uncover a complex smuggling scheme involving Claybourne, who has not been charged publicly. She is described in court documents as a licensed nursing assistant at University of Maryland Medical Center who arranged for heroin shipments to be sent to Kemp in Beckley and managed the scheme’s money.

Kemp’s 2008 firearm-and-cocaine conviction in Maryland, for which he received a 180-month sentence, was followed with a jury conviction in a Pennsylvania case that yielded Kemp’s 30-year sentence and $31 million judgment for his part in the sprawling and murderous Phillips Cocaine Organization, in which other Baltimore players were in the picture, including Anthony Ballard and Shawn Green. Kemp’s name also appeared in court documents in the 2010 racketeering case against the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang in Maryland, with his phone tied to that of the gang’s on-the-streets heroin dealer, Kevin Glasscho.

Back in 2004, before Sherman “Goose” Kemp went to prison to serve 30 years for successive federal drug-trafficking convictions in Maryland and Pennsylvania, his appearances in Stop Fucking Snitching made law enforcers bristle. The Baltimore street-culture documentary’s core message-that those who cooperate with cops should be silenced by violence-went viral on both sides of the issue, and when Kemp’s 2007 Maryland indictment came down, Baltimore DEA’s then-assistant special agent in charge, Carl Kotoswki, said in a press release that “if convicted, Kemp, a self-proclaimed star of the streets, will have years in federal prison to refine his acting skills.”

In February 2012, Kemp, now 34 and serving a sentence set to end in 2035, was indicted again in federal court, this time for running heroin in prison. Details that emerged in court on June 28 reveal that, just as in his prior two cases, snitching made it happen. If convicted, he faces a possible life sentence.
In September 2011, a fellow inmate at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Beckley, in West Virginia, sparked a new DEA investigation into Kemp’s alleged heroin-dealing at the medium-security prison. The scheme, as described in court documents, involved an intricate chain of phone calls, text messages, shipping, and smuggling that made Kemp “responsible for the majority of the heroin that is being smuggled into and trafficked within” FCI Beckley, which has an inmate population of 1,643, plus another 416 in an adjacent minimum-security camp.
Each of the inmates served by Kemp’s alleged scheme had to give him half the heroin they smuggled in, which, according to court documents, commanded a price of $600 per gram-much higher than the $200 or so per gram it costs on the street. Thus, the single 10-gram package agents tracked and seized during the investigation could have been sold for $6,000; Kemp stood to make a good living this way – and based on what Kemp had to say in Stop Fucking Snitching, it’s the only kind of living he cares to make.

In one scene in the movie, according to court documents, Kemp talks with his friend Tremain Tazewell as they sit in the West Baltimore bar they then ran together, Pete’s Place. Kemp declares that it doesn’t “count” if “you got money from your grandmother dying or your mother passed away or someone died on an airplane,” or “you were hurt from when you were born,” or “you made your money from baseball, basketball, football and shit.” The only money that “counts,” he says, is “street money, blood money, money in rubber bands,” adding that “if it don’t come in rubber bands, vacuum sealed, freezer bags, or ziplock bags, shit don’t count.” Then Tazewell chimes in: “And trash bags.”

Tazewell later ended up convicted of drug crimes; now 34, he’s scheduled to be released from federal prison in 2025. Many others who appeared in or helped make Stop Fucking Snitching, including producer Ronnie Thomas (better known as Skinny Suge), Van Sneed, Akiba Matthews, George Butler, Warren Polston, and Eric Bailey, were later convicted in federal court on drug-related charges. In addition, two former Baltimore City police officers mentioned in the film, William King and Antonio Murray, were convicted of robbing drug dealers and selling the drugs themselves.

The details of the investigation into Kemp’s prison-heroin indictment emerged when prosecutors filed documents in Maryland U.S. District Court on June 28 to oppose Kemp’s argument that investigators employed unlawful tactics to build their case. The filing offered the first public glimpse of the evidence against Kemp.

The alleged scheme involved numerous steps. First, once Kemp “approved of an inmate receiving heroin inside of FCI Beckley,” court documents say, the inmate would be provided the cellphone number of Kemp’s “female associate in Baltimore City, Lasheta Clayborne,” described as a licensed nursing assistant at University of Maryland Medical Center. The inmate would then have his girlfriend call Clayborne and say, “I’m calling for (insert inmate’s name); he said to give you an address.” Clayborne would respond by telling the girlfriend to “hang up and text her the address,” and then would mail to the address a package, “usually a box of candy,” that “contained a quantity of heroin secreted in small balloons.” Once the heroin arrived, “it was then up to the inmate’s girlfriend to smuggle the heroin inside to the inmate”-usually by “body carrying” in “private areas of the body” or by “mouth transfer” when kissing the inmate.

Clayborne, who has not been publicly charged for her alleged involvement in Kemp’s case and could not be reached for comment, also had an important role on the money side of the alleged scheme. “Kemp frequently directs Clayborne to send money to other individuals involved in his heroin smuggling operation,” court documents say, and she “sends money into Kemp’s account via Western Union.” Kemp’s prison customers, meanwhile, are “directed to have someone on the outside send an amount of money to Clayborne,” who then “notifies Kemp the money has arrived” in payment.

Kemp has maintained his innocence in the prison-heroin case, as he did in the Pennsylvania case-in which he was one of 11 defendants in a violent drug-conspiracy case against the Phillips Cocaine Organization (PCO) which included the murder of a federal witness. Kemp and two others, including kingpin Maurice Phillips, stood trial for three months as co-defendants, and cooperators testified for the prosecution. After Kemp was convicted of a single cocaine-conspiracy count, he asked for a new trial, saying the government had failed to disclose to him, as required, evidence that could have been used to impeach one of the cooperators who testified against him. When his motion was denied, he appealed, and still awaits a ruling.

Back when Kemp was a “star of the streets,” kicking it in his posh waterfront apartment at Spinnaker Bay in Baltimore’s Harbor East neighborhood and owning a sporting goods store on Loch Raven Boulevard, life carried some risks. In the early 2000s, for instance, when a vicious drug-dealing outfit headed by rap-music producer Willie Mitchell was warring with the infamous Rice Organization, a rival drug crew with political pull, Mitchell’s underlings hatched an aborted plan to rob and kill Kemp, according to court documents.

But Kemp lived large-as seen in Stop Fucking Snitching, when, hanging at Pete’s Place, he “pulls wads of cash out of his pocket” that are “wrapped in rubber bands,” court documents say. No matter what happens in his prison-heroin case, those days are long gone.