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Councilmania

Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/21/2010

On the agenda for April 19

Bill 10-0482 Fire and Police Employees’ Retirement System—Benefits. Would adjust the pension’s assumed rate of interest accrual, change the definition of “average final compensation,” and generally tweak the plan to save taxpayers money and diminish benefits for future retirees.

The Read: If nothing is done, the city will have to fork over $165 million to the fire and police pension fund on July 1, which it cannot afford. For two years, pension-board members and administration officials have tried to work out a deal amenable to both sides. This bill, introduced by Councilwoman Helen Holton (D-8th District), is the latest effort. “If we don’t do something, we could end up looking at a $185 million deficit,” she said, with “300 firefighters and police officers laid off.” In its current form, the bill would replace a so-called “variable benefit,” which increases pension payouts in years when investment income is high, with a fixed cost-of-living increase. It would also replace a deferred-retirement system, called DROP 2, with a less generous benefit and base retirement income on the member’s highest three-year base salary. Fire and police unions oppose the changes, promising a political battle. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not introduce the measure as an Administration Bill, which is ordinarily the custom.

Bill 10-0483 Public Ethics Law—Persons "Doing Business with City." Would require the annual list of persons "doing business with the city" to be available as a searchable electronic database.

The Read: Councilwoman Holton introduced this one without a hint of irony, saying that “in an effort to be compliant” with ethics legislation passed in the wake of a scandal that forced former Mayor Sheila Dixon to resign (and which saw charges against Holton filed, then dropped), “some of us began acting.” Holton said that she found that there was no readily available list of companies and individuals doing business with the city. This bill would compile that list.

Bill 10-0484 Downtown Management District—Adjustment to Supplemental Tax. This would increase the surcharge downtown property owners pay to maintain extra street cleaning, hospitality patrols, and infrastructure improvements.

The Read: The downtown district’s supplemental tax rate was fixed at a level sufficient to generate $1.7 million in its first year; this would allow the district to adjust the rate, “similar to other districts in Baltimore City,” according to the bill. Revenue the district collects has fallen. It is expected to fall further because property values have declined. The increased rate would allow the district to at least maintain its budget. The bill also would increase the district’s debt ceiling from $2 million to $20 million.

Bill 10-0485 City Streets—Temporary Storage Units. Sets up rules and a permit system for those ubiquitous PODS and similar containers.

The Read: This is "an attempt at regulating the storage containers beginning to pop up on city streets, in some cases in front of unsuspecting property owners’ homes,” said Councilman William Cole (D-11th District). He said calling the phone numbers printed on the containers yields no information about who rented the unit, and that one of the containers had been dropped at the entrance to a federal building, prompting security concerns. The bill would require a minimum $50 permit from the Department of Transportation for parking the containers anywhere in the city, would apply normal parking restrictions to a container’s placement, and give the director of transportation the authority to make rules governing the containers’ placement.

Bill 10-0488 Planned Unit Development—Designation—25th Street Station. Approves the application for a new Walmart and Lowes at 25th and Howard streets in Remington.

The Read: Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (D-7th District), who introduced the bill because the development is in her district, said the development will benefit the community. “This is not a done deal,” she said. “It still goes through a committee process, so there is still time for community input.” Opponents of the store dubbed their group BMore Local and staged a rally outside City Hall before the meeting. One neighbor, Megan Hamilton, said she and her neighbors are forming a new community association, called the Historic Fawcett Community Association, to negotiate with the developers. “We’re basically fighting for the survival of our neighborhood,” she said in an interview. “That’s all there is to it. Without a restriction of traffic, we’ll go from being a very viable neighborhood, with three generations living side by side . . . we run a great risk of being crushed by this development.”

Bill 10-0489 Miscellaneous Offense—Citations and Penalty Amounts. Would increase the fines for things like peeing in public, drinking in public, smoking cigarettes inside bars, and spitting.

The Read: Spitting: was $25, now $200; Smoking: was $250, now $500; Selling single cigs: was $150, now $500; Disorderly drinking: was $150, now $750; Public urination: was $150, now $750; etc. Aimed at college rowdies in places such as Canton and Federal Hill, the law theoretically will apply city-wide. “It’s not anti-fun,” said City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who introduced the measure. “It’s to make people responsible for their actions.” Has anyone gotten fined for spitting on the sidewalk?

City Council Quote of the Week

“I think your bill is actually pro-fun. I believe the long-term residents will have a lot of fun watching the students get a $750 ticket for drinking outside and for urinating on other people’s lawns.”—Councilman Bill Henry (D-4th District), in support of increased fines for nuisance behavior.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for May 3 at 5 p.m.

Health-Care Worker Accused of Being at "Epicenter" of Baltimore Crime as Shot-Caller for Black Guerrilla Family

By Van Smith | Posted 4/16/2010

At first glance, 41-year-old Kimberly McIntosh cuts a sympathetic profile as a working single mom. She has four children between the ages of 12 and 20 who live at home with her at 1120 Homewood Ave., a few blocks south of Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery. She has a job at Total Health Care, on Division Street in West Baltimore. She has no criminal record, and though she admits to some casual pot smoking, she does not do hard drugs.

But according to assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner, McIntosh is a stone-cold gangster who has been "at the epicenter of a substantial sector of criminal activity in Baltimore" on behalf of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang. Wallner contends that her home serves as a sort of BGF clubhouse, where large meetings are held and gang members mix up drugs for sale, and that McIntosh is the gang's financial manager, violence coordinator, and overseer of its heroin-distribution activities.

McIntosh was arrested, along with 12 others, on Monday, Apr. 12, for running the BGF's operations on the streets of Baltimore, which allegedly involve drug-dealing, violence, and extortion. Some of those arrested held down legitimate jobs—including as anti-gang outreach workers for the Baltimore nonprofit Communities Organized to Improve Life.

On Thursday, Apr. 15, McIntosh's contradictory appearances were on display before U.S. District Court magistrate judge Susan Gauvey, as Wallner and McIntosh's attorney, Marc Hall, argued over whether or not McIntosh should be detained in prison pending a trial in the case, which is likely to be a long way off.

Wallner did most of the speaking, unloading information about McIntosh that federal investigators included in a 164-page affidavit in the case—as well as details not included in the affidavit and fresh insights gleaned from statements McIntosh made to the agents who arrested her.

McIntosh, whose name appears 365 times in the lengthy search-warrant affidavit, looms large in the case--so large that Wallner had a hard time knowing where to begin in summarizing her alleged involvement with the BGF. To add "flavor" to her role, he started out by describing aspects of McIntosh's conversations with a cooperator in the case, who wore a body wire while with McIntosh, that did not make into the affidavit.

"The source states, `People don't realize how gangster you are,'" Wallner said. "And McIntosh says, `But he knows,'" referring to Asia "Noodles" Carter, whose was shot to death in Charles Village on March 15. "She was referencing her ability to exact justice, if you will, on behalf of the BGF," Wallner said.

At another point, Wallner said McIntosh discussed with the source a BGF member known as "Loonie," saying "he ain't supposed to even be breathing right now," and added that she's going to pay him "a nice little visit again." The affidavit doesn't refer to this conversation, but it does list a BGF member with that nickname, revealing his real name as Robert Loney. A man with that name, who was indicted for drug dealing in Baltimore County last fall, is currently being sought under a warrant for failing to appear for trial in early March, according to state court records.

Judge Gauvey asked Wallner whether James "Johnny Five" Harris is still alive, since the affidavit reveals that his murder had been ordered by the BGF with McIntosh's knowledge. Wallner responded that he is currently being detained in jail after his arrest on an outstanding warrant.

When members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Special Investigations Group raided McIntosh's home on Apr. 12, Wallner explained, they turned up "at least 18 gelatin capsules of heroin," as well as BGF paperwork and other records, a police scanner, and copies of The Black Book, a self-improvement guide published by imprisoned BGF leader Eric Brown, who was among 25 alleged BGF members indicted last year in federal court.

At McIntosh's desk at her Total Health Care job, Wallner continued, they found more BGF documents—and a set of "Second Chance body armor." As further evidence that McIntosh is prepared for violence, the prosecutor recounted details of an incident alluded to in the affidavit, in which McIntosh, in an attempt to intimidate people, was seen brandishing a large firearm outside of her house.

After McIntosh's arrest at her home, she was "compliant" with the DEA SIG agents who conducted the raid, Wallner said, answering questions at length after she was read her Miranda rights. She told them she anticipated "more charges" after last year's indictments, but "she figured it would be RICO," Wallner stated, an acronym for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization law.

McIntosh told the arresting agents that "high-level members" of the BGF "are threatened by her because she is a female and speaks her mind," Wallner said. In particular, she told them that Ray Olivis, a co-defendant in last year's BGF indictments, "began causing her problems" by "spreading rumors" that she had stolen BGF funds.

Olivis was key to BGF's founding in Maryland. The affidavit states that he "was authorized to open BGF in the State of Maryland prison system in the mid 1990s by the California factions of BGF after Olivis served a prison sentence in California," where the gang was founded in the 1960s by inmate George Jackson and others, including James "Doc" Holiday.

While talking to agents, McIntosh provided them with evidence of her ties to nationally prominent BGF figures, Wallner said. She showed them a photo of her with a high-level BGF member known as "Soup Bone," who is serving time for drug-dealing in connection with 78 kilograms og illegal drugs, and a letter to her from Holiday, who is serving a life sentence in Colorado. She also disclosed that "I know I've been causing problems in the West Coast, a reference to the BGF on the West Coast," Wallner said.

Wallner also said McIntosh admitted that "there had to be a certain amount of criminality" in order for BGF members to achieve legitimacy, though she expressed dismay that the BGF had "gotten away from the original tenets of founder George Jackson." As for James "Johnny Five" Harris, she told agents that he's responsible for eight murders and that "he needs to be got," but "nobody was going to do it."

In arguing for McIntosh's detention pending trial, Wallner called her an "undetectable bomb" should she be released. He expressed concern over possible "retaliation against sources" of the investigation, pointing out that the affidavit includes details about the sources "that are specific enough that many members are going to know who they are."

Wallner said that BGF's "paramilitary structure" makes it adaptable to sudden changes in leadership due to law-enforcement crackdowns. McIntosh and her co-defendants, he said, had taken the reins of the BGF's street operations after last year's indictments, and the BGF's reaction to the current indictment has been swift: He told Gauvey that, since the latest arrests, a "kite" had been "found on Greenmount Avenue, telling other members of the BGF to lay low." A "kite" is a document that gets passed among the gang, communicating decisions and guidance from the leadership.

Hall—who asked Gauvey to put McIntosh on 24-hour lockdown at home with her 20-year-old daughter as legal custodian—characterized the government's evidence as "compelling" and called the affidavit "very damning," though he cautioned that he hasn't yet reviewed the wiretap recordings to look for frailties in the government's contentions. He emphasized McIntosh's clean criminal record, and asked the judge to weigh the cost of McIntosh's incarceration on her children, particularly her eldest daughter, saying she would be placed "in a very difficult spot" having to care for the other children while being the household's sole bread-winner.

After hearing both sides, Gauvey deemed McIntosh unfit for release. "Eventually your lawyer may say this is all blowing smoke," Gauvey said, "but at this point it is impossible for us to be assured" that allowing McIntosh to await trail at home would not be dangerous.

After the hearing, McIntosh's children and others who attended the hearing in her support gathered outside the courtroom. As her son wiped away tears, a woman expressed shock at the outcome: "That woman don't even have a fucking criminal record—that is crazy."

Councilmania

Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Andrea Appleton | Posted 4/15/2010

On the agenda for April 12

Bills 10-0459, 10-0460, 10-0461, 10-0462, 10-0463, 10-0464, 10-0465, and 10-0466

A handful of bond bills in support of the city's cultural institutions.

The Read: The loans range from $500,000 for the Walters Art Museum to more than $33 million for the construction and renovation of city schools. If approved by the council and by voters, taxpayer-backed dollars would also go to the Baltimore Museum of Art, the National Aquarium, and toward improving the city's parks, recreation facilities, and public buildings. A community-development loan aims to reduce the spread of blight and encourage redevelopment, and an economic-development loan does as well, though it would also authorize the city to make loans to encourage "the cultural life and promotion of tourism in Baltimore City."

Bills 10-0467, 10-0468, 10-0469, 10-0470, 10-0471, 10-0472, 10-0473, 10-0474, and 10-0475

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's new revenue-enhancement bills would: raise the tax on hotel charges from 7.5 percent to 10 percent; raise the local income tax rate by .15 percent; eliminate some tax discounts; raise the city's energy tax and increase rates for nonprofit users; increase the parking garage tax by four percent; increase city parking fines by 20 percent; impose a 4-cent surcharge on some non-reusable beverage containers; and impose a bed capacity fee of $350 per year on some college dorms and hospitals.

The Read: The mayor proposed these bills on Monday morning, as part of a comprehensive budget plan that aims to close the city's $121 million budget deficit. Last month the mayor had released a preliminary "doomsday" budget—comprised only of cost-cutting measures—that would have made deep cuts to numerous city agencies, including the police and fire department. The mayor's new budget would maintain funding for most public safety positions. But the council chambers were overflowing with people worried about how the mayor proposes to pay for those positions. Dozens, for instance, wore bright yellow stickers that read: Stop the Baltimore City Beverage Tax. But despite the hubbub, the proposed ordinances were sent directly to committee for discussion at a later date. The protestors quietly filed out, having made their presence known.

Resolution 10-0197R Informational Hearings—Is there Uniform Application of the Padlock Law?

Asks the police commissioner to report on the application of the "padlock law," under which businesses and residences can be ordered closed because they are deemed a public nuisance.

The Read: Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (D-7th District), who introduced the resolution, voiced skepticism about how the law is applied. "It appears as though many minority-owned businesses are being targeted," she said. "We want to be sure this is being applied fairly across the city." The resolution asks Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld, III to report on the number of instances the law has been used, the neighborhoods it's been used in, and the ratio of complaints about public nuisances that met the law's criteria versus the number of times the law has actually been applied. In 2008, the City Council revised the "padlock law," making it easier to apply to sites that had no previous convictions.

Resolution 10-0199R The Baltimore City Successful Transitions Task Force

Would create a task force to help children aging out of the city's foster care system.

The Read: As of November of last year, there were 5,011 children in foster care in Baltimore. It's expected that 375 of them will "age out" this year. This resolution, introduced by Councilwoman Helen Holton (D-8th District), would create a task force charged with making sure that 18 year olds emerging from foster care are "positioned for adulthood." The task force would "facilitate the delivery of services" from government agencies, community groups, businesses, and child welfare advocates.

Resolution 10-0200R Informational Hearing—Baltimore Police Department Crime Lab

Asks the police commissioner, the director of the city crime lab, the director of finance, and the Baltimore state's attorney to report on the operations of the Baltimore crime lab.

The Read: In 2008, the director of Baltimore's crime lab was fired after reports of employee contamination of DNA evidence. Last year, The Innocence Project—an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing—called for an investigation into the Baltimore lab's management. And just last month, The Baltimore Sun reported that, partially due to short staffing, the city's crime lab had a huge backlog of cases waiting testing. This resolution requests a report on the reliability of current DNA testing protocol and on the effects of staffing shortages on the outcome of criminal cases.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for April 19 at 5 p.m.

Inside Out

New Fed Charges Allege Prison Gang’s Street Operations Infiltrate Nonprofit Anti-Gang Efforts

By Van Smith | Posted 4/14/2010

“I need you down here. Cause I’m down here with the brothers, Meech and all them,” Todd Andrew Duncan tells someone known as “Killa” over his cell phone on the afternoon of March 27.

“Where at?” Killa asks. Duncan replies, “Down by my job.”

Duncan’s job was as a youth counselor for Communities Organized to Improve Life Inc. (COIL), a nonprofit whose mission is to provide job-skills training and anti-violence intervention in the West Baltimore neighborhoods it serves.

But law enforcers, who were listening in on Duncan’s conversation with Killa, say Duncan is also the city-wide commander for the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) on the streets of Baltimore. The BGF, a nationwide prison gang known for its violence, radical political philosophy, and disciplined organization, has been increasingly noted in recent years for its influence outside of prison in Baltimore. Court documents say Duncan “was holding a BGF meeting at COIL,” whose office is located at 1200 W. Baltimore St., a block from the historic Hollins Market. Duncan was summoning Killa to the meeting.

Duncan, who has prior convictions for murder and attempted murder, and another COIL outreach worker, Ronald “Piper” Scott, who has no prior criminal history, were among 12 people arrested on April 12 after a federal grand jury indicted them April 7. They are charged with running a BGF-related heroin conspiracy. Scott is accused of helping Duncan sell heroin. The defendants’ alleged drug-dealing, violence, and extortion is described in a 164-page search-warrant affidavit supporting April 12 raids at 11 locations in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

The affidavit characterizes the new indictment as a follow-up to last year’s federal indictments of 25 other BGF members, including inmates, correctional officers, ex-convicts, and seemingly law-abiding citizens, many of whom have since pled guilty.

The probe into the BGF’s activities in Maryland, which court documents say started in September 2008 and has involved cooperators, physical surveillance, raids, and cell-phone monitoring, is being conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Investigations Group (DEA SIG). William Nickoles, a Baltimore Police Department detective assigned to DEA SIG, swore out the lengthy affidavit in last year’s BGF cases, as well as the current one.

