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Mobtown Beat

Brooks on Brooks

Imprisoned Dealer Reveals More About Drugs in Baltimore

THE GAME IS RIGGED: Fred Brooks says Baltimore is a pay-to-play city.

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 2/13/2008

A recorded voice says to "press 5" to accept a prepaid call one early January morning. Baltimore drug dealer Fred Brooks is calling from federal prison. He has plenty to say.

"This goes in a lot of directions," Brooks says, referring to all the investigations and cases he's helped the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office pursue since he became an informant in 2003. Then, of his bona fides as a drug dealer he adds, "You're going to find that in a lot of the big drug cases from 1990 on, I was the major supplier."

Just as City Paper was going to press last month on a two-part series about Brooks ("The Dealer," Feature, Jan. 9 and 16), he began communicating in earnest about his career, which ended suddenly in 2003 when he was caught dealing drugs with associates of the Tijuana, Mexico-based Arellano-Félix cartel. In letters and phone conversations that occurred after City Paper's print deadline, Brooks expounded on his role as one of Baltimore's largest wholesalers of heroin and cocaine since the late 1980s. He also provided a time line of his activities. Rich in detail, Brooks' communications do more than chronicle the rise (and fall) of a drug dealer. He contends that in his experience, a culture of corruption inside the Baltimore Police Department and at the highest levels of city and state government warrant greater scrutiny.

"Baltimore is a pay-to-play city," he told City Paper on Jan. 4 in a phone call monitored by federal prison officials, as he explained how he was able to conduct drug-related business out of his nightclub in the mid-1990s, Club Indigo. "[Others] took it to a further limit with politicians to keep the feds off their back. I didn't and that's why I'm in prison."

Currently serving a reduced 10-year federal prison sentence, Brooks emerges as a man with bitter regret for the "chain reaction" of pain and loss he caused, but he also expresses disdain for what he contends is incompetence and public corruption from the streets to the halls of power. "In my early 20s, I was like most boys," he writes in a letter postmarked Jan. 8 but received after Part 1 of the series was published. "I felt invincible and when I encountered the joke of the state legal system I really felt untouchable. I knew as long as I had money I wouldn't go to jail. I probably have paid over $5 million in bails in my life. I watched attorneys grease the pockets of prosecutors in the hallways of the courthouse. I remember at [age] 23 telling my father that Baltimore had no jail that could hold me."

City Paper first wrote to Brooks in November to seek comment on his life, career, and 2005 testimony in federal court in Baltimore, which led to convictions of six Mexicans from Southern California, who helped him bring 600 kilograms of Colombian cocaine from Los Angeles to Baltimore during a nine-month period in 2003.

Some of the Mexicans were associates or employees of L.A. grocery king George Torres, a former partner of Horatio "Carlos" Vignali (of Bill Clinton "Pardongate" fame) and an alleged drug kingpin currently facing RICO charges in federal court in L.A. Raul Del Real, one of the Mexicans Brooks testified against, is identified in federal court documents as a key potential witness against Torres on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

At first, Brooks seemed willing to share details of his story that no federal jury has ever heard. In a letter received by City Paper just after Thanksgiving, he wrote, "the subplots [of my story] are so many but far more interesting than just me. The U.S. Attorney's Office had to use almost a half-dozen [prosecutors] from the organized crime division and prosecuted me with their two best [attorneys]. . . . [Former U.S. Attorney Thomas] DiBiagio and people from the Department of Justice sat in on most of my court proceedings. Have you spoken with them?"

But as word of City Paper's inquiries around Baltimore got back to him, Brooks' attitude changed. "What I had hoped wouldn't happen is happening," he wrote in mid-December. He was concerned that street-level gossip of an article about him was making people uncomfortable.

Then his attitude changed again, as Brooks accepted the inevitability of his story coming to light. "For the purpose of true accuracy I will give you a timeline of my drug career," he wrote in a letter postmarked Jan. 4, but received after the print deadline for Part 1 of the series.

