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Mobtown Beat

And Then There Were Eight

Hollywood-Tied Drug Conspiracy Case Grows

Lawrence "Lorenzo" Reeves (left), who helped LaVern Whitt (right) finance the Hollywood in a Bottle project, was indicted on drug-trafficking charges in September.

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 10/1/2008

The bare bones of a nationwide cocaine-trafficking organization, including the business partner of a Hollywood filmmaker with ties to City Hall ("The Company You Keep," Mobtown Beat, Sept. 10), have been described by federal prosecutors in a series of hearings and court filings over the past two weeks. The case, which started with three defendants and points to potential street violence, now has eight.

Named in the initial indictment is Lawrence "Lorenzo" Reeves, a prior drug convict in Maryland and Arizona, who earlier this year co-founded Hollywood in a Bottle, an educational initiative for youngsters interested in entertainment careers. His partner in the venture is Baltimore native LaVern Whitt, a former Hollywood stunt woman living in Los Angeles. Whitt is co-producer, with Warner Music Group's Kevin Liles--also a Baltimore native--of a documentary-in-progress about Baltimore's four top elected officials, titled Women in Power.

Two of Reeves' alleged co-conspirators, Devon "Big D" Marshall and Otis "O" Rich (who was arrested Sept. 16), are well-known for their past criminal convictions and charges related to drug dealing and violence. Two others, Baltimore-based Juan Osmedy Nunez and Marcos Galindo, have ties to New York and Arizona, respectively, and have business experience in shipping and transportation. Nunez and Baltimore businessman and ex-con Gilbert Sapperstein, who in 2005 was convicted of bilking millions of dollars from city government ("Hot Contract," Mobtown Beat, Jan. 26, 2005), are co-debtors on the mortgage for an East Baltimore property that houses Nunez's trucking company and a tavern called El Rancho Blanco.

The alleged organization, as its members are described during hearings and in public records, is shaping up to be a multifaceted, cross-country enterprise that operates in a variety of social settings. Reeves, with his for-the-kids Hollywood ties and air of respectability, presents a contrast to the fearsome Marshall and Rich, as does Nunez, who on paper comes across as a legitimate businessman with hardly a court matter in his background (though he appeared regularly before Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners to answer for problems at El Rancho Blanco, including assaults, gambling, and drugs).

At Devon Marshall's detention hearing on Sept. 3, prosecutors described him as a menacing street enforcer whom Lorenzo Reeves tasked with inflicting violence over drug-money disputes. A recent search of Marshall's Harford County home produced three loaded weapons and an assault rifle containing 20 armor-piercing bullets. A federal judge ordered Marshall, who has a conspiracy conviction and numerous violent drug charges dating to the early 1990s, detained as a flight risk and an ongoing danger to society.

Otis Rich, a career criminal, pleaded not guilty to coke trafficking on Sept. 22 and also has been detained. His criminal record dates to 1993, when he pleaded guilty to felony drug charges in a case that saw East Baltimore bail bondsman Milton Tillman ("Citizen of the Year," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 27) post his own property at 1506 N. Chapel St. as bond for Rich. Since then, Rich, who has several aliases, has been convicted twice on drugs and firearms charges. In three separate cases since the early 1990s, the state also has declined to prosecute him on murder and attempted-murder charges.

Reeves' other alleged co-conspirators include William Leonardo "Leo" Graham, of Baltimore, who was ordered detained on Sept. 18 based on multiple prior felony drug convictions, a prior handgun conviction, and the threat to "community safety." Nathaniel Lee "Big Nate" Jones, of Huntingtown in Calvert County, where he received a mostly suspended 10-year sentence in a 2006 felony drug case, pleaded not guilty to the recent federal charges on Sept. 22 and was released.

Still at large is 32-year-old Marcos Galindo, who has a prior drugs-and-weapons record in Arizona. In corporate records there, Galindo is listed as director of Precision Installation of Mesa, Ariz., a company that designs office space and ships furniture.

Juan Nunez first appeared in federal court on Sept. 17, and argued successfully for release on Sept. 23 before U.S. District Judge Susan Gauvey. However, U.S. District Judge William Quarles immediately overturned the decision. Quarles detained Nunez, after hearing allegations, based largely on wiretaps, that Nunez used aliases, purchased luxury cars from a Los Angeles-based car dealer with drug cash, sold vehicles with compartments installed for transporting drugs, and deposited large sums of money into bank accounts, despite having no reported income from various businesses he was affiliated with, including an internet trucking business and an interstate transportation company called J&R Transport. The company's office, according to state records, is at 100 S. Fagley St. in Highlandtown, which is also the address of El Rancho Blanco.

Nunez, according to city liquor board records, took over the liquor license for El Rancho Blanco in 2003 from his business partner, Juan Antonio Ortiz, a Highlandtown grocery-store owner who has since taken over the liquor license for another bar nearby, La Roca, on Pulaski Highway. At the time, Nunez wrote in his liquor-license application that he had worked since 1994 at L&M Produce in Jessup. In 2003 Nunez also purchased El Rancho Blanco's real estate. His mortgage for the property was co-signed by Gilbert Sapperstein, who for decades has been dealing in Baltimore-area bars, real estate, and amusement devices that are often used for illegal gambling. Nunez remains the property's owner of record, though the liquor license was transferred to Nunez business associate Eduardo Gonzalez Reyes in 2006. Since that time, according to liquor board records, the bar has been free of violations.

Ortiz and Reyes did not return messages by press time. Sapperstein's lawyer, David Cohen, says his client "was probably the guarantor" of Nunez's mortgage for purchasing 100 S. Fagley St.

The eighth member of the alleged cocaine conspiracy is Justin Santiago Gallardo, of Annapolis. He was released following his indictment on Sept. 3. His only prior criminal charges involve driving while impaired in Maryland and Arizona.

According to the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office, Lorenzo Reeves also has been released. He could not be reached for comment. His Hollywood in a Bottle business partner, LaVern Whitt, who has not been implicated in the conspiracy, has referred all inquiries about her relationship with Reeves to criminal-defense attorney Warren Brown. Brown confirms that Whitt met Reeves through an L.A.-based car dealer, and subsequently Reeves took out a bank loan to invest in Hollywood in a Bottle. Brown insists his client is in the clear.

"A lot of times these guys put A together with B to bring them into a conspiracy," Brown says. "If [Reeves] was secretive about whom he was dealing with, how can [they] put anything on my client?"

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Tags: Milton Tillman Jr., Milton Tillman III, Joan Pratt, Sheila Dixon, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Patricia Jessamy, Hollywood in a Bottle, Lawrence Schaffner Reeves, Lavern Whitt , drugs, drug-dealing, shadow economy

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