COIL is not the only anti-violence nonprofit in Baltimore with BGF ties, the affidavit says. “Operation Safe Streets located in the McElderry Park and Madison East neighborhoods is controlled by the BGF, specifically Anthony Brown, a/k/a ‘Gerimo,’” according to information obtained by investigators from a confidential source. “BGF members released from prison can obtain employment from Operation Safe Streets.” No one from Operation Safe Streets was indicted in the case.

Operation Safe Streets' east-side operations are funded through the Living Classrooms Foundation. “I’ve never heard of Anthony Brown, and he has never worked for us and has nothing to do with Living Classrooms or Safe Streets,” says Living Classrooms CEO/president James Piper Bond. As for the contention that ex-inmates can get Safe Streets jobs upon their release, Bond says “it’s ridiculous.” Bond says the inclusion of Safe Streets in the case record is “disheartening” because “it’s been pretty impressive what these guys do to reduce violence in East Baltimore.”

A source of information for DEA SIG investigators ncalled Stacy Smith, COIL’s executive director, an “active BGF member,” according to the affidavit. City Paper attempted to speak with Smith by calling the cell phone number listed as hers in the affidavit. The number reached a phone message explaining that Smith had lost that phone, and to call her new number; detailed messages left for Smith on her voicemail were not returned, but Smith emailed a press release denying knowledge of any criminal activity by employees.

A Baltimore Sun article published April 13 quoted Smith as saying she was “blindsided” by the charges against Duncan and Scott. Neither that article nor Smith's press release addressed the affidavit’s contention that she’s an active BGF member.

The Sun also reported that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has suspended Safe Streets’ city funding in light of the information disclosed in the DEA SIG’s affidavit and the indictment of Duncan, Scott, and the others. The Safe Streets program, which was initially funded with U.S. Department of Justice money in 2007, has included three locations: COIL (which lost its Safe Streets funding a year later, though the city’s Board of Estimates on March 31 approved nearly $35,000 to help underwrite its operating expenses), McElderry Park (overseen by the Living Classrooms Foundation), and Cherry Hill (run by Family Health Centers of Baltimore).

The BGF's attempts to appear legitimate by engaging in efforts to control the violence on Baltimore’s streets are detailed in the DEA SIG's affidavit in the current case. One of the investigation's sources says that, despite last year's indictment of imprisoned BGF leader Eric Brown, which ceased the distribution of a self-improvement guide he published, The Black Book, the BGF has continued its efforts to gain the support and trust of civic leaders involved in trying to stem the bloodshed on Baltimore's streets.

"Brown was able to convince several community leaders," the affidavit states, "including former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Dr. Tyrone Powers, Dr. Andre Bundley, a former mayoral candidate, and Bridget Alston-Smith, who operated a nonprofit organization called Partners in Progress, of the message contained in the Black Book. These individuals began assisting Eric Brown in teaching in prison the BGF and other prison gangs, the message of the Black Book."

The affidavit adds that "Brown and other members hoped that, much in the same way BGF controlled prison violence through subtle coercion, control of the prison economy, extortion, and retaliation, members on the street could control the violence in Baltimore City. . . . [T]his would have the effect of legitimizing BGF, allow the enterprise to continue to earn money through drug trafficking, and taxing of others trafficking in drugs, as well as providing legitimate high-paying jobs to high-ranking members of the BGF funded by various government grants."

Among the 12 defendants arrested on April 12 is Kimberly McIntosh, who is alleged by the affidavit to handle BGF’s finances, manage its heroin-dealing activities, and oversee “the punishment of noncompliant BGF members and rival drug traffickers.” McIntosh, who has no prior criminal arrests, also has a legitimate job. She works for Total Health Care at its Larry Young Health Center at 1501 Division St. in West Baltimore. McIntosh’s desk there was one of the locations raided on April 12. The affidavit describes McIntosh setting up BGF drug deals and handling BGF matters while at her job.

McIntosh’s conversations with a confidential informant from within BGF’s ranks were included in DEA SIG’s affidavit, and were wide-ranging, including discussions of last year’s BGF indictments, BGF infighting, and her pen-pal relationship with a federal inmate in Colorado, James “Doc” Holiday, who in the 1960s, along with George Jackson, helped found the BGF in the California prison system.

At a BGF meeting last fall at McIntosh’s house on Homewood Avenue, adjacent to Johnson Square in East Baltimore, the informant and another BGF member were beaten as punishment for allegedly misappropriating BGF funds, the affidavit says. After the beating, McIntosh allegedly discussed the need to murder James “Johnny Five” Harris, who was suspected of killing a BGF member. Later, on March 8, McIntosh is recorded telling Duncan that Harris had been arrested and was being detained at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

McIntosh also discussed with the informant the murder of an individual referred to as “Ant,” who was believed to be a “rat,” though McIntosh disagreed. On Jan. 12, she met with the informant at Total Health Care and told him that the shooting of Brandon Walker—which had occurred earlier that day several blocks north of Total Health Care—was BGF-related. Marc Antonio Jackson has been charged with attempted murder in connection with Walker’s shooting.

McIntosh's attorney, Marc Hall of Rockville, did not return a message seeking comment.

Duncan’s knowledge of BGF-related violence is included in the affidavit, too. The Dec. 16, 2009, murder of Duncan’s cousin, Darnell “D-Nice” Gray, resulted in a drug dealer named Terry Johnson providing Duncan with heroin to sell, free of charge, since Gray had been killed by Johnson’s associates, the affidavit says. “Johnson is not charging Duncan for the heroin because he believes that as long as Duncan receives the heroin, Duncan and or his associates will not retaliate,” it reads, but then says that according to DEA-SIG’s source, “Duncan and his associates are extremely violent and will ultimately murder Johnson.”

On March 29, the affidavit continues, Duncan was on the phone with an individual known as “B,” while he was with someone named “Mike Grey.” Duncan handed the phone off to Grey, and the ensuing conversation concerned the March 15 murder of BGF member Asia Carter in Charles Village. Grey explained that, while he may not have liked Carter, who he said had helped rob the drug operation Grey had run with David “Oakie” Rich, he didn’t kill him. (Rich is scheduled to be sentenced on April 16 in federal court, having been found guilty of armed drug-dealing at a jury trial last fall.)

The Jan. 3 murder of Marcal Antwan Walton is also discussed in the affidavit. While at a southeast Baltimore bar frequented by BGF members, one of the DEA SIG’s sources overheard a conversation pinning the responsibility for Walton’s abduction and murder on BGF members, including William “Jim Dog” Rhodes. The affidavit states that Baltimore homicide detectives have identified Rhodes as a possible suspect in the case. The affidavit adds that “during the abduction, a ransom was paid for the return of the victim. The person who picked up the ransom money was Sister Kim, (McIntosh).”

The affidavit also provides evidence of BGF ties to another federal investigation. The DEA SIG’s sources provided long lists of people identified in the affidavit as tied to the BGF. One of the individuals listed is “Robert Jones, a/k/a Seattle.” In February, court records show, the FBI obtained a warrant for “saliva samples” for “DNA evidence comparison” from “Robert Eugene Jones, a/k/a ‘Seattle,’” who was suspected of “killing a federal witness.” Jones’ saliva-swabs were taken, but the affidavit supporting the warrant remains sealed, and thus the FBI’s probable cause in the case is not publicly available.

While last year's BGF indictments included corrections officers among the defendants, this year's indictment is devoid of any defendants accused of abusing public positions. The DEA SIG's affidavit, though, does hint at public corruption. Among the intercepted phone conversations is one in which BGF members discussed a corrections officer at Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup who "would help them smuggle contraband into the facility." In addition, among the "active BGF members" listed by one of the investigators' sources is an unnamed "female correctional officer." The affidavit also suggests possible federal law-enforcement corruption. During the BGF meeting held at McIntosh's house last fall, the affidavit states, Duncan "advised that all members in attendance needed to be aware that he (Duncan) has a source in the FBI that provides him with information," the affidavit states. "Duncan said that if anyone learned of their meeting he would be able to determine who was leaking BGF information and would handle things accordingly."

Also listed in the affidavit as an “active BGF member” is Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, whose nephew, Dante Barksdale, works for Safe Streets on the east side. Nathan Barksdale is a legendary Baltimore gangster whose exploits have become the subject of a film produced and directed by Kenneth Antonio “Bird” Jackson, also famous for his days in the drug game. Reached by phone at the number provided in the affidavit, Barksdale says, “Hell, no!” to the contention that he’s a BGF member. “I ain’t no motherfuckin’ member,” he says. “When I was in prison, I mean, yeah—but that was 20 years ago. I’m a filmmaker. I’m pushing 50, man. I’m too old for that. That’s for teenagers.”

Barksdale is not one of the 12 charged in the new indictment. Other than Duncan, Scott, and McIntosh, the remaining defendants are: Lamont Crooks, who is currently on supervised release after a 46-month sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm; Eric Seantae "E" Ushry, who has past convictions for drug-dealing; Duconze Chambers, previously convicted for assault with intent to murder and firearms charges; Davon "Ben" McFadden, who also has drug-dealing and gun convictions in his past; James "Smiley" Harried, with three prior drug-dealing convictions; Jon Devallon "Tiger" Brice, whose past includes multiple drug convictions; Devon Lamont "Taterman" Crawford, previously convicted of second-degree assault; Jermain "Dirty Rice" Davis, with prior convictions for drug-dealing; Earl Moore; and Sherice Foster, who worked at the Charles Village Safeway, where investigators say she used the Safeway phone to facilitate drug-dealing activity.

The defendants could not be reached for comment.

BGF 2010 Warrant

Councilmania

Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Andrea Appleton | Posted 3/9/2010

On the agenda for March 8

The highlight of the latest City Council meeting was Carl Stokes' unanimous election to the 12th District seat left vacant when Jack Young ascended to the president's chair last month. "Apparently you can go home again," Stokes told a crowd of supporters after he was sworn in by the mayor. Stokes previously served on the council beginning in the late 1980s, and made an unsuccessful run for mayor in 1999 and one for City Council president in 2003. Stokes will serve as vice-chair of the education and executive appointments committees.

Bill 10-0451 Childhood Obesity Prevention Authority

Would establish a new public agency charged with identifying the causes of childhood obesity and taking action to prevent it.

The Read: The Obama administration launched a federal task force to fight childhood obesity last month and Agnes Welch (D-9th District) hopes Baltimore will follow suit. "I want you to know I've sent our task force report from this City Council and all other materials to Michelle Obama to look at," Welch said, "to see if she would come and work with us." The bill, thus far supported by more than half the council, would create a new city agency tasked with, among other things, improving access to healthy food and physical activity in communities, schools, and hospitals. The board of directors would be made up of nine members, with three appointed by the mayor, three by the City Council president, and three by the council itself. The mayor would select the first executive director from a City Council short list.

Resolution 10-0195R Informational Hearing--Response to the closure of 13 Catholic Schools

Asks Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien to make the Catholic schools slated for closure at the end of the academic year available for conversion to public charter schools; asks Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso to explain how such a process would work.

The Read: Last week O'Brien announced a drastic cost-cutting measure: the closure of 13 Catholic schools. "The fear I have is twofold," Nick D'Adamo (D-2nd District), the resolution's sponsor, told the council. "We don't need empty buildings and we don't need 1,000 families moving out of the city because of schools." D'Adamo wants to see the abandoned schools converted to charters, retaining the principals, faculty, and students. D'Adamo would like the Archdiocese to charge $1 a year in rent to any nonprofit that wishes to operate a charter school on the premises, for five years. The bill points out that the Archdiocese is exempt from property tax, and thus beholden to taxpayers for fire and police protection of what would otherwise become vacant buildings.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for March 22 at 5 p.m.

Correctional Officer Charged for Bringing Pot and Cell Phones Into Baltimore City Detention Center

By Van Smith | Posted 2/24/2010

Awareness of suspected corruption among Baltimore's prison guards grew on early Sunday morning, with the arrest of 20-year-old correctional officer Shanika Johnson after she was searched as she entered the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC).


According to court records in the case, when Johnson attempted to enter the facility, her "bag was searched by correctional officer Takesia Diggs," who "recovered approximately (1) ounce of suspected marijuana. She also recovered (2) cellular telephones." A detective then interviewed Johnson, who "waived her Miranda rights and stated that she was bringing the marijuana and cell phones in to give to an inmate," the records continue. "She refused to name the inmate. She also advised that the inmate was paying her $1000.00" for smuggling the goods. Johnson was released on $35,000 bail the same day. A trial in the case is scheduled for March 23.


Since last April, when three correctional officers were indicted in federal court (and have since pleaded guilty) as part of a prison-gang conspiracy involving Maryland leaders of the Black Guerilla Family, the issue of prison-guard integrity has arisen repeatedly in public. In October 2009, documents made public as a result of an inmate's federal lawsuit against prison guard Antonia Allison named 16 correctional officers who had been suspected of gang ties. And in November 2009, correctional officer Lynae Chapman was indicted in state court for misconduct in connection with procuring a cellphone for a detained murder suspect who fathered her unborn child; in December, Chapman's attempt to plead guilty in the case was rejected by a judge.


Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli declined to comment on the Johnson case, though he confirmed Johnson's employment at the BCDC and said she'd been hired in May 2008. Since then, court records show, Johnson was charged with second-degree assault last March after an argument at her home on the 6800 block of McClean Boulevard over too-loud music escalated into pushing and hair-pulling. Both Johnson and Sonja White, the other person involved, were arrested, and in both cases, the charges were placed on the inactive docket.

Johnson has no criminal-defense attorney in the case, according to court records, and City Paper could not find a way to contact her for comment.

New York Attorney Robert Simels, Serving a 14-Year Prison Sentence, Co-Owns Baltimore Condo with Kenny "Bird" Jackson's Mother

By Van Smith | Posted 2/22/2010

Robert Simels, the New York criminal-defense lawyer who for decades represented some of Baltimore's most notorious drug-world defendants, won't be using his Water Street condominium in downtown Baltimore anytime soon. In early January, he began serving a 14-year prison sentence for intimidating witnesses on behalf of one of his clients, Shaheed "Roger" Khan, a former Marylander convicted in New York of running a massive Guyana-based cocaine conspiracy.

Simels purchased Unit 1201 at 414 Water St. with Rosalie Jackson in 2008 for $362,300, according to land records. Rosalie Jackson is the mother and business partner of Kenny "Bird" Jackson, the politically connected ex-con who owns the Eldorado Lounge strip club on East Lombard Street.

Over the years, Kenny "Bird" Jackson made use of Simels' prodigious skills as a criminal-defense attorney, including for a New York case in 1991, when Jackson was acquitted of the 1984 murder of cocaine wholesaler Felix Gonzalez after Gonzalez' relatives testified against the government at trial. Today, in addition to running the Eldorado, Kenny Jackson is the producer/director of The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired, a series of docu-dramas that claim to tell the real-life stories behind HBO's The Wire.

Other notable drug-world clients of Simels who appeared in Maryland courts over the years include:

Eric Clash of the politically connected Rice Organization drug conspiracy, which also involved restaurateur Anthony Leonard of Downtown Southern Blues, a tenant of Kenny Jackson's; Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, a legendary Queens, N.Y., gangster who faced gun charges here; and former fugitive Shawn Michael Green, an associate of accused kingpin Maurice Phillips, who is currently facing the death penalty in a lengthy drug-conspiracy trial in Philadelphia. (See also our stories on Green's arrest and his guilty plea made in Dec. 2009.)

No Way, Lynae

Prison Guard's Attempt to Plead Guilty in Cell-Phone Case Denied

By Van Smith | Posted 12/10/2009

Warren Brown is highly exercised on Dec. 9, as he returns to the defense table from Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge David Young's bench. "I'll say for the record, your honor," the criminal-defense attorney declares, "that the state can forget about any help from this young lady."

Brown is referring to his client, 21-year-old former prison guard Lynae Chapman, who's in court for her arraignment on misdemeanor charges that she helped procure a cell phone for an inmate—22-year-old murder suspect Ray Donald Lee, an alleged Black Guerrilla Family gangmember who is Chapman's boyfriend and the father of her unborn child—at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where she worked until her Oct. 23 indictment ("A Big No-No," Nov. 4). Chapman, as Brown makes clear, wants to plead guilty, but, due to whatever just transpired at a 10-minute bench conference, the judge won't accept the plea, so Chapman's case is going forward to a trial scheduled for Feb. 12.

"We're prepared to plead guilty today," Brown continues, "but she's gonna be continually held [in detention] until the next trial date, and the state'll come up with some reason to postpone. They're coming up with a reason to postpone a guilty plea! Which, I mean, when have we not allowed individuals to plead guilty unless we have some issue with regard to their competency? The state acts as if they have a right to prohibit a person from pleading guilty! They have a factual basis for the court accepting the plea.

"Quite frankly, as the state knows," Brown says, "it's not a question of guilt or innocence. They've got a very, very, very, very good case against her. Absolutely. And so we don't intend to go to trial. We want only to resolve this as soon as possible and take our lumps." He adds that his client is not interested in pursuing a deal in exchange for pleading guilty: "I mean, no deals, all bets are off."

