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Shadow Players

Drilling Down Into Baltimore's Billion-Dollar "Informal Economy"

Milton Tillman Jr. in a 2006 booking photo
Tony Hill
Frank Klein
Sebastian Sassi
Frank Klein
Glenn Ross


By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 1/28/2009

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When City Paper reporters have pursued stories about the city's shadow economy, Milton Tillman Jr.'s name, businesses, and associates often came up, whether anyone was actively looking for them or not. Shawn Green was part owner of The Total Male II, a branch of the clothing store in Tillman's Monument Street building. Tillman once posted his own property to bail out Otis Rich, who was indicted last fall on cocaine trafficking charges in a case linked to the cofounders of Hollywood in a Bottle ("And Then There Were Eight," Mobtown Beat, Oct. 1, 2008). Devon Marshall, an imposing figure in the drug game who was also indicted in that same case, apparently was a tenant of Tillman's ("The Hollywood Connection," The News Hole, Aug. 29, 2008). Tillman allegedly paid the rent on a house occupied by Querida Lewis, until she was arrested on drug-trafficking charges last July ("Femme Fatale," Mobtown Beat, Jan. 14, 2009). Youth mentor Pastor Tony Hill described himself as Tillman's "secret weapon," claiming the state prosecuted him for theft, forgery and bribery only because of a prosecutorial (and possibly racist) vendetta against Tillman--and not because, say, bribing courthouse employees and forging judges' seals might be contrary to the public interest. (A call to Greg Dorsey, a lawyer who often represents Tillman, went unreturned.)

Agents of the FBI, DEA, and IRS raided various Tillman properties on Aug. 18, 2008, indicating that he's under investigation, but no high-level law enforcement official has named him--on the record or off--as a suspect in any drug cases currently being prosecuted. This level of discretion has shrouded Baltimore's shadow economy for generations. Police commissioners, FBI special agents-in-charge, and U.S. Attorneys come and go, and Baltimore does not change.

This is perhaps not surprising in a city so dependent on the money generated by drug sales--and the money allocated to counteract drugs. Charitable foundations and the federal government spend $1 million per week in Baltimore on drug treatment programs, creating hundreds of additional jobs--many of them for recovering addicts--which depend on an amorphous, uncountable addict population. City police draw overtime and seize millions of dollars worth of cars, real estate, and cash every year, leaching wealth from the city's drug economy but never really wounding it.

From an economic perspective, Baltimore's relationship to its shadow economy at first appears schizophrenic: politicians dress the "informal economy" in bows and present it in reports like the DrillDown as evidence of "strong markets," then wrap it in rags for presentation to the federal government in applications for aid. But Baltimore's informal economy exists, like underworlds everywhere, in symbiosis with official institutions.

When new drug crews show up in his neighborhood, Glenn Ross says, the cops beat them, arrest them, and sometime steal from them. Yet he says he's seen drug cops smiling and joking with more established crews. He's complained about it to police officials during community meetings. "The commanders say, 'Well, they have to establish a rapport,'" Ross says. "Bullshit."

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Tags: shadow economy, milton tillman jr.

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