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Red-Eye Special

Overnight Package From California Leads to Baltimore Drugs-and-Guns Bust of D.C. Judge's Son

Police Booking Photo
Phillip Robinson Winkfield's mug shot
GUNS AND AMMO: Examples of firearms seized in his arrest include (clockwise from top) a Beretta 92FS, a Calico 960, a Glock 21, and a Mossberg 500

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 5/28/2008

A seven-pound FedEx package left Eureka, Calif., one afternoon in late April, bound for a Northeast Baltimore apartment in the Dutch Village townhouse development. The next afternoon, less than two hours after the package's April 25 arrival, a warrant-waving team of Baltimore police officers and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents forced its way through the apartment door to find about seven pounds of marijuana, most of it in large, heat-sealed packages.

What promised to be a mundane pot-package investigation quickly became a major felony case involving a high-profile defendant, based on the rest of the apartment's contents: five loaded guns, a bunch of cocaine and heroin, a bulletproof vest, $8,000 cash, and 20-year-old Morgan State University student Phillip Robinson Winkfield, who was charged with multiple drug and firearms charges.

The defendant's mother is Deborah A. Robinson, a Washington, D.C., federal magistrate judge, whose 20-year career on the bench has brought numerous luminaries before her as defendants, from drug lords and an NBA star to high-level White House officials and a former D.C. mayor. Her son is a 2005 graduate of the exclusive Maret School in Washington and attended University of Delaware in '05 and '06 before coming to Morgan as a legacy student; his mother graduated from there in 1975.

Robinson divorced Winkfield's father, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs attorney John C. Winkfield, in 1992, but both were present in Baltimore City District Court on April 28 when Winkfield was ordered held without bail. Robinson told authorities her son had been living at the Dutch Village apartment for a year and a half. Prior to that, Winkfield's official address for 18 years was a home in upper northwest D.C. owned by his mother ("Just Family," Mobtown Beat, May 15).

A recording of the April 28 hearing obtained by City Paper reveals that District Court Judge Halee Weinstein based her no-bail decision on the seriousness of the charges against Winkfield, many of which carry possible 20-year sentences, and her perception of him as "a risk of public safety as well as a flight risk." On May 23 Winkfield was indicted in Baltimore City Circuit Court, and his arraignment was set for June 30. It is unclear whether Winfield's case will remain in state court or go to U.S. District Court.

If Winkfield's upbringing and education appear at odds with a drug dealer's stock-and-trade, some of the other circumstances surrounding his case are puzzling, as well. The publicly available facts raise more questions than they answer. Was he in the wrong place at the wrong time, with nothing to do with the whole mess? Is he a college pot dealer mixed up with others who are deeper into the game? Is he a troubled young man who got in over his head? Is he a straight-up gangster?

This much is clear: Winkfield lived in the apartment, and when the warrant was served he was there with a lot of drugs, guns, and money. DEA spokesman Edward Marcinko says his agency believes the evidence points to Winkfield owning the contraband and contends the case "may lead to federal charges."

But Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy says no federal charges are pending. The decision to bring them, she says, would rest on whether Winkfield could get the longest sentence at the state or federal level, and whether he is a repeat offender. Murphy also notes Winkfield was not the target of any investigation when police raided his apartment.

Winkfield's lawyer at the April 28 bail-review hearing, Craig Ellis, told the judge that Winkfield has two 2007 misdemeanor convictions in Virginia, for possessing a weapon and drug paraphernalia. "His mother was there with him," Ellis said of the Virginia case.

Murphy writes in an e-mail that Winkfield's case, and the decision-making over whether or not it goes federal, will not be treated any differently due to the fact that he is the son of high-profile parents. "Identities of defendants' parents don't matter to our charging decisions," she explains.

Baltimore City State's Attorney spokesman Joseph Sviatko writes in an e-mail that the Winkfield case "is still under investigation." In response to a City Paper request for information about recent joint state/federal investigations in Baltimore that resulted in federal prosecutions, Sviatko points to one case involving fewer guns and less drugs and money than in Winkfield's case, and several others involving large, lengthy conspiracies.

An affidavit sworn by DEA special agent Alfred Cooke, who obtained the search-and-seizure warrant that resulted in Winkfield's arrest, shows that investigators were focused not on Winkfield but the FedEx package, which originated from an address in Eureka, Calif., on a thoroughfare known for violent drug activity. Eureka is the county seat of Humboldt County, the principal growing location for high-grade marijuana in the United States, hence its nickname, "The Emerald Triangle."

According to the affidavit, investigators were acting on information from the DEA in Providence, R.I., which received a tip from a confidential source who "has prior law enforcement experience." The same source has provided information in the recent past leading to the seizure of 1,000 pounds of marijuana and $280,000 in cash. Veteran law enforcers say it is rare that an informant comes from a law enforcement background. DEA agent Marcinko declined to answer questions about the tipster or the circumstances leading to the tip.

The parcel's sender was listed as "Sara Brown," a name that law enforcers could not connect with the Eureka return address on the package. The recipient at Winkfield's Dutch Village address was a person named Fernella George, who, according to the search-warrant affidavit, is tied to the apartment via another individual, Cyprian Ekwunazu. City Paper's attempts to contact George and Ekwunazu were unsuccessful, and though public records confirm Ekwunazu's ties to the address in the 1990s, it is unclear whether either of them lived there at the time the package arrived.

DEA agent Marcinko says there were signs that Winkfield did not live there alone, but declines to say whether officials have identified other residents or believe them to be connected to the seized evidence. He notes that, in general, the names on a package of drugs do not always match up with the actual recipient or sender.

The affidavit states that a FedEx truck arrived at Winkfield's apartment at around 2 p.m. on April 25 and delivered the package at the door. When drug task force agents walked by the door a few minutes later, the package was no longer sitting at the foot of the door, the affidavit states. Just prior to the delivery, agents had observed a black male with dreadlocks leave the apartment, walk to the Dumpster, and return to the apartment. Just after the package delivery, two white males and a white female arrived in a car with Virginia tags and entered the apartment. When police raided the place, they found Winkfield, who is a black male with dreadlocks, and a whole lot of contraband: the pot, the cash, the five loaded guns (including two shotguns and an assault rifle), the bulletproof vest, 166 grams of heroin, 210 grams of crack, and an ounce of powder cocaine.

"This was a routine investigation," Marcinko explains. "But what surprised us was the amount of drug and nondrug evidence seized." Winkfield's attorney Robert Mance, who responded to a phone call to Robinson's chambers, declined to comment for this article. Baltimore Police Department spokesman Sterling Clifford has not returned numerous calls or e-mails requesting information about the case.

If authorities who were looking to intercept a parcel of marijuana were surprised to find a cache of loaded weapons and large quantities of hard drugs, the presence of a federal judge's son is also intriguing. Information about Winkfield is hard to come by. His parents have declined to talk about the matter or his upbringing. Calls to the Maret School, on a historic campus in the Woodley Park section of Northwest Washington, have not been returned. His attorney Mance confirms that he grew up in the D.C., residence owned by his mother, and that he has a sister. At his bail-review hearing, attorney Ellis urged the judge to release Winkfield to the custody of his father, citing a history of counseling and willingness to undergo further counseling.

Winkfield's Facebook page offers a skimpy portrait of a student with friends at University of Delaware and the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Va. City Paper could not confirm whether Winkfield ever attended Mary Washington, but a Facebook friend who asked not to be named says Winkfield "stood out" on campus, where he had a girlfriend. "He used to wear Bob Marley T-shirts," the friend says, adding that "I knew he liked weed, but I didn't know he was a dealer."

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