The rationale behind the judge's refusal to allow Chapman's attempt to plead guilty presumably was discussed during the bench conference that immediately preceded Brown's open-court diatribe. City Paper on Dec. 10 attempted to learn what was discussed by viewing the videotape of the proceeding at the court reporter's office, as has often been done in the past. But under new rules instituted two months ago, the staff there explained, bench conferences are deleted from recordings of court proceedings prior to public viewing, so the discussion about Chapman's case remains a secret between the state, the defense, and the judge.

The unusual twist is not the first odd turn in Chapman's case. A strong indication that there's more going on than meets the eye came from the spokesman for Chapman's former employer, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Mark Vernarelli declined to comment on the case after her indictment, saying that to do so "would jeopardize other law-enforcement agencies' investigations." In addition, the court file of Chapman's case is not available for public review at the clerk's office—indeed, the case is not even listed on the on-line Maryland Judiciary Case Search, the main source of information about court cases. City Paper's reporting has been possible only via open-court proceedings for Chapman's bail review and arraignment.

Also strange was the prosecutor's behavior after Chapman's arraignment hearing, during which Brown did virtually all of the on-the-record speaking. City Paper had been unable to hear her name when she stood to call the case, and, after the hearing was over, asked her to provide it. She repeatedly refused, suggesting that City Paper go look it up in the court file. When City Paper explained that the file in Chapman's case is not publicly available, she again refused to identify herself. In a Dec. 10 e-mail, Baltimore City State's Attorney spokesman Joseph Sviatko disclosed the prosecutor's name: Nancy Olin.

At the end of the arraignment hearing, Brown does the only thing he can do: He pleads not guilty on behalf of his client and requests a jury trial. Chapman, with her hair pulled back tight in a bun, sits beside him and signs the necessary paperwork, struggling with her handcuffs to do so. She's in full restraints—her ankles, wrists, and mid-section are chained—and her pregnant belly shows prominently through her gray Department of Corrections sweatsuit. "You gotta hold on, baby-doll," Brown tells her, before she is escorted out of the courtroom.

Down for the Count

Defendants sentenced in Black Guerrilla Family case

By Van Smith | Posted 11/25/2009

"What's up, ma!" Marlow Bates calls out to his mother seated in a courtroom gallery.

"Love you, too, Marlow," she calls back, as Bates is led off by federal marshals to begin a 46-month sentence for his role in an alleged drug-dealing conspiracy led by the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang ("Black-Booked," Feature, 8/5/2009).

The mother-and-son exchange occurred on Nov. 17, after the 23-year-old Bates appeared before U.S. District Court Judge William Quarles to hear his sentence for his involvement in the conspiracy.

On Aug. 28, Bates pled guilty to being part of the conspiracy, and as part of his plea agreement, he admitted to being "determined to be engaged in the distribution of narcotics" on behalf of the BGF and its Maryland leader, veteran inmate Eric Brown, "inside the Maryland Correctional System and in Baltimore City." He also admitted to conspiring to distribute "more than 40 grams, but less than 60 grams of heroin."

Bates has been detained since April, and his stint in prison appears to have improved both his health and his outlook on life: In court, he is alert and smiling, and his hair is neatly cropped. This is in stark contrast to his booking photo, taken when he was arrested, in which he looks worn and haggard--a comparison Bates' attorney, Christopher Davis, points out to the judge during the hearing.

"I'm astounded at how different he is than how he looks in the photo that appeared in the City Paper," Davis says, eager to convince the judge that Bates "sees something very, very wrong with how his life has been going."

Davis tells Quarles that Bates' "chaotic upbringing" and "rocky road" as a youngster contributed to the circumstances that led to his arrest. The attorney contends that his client's incarceration served as "a wake-up call" for the young man, who "entered a very early plea in this case, and has readily accepted responsibility."

Bates was the second of seven BGF defendants to plead guilty, and the second to appear for sentencing. The first was Lakia Hatchett, who entered her guilty plea on Aug. 27 and received her sentence--18 months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release--on Nov. 13. Court records show that agents seized 10 grams of heroin and two scales when they searched Hatchett's Charles Village apartment in April.

According to her plea agreement, the 29-year-old Hatchett was "a wholesale customer of heroin from Kevin Glasscho," the accused leader of the BGF's drug-dealing activities on the streets, and "conspired to distribute more than 20 grams" of the drug. A pre-sentence memorandum to Quarles emphasized Hatchett's acceptance of responsibility, remorse, and cooperation with authorities, while making note of her 4.0 grade-point average in high school, her college coursework, and her employment history aiding the developmentally disabled.

When it comes time for Bates to speak for himself, he tells Quarles, "I just want to apologize."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clinton Fuchs recommends a prison sentence of 46-57 months for Bates--the amount suggested by the federal sentencing guidelines. Quarles rules that "the low of end of the guideline is appropriate" and orders Bates to prison for 46 months, followed by three years of supervised release, with conditions that he participate in drug-and-alcohol treatment and screening, along with training to receive his GED.

Afterward, outside the courtroom, Bates' friends and family listen as Davis explains that the sentence is much better than the 30 to 40 years that others in the case are likely to face, should they be convicted by a jury.

Davis confirms, when asked by a reporter, that his client is the son of Marlow Bates, a famous drug-dealer in Baltimore's crime annals, who is still serving a sentence that began in the 1980s.

"That did not help when he was arrested," Davis says.

The elder Bates' fame was elevated by the HBO series The Wire, which portrays a drug-dealing character named Marlo Stanfield. According to a 2006 City Paper interview with The Wire's David Simon, the character's name is a composite of the elder Bates and Timirror Stanfield. Both were targets of Wire co-creator Ed Burns when he was a Baltimore Police detective.

In addition to Bates and Hatchett, five other BGF co-defendants have pleaded guilty, leaving 17 who remain headed for trial. A 22-year-old former prison guard, Asia Burrus, entered her guilty plea in September, admitting to helping the BGF's prison-based drug conspiracy. Also in September, 41-year-old Darryl Dawayne Taylor (the son of BGF co-defendant Joe Taylor-Bey) admitted to helping move BGF drugs. In October, former prison guard Musheerah Habeebullah, 27, and former correctional employee Takevia Smith, 24, entered their pleas. And on Nov. 12, 26-year-old Terry Robe--another former prison guard who, according to a plea agreement, was caught trying to smuggle to cell phones into prison for Eric Brown--admitted her guilt.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story appeared in The News Hole, Nov. 18, 2009

Marlow Bates, Son of a Famous Gangster, Sentenced in Prison-Gang Conspiracy Case

By Van Smith | Posted 11/18/2009

Editor's Note: An updated version of this story appears in Mobtown Beat, Nov. 25, 2009

Marlow Bates' stint in prison, where he's been detained since his April arrest for aiding an alleged drug-dealing conspiracy by the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang ("Black-Booked"), appears to have improved his health and outlook. As he stands before U.S. District Court judge William Quarles in court on Nov. 17, preparing to hear his sentence after entering a guilty plea in August, Bates' neatly cropped hair, smiling face, and alert bearing stand in stark contrast to his booking photo, in which he looks exceedingly worse for wear. It's a comparison his attorney, Christopher Davis, suggests to Quarles.

"I'm astounded," Davis says, "at how different he is than how he looks in the photo that appeared in the City Paper."

Davis is eager to convince the judge that the 23-year-old Bates "sees something very, very wrong with how his life has been going." Bates' "rocky road" and "chaotic upbringing" as a youngster, Davis adds, led him to the circumstances of his arrest. The attorney contends that his client's incarceration served as "a wake-up call" for the young man, who "entered a very early plea in this case, and has readily accepted responsibility." Bates stands to tell Quarles, "I just want to apologize."

According to Bates' plea agreement, he admits to being "determined to be engaged in the distribution of narcotics" on behalf of the BGF and its Maryland leader, Eric Brown, "inside the Maryland Correctional System and in Baltimore City." He also admits to conspiring to distribute "more than 40 grams, but less than 60 grams of heroin."

Quarles, having already heard Assistant U.S. Attorney Clinton Fuchs recommend a prison sentence of 46 to 57 months-the amount suggested by the federal sentencing guidelines-says he thinks "the low of end of the guideline is appropriate." He orders Bates to prison for 46 months, followed by three years of supervised release, with conditions that he participate in drug-and-alcohol treatment and screening, along with training to receive his G.E.D.

"What's up, ma!" Bates says to his mother, in the courtroom gallery, as he is led away by marshals. "Love you, too, Marlow," she responds.

Afterward, outside the courtroom, Bates' friends and family listen as Davis explains that the sentence is much better than the 30 to 40 years that others in the case are likely to face, should they be convicted by a jury.

Davis confirms, when asked by a reporter, that his client is the son of Marlow Bates-a famous drug-dealer in Baltimore's crime annals, who is still serving a sentence that began in the 1980s. "That did not help when he was arrested," Davis says.

The elder Bates' fame was elevated by the HBO series The Wire, which includes a character named Marlo Stanfield. According to a 2006 City Paper interview with The Wire's David Simon, the character's name is a composite of the elder Bates and Timirror Stanfield. Both were targets of Wire co-creator Ed Burns when he was a Baltimore Police detective.

Costly Charges

Drug prosecutions suffer after detective is accused of embezzlement

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

"A Big No-No"

Judge sets $1 million bail for prison guard indicted for misconduct

By Van Smith | Posted 11/4/2009

Lynae Chapman, a 21-year-old correctional officer for the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC), is obviously pregnant as she stands before Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge John Prevas on Oct. 27. The father of her unborn child, concedes Chapman's defense attorney Lawrence Rosenberg, is 22-year-old murder suspect Ray Donald Lee, a Black Guerilla Family (BGF) gang member for whom Chapman is accused of procuring a cell phone while he remains jailed pending trial. According to a court reporter's video of the hearing, prosecutor Tonya LaPolla says that Chapman was indicted on Oct. 23, after a search of Lee's cell turned up the cell phone and "numerous letters from" Chapman.

Though Chapman is charged with misdemeanors--obstruction of justice, two counts of misconduct in office, and delivering contraband--LaPolla points out that the misconduct charges are common-law crimes for which there is no maximum penalty, and asks for "at least $500,000 bail." Prevas--saying "cell phones in a correctional setting are a big no-no"--sets it at $1 million, "secured by real-estate only, no corporate surety."

Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli's statement about the case suggests that the charges against Chapman are part of larger, multi-agency probe. "At this point," Vernarelli writes in an Oct. 26 e-mail sent in response to City Paper's questions, "the case is at a critical juncture, and to comment further would jeopardize other law-enforcement agencies investigations." Though LaPolla told Judge Prevas that Chapman was fired the day she was indicted, Vernarelli says she's been placed on administrative leave.

The issue of prison guards suspected of aiding inmates' criminal conduct has attracted public attention this year. In April, federal indictments against two dozen alleged members of the BGF ("Black-Booked," Feature, Aug. 5) named three correctional officers, who have since pleaded guilty to assisting BGF inmates with their alleged drug-dealing and extortion conspiracy. In early October, a federal judge ruled that inmate Tashma McFadden's lawsuit, which alleges that prison guard Antonia Allison set him up for a beating and stabbing by inmate gang members, should go to a jury. Evidence in the case shows that, nearly three years ago, after Lt. Santiago Morales wrote confidential reports naming 16 guards suspected of gang ties, BCDC warden William Filbert ordered that such reports cease ("Ganging Up," Mobtown Beat, Oct. 21).

During Chapman's bail-review hearing, LaPolla lays out the state's facts about Chapman's conduct. The investigation "began with a homicide," LaPolla explains, that occurred on Monday, June 29--the alleged murder-for-hire of 28-year-old Tavon Walker, who was shot just before 10 a.m. on the 2100 block of Brighton Street, near Carver Vocational-Technical High School. Ray Lee and his 26-year-old co-defendant, Quinard Henson, were indicted for killing Walker in early August.

"Ray Lee drove the shooter to the location, waited, and then drove the shooter away," LaPolla says, recounting how Walker's killing is alleged to have occurred. Chapman, she says, was the registered owner of the vehicle.

When Lee and Henson were brought in on the charges, LaPolla recounts, Lee "began yelling obscenities and threats" at Henson, "regarding whether or not [Henson] had given a statement to police, and he did this in the presence of detectives."

After Lee's cell at the detention center was searched on Sept. 29, turning up the cell phone, LaPolla continues, the phone's log showed calls had been made between Chapman and Lee. A search warrant executed at Chapman's home, in the Wakefield neighborhood near Leakin Park in West Baltimore, turned up a receipt for the Sept. 24 purchase of the phone found in Lee's jail cell. Chapman, LaPolla says, then gave a taped statement to police in which "she admitted she had almost daily contact with Ray Lee while he was incarcerated" and that Lee's "brother purchased the cell phone and gave it to her, and she then took it to another party and paid them to deliver it to Ray Lee, the homicide suspect."

Lee has been charged for possessing the phone, as well as other contraband, as a result of the Sept. 29 search of his cell. Court records in that case say that Christopher Nickel, a detective sergeant with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Internal Investigative Unit found "a cellular phone with charger that was secreted beneath a mattress" in Lee's cell. The records indicate that he also found "hand fashioned 'baggies,'" seven containing "loose tobacco" and 16 containing "a green/brown leafy matter" that Nickel recognized to be marijuana. The packaging, the case record continues, is "indicative of an intent to distribute" the tobacco and the marijuana, both of which are deemed contraband in the prison system.

At Chapman's hearing, LaPolla tells Judge Prevas that "this is a very serious case," arguing that the facts "weigh in favor of no bail or a very substantial bail." Chapman, she continues, admitted to arranging the cell phone's delivery to Lee, who is "a known BGF member," just as discovery in the murder case against him was about to divulge whether or not his co-defendant made statements to police.

Chapman's freedom, LaPolla argues, presents a risk "to the safety of any potential witnesses in the homicide case" against Lee.

"[Chapman] has chosen to affiliate herself with a known gangmember, a murder suspect who is an inmate at the detention center where she, until recently, worked--even at the risk of her job and her own freedom," LaPolla concludes. "She will do absolutely anything to assist him."

Rosenberg argues for a "reasonable bail" for Chapman, who he says "is surely not a flight risk," and "I assume not a danger to anyone." Pointing out that she has no prior criminal history, a high-school education, and a 2-year-old child, Rosenberg attempts to paint a picture of Chapman as a naïve young mother who was dating Lee--and pregnant by him--before he was arrested for the murder of Walker. She "cooperated with police" investigating her ties to Lee, Rosenberg says, adding that "her life is potentially ruined. She's shamed herself, shamed everyone in her family."

Prevas, in preparing to rule on the matter, calls Chapman's charges "extremely serious."

"If anything the state said is true, it appears that she would be enabling a dangerous [alleged] killer not only to try to avoid the consequences of the killing for which he's been indicted, but also to attempt to subvert the trial," he says, adding that if Chapman provided Lee with a cell phone or helped him get one, "that is a threat to society's ability to be able to protect itself."

In announcing Chapman's $1 million bail, he says, "If she can't even respect the rules of her job, she's not going to stick around in Baltimore" to answer the charges.

Chapman's arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 20.

Ganging Up

Inmate's lawsuit shows prison officials knew for years of guards' suspected gang ties

By Van Smith | Posted 10/21/2009

In 2008, 31-year-old prison inmate Tashma McFadden filed suit against 23-year-old correctional officer Antonia Allison. On Oct. 9, that suit survived Allison's attempt to have it dismissed. McFadden, who is seeking $800,000 in damages, claims Allison is a member of the Bloods gang and arranged for his stabbing and beating while in pre-trial detention in 2006 at the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC).

Court documents in the case reveal that since at least 2006, prison authorities have been aware that correctional officers in Baltimore's prison facilities were suspected of being gang members or having gang ties. The issue first emerged publicly in April, when 24 alleged members of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang, including three correctional officers, were indicted in federal court ("Black-Booked," Feature, Aug. 5 ). U.S. District Court Judge William Quarles is presiding over both the BGF criminal case and McFadden's civil case.

In his lawsuit, McFadden, who was convicted of drug-dealing after the attack and is serving a seven-year sentence, contends that after he had an argument with Allison, she unlocked his cell door to allow inmates who were Bloods members into his cell, resulting in an attack that inflicted 32 stab wounds on his upper body. He also claims that Allison withheld medical attention from him after the attack and that prison officials failed to investigate the incident properly. McFadden, who is represented by pro bono attorney Aaron Casagrande, said in a deposition that since the attack, he has become a Bloods member in an effort to enhance his safety as an inmate.

Allison, who is represented by Assistant Attorney General Beverly Hughes, denies McFadden's claims, including the contention that she's a Bloods member. She acknowledges, though, that if an inmate's cell door was unlocked at the time of the attack, either she or a trainee who was with her, Tynisha Crew, must have unlocked it. Hughes declined to comment on the case.

Quarles' ruling says that McFadden's claims merit a jury trial. But what happened to McFadden is just the tip of the iceberg. Though this year's BGF indictments drew public attention to the issue of prison guards suspected of aiding gangs, McFadden's case reveals that the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) has been aware of it for years--and that in 2007, the warden at BCDC, William Filbert, ordered that investigative reports of the problem cease. Evidence in the case--in particular, motions filed over the summer by both McFadden and Allison--also shows that the problem is believed to involve many more correctional officers than the three accused of working with the BGF, none of whose names appear in the McFadden case documents.

