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Mobtown Beat

Costly Charges

Drug prosecutions suffer after detective is accused of embezzlement

The City Paper Digi-Cam™
Mark Lunsford's home in Sykesville, where a September raid by the FBI uncovered a stash of cash, jewelry, and more.

By Van Smith | Posted 11/11/2009

On Aug. 3, Ira Jimmy Martin was arrested for armed drug dealing in Baltimore City. "Lots of cash [was] recovered in this case," Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office spokeswoman Margaret Burns says. But on Sept. 24, court records show, prosecutors dropped all six charges against 33-year-old Martin. The reason, according to Burns: The case rested on the honesty of veteran Baltimore Police Det. Mark James Lunsford.

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task-force officer, Lunsford was revealed in federal court as being accused by the FBI of embezzlement and lying ("Baltimore Cop Charged by Feds with Lying and Embezzlement," the News Hole, Sept. 24 ) on the same day Martin was let off the hook.

Burns explains in an Oct. 7 e-mail that it "turns out that the drugs [in Martin's case] were handled at all points by Lunsford only, and so we lost this one. There is no way we could get the drugs in [as evidence in court] due to the taint of the officer."

Lunsford-related cases dropped by city prosecutors since the FBI's accusations include drug charges against Ivan James, Teon White, and Demetrius Waters. Burns predicts the total tally is likely to be few in number, since much of Lunsford's work was for federal investigations.

"When these cases come up," she says, "we review the evidence carefully to determine whether we can go forward without the officer involved, and in some cases we are able to build a successful prosecution, but in others, we can't. We review everything on a case-by-case basis and try to salvage what we can."

Federal prosecutions impacted by Lunsford's charges include two cases previously covered by City Paper.

Querida Lewis and Inga Bacote ("Femme Fatale," Mobtown Beat, Jan. 14) have pleaded guilty to a cross-country marijuana-trafficking conspiracy, but have not yet been sentenced. Their attorneys won court approval to postpone sentencing so they can better determine Lunsford's role, which ties in through Lunsford's affidavits in another, related case against Gilbert Watkins. Watkins pleaded guilty early this year to a cocaine conspiracy and received a 135-month prison sentence. Lunsford was "clearly involved" in the Lewis-Bacote case, says Lewis' lawyer, Catherine Flynn, who says she now will take the "opportunity to re-review the discovery in the case, now that the information about Mark Lunsford has been disclosed."

Firearm-and-narcotics charges against Wade Coats and his co-conspirators ("Armed Drug Dealer for Steele?" Mobtown Beat, June 17), whose alleged dealings occurred, in part, in a Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor Hotel room, were based upon a statement of charges sworn out by Lunsford.  In a motion for disclosure of exculpatory evidence filed in the case by attorney Marc Zayon, who represents co-defendant Jose Cavazos, Lunsford is said to have a stolen a watch from the hotel room. Court records show Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner's response to the motion, due on Nov. 5, has not yet been filed as of press time.

"We are reviewing all federal cases in which [Lunsford] had a role to determine if it impacts the evidence," U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein says. "Abuse of a position of public trust is one of our highest priorities, and this case is of significant concern because Det. Lunsford was working with a federal task force on important cases."

The details of the charges against Lunsford are found in a 16-page affidavit by FBI Special Agent Brian Fitzell. The document lays out a time line, starting in June and ending with the filing of the sealed complaint on Sept. 22, during which Lunsford arranged to have an informant paid government funds in exchange for helping in investigations, and then allegedly split the proceeds with the informant, who reported the kickback scheme to the FBI. In fact, the FBI affidavit explains, the informant provided no help in the cases for which Lunsford arranged for funds to be paid.  In addition, the informant told the FBI of instances when Lunsford allegedly stole valuables from suspects, including watches, clothing, and video games.

Conversations between Lunsford and the informant--referred to in Fitzell's affidavit as "CHS," short for "confidential human source"--were recorded by the FBI, and some of the exchanges were included in the affidavit. Regarding $10,000 in funds that the two had split, the CHS asked, "Me and you are the only ones that know we split that 10 grand, right?" "Oh, yeah, nobody knows," Lunsford replied according to the affidavit, "don't nobody know nothin' about that money . . . but me and you." In another conversation, Lunsford told the CHS that he'd stolen video games from the house of someone interviewed recently by law enforcers.

