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Unlucky Charm

Charm City Motors' Harrington Campbell Is Sentenced

Frank Klein
A sign for Charm City Motors leans against a wall at the lot where the business used to operate.

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 8/13/2008

The former proprietor of Charm City Motors, Harrington Campbell, was sentenced to nearly 11 years in federal prison on Aug. 6 for his role in a five-year cocaine trafficking conspiracy and for concealing the assets of his Reisterstown Road used-car dealership through the structuring of bank deposits. As the hearing neared to a close, Campbell apologized to Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Romano for refusing to help in the prosecution of his fellow co-conspirators, claimed that a key witness against him testified falsely, and accused his longtime business partner and co-conspirator Steven "Pop" Custis of making attempts on his life.

Whereas Campbell insisted on going to trial in April, Custis pleaded guilty to his role in the cocaine conspiracy in January and was sentenced in May to probation. Custis told U.S. District Judge Cathy Blake that he voluntarily got out of the drug game back in 2000. He said he had devoted his life to rehabbing slum housing for the benefit of recovering drug addicts and mentoring kids as co-founder of the Leon Day Foundation and coach of the Charm City Buccaneers, a Pop Warner football league team. In late 2001, public records show, he also went into the construction business with one of Baltimore's most notorious drug traffickers and racketeers, Raeshio Rice, of the murderous Rice Organization.

Custis and Campbell, classmates from Northwestern High School's class of 1992, started up Charm City Motors in the mid-1990s. In time it came to exemplify the infiltration of drug dealers into Maryland's poorly regulated used-car industry, according to public records, trial testimony, and interviews with law enforcers ("Does Cocaine Come With That Lexus," Feature, July 9). Evidence at Campbell's trial showed that from 1997 to 2002 he bought cocaine from wholesale suppliers in California and Texas and sold the drugs to Baltimore-area retailers, sometimes taking drug money in exchange for used cars. He also recorded fake liens on cars sold to drug dealers to insure against loss of the vehicles in the event of government interdiction. "He knew he was dealing with drug dealers," Romano said. "There's no other reason to put a fake lien on a car other than to thwart law enforcement from forfeiting the car once it is seized."

Evidence also showed that from March 1999 through November 2003 Campbell structured more than $1.7 million in cash and money orders deposited into either the Charm City Motors account or his personal bank accounts. Campbell and his accomplices would deposit cash or sequentially numbered money orders purchased with cash in increments just below $10,000, the reporting threshold for filing currency-transaction reports with the IRS.

Campbell's attorney John Hassett, a former Baltimore City state's prosecutor, argued that the government fused together two separate conspiracies--a drug-trafficking conspiracy and the structuring case--without proving they were connected. He called the testimony of a trio of convicted drug traffickers--Jerome Bruce, Reginald Jones III, and Norman Edmonds, who was caught in Texas in 2000 with 3.2 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a compartment in a car from the Charm City lot--"troubling."

"But for the structuring evidence I don't think we'd be here today," Hassett said. "The only evidence that links the two conspiracies together is Reginald Jones." Jones testified that he bought drugs from Campbell and also bought a $20,000 car from Campbell with drug money, prompting Campbell to then record a fake lien on the car.

Addressing the judge moments before being led away to prison, Campbell contended that Jones' testimony created a sizable "margin for error" for the prosecution. He said that he too left the drug game voluntarily, sometime around 2001, in part due to "numerous attempts on my life by Mr. Custis." Reached for comment, Custis replies, "I don't even want to talk about it. I want to get on with my life."

In a separate but equally chilling development, since first reporting on this case City Paper has learned that Reginald Jones recently was the victim of a nonfatal stabbing in federal prison, where he is serving the remainder of a 12-year sentence, until 2013.

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Tags: charm city motors, Harrington Campbell, shadow economy

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