McFadden's lawsuit has revealed that in late 2006 and early 2007, 16 correctional officers, including Allison, were identified as being gang members or having gang ties in two confidential DPSCS investigative reports. According to DPSCS spokesman Rick Binetti, six of the 16 COs named in the two reports no longer work for the department, though he adds that state personnel policy dictates that he can't say why they left their jobs. The remaining 10, including Allison, still work for the department, he says.

"The brutal attack suffered by my client, while abhorrent in its own right," Casagrande says in an e-mail, "is only a symptom of a much larger problem at the Baltimore City Detention Center--that gangs have been able to infiltrate the ranks of BCDC correctional officers. I would hope that the case leads to more stringent screening of correctional officers and a more thorough review of policies and procedures so that a similar attack does not occur again in the future, and if one does occur, that it is properly and timely investigated."

While Binetti could not comment specifically about McFadden's case, he says that generally the department's "efforts to root out and stem corrupt behavior among staff actually begins before they are hired. We are committed to investigating and hiring the best, most qualified candidates. Over the last three years, 68 percent of correctional officer applicants were rejected because they didn't pass through the DPSCS background checks and investigation process." He adds that, in April of this year, "the Correctional Training Division voted to adopt new, more stringent regulations requiring agencies to include verifying gang membership into the applicant background check."

As for the department's record of firing bad actors, Binetti says that from 2007 through March 2009, 71 members of correctional staff "have been terminated because of criminal arrests, contraband, or fraternization with inmates." Unless corrections employees break the law or are found to have violated the department's code of conduct, however, he says, they "like normal U.S. citizens are free to associate with whomever they choose," including gang members.

The department's code of conduct does not specifically mention gang members, but it does include stringent requirements prohibiting correctional officers from all but officially sanctioned interaction with inmates or their family and friends, whether on or off duty.

The confidential investigative reports naming suspect correctional officers that came to light in McFadden's lawsuit were written by Lt. Santiago Morales, who at the time they were written worked in the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the state Department of Pretrial and Detention Services. The reports do not specify evidence implicating the officers, but state that the "information was provided by several confidential informants whose information proved to be reliable in the past." In some cases, Morales misspelled the correctional officers names, but City Paper confirmed their identities with Binetti and through court records.

Morales' Nov. 22, 2006, report was addressed to Filbert, BCDC's warden. It named 12 COs as "alleged to be gang members or affiliated with" either the Bloods or the BGF. Those suspected of Bloods ties were: Allison, Duwuane Crew (husband of Tynisha Crew, Allison's trainee), April Rheubottom, Jamal Hinton, Dareus Burrell, Angie Bouyer, and Tracy Wallace. The remaining five--Laporcha Ezekiel, Tiara Adams, Tamela Barnes, Cheryl White, and Tiffani Curbeam--were suspected of BGF ties. Morales' Jan. 26, 2007, report, also addressed to Filbert, named three officers as being allegedly involved with the Bloods: Tia Giles, Denise Williams, and Semelda Haynes.

Binetti says that of these 16 COs, six--Crew, Rheubottom, Barnes, Haynes, Burrell, and Hinton--are no longer employed by the department. He assured City Paper that he would contact the supervisors of those still employed to let them know that City Paper would be reporting their names, based on the investigative documents that emerged in McFadden's case. Binetti declined City Paper's request to interview Filbert and Morales.

In his Feb. 2009 deposition in McFadden's case, Morales stated that Duwuane Crew was "terminated" because "he passed handcuff keys on to inmates to assist them stab BGF gang members." He also stated that Jamal Hinton was "terminated for his activity in gangs" after law enforcement "found gang paraphernalia, gang garb, and pictures of him holding weapons, making gang signs in his home during a raid." Tiffani Curbeam, Morales said, "is currently still under investigation, but there was numerous statements of her bringing contraband in the institution for the BGF." He added that "the other members, from what I understand, because I'm not in the intelligence unit anymore, might still be under investigation."

Court documents in the McFadden case state that the practice of making reports such as those prepared by Morales ceased in early 2007, "pursuant to Warden Filbert's instructions." In an attempt to contact Morales for this article, City Paper called the intelligence unit where Morales used to work, and confirmed that he no longer works there. The woman who answered the phone said, "He's actually on the BCDC night shift now," though Binetti could confirm only that Morales still works for the Department of Pretrial and Detention Services.

The three prison guards indicted in the BGF conspiracy case--Asia Burrus, Musheerah Habeebullah, and Takevia Smith--have entered guilty pleas before Quarles, and are due to be sentenced in the coming weeks and months. All three have admitted to contraband smuggling, which helped the BGF's alleged narcotics-distribution conspiracy in the Maryland prison system.

McFadden Plaintiff Motion McFadden Defense Motion McFadden Ruling by Quarles

Defendant in Historic 41-Kilo Coke Bust Gets 20 Years in Jail

By Van Smith | Posted 10/2/2009

Trenell Murphy, who pleaded guilty in July to having 41 kilograms of cocaine that he intended to distribute, today received his sentence from U.S. District Court judge Benson Legg: 20 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Baltimore.

When Murphy was first arrested in February, the Baltimore Police Department said the bust was the force's biggest cocaine seizure ever (Mobtown Beat, Feb. 23). In June, during a court hearing in the case, it came to light that Murphy himself led police officers to the drugs, which were in the bed of his pick-up truck (Mobtown Beat, July 8).

Family Matters

Black Guerrilla Family prison-gang case nets four guilty pleas

By Van Smith | Posted 9/30/2009

Four of the two-dozen alleged Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison-gang members indicted in Maryland federal court in April pleaded guilty recently before U.S. District Court Judge William Quarles. Lakia Hatchett was the first to do so, pleading on Aug. 27, followed by Marlow Bates on Aug. 28, Darryl Dawayne Taylor on Sept. 9, and, most recently, former prison guard Asia Burrus, who pled on Sept. 16.

One of the BGF co-defendants remains a federal fugitive: 60-year-old Roosevelt Drummond, charged with robbery and drug-dealing.

The BGF indictments--one for a drug-dealing conspiracy headed by Kevin Glasscho, who is charged as the BGF drug distributor, and the other, led by imprisoned Maryland BGF leader Eric Brown, for drug dealing, robbery, and firearms--have heightened awareness of the extent to which an alleged prison gang can insinuate itself in civic life ("Black-Booked," Feature, Aug. 5). The government's case, as revealed thus far, paints a picture of Brown (Family Portraits, citypaper.com/go/familyportraits )as a drug-dealing extortionist who doubles as a budding gang-interventionist with a book, a nonprofit, and the endorsements of local educators. Co-conspirators include a recently released murderer who worked as a public-school mentor for troubled students, a city wastewater technician who owns a clothing boutique, and an erstwhile bar owner and mortgage broker with separate federal bank-fraud and identity-theft charges against her. Mount Vernon, the midtown Baltimore neighborhood known for its cultural institutions and historic buildings, is the setting for some of Glasscho's drug-dealing, according to court documents, and it's where accused BGF heroin supplier Tyrone Dow operates a luxury-car detailing business.

The first to plead guilty in the Glasscho indictment was 29-year-old Lakia Hatchett, who Judge Quarles is set to sentence on Nov. 13. When Hatchett was arrested in April, agents searched her Charles Village apartment at 2735 St. Paul St. and seized a "bag containing brown powder" and two scales, court records show. Hatchett's plea agreement, which reveals that the seized bag contained 10 grams of heroin, describes her as "a wholesale customer of heroin from Kevin Glasscho" and states that she "conspired to distribute more than 20 grams" of the drug.

Marlow Bates' agreement states that he conspired with Brown and others to distribute heroin, and that Bates "was determined to be engaged in the distribution of narcotics," both in the prison system and on Baltimore's streets. The agreement puts the specific amount of heroin involved at 40 to 60 grams, much less than the multiple kilograms that often show up in federal cases. At his April 24 court hearing, Bates fist-bumped his attorney, Christie Needleman, when she arrived at the defense table, but when he pleaded guilty in late August, he had a different lawyer, Christopher Michael Davis. Bates' state criminal record includes convictions in gun-and-drug cases. Bates, 23, is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17.

Shortly after Bates, 41-year-old Darryl Dawayne Taylor, who is scheduled to receive his sentence on Dec. 19, pleaded as well. In court in April, assistant U.S. attorney Thomas Wallner explained that Taylor is the son of co-defendant Joe Taylor-Bey, who has spent more than 30 years in prison on a murder conviction. Taylor is accused of smuggling heroin into prison by putting it in balloons and "hiding it in his rear end, or in his cheeks," Wallner said. According to Taylor's guilty plea, he "was intercepted discussing and arranging transactions involving the wholesale distribution of heroin, and the smuggling of heroin into various prisons" on behalf of Glasscho. As in Hatchett's case, Taylor admits to dealing in at least 20 grams of heroin.

Asia Burrus, a 22-year-old whose sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 7, admits to helping smuggle contraband into prison that "facilitated the distribution of narcotics inside the Maryland Correctional System" by Brown and others. She also admits she "was aware that Eric Brown was the leader" of the BGF in Maryland and "that the BGF is a violent, nationwide gang that has established a powerful presence within the Maryland Correctional System and on the streets of Baltimore City." She was arrested in April at downtown Baltimore's Maryland Transition Center, where she worked as a guard.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 3, a federal forfeiture case was filed against $4,659 in cash taken from Dow, and state prosecutors have already forfeited a 2005 Acura belonging to Glasscho. On Sept. 24, Glasscho's girlfriend, BGF co-defendant Cassandra Adams, filed a motion to be severed from the case, claiming the evidence produced so far fails to put her in the conspiracy.

Stash Found at Home of City Cop Charged With Lying and Embezzlement

By Van Smith | Posted 9/30/2009

Mark J. Lunsford, the Baltimore City cop assigned as a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) task-force officer who was accused in federal court Sept. 22 of lying and embezzlement (The News Hole, Sept. 24), looks like he's going to have some explaining to do. Yesterday, the search warrants in the case were returned, itemizing what was seized from his home, DEA work space, and car. The haul from his Sykesville home, at 1246 Canterbury Drive, was most impressive. Among other things, investigators took: a money-counting machine, $46,600 in cash, 29 pieces of expensive jewelry and watches (including two Bentleys, a Gucci, two Philip Steins, a Movado, and a Citizen), a "zipped plastic bag containing green leafy substance" and rolling papers, a "Ziploc bag containing needles and vials of liquid," a "bottle labeled Clomiphene Citrate" (a female fertility drug often used by male anabolic steroid users), a "box of AndroGel (testosterone gel) packets," a digital scale, dozens of Playstation games, "one envelope containing 11 bullets," numerous financial documents, and a "box of property taken from Darrell Francis." A man named Darrell Cornelius Francis was convicted in April 2008 in U.S. District Court in Maryland for his part in a cocaine conspiracy, and he was sentenced to 19 months in prison, though it could not be immediately determined whether Lunsford worked on that case.

Mark Lunsford SSW Work Space Return Mark Lunsford SSW Car Return Mark Lunsford SSW Home Return

Baltimore Cop Charged by Feds with Lying and Embezzlement

By Van Smith | Posted 9/24/2009

On Sept. 22 Mark J. Lunsford, a Baltimore Police Department (BPD) detective assigned as a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) task-force officer, was charged in federal court with lying and embezzlement, based on a fast-moving investigation conducted by the FBI public-corruption unit in Baltimore, court records show. According to the criminal complaint and search warrant for Lunsford's Sykesville home, his DEA work space, and his official vehicle, filed by U.S. Attorney Jonathan Biran and based on a 16-page affidavit written by FBI special agent Brian Fitzell, the case against Lunsford began in June as a result of information developed from a "confidential human source" that Lunsford was handling in the course of doing DEA investigations. That source provided the FBI with "information regarding the criminal conduct of Lunsford to include Lunsford's theft of clothing and jewelry from crime scenes (including searches and arrests) and Lunsford's receiving 'kickbacks' of source payment money,"according to Fitzell's affidavit. As recently as Sept. 22, the day the charges were filed, the affidavit says, Lunsford was observed participating in such a "kickback," in which the source he handled was paid, but then later split the proceeds with Lunsford. Items Lunsford allegedly stole include watches, clothing, and Playstation video games. BPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told City Paper that departmental comment may be forthcoming, once Commissioner Bealefeld has a chance to review the details of the freshly charged case.

Mark Lunsford Complaint

Feds Seek to Keep GOP Donor's Drug Cash

By Van Smith | Posted 9/23/2009

Back in April when he was arrested, investigators took $23,530 in cash from Wade Coats, the Republican political donor accused in U.S. District Court of being an armed, high-dollar coke-and-dope-dealer in Baltimore. Now the U.S. Attorney's Office has filed a civil-forfeiture case to keep the money [see below]. The feds, who took $16,520 of the total out of Coats' business at 629 N. Duncan St. (Keeping It In the Community Inc., which won Best Shadow-Economy Business Name in City Paper's 2009 Best of Baltimore issue), say the money is the proceeds of illegal drug dealing, according to the Sept. 18 filing.

Wade Coats Cash Forfeiture

While motions are flying in the federal case against Coats and his co-defendants, Jose Cavazos and Ronald Brown, Coats has another problem: a paternity case in Baltimore City Circuit Court, which was filed in late June. Online state court records show that the 44-year-old Coats, who has remained in detention pending his federal trial, has not yet been served papers in the case, which was brought by 22-year-old Kiesha Brown.

Goodbye Mr. Chips

By Van Smith | Posted 9/23/2009

For pleading guilty to selling guns without a license-including over the counter of the Utz potato-chip stand at Baltimore's Lexington Market-U.S. District Court judge Richard Bennett sentenced 53-year-old Michael Papantonakis yesterday to 15 months in prison and three years' probation. City Paper covered the story as it developed in April, here, here, and here. We then wryly named the Utz stand "Best Place to Buy Guns and a Snack" in the 2009 Best of Baltimore issue, recommending it as "one-stop shopping" for gangsters: "Let's say you're a little hungry, but you need to go put a bullet in a motherfucker later tonight."

According the plea agreement, Papantonakis admits that undercover agents or cooperators met with him on nine occasions "in order to purchase firearms or ammunition" and that "the majority of these meetings occurred" at the chip stand. He also owns up that he used his 21-year-old girlfriend, who worked at the stand, "to accept money on his behalf in exchange for firearms." In all "approximately fifteen firearms were sold" by Papantonakis between September 2007 and April 2009," the agreement states.

Papantonakis, according to online state court records, is set for re-arraignment on separate state charges in Baltimore City Circuit Court, which state that in April 2008 he illegally discharged pollutants and improperly disposed of hazardous substances. His court appearance is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., Sept. 29, in Courtroom 227 at 111 N. Calvert St.

Michael Papantonakis Plea

In and Out of Court

Shawn Michael Green pleads not guilty to new charges; his mother appeals her sentence

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 8/12/2009

On July 10, Shawn Michael Green pleaded not guilty--again--to being a drug-trafficking money-launderer. Green's mother, Yolanda Crawley, is already serving time for her part in the alleged drug money-laundering scheme feds say he's part of, as are two of his associates, attorney Rachel Donegan and mortgage broker David Lincoln.

Green remained a federal fugitive for nearly two years after the original 2006 charges were filed against him ("Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12, 2008). The latest superseding indictment, filed on April 23, four months after Green's arrest in Pennsylvania, tacks on new charges about illegal financial transactions structured to hide the drug-related source of Green's money.

It fleshes out the original case against Green, adding 18 new charges against him and describing in detail how Green conspired with Crawley (who is currently serving two years in prison for her part in Green's money-laundering operation), Lincoln (who received a 15-month sentence for his role in the scheme), and Donegan (who got probation), to fabricate fake incomes to accompany fraudulent home-loan applications. According to the new charges, Green used his mother as a straw purchaser to apply for loans with claims that she made anywhere from $12,000 to $25,000 per month. The charges state that on the applications Crawley said she worked for, among other companies, Platinum Hill Entertainment, purportedly located at 2339 Eutaw Place, Baltimore--the address of an apartment building owned by Green, which has since been confiscated forfeited and auctioned off by the federal authorities. The alleged intent of the scheme was to use drug proceeds to pay off fraudulently obtained high-dollar home loans, building equity in ill-gotten real estate.

In March, more than a month before the superseding indictment was filed, Green appeared in court before Judge Susan Gauvey for an arraignment and detention hearing on the original two charges of drug dealing and money laundering. Prosecutor Kwame Manley argued that the federal government believed that Green was continuing to sell drugs while he was on the lam.

"Your Honor, we know what he was doing during the time he was a fugitive," Manley insisted, according to a court transcript from the hearing. "He was continuing his activities. We had sources tracking him and indicating that he was trying to broker another cocaine deal up in Philadelphia."

