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Mobtown Beat

All The Emperor's Men

Tillman Associate Has Business Ties to Heroin Ring

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 8/27/2008

For more than a decade, Samuel A. Hinton has been a bailbondsman for Milton Tillman Jr. and his son Milton Tillman III, whose offices and other properties were raided on Aug. 18 by FBI and IRS agents in a criminal probe of one of the city's most powerful families.

While Tillman Jr. is a well-known businessman with two federal convictions and control of vast property interests and a major chunk of the city's bail bonds market, Hinton is a relatively unknown veteran bail bondsman with no criminal record and a variety of other interests.

One of those interests, according to state business records, is co-ownership with James Jones Jr. of Fat Cats Variety, a West Baltimore drug front that was busted in 2007 as part of a midlevel heroin distribution conspiracy that led to convictions earlier this year of eight individuals in federal court. There are 11 more defendants scheduled for trial in state court on Sept. 10.

Hinton's name has not surfaced in either federal or state court in connection with the drug conspiracy, and his business ties to the Tillmans are in the context of the bail bonds industry. He says he was never involved with Fat Cats beyond registering a trade name and putting the utilities in his name, which he says has since been removed from the bills. "I never got any money from that [business]," he says.

Likewise the federal probe of Tillman Jr. and his son does not appear to be drug-related. Yet their association with Hinton is another example of the close proximity of the drug world to the business universe of the Tillmans, a politically connected family from East Baltimore for more than two decades.

Tillman Jr.'s connections to the drug world include a mutual interest in Total Male, an East Baltimore clothing store, with a fugitive drug trafficker named Shawn Green. (See "Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12.) In 2002, during the federal trial of a man who shot Milton Tillman III in a drug deal gone wrong, a federal prosecutor introduced Drug Enforcement Agency records and branded Tillman Jr. "one of the most notorious drug dealers in Baltimore City history." (See "Grave Accusations," Mobtown Beat, April 23.) Tillman Jr., who was convicted in 1993 of attempted bribery and in '96 of tax fraud, has never been charged with or convicted of a major drug-related crime. The Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office declines to discuss the scope of the current Tillman investigation, which is being run by its white collar-crimes unit. (See "Tillman Properties Raided by Feds," News Hole, Aug. 20.)

The U.S. Attorney's Office also declines to comment on the drug case involving Fat Cats Variety, located in a storefront on Frederick Avenue in Southwest Baltimore. Fat Cats is not the only drug-related tie to Hinton, according to state business and court records. For years he has listed for business purposes an address at 714 E. Biddle St., a rowhouse owned since 1997 by a three-time convicted drug dealer named Ellsworth Watts Jr. Hinton says it is his home address and declines to discuss his landlord.

Since 1991, according to state records, Hinton has posted hundreds of bail bonds from locations controlled by Tillman Jr. and his son. Among the seven Tillman-related locations that federal agents recently searched, two of them--2332 E. Monument St. and 1101 North Point Blvd.--are listed in court records as business addresses for Hinton.

On paper, the relationship between Hinton and the Tillmans is not unique. Neither Tillman Jr. nor his son are licensed bail bondsmen; rather, they own 4 Aces Bail Bonds and Xpress Bail Bond Inc., which have had policies with a number of insurance carriers and a vast network of recovery agents. Hinton is a licensed bondsman, according to the Maryland Insurance Administration, and writes bail that is backed by the Tillmans' insurers. Sources familiar with the industry say this typically requires a percentage to be paid by the bondsman to the owner of the insurance policy.

Hinton says he pays Tillman for insurance but considers it a premium intended for the insurance carriers. He declines to discuss his arrangements with Tillman. He insists he didn't start writing bail through Tillman's company until after 2000.

Court records indicate a number of bondsmen rely on insurance policies owned by the Tillmans, and, like Hinton, at least one has ties to the drug underworld. A newly incorporated bail bonds company called Got Bail? LLC, is writing off the Tillmans' insurance, and one of its owners is a convicted cocaine dealer named Vincent Magliano. Another of the owners of Got Bail? is Ronald David Jones, an ex-Baltimore City police officer and former strip club owner with deep roots in local politics and illegal gambling. (See, "Mob Rules," Books, Oct. 6, 2004.) Conversely, Hinton says he relies on different insurance companies and bail-bond companies to underwrite his freelance business, including a company owned by retired bondsman Hiram Holton, father of Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen Holton (D-8th District).

In 2005, Hinton and James Jones Jr. co-registered the trade name Fat Cats Variety for the store located at 2026 Frederick Ave. Jones, whose nickname is "Fats," was arrested at the store on June 7, 2007, for his role as a "cut man" in a midlevel heroin distribution conspiracy involving 19 defendants in state and federal courts. According to state grand jury transcripts, Jones received raw heroin from a man named James Brice, diluted it at the store, and packaged it in gel caps for street sales. His accomplices included Phillip "Uncle Phil" Cottman and Damon Maurice "Day-Day" Thompson, who are scheduled for trial in state court on Sept. 10, along with nine others. Brice was convicted in federal court earlier this year, along with Jones and six other co-defendants, and has yet to be sentenced. Jones was sentenced to 97 months in federal prison. Jones, Cottman, and Thompson were three of the five defendants in the case bailed out by bondsmen affiliated with the Tillmans.

Hinton's other business interests, according to state records, include a clothing store called Chubby's Sons 2, also located at 2026 Frederick Ave., which he registered as a trade name in August 2007.

As with Fat Cats, Hinton says he never owned a stake in Chubby's Sons 2. "I was supposed to do a clothing business with Jones' brother," he says. "But I couldn't come up with the money. I always wanted to own a business."

In 2003, Hinton also registered a trade name for Little Sam Bail Bond, located at 908 E. Patapsco Ave., again using his East Biddle Street address as a point of contact. However, he recently allowed his business charter for Little Sam to lapse.

"It's hard out here," Hinton says. "I don't make a lot of money."

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Tags: milton tillman, Samuel A. Hinton, shadow economy

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