After the series ran, Brooks agreed in mid-January to a regular visit from City Paper, but prison regulations prohibit such visits unless the visitor had a relationship with the inmate before he or she was convicted. On Feb. 1, the federal prison warden where Brooks is serving time denied a request for a formal media interview, which Brooks also had agreed to. Prison authorities have refused to give any specific reason for denying the interview request, other than to say it is related to "ongoing safety and security concerns."

A prison official tells City Paper these concerns have nothing to do with Brooks or his communications. His letters come across at times as cryptic, yet they are insightful. Many of his contentions are hard to corroborate and could be taken as the arrogant ramblings of a criminal trying to rationalize his actions. However, he also points to troubling perceptions if not realities of the city--dark secrets, compromised officials, intergenerational "Baltimore beefs"--that are not unfamiliar to other criminals, victims of crime, or any observer of the criminal justice system.

The U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment on Brooks' status as either a prisoner or an informant, nor would it respond to any of the broader allegations he makes regarding public corruption. But the government's belief in him as a credible informant is illustrated by the fact that he made at least 50 government-taped phone calls to various drug dealers around the world after being taken into custody in 2003. In a monitored call on Jan. 4 of this year, Brooks told City Paper that he has provided assistance on international drug investigations related to Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Jamaica, and that he has testified before a federal grand jury on at least one occasion.

Though remorseful of his actions as a dope trafficker, Brooks seems motivated by more than hope for redemption. He is indignant about the "system of prisons, cops, lawyers, and judges" whose livelihoods are dependent on the ravages of the drug war. "Knowing that I am a part of the problem is an almost unbearable burden," he writes, in a letter postmarked Jan. 22.

Brooks also expresses a desire to be understood for what he is--and is not. "I have refused to give up anyone in Baltimore I consider my friend," he writes in a letter received just last week.

Much of his correspondence criticizes law enforcement while touting a business plan that he felt was shrewd and more humane than that of violent drug dealers. "What makes this hard for people to understand is how I stayed completely under the radar of the feds until 1994," Brooks writes, in a short letter that accompanied the time line he provided. "Maryland had no clue and the formula was simple: I didn't kill people. I was organized and I stayed low key without the violence."

In actuality, Brooks' formula for staying out of prison from the late 1980s to the early 1990s was more complicated, as a follow-up letter and his time line indicate.

According to Brooks, family members taught him how to sell drugs, but a Colombian associate whom he met in 1989 put him on the path to large-scale narcotics trafficking. Brooks contends that by 1992 he was supplying more than half of the heroin coming into Baltimore, and that he had six lieutenants who supplied major drug dealers all around the city. "I was completely insulated," he writes in his time line, postmarked Jan. 4. "I was so far removed and as people were catching federal cases I was nowhere in the picture."

Brooks contends his formula also relied on public corruption, incompetence, money, secrecy, and the city's lack of regard for the devastation of drugs and drug dealers. For instance, he writes in his time line, after his first arrest for dealing heroin in 1992--a street arrest he claims was tainted by planted evidence, as he was beyond street dealing by then--"I was introduced in Boot Camp as `the millionaire,' and basically I completely ran my operation out of there. There was nothing I wanted for."

During a second incarceration in 1996, in federal prison at Fort Dix in New Jersey, instead of rehabilitation, Brooks writes, "I met people from all over the world and I thought I could get into the hassle-free importation game if things didn't work out when I came home."

Which is just what he did, after efforts to "fly straight" yielded to a series of personal and financial problems that led him back to drug dealing, in 2000. Even while on probation, Brooks says he was flying all over the world, setting up drug deals. When he was finally arrested in 2003, the U.S. Attorney's Office offered to reduce his sentence and turned him into a government asset that has left him beholden to provide assistance when called upon.

Brooks says he has done just that. Yet above all, he seems anxious to expose more about what is at the root of Baltimore's perpetual cycle of drugs and violence. Feeling that the game is rigged--and not necessarily on the street--he writes, "My only hope is that somewhere some kid or young adult will read this and decide that this road is the wrong turn."

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