Manley points out that Green and his mother owned properties worth more than $4 million despite the fact that her income on various mortgage applications was fictitious and Green was not employed while he was on the run. Green's attorneys, Donald Samuel from Atlanta, Ga., and Robert Simels from New York City (who, in a separate case in New York, is facing federal charges of witness intimidation and obstruction of justice), argued in turn that Green's real-estate transactions were legitimate: They said that during the time Green was a fugitive, he raised money not by drug dealing, but by refinancing various properties and from selling CDs and clothing from the trunk of his car. Samuel said that Green, an owner of the now-defunct clothing store Total Male, owned "a fairly substantial clothing store" and was "actually selling inventory" to support himself after the store closed.

"I don't think literally that means he popped the trunk of his car on the corner of Peachtree and Piedmont, and, you know, sold a couple of shirts there," Samuel said. "I think there was a substantial amount of money actually being earned at the time by selling inventory that remained."

Gauvey ruled during that hearing that Green should remain in detention pending trial because he is a flight risk.

Marcia Murphy, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said she could not comment on the new charges against Green. City Paper left a message with Samuel, whose receptionist said he was in court all week. An e-mail to Simels requesting comment was not returned as of press time.

In other news related to the case against Green, Yolanda Crawley appealed her sentence in October 2008, claiming that the U.S. Attorney's office violated a plea agreement it made with her to recommend that she be given "a sentence at the low end of the advisory range" if Crawley did not commit any further crimes and if she took full responsibility for her role in the Green scheme. "If the defendant otherwise fails in any way to fulfill completely each and every one of her obligations under this agreement," the plea agreement read, then the office would not be obligated to fulfill it.

Crawley, who pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud, claims that the government did not live up to its end of the bargain when it recommended that she receive 30 months--a sentence reserved for someone who refused to take any responsibility for their crimes.

On July 21, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a brief responding to Crawley's claims that insisted that she failed to meet her obligation to take full responsibility for her crimes when she went before a judge. Crawley claimed that she had no knowledge that her son was dealing drugs and that she had no idea what the source of the money was that was used to pay for the real estate she and Green purchased. "Contrary to her representations in the district court, Crawley not only knew about her son's drug activities, but also used his drug money to buy and maintain the $4 million in fraud properties in this scheme," the U.S. Attorney's response to her appeal says.

Murphy says an appeal like Crawley's is not at all uncommon. Her appeal and the U.S. Attorney's Office response will go before a judge, "and we'll go from there."

Crawley's attorney, Jack Rubin, did not have any additional comment on Crawley's appeal.

Twice Stung

Drug-Money-Laundering Jewelry-Store Owner Convicted in Federal Sting--Again

By Van Smith | Posted 8/12/2009

The lawyer, the mortgage broker, the retired Social Security worker, the used-car dealer, the strip-club owner--these are the careers of convicted drug money-launderers in Maryland in recent years. As of July 31, add another to the list: the jewelry dealer.

On July 31, 58-year-old Eugene Petasky pleaded guilty to charges of washing drug money through his company Metro Broker Ltd. for two dozen years, from 1982 through 2006, the year he was indicted. For Petasky, it's a case of déjà vu. Not only was he convicted in a similar money-laundering scheme involving Metro Broker in a 1990 jury trial, but on both occasions the feds nabbed him using a sting operation.

Petasky's most recent sting occurred in 2006, according to assistant U.S. attorney Bryan Giblin, speaking at Petasky's July 31 hearing before U.S. District Court Judge William Quarles. Giblin explained that Petasky, at his Pikesville jewelry store, accepted cash on two occasions that year--$12,500 in May, and $23,500 in August--from an U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) undercover agent posing as a drug dealer from Tennessee. On each occasion, Giblin said, Petasky failed to file the required IRS form to document the transaction. The investigation culminated in a November 2006 raid of Metro Broker that turned up two Smith & Wesson firearms, which Petasky is prohibited from possessing due to his 1990 conviction.

The fruits of the sting operation and the raid were not the only evidence to which Petasky pleaded guilty, though. According to his plea agreement, from 1982 until his indictment, Petasky "knowingly accepted at least $336,000 in cash from drug traffickers in exchange for jewelry. The majority of these transactions took place before the year 2000." The agreement says that Petasky "knew that the money he was accepting was the proceeds of drug trafficking," and, as "dealers repeatedly brought drug proceeds to him to disguise the true nature and source of those funds," Petasky "agreed to accept those proceeds to further that unlawful purpose." He also "intentionally concealed the nature of those transactions" by "failing to file required tax forms" and by "structuring certain transactions to make them appear legitimate."

In 2000--the year before most of Petasky's drug-money laundering occurred--Metro Broker moved to Pikesville, after it was forced from its longstanding downtown location at 4 Eutaw St. in order to make room for the city's plans to renovate and expand Metro Broker's neighbor, the Hippodrome Theater. In 2001 when City Paper talked to Petasky about the relocation ("Moving Experiences," Mobtown Beat, Mar. 14, 2001), he complained that the city provided inadequate funds for the move. "There was no way I was going to stay in the city," he was quoted as saying, "you can't fight them."

Despite his acrimony toward City Hall, campaign-finance records show Petasky has been, at times, supportive of politicians. He or Metro Broker has donated to the campaigns of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) when he was running for mayor in 1999, former governor and state comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) in 2002 and 2005, and Connie DeJuliis (D), who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress in 1996.

Fighting federal criminal charges can be tough, as Petasky has learned before. His 1990 jury conviction arose from another money-laundering transaction that Petasky had with an undercover law enforcer and Baltimore attorney Neil Steinhorn (Petasky's co-defendant in the case, who also was convicted) at Metro Broker.

According to court documents, Steinhorn and the undercover, who was posing as a drug dealer's partner who needed to unload stolen gold, visited Petasky at his store in January 1989. In this instance, the undercover exchanged the stolen gold for cash as part of a money-laundering scheme that involved another out-of-state precious-metals dealer. The record shows Petasky told the undercover "that he was in the business of making illicit 'big deals' involving stolen gold."

Petasky was found guilty of conspiracy to transport stolen goods across state lines in that case, and was sentenced to 90 days of home detention, two years of supervised release, and was fined $10,000. This time around, Petasky is likely facing a prison term at his sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for Oct. 19.

When Petasky pleaded guilty to the current charges, Judge Quarles took testimony about Petasky's competency to stand trial due to depression. According to psychiatrist Dr. Neil Blumberg, Petasky was suffering from "moderate depressive disorder" that set on after the 2006 charges, though at times since then--and Petasky has been in and out of hospitals and treatment since then--Petasky's diagnosis has been "severe," and included "some psychotic symptoms," Blumberg explained. Nonetheless, Blumberg pronounced him "competent," and said that Petasky, after his 1990 trial, also suffered from depression that was "treated with medication and therapy for several years."

Shawn Michael Green pleads not guilty to new charges

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 8/6/2009

On July 10, Shawn Michael Green pleaded not guilty—again—to being a drug-trafficking money-launderer. Green’s mother, Yolanda Crawley, is already serving time for her part in the alleged drug money-laundering scheme feds say he’s part of, as are two of his associates, attorney Rachel Donegan and mortgage broker David Lincoln. Green remained a federal fugitive for nearly two years after the original 2006 charges were filed (“Flight Connections,” Mobtown Beat, March 12, 2008) against him. The latest superseding indictment, filed on April 23, four months after Green’s arrest in Pennsylvania, tacks on new charges about illegal financial transactions structured to hide the drug-related source of Green’s money.

It fleshes out the original case against Green, adding 18 new charges against him and describing in detail how Green conspired with Crawley (who is currently serving two years in prison for her part in Green’s money-laundering operation), Baltimore mortgage broker Lincoln (who received a 15-month sentence for his role in the scheme), and attorney Donegan (who got probation), to fabricate fake incomes to accompany fraudulent home-loan applications. According to the new charges, Green used his mother as a straw purchaser to apply for loans with claims that she made anywhere from $12,000 to $25,000 per month. The charges state that on the applications Crawley said she worked for, among other companies, Platinum Hill Entertainment, purportedly located at 2339 Eutaw Place, Baltimore—the address of an apartment building owned by Green, which has since been forfeited and auctioned off by the federal authorities. The alleged intent of the scheme was to use drug proceeds to pay off fraudulently obtained high-dollar home loans, building equity in ill-gotten real estate.

In March, more than a month before the superseding indictment was filed, Green appeared in court before Judge Susan Gauvey for an arraignment and detention hearing on the original two charges of drug dealing and money laundering. Prosecutor Kwame Manley argued that the federal government believed that Green was continuing to sell drugs while he was on the lam.

“Your Honor, we know what he was doing during the time he was a fugitive,” Manley insisted, according to a court transcript from the hearing. “He was continuing his activities. We had sources tracking him and indicating that he was trying to broker another cocaine deal up in Philadelphia.”

Manley points out that Green and his mother owned properties worth more than $4 million despite the fact that her income on various mortgage applications was fictitious and Green was not employed while he was on the run. Green’s attorneys, Donald Samuel from Atlanta, Ga., and Robert Simels from New York City (who, in a separate case in New York, is facing federal charges of witness intimidation and obstruction of justice), argued in turn that Green’s real-estate transactions were legitimate: They said that during the time Green was a fugitive, he raised money not by drug dealing, but by refinancing various properties and from selling CDs and clothing from the trunk of his car. Samuel said that Green, an owner of the now-defunct clothing store Total Male, owned “a fairly substantial clothing store” and was “actually selling inventory” to support himself after the store closed.

“I don’t think literally that means he popped the trunk of his car on the corner of Peachtree and Piedmont, and, you know, sold a couple of shirts there,” Samuel said. “I think there was a substantial amount of money actually being earned at the time by selling inventory that remained.”

Gauvey ruled during that hearing that Green should remain in detention pending trial because he is a flight risk.

Marcia Murphy, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said she could not comment on the new charges against Green. City Paper left a message with Samuel, whose receptionist said he was in court all week. An e-mail to Simels requesting comment was not returned as of press time.

In other news related to the case against Green, Yolanda Crawley appealed her sentence in October 2008, claiming that the U.S. Attorney’s office violated a plea agreement it made with her to recommend that she be given “a sentence at the low end of the advisory range” if Crawley did not commit any further crimes and if she took full responsibility for her role in the Green scheme. “If the defendant otherwise fails in any way to fulfill completely each and every one of her obligations under this agreement,” the plea agreement read, then the office would not be obligated to fulfill it.

Crawley, who pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud, claims that the government did not live up to its end of the bargain when it recommended that she receive 30 months—a sentence reserved for someone who refused to take any responsibility for their crimes.

On July 21, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a brief responding to Crawley’s claims that insisted that she failed to meet her obligation to take full responsibility for her crimes when she went before a judge. Crawley claimed that she had no knowledge that her son was dealing drugs and that she had no idea what the source of the money was that was used to pay for the real estate she and Green purchased. “Contrary to her representations in the district court, Crawley not only knew about her son’s drug activities, but also used his drug money to buy and maintain the $4 million in fraud properties in this scheme,” the U.S. Attorney’s response to her appeal says.

Murphy says an appeal like Crawley’s is not at all uncommon. Her appeal and the U.S. Attorney’s Office response will go before a judge, “and we’ll go from there.” Crawley’s attorney, Jack Rubin, did not have any additional comment on Crawley’s appeal.

Black-Booked

The Black Guerrilla Family prison gang sought legitimacy, but got indictments

By Van Smith | Posted 8/5/2009

The cover of Eric Brown's The Black Book.

A Black Guerilla Family logo.

The Eric Brown Prison-Gang Conspiracy

Eric Brown, aka "Dee Brown," "E," and "EB"
Ray Olivis, aka "Ronnie Hargrove," "Uncle Ray," "Unc," and "Ray Ray"
Deitra Davenport, aka "Sister D"
Rainbow Williams
Tomeka Harris, aka "Tomika Harris" and "Andrea Huff"
Marlow Bates
Randolph Edison, aka "Uncle Rudy"
Roosevelt Drummond, aka "June" and "Q"
Zachary Norman, aka "Zack"
Kevin Glasscho, aka "KG"
Tavekia Smith, aka "Kiki"
Terry Robe
Asia Burrus
Musheerah Habeebullah

The Kevin Glasscho Drug-Dealing Conspiracy

Kevin Glasscho, aka "KG"
Tyrone Dow, aka "Flavor"
Calvin Robinson
Avon Freeman
James Huntley
Darryl Dawayne Taylor
Joe Taylor-Bey, aka "Joe Taylor"
Darnell Angelo Holmes, aka "Moe"
Darien Larenz Scipio, aka "Reds"
Lakia Hatchett
Cassandra Adams
Nelson Robinson (charged separately)

"I'm a responsible adult," 41-year-old Avon Freeman says to Baltimore U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge James Bredar. The gold on his teeth glimmers as he speaks, his weak chin holding up a soul patch. He's a two-time drug felon facing a new federal drug indictment, brought by a grand jury in April as part of the two conspiracy cases conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Maryland involving the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang ("Guerrilla Warfare," Mobtown Beat, April 22). Now it's July 27, and Freeman, standing tall in his maroon prison jumpsuit, believes himself to be a safe bet for release. He's being detained, pending an as-yet unscheduled trial, at downtown Baltimore's Supermax prison facility, where he says he fears for his safety.

The particulars of Freeman's fears are not made public, though Bredar, defense attorney Joseph Gigliotti, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Clinton Fuchs have discussed them already during an off-the-record bench conference. Danger signs from prison first cropped up in the case immediately after it was filed, though, when Fuchs' colleague on the case, James Wallner, told a judge on Apr. 21 that the BGF had allegedly offered $10,000 for a "hit placed out on several correctional officers" and "all others involved in this investigation, and that would include prosecutors" ("BGF Offers $10,000 for Hits, Prosecutor Says," The News Hole, April 23).

In open court, though, Gigliotti has said only that Freeman feels "endangered" by "conditions" at the Supermax, that "several of his co-defendants" also are housed there, and that "at a minimum," Bredar should "put him in a halfway house, or at home with his sister under electronic monitoring." The judge disagrees, but Freeman--against Judge Bredar's adamant warning that it's a "bad idea" and that "any statement you make could be used against you"--still wants to speak.

"I did have a job--I was working," Freeman says of his days before his BGF arrest, and says of his family and friends, about 20 of whom are watching from the benches of the courtroom gallery, "I got the kids here, responsible adults here." He declares he's "not a flight risk" and says he "always come[s] to court when I'm told." He stresses, "I am a responsible adult."

Freeman's doing what many people in his shoes do. He may be accused of being caught on wiretaps arranging drug transactions and of being witnessed by investigators participating in one. The prosecutor may say a raid of Freeman's home turned up scales and $2,000 in alleged drug cash. But Freeman is still claiming to be a hard-working family man, a legitimate citizen, as safe and reliable as the next guy.

The details of the more than two dozen defendants indicted in the BGF case, filed against a Maryland offshoot of BGF's national organization, suggest Freeman is not the only one among them who craves legitimacy. Information from court records, public documents, and the defendants' court appearances over the past three months make some appear as "responsible adults" leading productive lives--or at least, like Freeman, as wanting to be seen that way (for a gallery of BGF indictees, visit citypaper.com/go/familyportraits).

Bredar sides with the government on the question of letting Freeman out of the Supermax. "There's a high probability of conviction" based on the evidence against Freeman, Bredar says, adding that, given Freeman's well-established criminal past, he poses a danger to society. So back Freeman goes to face his BGF fears. "I love you all," he calls out to his 20-or-so family members and friends in the gallery, as U.S. marshals escort him out of the courtroom. "Love you, too," some call back.

 

Take, for instance, Deitra Davenport. For 20 years, until her April arrest, the 37-year-old single mom worked as an administrator for a downtown Baltimore association management firm. Or 42-year-old Tyrone Dow, who with his brother has been running a car detailing shop on Lovegrove Street, behind Mount Vernon's Belvedere Hotel, ostensibly for nearly as long. Mortgage broker and reported law student Tomeka Harris, 33, boasts of having toy drives and safe-sex events at her Belair Road bar, Club 410. Baltimore City wastewater technician Calvin Renard Robinson, 53 years old and a long-ago ex-con, owns a clothing boutique next to Hollins Market. Even 30-year-old Rainbow Lee Williams, a recently released murderer, managed to get a job working as a mentor for at-risk public-school youngsters.

The trappings of legitimacy are most elaborate, though, with Eric Marcell Brown, the lead defendant in the BGF prison-gang indictment. By the time the DEA started tapping his illegal prison cell phones in February, the 40-year-old inmate and author, who was nearing the end of a lengthy sentence for drug dealing, had teamed up with his wife, Davenport, to start a non-profit, Harambee Jamaa, which aims to promote peace and community betterment. His The Black Book: Empowering Black Families and Communities came out last year and, until the BGF indictments shut down the publishing operation, it was distributed to inmates and available to the public online from Dee Dat Publishing, a company formed by Brown and Davenport. Court documents indicate that at least 700 to 900 copies sold, at $15 or $20 a pop. The book has numerous co-authors, including Rainbow Williams.

According to the BGF case record, though, they're all shams. Davenport, for instance, helps smuggle contraband into prison, prosecutors say, and serves as a "conduit of information" to support Brown's violent, drug-dealing, extortion, and smuggling racket. The Black Book and Harambee Jamaa, the government's version continues, are fronts for Brown's ill-gotten BGF gains, which, thanks to complicit correctional employees, are derived from operating both in prisons and on the outside. As a result, the government contends, Brown appears to have had access to cigars, good liquor and Champagne, and high-end meals in his prison cell.