"I ain't goin' into a [expletive] house," Lunsford said, "if I ain't gettin' something out of that bitch."

On Sept. 23, the day after the sealed complaint was filed against Lunsford, FBI agents conducted a morning raid on his home at 1246 Canterbury Drive in Sykesville ("Stash Found at Home of City Cop Charged With Lying and Embezzlement," News Hole, Sept 30). According to court documents, they seized a host of items, including a money-counting machine, $48,300 in cash, a digital scale, testosterone gel packets, 29 pieces of expensive jewelry and watches, $1,000 money wrappers, a "zipped plastic bag containing green leafy substance," and a "box of property taken from Darrell Francis." According to court records, Lunsford wrote the complaint against Francis that resulted in the defendant's 2008 guilty plea and a resulting 19-month prison sentence, in a federal drug-conspiracy case that spanned from Baltimore to Atlanta and Texas.

Rosenstein would not comment specifically on the fruits of the raid on Lunsford's home, but says, generally, that his office "often pursues additional leads that are generated when search-and-seizure warrants go with arrests."

Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, asked to comment on Lunsford's case, says that the department won't put up with corrupt conduct on the part of its officers. "Commissioner [Frederick] Bealefeld has made it very clear that we hold people accountable," Guglielmi says. "Any behavior which undermines the integrity of this agency and the hard work of our police officers simply will not be tolerated by this administration."

Lunsford's attorney, Paul Polansky, declined to comment. In early October, Lunsford was quoted by WJZ-TV saying that "there is a legitimate explanation" for his alleged conduct "that does not involve illegal activity, and hopefully the truth will come out in court."

Court documents in the case against Lunsford suggest the charges against him are based, in large part, on Ira Jimmy Martin's arrest. Fitzell's FBI affidavit discusses an individual described as "Suspect %u2013 3," who was arrested on Aug. 3--the same day Lunsford arrested Martin. During a recorded meeting between Lunsford and the CHS, the affidavit explains, Lunsford said he "hoped to seize all of Suspect-3's assets when he arrested him" and credit the CHS with providing the information leading to Suspect-3's arrest.

"If I get him when he comes back from New York, you know," Lunsford's was recorded as saying of Suspect-3, "it's 30 grand or 40 grand to [expletive] buy the kilo, you know, or maybe a lot more than that but anything he's got in that [expletive]. I'm jammin' this [expletive] toad up, man. [Expletive] it. 'Cause that counts as money. That counts as you [expletive] givin' me [expletive] and they got these [expletive] assets; therefore, I can get money off of that."

The day after Suspect-3's arrest, another conversation between Lunsford and the CHS was recorded. "I did that house," Lunsford allegedly said. "Didn't come up with nothin' too good, man. I got ah . . . maybe like 10 grand, 11 grand, so I'm gonna try to put you in for that." The next day, Fitzell's affidavit says, Lunsford told the CHS that he was putting in "for a 20 percent payment from the $17,490 cash seizure made on the Suspect-3 case," so the CHS could get paid.

Later, when Lunsford put in paperwork for the payment, Fitzell's affidavit says that Lunsford falsely stated on the form that, "'without the valuable intelligence provided by the [CHS] . . . [Suspect-3] could not have been arrested.' As Lunsford well knew at the time he submitted the claim for an award to the DEA, the CHS had provided no intelligence to him concerning Suspect-3." The CHS later received a $3,498 check from the DEA "for his supposed assistance on the Suspect-3 case," Fitzell's affidavit says.

City Paper could not confirm that Suspect-3 was Ira Jimmy Martin because the court file of the case against Martin is "not subject to be inspected," according to the Baltimore City Circuit Court clerk's office. Though online information for the case had been available on Oct. 27, when City Paper printed it out, on Nov. 4--the day after a scheduled hearing on the matter--it no longer was.

Attempts to reach Martin through his father, also named Ira Martin, were unsuccessful as of press time. His attorney, Stanley Needleman, did not return calls asking for comment about the allegations against Lunsford and whether they relate to Martin.

Gilbert Watkins Affidavits Gilbert Watkins Plea Wade Coats Complaint Mark Lunsford Complaint Mark Lunsford SSW Home Return Darrell Francis Complaint

Related stories

Mobtown Beat archives

Gilbert Watkins Affidavits

Gilbert Watkins Plea

Wade Coats Complaint

Mark Lunsford Complaint

Mark Lunsford Home Return

Darrell Francis Complaint

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