The alleged scheme has Dow supplying drugs to 46-year-old Kevin Glasscho, the lead defendant in the BGF drug-dealing indictment and the only one of the co-defendants who is named in both indictments. Freeman and Robinson, meanwhile, are accused of selling Glasscho's drugs. Williams, the school mentor, is said to oversee the BGF's street-level dealings for Brown, including violence. Harris is described as Brown's girlfriend (even while her murder-convict husband, inmate Vernon Harris, is said by investigators to be helping Brown, too); among other things, she helps with the BGF finances. Most of the rest were inmates already, or accused drug dealers, smugglers, and armed robbers, except for the three corrections employees and one former employee who are accused as corrupt enablers, betraying public trust to help out in Brown and Glasscho's criminal world. Only one, 59-year-old Roosevelt Drummond, accused of robbery and drug-dealing, remains at large.

Looking legit allows underworld players to insinuate themselves into the shadow economy, where the black market, lawful enterprise, and politics come together. Sometimes, though, people look legit simply because they are legit, even though they're criminally charged. If that's the case with any of the BGF co-defendants, they're going to have their chance to prove it, just as the prosecutors will have theirs to prove otherwise. An adjudicated version of what happened with the BGF--be it at trial or in guilty pleas--eventually will substantiate who among them, if any, are "responsible adult[s]."

 

Glimpses of Brown's leadership style are documented in the criminal evidence against him, including a conference call last Nov. 18 between Brown and two other inmates, "Comrade Doc" and Thomas Bailey, each on the line from different prisons.

"Listen, man, we [are] on the verge of big things," Brown said, and Bailey assured him that "whatever you need me to do, man, I'm there." "This positive movement that we are embarking upon now . . . is moving at a rapid pace," Brown continued, and is "happening on almost every location." He exhorted Bailey with a slogan, "Revolution is the only solution, brother," and promised to send copies of his book, explaining how to use it as a classroom study guide.

The Black Book is a self-described "changing life styles living policy book" intended to help inmates, ex-cons, and their families navigate life successfully ("The Black Book," Mobtown Beat, May 27). Its ideological basis is rooted in the 1960s radical politics of BGF founder George Jackson, the inmate revolutionary in California who, until his death in 1971, pitched the same self-sufficient economic and social separatism that The Black Book preaches. Throughout, despite rhetorical calls for defiance against perceived oppression and injustice, it promotes what appears to be lawful behavior--with the notable exception of domestic abuse, given its instructions that the husband of a disobedient wife should "beat her lightly."

The BGF is not mentioned by name in The Black Book, which instead refers to "The Family" (or "Jamaa," the Swahili equivalent), explaining that it is not a "gang" but an "organization." The back cover features printed kudos from local educators, including two-time Democratic candidate for Baltimore mayor Andrey Bundley, now a high-ranking Baltimore City public-schools official in charge of alternative-education programs. His blurb praises Brown for "not accepting the unhealthy traditions of street organizations aka gangs" and for trying "to guide his comrades toward truth, justice, freedom, and equality."

Tyrone Powers, director of the Anne Arundel Community College's Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute, and a former FBI agent, offers back-cover praise for The Black Book, describing it as an "extraordinary volume" and calling Brown and his co-authors "extraordinary insightful men and leaders."

Powers says in a phone interview that he knows Brown "by going into the prison system as part of an effort to deal with three or four different gangs." Powers is "totally unapologetic" about endorsing The Black Book.

"The gang problem is increasing," Powers explains, "and we need to have direct contact with the people involved, or who have been involved. We need to be bringing the gang members together and tell them there's no win in that, except for prison or the cemetery. Gang members can be influential in anti-gang efforts, and we have got to utilize them. Are we calling them saints? No, we are not. My objective is to reduce the violence, and I don't think sterile academic programs work as well as engaging some of our young people, like Eric, as part of a program."

In early May, nearly a month after Brown was indicted, Bundley explained his ties to the inmate to The Baltimore Sun. "I've seen [rival gangs] come together in one room and work on the lessons in The Black Book to get themselves together," he was quoted as saying. "I know Eric Brown was a major player inside the prison doing that work. The quote on the back of the book is only about the work that I witnessed: no more, no less."

 

The DEA's original basis for tying Brown to BGF violence came from a confidential informant called "CS1" in court documents. A BGF member who's seeking a reduced sentence, CS1 starting late last year gave a series of "debriefings" that lasted into early 2009. The investigators say in court records that CS1's information has a track record of reliability, and the story checked out well enough to convince a grand jury to indict and a handful of judges to sign warrants as the case has progressed.

"BGF is extremely violent both inside and outside prison," investigators recounted CS1 saying, "and is responsible for numerous crimes of violence and related crimes, including robbery, extortion, and murder for hire." But "historically BGF has not been well-organized outside of prison," CS1 asserted, and now the BGF "is attempting to change this within Baltimore, Maryland by becoming more organized and effective on the streets." Brown "is coordinating and organizing BGF's activities on the streets of Baltimore" and The Black Book "is a ploy by Brown to make BGF in Maryland appear to be a legitimate organization and not involved in criminal activity," CS1 said, even though "Brown is a drug trafficker" and the BGF "funds its operations primarily by selling drugs."

If CS1 is correct, then Brown is not as he was perceived by his supporters. Could it be that yet another purported peacemaker is actually prompting violence? It happened in Los Angeles last year, when a so-called "former" gangmember who headed a publicly funded non-profit called No Guns pleaded guilty to gun-running for the Mexican Mafia prison gang. It may have happened in Chicago last year, when two workers for the anti-violence group Ceasefire, which uses ex-gangmembers as street mediators, were charged in a 31-defendant gang prosecution.

Brown, with his book and his non-profit organization, wasn't up and running at nearly the same scale as No Guns and Ceasefire, and there's no evidence he was grant-funded. He was only just beginning to set up his self-financed positive vibe from inside his prison cell. But his is the same street-credibility pitch as in Los Angeles and Chicago: redeemed gangsters make effective gang-interventionists because the target audience will respect them more. Clearly, the approach has its risks, and Brown may end up being another example of that.

"It's a dilemma," Powers says of the question of how to prevent additional crimes from being committed by gang leaders who claim redemption and profess to work for reductions in gang-related violence and crime. "It has to be closely monitored." As for Brown's indictment, the lessons remain to be seen: "I don't know if I can make it make sense," Powers says.

 

For dramatic loss of legitimate appearances, Tomeka Harris may take the cake among the BGF co-defendants. She's been on the ropes since late last year, when in December she caught federal bank-fraud and identity-theft charges in Maryland, in a case involving Green Dot prepaid debit cards that turned up later as the currency for the BGF's prison-based economy. But from then until her April arrest in the BGF case, Harris had been out on conditional release--and making a good impression in public.

Media attention had been focused on Club 410, at 4509 Belair Road in Northeast Baltimore near Herring Run Park, because the police, having noted that violence was on the rise in its immediate vicinity, were trying to shut it down. At a March 26 hearing on the matter, Harris fought back, and The Sun's crime columnist, Peter Hermann, wrote that she "handled the case pretty well, calling into question some police accounts of the violence." Herman described her as a "law student representing the owners," and Sun reporter Justin Fenton, in his coverage, called her "the operator and manager" of the club. Not in the stories was the fact that she's out on release, pending trial in a federal financial-fraud case in Baltimore.

Club 410's liquor-board file lists as its licensees not Harris, but city employee Andrea Huff and public-schools employee Scott Brooks. Harris is referred to as its "owner" only in a March 3 police report, in which she "advised that she and her husband are the current owners of Club 410" and that "she has no dealings with the previous owners for several years." Making matters murkier is the fact that "Andrea Huff," whose name is on the liquor license is Harris' alias in her BGF indictment. No wonder Sun writers were confused--Harris seems to have wanted it that way.

Harris made another public appearance before the BGF indictment came down in April. This time, it was in connection with John Zorzit, a local developer whose Nick's Amusements, Inc., supplies "for amusement only" gaming devices to bars, taverns, restaurants, and other cash-oriented retail businesses around the region. The feds weren't buying Zorzit's non-gambling cover, though, and, based on a pattern of evidence that suggests he's running a betting racket, in late January they filed a forfeiture suit and sought to seize as many of Zorzit's assets as they could find. In the process, they raided his office on Harford Road, and there in the files were documents pertaining to Tomeka Harris and Club 410. Turns out, a Zorzit-controlled company owns Club 410, and ongoing lawsuits indicate Harris and Zorzit have had a falling out ("The 410 Factor," Mobtown Beat, April 22).

Meanwhile, Harris still found the time to be Eric Brown's girlfriend, according to the BGF court documents, in addition to helping the BGF smuggle, communicate, and arrange its finances. While her husband, alleged BGF member Vernon Harris (who has not been indicted in the BGF conspiracies), was in jail for murder, Tomeka Harris is said by investigators to have conducted "financial transactions involving 'Green Dot' cards on behalf of BGF members." Court documents also say "one of her other business ventures was establishing bogus corporations for close associates so that they could obtain loans from banks in order to purchase high-priced items such as vehicles."

Despite the vortex of drama that has been Harris' life of late, she seems calm and collected at her first appearance in the BGF case on April 16. Her straight, highlighted hair hangs down the back of her black hoodie, heading south toward the tattoos peeking out from her low-hanging black hiphuggers; she's wearing furry boots. She's unflappable when a parole officer wonders about her claims of being a mortgage broker, when the conditions of her release in the fraud case don't allow it.

But on June 4, a court hearing is called to try to untangle the various issues involved in Harris' two federal indictments, and she comes undone. Her wig is gone, as are the boots and street clothes. She's wringing her hands and holding her forehead as she talks with her lawyer, looking both exhausted and agitated. Finally, as the judge orders her detained pending trial, Harris starts crying.

 

The historic Belvedere Hotel has had its troubles over the years since is past glories, but it remains a highly visible symbol, like the Washington Monument, of the grandeur of Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood. Its presence in the BGF picture is a statement as to how far a prison gang's reach may extend.

Club 410's liquor board file contains records of 2007 drug raids carried out at Club 410 and Room 1111 at the Belvedere Hotel in Mount Vernon. The records state that evidence taken from Club 410 (a scale, razor blades, and a strainer, all with residue of suspected heroin) match evidence taken from the secure, controlled-access Belvedere Hotel condominium (a handgun, heroin residue, face masks, a heat sealer). That evidence was traced to a suspect, Michael Holman, with ties to both the Belvedere Hotel room and Club 410. Though it is unclear what, if any, ties the raids have to BGF's currently indicted dealings, they call to mind instances in the BGF case where the Belvedere Hotel appears.

BGF court documents say Tyrone Dow, drug supplier for Kevin Glasscho's BGF drug dealing conspiracy, "is the owner of Belvedere Detailers," which is "located at 1014 Lovegrove Street" in Baltimore. A late-July visit there reveals that it is still operating, and that the property is right next to the rear entrance of the Belvedere Hotel parking garage.

In June 2008, Dow and his brother were highlighted in a Baltimore Examiner business article about the fortunes of Baltimore-area "garage-based premium car-wash services" during an economic downturn. Credited for Belvedere Detailers' ongoing success is "client loyalty for the business," which the article says Dow and his brother have operated "out of the same brick garage for more than 15 years."

Public records of car-detailing shops operating at the Lovegrove Street location, though, don't list Belvedere Detailers, despite the Examiner article's claim that it's been there for so long. In fact, no company by that name exists in Maryland's corporate records. Instead, Mount Vernon Auto Spa LLC, headed by Hadith Demetrius Smith, has been operating there. Smith, court records show, was found guilty in Baltimore County of drug dealing in 2007, a conviction that brought additional time on a federal-drug dealing conviction from 2000, which itself violated a 1993 federal drug-dealing conviction in Washington, D.C.

City Paper's attempts to establish clear ties, if any exist, between Belvedere Detailers and Mount Vernon Car Wash, were unsuccessful. But the BGF investigators maintain in court records that Dow's detailing shop at that location is tied to the prison gang's narcotics dealings.

The Belvedere Hotel also figured in BGF investigators' wiretap of a conversation between two BGF co-defendants, Glasscho and Darien Scipio, about a drug deal they were arranging to hold there on March 24, according to court documents.

"Yeah you gotta come down to the Belvedere Hotel, homey," Glasscho told Scipio, who said, "Alright, I'm gonna call you when I'm close." Just before they met there, though, Scipio called back and told Glasscho to "get the fuck away from there" because "it's on the [police] scanner" that "the peoples is on you," referring to law enforcers. The alleged drug deal was quickly aborted.

Glasscho, who has a 1981 murder conviction and drug-dealing and firearms convictions from the early 1990s, is accused of being the leader of a drug-trafficking operation that smuggled drugs into prison for the BGF. As the only BGF co-defendant named in both indictments, he alone bridges both the drug-dealing and the prison-gang conspiracies that the government alleges. The contention that Glasscho was a Belvedere Hotel habitu while dealing drugs for the BGF suggests that, until the indictments came down, the prison gang was becoming quite comfortable in mainstream Baltimore life.

 

CS1, when laying out the BGF leadership structure for DEA investigators in late 2008 and early 2009, gave special treatment to Rainbow Williams and Gregory Fitzgerald. Williams is "an extremely violent BGF member" who has "committed multiple murders" and "numerous assaults/stabbings while in prison," CS1 contended, while Fitzgerald "has killed people in the past" and carried out "multiple stabbings on behalf of BGF while in prison." CS1 wouldn't actually say they were "Death Angels," the alleged name for BGF hitmen whose identities "only certain people know," pointing out as well that the BGF sometimes "will employ others to act as hitmen who may or may not be 'Death Angels.'" Nonetheless, CS1 said Williams and Fitzgerald "are loyal to and take orders from" Eric Brown.

Fitzgerald was not indicted in the BGF case, and though recently released from prison on prior charges, he has since been arrested in a separate federal drug-dealing case. Williams' fortunes, though, had been rising since he was released from prison last fall after serving out time for a murder conviction.

When Williams was named in the BGF prison-gang conspiracy, he had a job. As his lawyer, Gerald Ruter, explained in court on April 21, Williams was working for the nonprofit Partners in Progress Resource Center, a four-day-a-week gig for $1,200 a month he'd had since he left prison. Partners in Progress works with the city's public-schools system at the Achievement Academy at Harbor City, located on Harford Road. Ruter told the judge he'd learned from Partners in Progress' executive director, Bridget Alston-Smith (a major financial backer of Bundley's political campaigns), that Williams "works on the campus itself as a mentor to individuals who have behavioral difficulties and is hands-on with all of the students."

The contrast between Williams' post-prison job, working with at-risk kids, and his alleged dealings as a top BGF leader is striking. In early April, for instance, he's caught on the wiretap talking with Lance Walker, an alleged BGF member whose recent 40-year sentence on federal drug-dealing charges was compounded in July by a life sentence on state murder charges. Williams confides in Walker, telling him that rumors that Williams ordered the Apr. 1 stabbing murder of an inmate are putting him in danger with higher-ups in the BGF. The next day, Williams is again on the phone with an inmate, discussing how Williams is suspected of passing along Eric Brown's order to hurt another inmate named "Coco." Court documents also have Williams aiding in BGF's smuggling operation and mediating beefs among BGF rivals.

And yet, Williams, with his job, was starting to appear legitimate. When law enforcers searched his apartment in April, Williams' dedication to Brown's cause was in evidence. Gang literature, "a large amount of mail to and from inmates," photos of inmates and associates, and a "handwritten copy of the BGF constitution" were found, according to court documents. But they also found 38 rounds of .357 ammo. Now, Williams is back in jail, awaiting trial.

 

If proven right, either at trial or by guilty pleas, the accusations against the BGF in Maryland would mean not only that Brown's legitimate-looking "movement" is a criminal sham. It would mean that the prison gang, while insinuating itself so effectively within the sprawling correctional system as to make a mockery of prison walls, was also able to embed itself in ordinary Baltimore life. If not for the indictments, should they be proved true, one can only imagine how long it could have lasted.

Calvin Robinson might have gone undetected. But the city waste-water worker, who owns real estate next to the Baltimore Police Department's Western District station house and next to the city's historic Hollins Market, where his In and Out Boutique clothing store continues to operate, instead was heard on the BGF wiretap talking with Glasscho about suspected drug deals. And he was observed conducting them. And when his house was raided, two guns turned up.

Robinson at least made a good show at legitimacy during court appearances in the BGF case, unlike Freeman's performance before Judge Bredar. His lawyer played up Robinson's city job, and even had his supervisor, Dorothy Harris, on hand in the courtroom to attest to his reliability at work. He looked poised and professional, with his clean-shaven head, trimmed mustache, and designer glasses. But just like Freeman, Robinson, who has drug convictions from the early 1990s, lost his plea to be released and was detained pending trial.

Of the 25 BGF defendants, five were granted conditional release. All of them women, they include three former prison guards, Davenport, suspected drug dealer Lakia Hatchett, and Cassandra Adams, who is Glasscho's girlfriend and alleged accomplice. All were deemed sufficiently "responsible adults" to avoid being jailed before trial, so long as they continue to meet strict conditions. They, unlike the rest of their co-defendants, were found neither to be a threat to public safety nor a risk of flight, should they await trial outside of prison walls. Given the sprawling conspiracies, one can imagine why Freeman's in fear at the Supermax--and why the released women should be breathing a sigh of relief.

Armed Drug Dealer for Steele?

GOP donor Wade Coats accused in hotel drug case

By Van Smith | Posted 6/17/2009

Wade Coats, a 44-year-old whose East Baltimore business, Keeping It in the Community, Inc., sells phones and pagers, is a Republican Party campaign donor who gave $500 to Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Michael Steele's failed 2006 U.S. Senate campaign and another $800 to the RNC. On April 28, Coats took out a room in the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor hotel. What remains to be seen is whether his hotel stay involved high-dollar drug dealing, as new federal charges in Maryland allege.

The drug charges against Coats and two others--fellow Baltimorean Ronald Brown and Jose Cavazos of Midlothian, Texas--show that the case developed quickly on April 28, when Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, aided by a confidential source, observed Brown and Coats engaged in suspected drug-dealing activities near Mo's Seafood House in Little Italy. Agents followed the two men when they split up.

Coats had checked into Room 943 at the nearby Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor hotel, court documents say. When he re-emerged from the hotel later, agents followed him to his phone-and-pager business, just east of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Coats was arrested there, Cavazos was arrested in Coats' Marriott hotel room, and Brown was picked up at his dwelling, near Route 40 West, just outside the city line.

On Coats when he was arrested were a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun (loaded with nine rounds), a handheld radio-frequency scanner monitoring Baltimore Police Department and DEA channels, and $7,000 in cash. At his business, agents found another $16,000 in cash, paraphernalia for counting and bundling cash, and a magazine for a gun. In Coats' Marriott hotel room, approximately $275,000 in cash, an electronic money counter, and heat-sealing equipment for packaging cash was found. From Cavazos' Dodge Caravan, parked in the Marriott garage, agents recovered approximately $335,000 in cash from an orange suitcase. At Brown's home, they came across about 374 grams of powder cocaine; an undisclosed amount of heroin (some in a bag and the rest on a pane of glass); and equipment and material for packaging drugs for street-level sales.

After their arrest on April 28, the three were indicted in state court in May, and the case was bumped to the federal level in early June.

Coats' background in Maryland's courts gives no indication he would be involved in the drug game. The only prior criminal charges filed against him were for cloning cell phones and for a theft scheme, both a decade ago, and for assault in 1994; no convictions resulted. Otherwise, Coats has had financial problems, including two bankruptcies--one of which is still pending, and was active in 2006 and 2007, when he came up with the $500 for Steele and another $800 for the RNC. Katie Wright, spokeswoman for the RNC, declined to comment on Coats' donations.

This is not the first time a Baltimore shadow-economy figure has been in the picture of the GOP's political funding. Ex-con bailbondsman Milton Tillman Jr., who was labeled a "violent drug dealer" by since-dead federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna ("Grave Accusations," Mobtown Beat, April 23, 2008), was shown in last year's City Paper analysis ("Friends of Milton Tillman," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 27, 2008) to be a donor mostly to Democrats--though $500 of Tillman's money went in 2002 to the U.S. Congressman Robert Ehrlich's successful gubernatorial bid. In 2005, the sprawling Rice Organization drug-conspiracy case in federal court involved a restaurant, Downtown Southern Blues, where in 2002 Democrats for Ehrlich spent $4,000 to throw a victory celebration for Steele, who had just clinched the lieutenant-governor slot ("Wired," Mobtown Beat, March 2, 2005). The restaurant's landlord, Kenneth Antonio Jackson, an ex-con strip-club owner who recently started making documentaries about famous Baltimore drug dealers ("Last Word," Feature, April 29, 2009), has mostly given to Democrats over the years, though in 2003 he gave $500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

It is also not the first time this year the feds pursued a drug case involving the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor hotel. In March, a heroin-smuggling conspiracy involving two men of Ghanian descent, one from New Jersey and the other from Baltimore, was uncovered in one of the hotel's rooms, where cleaning staff had found a large quantity of heroin ("Room Service," Mobtown Beat, March 25, 2009). That case is scheduled for trial in September.

As of press time, Coats had not yet had his first appearance in federal court. As he was being arrested, the charging document recounts, he denied having been in the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor hotel that night, telling officers, "there's your story, there's my story, and there's the truth. Let's see what the judge decides."

Wade Coats Complaint

Calvin Renard Robinson

City Wastewater Worker Accused of Selling BGF Drugs

By Van Smith | Posted 6/10/2009

The phone rang at 6:59 a.m. on a Friday morning, just as 53-year-old Baltimore City wastewater plant technician Calvin Renard Robinson was heading for the shower, court records show. The March 20 call was from 46-year-old Kevin Glasscho, an ex-con now accused in Maryland as the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison gang’s heroin broker.

“You wanted a whole dollar or the half?” Glasscho asked. “Uh, it don’t matter,” Robinson answered, adding, “You can bring me the, um—bring it to me in two halves.” When Glasscho explained that it would be less work if he gave Robinson the “whole dollar.” Robinson agreed, and the two planned to meet after Robinson got out of the shower.

At the time, neither man knew that this exchange, and similarly cryptic phone calls this past spring between Robinson and Glasscho, was being recorded by law enforcers, who believed the men were using code to arrange drug deals. But in mid-April, the conversations wound up as part the evidence for two federal criminal conspiracy cases against 25 alleged members of the BGF. The gang is accused of a variety of crimes, including violence, drug-dealing, smuggling contraband, and extortion. Robinson, thanks to the intercepted phone conversations with Glasscho and the resulting surveillance, is charged with buying drugs wholesale from Glasscho.

At his first court appearances in April, Robinson had the unassuming look of the workaday bureaucrat he is, with his clean-shaven head, trimmed mustache, and glasses. Robinson’s defense attorney, Steven Wrobel, had on hand Robinson’s city Department of Public Works (DPW) supervisor, Dorothy Harris, ready to testify in support of letting Robinson go free pending trial. But the judge decided that Robinson, who has drug convictions dating from the early 1990s and was found with two handguns and ammunition when he was arrested April 15 in the BGF take-down (“Guerrilla Warfare,” Mobtown Beat, April 22, 2009), poses too much of a risk to public safety should he leave jail.

In addition to the guns—a Smith & Wesson .357 with six cartridges and a North American Arms .22 with four cartridges—court records show agents took from Robinson’s home three cell phones, a Blackberry mobile device, three sets of keys, and numerous photographs (see the search warrant).

Robinson has owned his North Mount Street home—1102, right across Riggs Avenue from the Baltimore Police Department’s Western District station house—since 2000. Land records show his principal residence is not there, but south by about a dozen or so blocks, at 1223 Hollins St., a half-block west of Hollins Market. Robinson purchased the Hollins Street property in 2008; open for business there is the In and Out Boutique (see In and Out's incorporation papers), the trade name for a clothing shore owned by Robinson's company, Jo-Cal LLC (see Jo-Cal's incorporation papers).

Robinson's In and Out Boutique opened on a block of Hollins Street that has long been known for drug-dealing activity (“Best Open-Air Drug Market,” Mobtown Beat, Sept. 16, 2003). In 2007 it was targeted in a major federal enforcement effort called Operation Smackdown, which closed down a $20,000 per day heroin operation there.

Calvin Robinson SSW Return Jo-Cal LLC Incorporation Papers In and Out Boutique Trade Name papers

Deitra Davenport

Hardworking mom accused of being BGF "conduit"

By Van Smith | Posted 5/27/2009

Among the 25 inmates, ex-offenders, prison employees, and others indicted by a federal grand jury in Maryland in April as part of the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison-gang conspiracies ("Guerrilla Warfare," Mobtown Beat, April 22, 2009), Deitra Davenport stands out.

She has no criminal history. She has worked at the same association-management firm for the past 20 years. She is a homeowner and the single mother of two children. The 37-year-old Davenport is the picture of an upstanding citizen. The accusations against the BGF of violence, drug-dealing, and prison smuggling clash with her squeaky-clean profile--a point that Davenport's lawyer, Thomas Saunders, has emphasized in court repeatedly while seeking her conditional release pending trial.

Saunders says that Davenport is a "naïve, innocent party" in the BGF scheme. He says she was ensnared in a web of evidence devoid of signs that his client knew of illegal activities (except, perhaps, some smuggling of items, possibly tobacco, to BGF leader Eric Brown, though he's quick to tell the judge during a hearing that "I'm not saying it's true" that she even knew of this illicit activity). What began eight years ago as a pen-pal relationship between Davenport and Brown later blossomed into a Muslim form of marriage, Saunders says. He adds that Brown--if he is the criminal the government contends he is--duped Davenport, making her an unwitting player in the BGF's allegedly criminal enterprise.

The government sees Davenport, whose nickname is "Sister D," as a smuggler, the operator of a BGF front business that helped underwrite the gang's operations, and an intermediary between Brown and other BGF members. Last year she and Brown published The Black Book, a handbook of BGF philosophy as part of a social movement called Jamaa ("jamaa" is a Swahili word for "family"). The book promotes economic and political self-empowerment for black communities and discusses how to confront the reality and legacy of widespread incarceration among black Americans. But law enforcers characterize it as a guidebook for gang behavior and say its sales--and therefore Davenport, as the book's publisher--helped underwrite the violent, drug-dealing, prison-smuggling ways of the BGF in Maryland (see "The Black Book," Mobtown Beat, May 27, 2009).

When Davenport first appeared in court on Apr. 16, she looked as out of her element as Saunders claims she is. Short and petite, with straight black hair and wearing a tidy black jacket, she did not fit in with the two other defendants next to her: 30-year-old convicted murderer Rainbow Lee Williams and 52-year-old Zachary Lee Norman, whose criminal record includes convictions for a murder conspiracy and armed robbery. But if court documents reflect the truth of the matter, Davenport knows Williams well enough to conspire with him to get contraband to Brown in prison.

At 6:15 in the morning on Apr. 16, as Davenport was being arrested, law enforcers who raided her Baltimore County home seized a .357 caliber handgun and a box of .38 caliber ammunition, according to court documents. Also seized were documents related to two companies started by Davenport and Brown: Dee Dat Publishing, which published The Black Book, and Harambee Jamaa Inc., a nonprofit that, according to its incorporation papers, was formed to "liberate our people from poverty, crime, and prison."

During an intercepted phone conversation between Brown and Davenport, which court records say took place late at night on Feb. 26, Brown urged Davenport to "go to the firing range." When Davenport asked "Why?" Brown told her, "bust that gun for a minute. You ain't been out there in a while." During court hearings, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner brought this conversation up, while pointing out that The Black Book instructs women "to be proficient in the use of firearms."

In other intercepted phone conversations, which took place in April, Brown and Davenport discussed smuggled champagne, vodka, and cigars. According to court documents, law enforcers also believe Davenport "is smuggling drugs" to Brown in prison.

After the indictments came down, Wallner announced in open court that the BGF had offered $10,000 for "hits" on correctional officers, investigators, and cooperators who helped make the case ("BGF Offers $10,000 for Hits, Prosecutor Says," Mobtown Beat, April 23). In light of the offer, Wallner stressed Davenport's role as a vector of BGF intelligence, suggesting that she may help get the word out that BGF money is on the table. "Davenport, because of her status as the conduit for all of the BGF," Wallner said to the judge, "is the central location of communication among members and Eric Brown."

The government's take on Davenport came as a complete surprise to Davenport's long-time employer, Thomas Shaner of the Baltimore-based association management firm, Joseph E. Shaner Company.

"To say that we are shocked, that's just an understatement," Shaner said in a May interview. "'Sister D?' Who the hell is this 'Sister D?'

"She's been a solid employee for 20 years," Shaner said. "All I can guess is that she was naïve as hell and was manipulated by Eric [Brown]. I've never met Eric, and I was surprised to learn that Eric is in jail, and has always been in jail, even before she married him. Despite these charges, I still want to believe she's the same person I've known for so long, who I considered a friend and sort of family. But people do crazy things for love."

After debating for weeks in motions and hearings over Davenport's detention, on May 12, Wallner and Saunders reached an agreement, and U.S. District Court magistrate judge Beth Gesner accepted it. Davenport is released to her home, where she will remain locked down pending trial, on electronic monitoring and with strict controls over her communications and conduct. In addition, Davenport's sales of The Black Book will end and she is to have "no contact whatsoever with any inmates or codefendants," Gesner says. The trial, which has yet to be scheduled, is estimated to last a month.

BGF Warrant Davenport Government Opposition to Motion Davenport Motion for New Detention Hearing Davenport SSW Return Davenport Supplimentary Motion for New Detention Hearinger

The Black Book

Feds say prison gang's self-improvement guide is a money-laundering recruitment tool

By Van Smith | Posted 5/27/2009

An overarching presence in the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison-gang conspiracies indicted in April by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland is not a person, but a book.

Entitled The Black Book: Empowering Black Families and Communities, the 122-page softbound publication is a revolutionary call for economic and political liberation for blacks. Eric Marcell Brown, a 40-year-old inmate of the Maryland correctional system, is the author of much of its contents, and he, along with his wife, Deitra Davenport (see "Family Portraits," Mobtown Beat, May 27, 2009), last year incorporated Dee Dat Publishing to get The Black Book printed and distributed for sale.

Brown, Davenport, and 23 other co-defendants named in the two BGF indictments are accused of drug dealing, prison smuggling, violence, and extortion. Prosecutors say The Black Book served as a propaganda tool for gang recruitment while its sales also helped finance the BGF's criminal activities.

The feds' assertions about the nefarious functions of The Black Book, though, are considered over-the-top by at least one educator: Tyrone Powers, the director of Anne Arundel County Community College's Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute and an advisory board member of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services' Thomas J.S. Waxter Children's Center, a detention facility for young women. A former FBI agent and Maryland State Police trooper, Powers has a Ph.D. in sociology and justice from American University and hosts a radio show called "The Powers Report."

The back cover of The Black Book has the following endorsement from Powers:

These are difficult days that require concrete, specific, effective solutions. This book provides that and more. If we want to win, to change our condition, our situation and the life chances of this generation, of our children and of our children's children then we must read, analyze, think, learn and apply the lessons, concepts and practical solutions that are apart [sic] of this extraordinary volume written by four extraordinary insightful men and leaders.

Powers, in a mid-May phone interview, explains that "I met Eric [Brown] by going into the prison system as part of an effort to deal with three or four different gangs. Eric and others decided to put together this book, and it was all positive. I endorsed it because it could have some impact on the increasing gang problem, because people would read and understand this, as opposed to more academic writing that doesn't connect with young people.

"I am totally unapologetic about endorsing this book and totally unapologetic about meeting Eric Brown," Powers continues, "because it serves a positive purpose--to reduce the violence. This book is a means to that end. I don't know anything about the financing end of it, and as for it being used for gang recruitment--I don't know how it could be used for recruitment. It is all about building peace and tranquility."

Also endorsing The Black Book on its back cover is former two-time Baltimore City mayoral candidate Andrey Bundley, a Baltimore City Public Schools administrator who oversees the city's alternative education programs. "Kudos, to Eric Brown (E.B.) for not accepting the unhealthy traditions of street organizations aka gangs," Bundley wrote. "He has availed his leadership capacity in Jamaa to guide his comrades toward truth, justice, freedom and equality."

Jamaa, according to The Black Book, is a Swahili word for "family" that is defined as "an organization geared towards revitalizing our people and our hoods." Brown and Davenport last year formed a non-profit organization called Harambee Jamaa Inc., which, according to its incorporation papers, intends "to education, invigorate and liberate our people from poverty, crime, and prison."

"I've seen [rival gangs] come together in one room and work on the lessons in The Black Book to get themselves together," Bundley told The Baltimore Sun in early May. "I know Eric Brown was a major player inside the prison doing that work. The quote on the back of the book is only about the work that I witnessed: no more, no less."

The Black Book, according to its introduction, "is designed to make our people aware of the vision of Comrade George Jackson and the struggle that he lived and died for." Jackson, a Black Panther Party member, founded the BGF as a Marxist prison gang in 1966, while serving time at San Quentin State Prison in California for an armed robbery conviction. Jackson was shot to death at San Quentin in 1971, in an incident that also left five others dead; Jackson was armed with a pistol when he was killed. At the time, he was awaiting trial on charges that he murdered a prison guard.

The four chapters of The Black Book include study guides and poems venerating a value system that seeks to uplift black communities, including incarcerated people. It invokes revolutionary ideals from the Black Power, Black Liberation, and Black Nationalism movements of the 1960s and melds them with instructions on how to live life. It calls itself a "living policy book," and includes lessons on civics, economics, and gender roles. The book says, for instance, that a Jamaa woman is to be a "firearm expert," who has "gun in hand, ready to take on all transgressors." When a wife is disobedient, The Black Book says the husband first should "verbally reprimand her," then "refuse to sleep with her," "beat her lightly," and "if these are not effective, the next step is divorce."

During court proceedings in the BGF indictments, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner has claimed that The Black Book generates profits used to underwrite BGF crimes. But Davenport's defense attorney, Thomas Saunders, has questioned that contention. "There is no profit, considering what printing costs are," Saunders said, adding that Davenport "used her own money" to get the book published and was not using it as a "front to funnel money" to the BGF.

Eric Marcell Brown

Veteran Inmate Dubbed Drug-Dealing, Shot-Calling BGF Propagandist

By Van Smith | Posted 5/7/2009

Like other Maryland prison inmates indicted in the Black Guerilla Family prison-gang conspiracy, Eric Marcell Brown hasn't yet had his first court appearance on the charges, so he remains an unseen player in the case. But the wire-tap investigation of his activities from prison, which resulted in the Apr. 8 grand jury indictment in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, shows how the government views Brown: as the BGF's top leader in Maryland, orchestrating its violent, corrupting operations with funds from selling drugs and The Black Book, his instructional tome about the BGF movement.

Brown doesn't consider the BGF a "gang" at all, but an "organization"--a distinction to which The Black Book devotes a full chapter. The book's 2008 publication put Brown's abilities on display, revealing a knack for marketing and leadership. The law enforcers who came after Brown say his publishing venture has been successful, noting in court documents that upwards of 900 copies were sold, with proceeds going back to the organization. If so, The Black Book, which prescribes self-generated economic empowerment for blacks, especially ex-offenders, is a good example of what the book seeks to advance.

Yet the book also condemns drug dealing as a form of "genocide" and "chemical warfare," so if the government is right about Brown, then he's in direct conflict with his own tenets. The Black Book asserts that Brown, who at 40 years old is 15 years into a 25-year sentence on drug-dealing charges, has undergone a "transition" from his old ways, and encourages others to follow. Court documents filed in the BGF case make a farce of this assertion, but, as the government's case against Brown is tested in court, a clearer picture may emerge of how he measures up to The Black Book's ideals.

According to court documents, one of the government's informants in the BGF investigation said "The Black Book is a ploy by Brown to make BGF in Maryland appear to be a legitimate organization and not involved in criminal activity." In fact, the informant explained, "Brown is a drug trafficker" and "BGF funds its operations primarily by selling drugs"-though The Black Book, too, is "making money."

Brown's cell-phone conversations were intercepted by investigators for months, and in the process, chatter was picked up that seemed to confirm that Brown was involved in drug dealing, along with violence, armed robbery, smuggling, and extortion. Some of the intercepted discussions, as recounted in the court records, were clear and easily interpreted. Others were vague, relying on investigators' training and experience to conclude that nefarious doings were afoot.

One of the recorded conversations showcases Brown's grasp of the rhetoric of radical change. "Listen, man, we are on the verge of very big things, man," Brown said during a three-way call last November with two other BGF members, who were inmates in different Maryland prisons. "This positive movement that we are embarking upon now, right, is moving at a rapid pace, right. It's happening on almost every location" in the prison system. "Revolution is the only solution, brother," he exhorted.

Investigators contend that Brown's hold on the reins of the BGF took it further, so that it now stands accused of "operating in every, single prison facility in the entire state," as assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner put it in court in April. What's more, the movement Brown leads has populist appeal outside of prisons, as suggested by an Apr. 13 meeting in Druid Hill Park, where, according to court documents, about 100 BGF members and supporters gathered as The Black Book and BGF t-shirts were distributed.

Randolph Edison

With hard time already under his belt, "Uncle Rudy" accused as violent BGF leader

By Van Smith | Posted 5/5/2009

With the slow gait of the aged, 51-year-old Randolph "Uncle Rudy" Edison shuffles into a federal courtroom in Baltimore on April 22 to face charges that he helped commit violent crimes for the Black Guerilla Family prison gang in Maryland. The wear and tear of a lengthy prison stint he served in the 1990s and early 2000s (with an extra year tacked on in 2000 for assaulting a Department of Corrections employee), appears to have taken its toll on him.

In 2007, Edison was out of jail and back on the streets, and he racked up new charges--loitering, drug possession (including a state case brought in January)--that show him residing in Dundalk, where he'd been living before his 1993 murder sentence was imposed. Edison's world-weary air in the courtroom reveals little, if any, worry about the future-except, perhaps, when it comes to getting his twice-a-day insulin shots for diabetes, something for his high blood pressure, and a doctor to take a look at the abscess on his hand.

Nonetheless, the feds have evidence portraying Edison as a plugged-in leader of the BGF, working energetically on the outside for imprisoned BGF ringleader Eric Brown.

On March 13, BGF court documents show, Edison and two other BGF co-defendants-52-year-old Zachary Norman and 59-year-old Roosevelt Drummond-were in a car that was pulled over by police in Baltimore City. Drummond had a gun and was arrested; also taken from the car were handcuffs, rubber gloves, and a mask.

Hours later, Brown used a cell phone to call Edison, initiating a conversation that was intercepted by investigators. "We just had some bad luck man," Edison told Brown, according to court documents. "We was in the car, yeah and they pulled us over, right. You know we gonna do something, but the coon that was setting the whole degree up, he's the rat. He set all us up." Edison explained that Drummond had a gun, adding, "Just lucky I ain't carry that thing," to which Brown responded, "that's the last thing you need boy."

Investigators concluded from this conversation that Edison was reporting to Brown what happened with the police while he and his co-defendants were "en route to commit a drug-related armed robbery," according to court documents.

Edison had no lawyer for his first appearance in court, but two days later, on April 24, Richard Bittner is appointed to him. After asking around the courtroom for Edison's sister, who's not there, and meeting briefly with an older gentleman who says he's Edison's friend, Bittner decides not to fight the prosecutor's request that Edison remain in jail until after the trial. U.S. District Court magistrate judge Beth Gesner orders Edison detained, reminding him that if he chooses, he can later request a hearing over whether or not he can be conditionally released.

Rainbow Lee Williams

Murder Convict Who Mentors Schoolchildren Called a BGF Shot-Caller

By Van Smith | Posted 5/1/2009

When defense attorney Gerald Ruter was first appointed on Apr. 16 to represent Rainbow Lee Williams, a 30-year-old co-defendant in the Black Guerilla Family prison-gang federal-conspiracy case, Ruter sounded like he thought there was more to Williams than met the government's eye.

"I have him working for a nonprofit, helping kids," Ruter told assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner, just before Williams' first court appearance began.

"That may be," Wallner responds, "but he's still indicted as a leader of the BGF."

Five days later, Ruter said he had the verified facts about Williams' employment, and presented them to U.S. District Court magistrate judge Beth Gesner while arguing for Williams' conditional release pending trial. Williams, he explained, works for the nonprofit Partners in Progress Resource Center. Since shortly after his release from prison last September, when his murder sentence ended, Ruter said, Williams had been working for Partners in Progress four days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., for $1,200 per month. Partners in Progress, he explained, serves a high school called the Achievement Academy at Harbor City High School, located on Harford Road.

Ruter said he got all of these facts confirmed by Partners in Progress' director, Bridget Alston-Smith, who, he said, is "aware of Williams' criminal history, and she says he works on the campus itself as a mentor to individuals who have behavioral difficulties and is hands-on with all of the students."

City Paper's attempts to reach Alston-Smith at the phone number Ruter gave in open court were unsuccessful. According to Baltimore City Public Schools' guide to high schools, the Achievement Academy at Harbor City is "an alternative school designed to provide under-credited students with an accelerated program of study," has an enrollment of 383 students in 9th through 12th grade, and Partners in Progress is listed among the schools partnerships.

The Black Book, a locally published self-improvement guide for those involved in the BGF movement, features a back-cover blurb written by Alston-Smith, in which she states that men in the movement "lead well because they listen well. As they continue on the path of self-improvement they will help improve the conditions of our families and communities."

"I find it ironic that Mr. Williams is a mentor for disaffected youth," Wallner told judge Gesner. Wallner's prosecutorial assessment is based on what federal investigators found out about Williams in the course of their wire-tap probe into the BGF, which provided enough evidence to support a raid of Williams residence, as well as the grand jury's charges against him. Wallner also told the judge that Williams was in possession of ammunition for a .357 caliber firearm when he was arrested.

Williams is "one of the leaders of BGF," court documents state, and "is a lieutenant who handles the day-to-day drug distribution network and is also involved in the smuggling of contraband into correctional facilities." A confidential source described Williams as "an extremely violent BGF member" who "has committed multiple murders, including numerous assaults/stabbings while in prison," and he's "loyal to, and takes orders from, [imprisoned BGF leader Eric] Brown."

The court documents also recount intercepted phone conversations with other alleged BGF members, in which crimes-from hits to smuggling to drug-dealing-are discussed. In one, co-defendant Marlow Bates calls Brown in March, and the two discuss how Williams failed in his attempt to transfer tennis shoes, which allegedly contained contraband, to Brown while visiting him in prison. Williams kept the shoelaces untied, to facilitate the transfer, but they were so lose that "you could see that shoe lace, like hanging. That just look like a dead give-away," Brown explained, and as a result a guard "knocked off" the shoe transfer. "Rainbow fucked that up," he says.

In early April, phone calls between Williams and prison inmates were intercepted, in which prison violence and the rules of BGF conduct were discussed. In one, Williams calls inmate Lance Walker to talk about the Apr. 1 stabbing murder of inmate Nathaniel King, for which inmate Kelly Toomer is the suspect, according to court documents. But Williams tells Walker that Toomer is saying he did it under orders from Williams. Williams denies this, and says the rumor puts him in danger with BGF higher-ups.

The next day, Apr. 5, Williams is called by an unidentified prison inmate, who tells him that Willliams is believed to have passed on Eric Brown's order to hurt another inmate named "Coco." A conference call with other BGF members ensued, to go over the rules of the BGF, and the penalties for breaking them. In other calls, Williams acts as a mediator, trying to settle beefs between rivals in the BGF drug game.

Wallner also fingers Williams as "one of the leaders" of the BGF meeting in Druid Hill Park, held on Apr. 13 and attended, according to court documents, by about 100 people described as BGF members. "Following this incident," court documents state, "calls were intercepted over the wiretaps in which Eric Brown chastised Rainbow Williams for holding the meeting in such a manner as to draw the attention of law enforcement. Brown stated in a scolding manner, `I been tellin' you and tellin' you, and you ain't listenin.' In reference to being stopped by the police, Brown added, `Ain't nothin' good about that, yo.'"

All of these activities ascribed by investigators to Williams occurred while, according to Ruter, Williams was employed by Partners in Progress as a youth mentor. Despite Ruter's best efforts--and despite Williams' boyish, fresh-faced looks, which he indignantly flashed in response to Wallner's allegations--judge Gesner ordered Williams detained pending trial.

Nelson Arthur Robinson

Unemployed Truck Driver Said to be Caught Holding Bag of BGF Drugs

By Van Smith | Posted 4/30/2009

It's not clear whether 45-year-old Nelson Arthur Robinson recognizes his prosecutor, but he should. As Robinson is ushered into a federal courtroom in Baltimore on Apr. 15 by U.S. marshals, set to be arraigned on accusations that he's part of the sprawling Black Guerilla Family prison-gang conspiracy, assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner is there at the prosecution table. A decade ago, in 1999, Wallner was the assistant Baltimore City state's attorney who secured Robinson's guilty plea on a pot-possession charge, for which Robinson got a one-year sentence, all but a day suspended. This time, Wallner's stone-faced demeanor belies a grim determination to get a bigger piece of Robinson.

In the BGF scheme of things, Robinson would appear to be a relative nobody. With his criminal record since Wallner's last crack at him consisting only of another pot-possession charge, caught last month, the guy seems pretty harmless-or at least hapless. Robinson suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, his lawyer explains in court, and though he's recently unemployed, until then he'd maintained gainful employment for years as a truck driver for a private delivery service and, before that, for Baltimore County government.

When asked by the court clerk to raise his right hand to take an oath, Robinson instead raises his left and has to be corrected. His obliviousness doesn't fit the profile of a stone-cold gangster, and, in fact, Robinson didn't even rate enough to make it into the BGF indictments. Instead, he's a collateral catch.

Robinson was arrested Apr. 15 while agents were busy raiding 12 BGF-linked locations. He was seen leaving an apartment at 1617 Bluffdale Road in Woodlawn, according to the government's case. The location was under surveillance as part of the BGF take-down because it was associated with Tyrone Dow, a BGF co-defendant believed to be a supplier of drugs for another co-defendant, Kevin Glasscho. Robinson started to get into a truck parked nearby when, as agents approached him, he tossed aside a bag that was found to contain 175 grams of heroin. Robinson had left his keys in the door of the apartment, which was searched and found to contain another 225 grams of heroin, along with pressers and grinders used to process and package the drug.

The charges "smack of a lack of probable cause," protested Robinson's lawyer, David Solomon, during Robinson's Apr. 20 detention hearing before U.S. District Court magistrate judge James Bredar. Solomon added that, though an "indictment may be imminent" against his client, as it stands a grand jury has yet to accuse him, and there "may be problems" with the case. Solomon urged the judge to take into account Robinson's "relative good standing within the justice system," given his recently ended "11-year hiatus" from criminal charges, and allow him to be released to the custody of his wife, Florence Robinson, until after the trial.

Instead, Bredar ordered Robinson on 24/7 lock-down at a half-way house, once a bed becomes available. "He gets in line" for half-way house placement, Bredar said. "Until then, he stays locked up."

One week later, on April 22, the grand jury indicted Robinson.

BGF Offers $10,000 for Hits, Prosecutor Says

By Van Smith and Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/23/2009

The Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang has offered $10,000 to Dead Man Inc., a white prison gang, to do hits on correctional officers—and anyone else who helped with or conducted the investigation that resulted in the recent federal indictment of 24 alleged BGF members—assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner disclosed in federal court on Apr. 21.

"There’s been a hit placed out on several correctional officers named in this kite, and all others involved in this investigation, and that would include prosecutors," Wallner told U.S. District Court magistrate judge Beth Gesner. A “kite,” U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy explains in an e-mail, is “a letter or note sent secretly between inmates in a prison setting.”

Dead Man Inc., is already known to have had dealings with the BGF, Maryland Secretary of Corrections Gary Maynard confirmed for City Paper at the Apr. 16 press conference announcing the indictments. "It's highly unusual for black and white gangs to join up,” Maynard said, but “it's to their advantage if they can get over their racial animosity."

In court on Apr. 21, Wallner said he’d learned of the kite only that morning. He brought it up while pressing the government’s case that BGF defendant Deitra Davenport should remain in jail pending trial. The kite, he said, elevates the danger of releasing Davenport because she is accused of serving as a “conduit of information” among BGF members, both in and out of prison. “She is the central location of communication among members and Eric Brown,” the imprisoned BGF leader who Davenport claims as her husband, Wallner said.

The judge, while noting the kite and Davenport’s possible role in distributing BGF information, ordered Davenport released to a halfway house, with heavy restrictions over her communications.

Guerrilla Warfare

24 alleged members of Maryland chapter of Black Guerrilla Family gang indicted by feds

By Edward Ericson Jr. and Van Smith | Posted 4/22/2009

Federal law enforcement officials, led by Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, staged a triumphant press conference on April 16 to announce the indictments of 24 alleged gang members or associates, including three correctional officers and a former employee of a prison kitchen. High-level federal law-enforcement officials said that the arrest last August of a cooperating defendant led DEA agents to the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), a fearsome prison gang with a 43-year history of violence from coast to coast.

"The BGF gang is primarily a prison gang that spawned in prison and continues to be active out in the streets," Rosenstein said, praising the work of "more than 100" police and federal agents who investigated the gang. Rosenstein also praised the cooperation federal agencies got from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "I want to commend Secretary [Gary] Maynard for his commitment to rooting out crime in his facilities," he said.

Officials were unwilling or unable to discuss the local BGF's stature and place within the larger BGF gang, which was founded in San Quentin prison in 1966 by George Jackson, a member of the Black Panther Party. Jackson's political stance and bold exploits--he was shot to death in prison in 1971, while holding a gun--made him a legend in some counterculture circles. Bob Dylan recorded a song in his honor in 1972. More recently, artists as varied as Tupac Shakur, Rage Against the Machine, and Digable Planets paid tribute to Jackson. His two books, Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye, are still in print.

An affidavit in support of a search warrant for the Baltimore case discusses a book allegedly written by Maryland BGF leader Eric Brown called The Black Book: Empowering Black Families and Communities. The book is published by a Maryland-based company called Dee Dat Publishing, run by Brown's wife, Deitra Davenport, who was arrested in the case. Brown and Davenport also have a nonprofit, Harambee Jamaa Inc., which states in its incorporation papers that its mission is "to improve the lives of our people who are living under sub standard conditions here in Baltimore City. We intend to educate, invigorate and liberate our people from poverty, crime, and prison."

The indictments allege that Brown ran a drug-smuggling, robbery, extortion, and gun racket from behind bars, with Brown's people smuggling heroin and ecstasy into the prison, along with gourmet food, liquor, and cell phones. The feds tapped eight of those contraband phones and eventually raided 16 prison cells and 12 separate homes and apartments in Baltimore City, Glen Burnie, and Gwynn Oak on April 15 and 16.

The case marked a milestone for Project Exile, a multi-jurisdictional effort to take guns and violent criminals off Baltimore streets. Rosenstein praised the 3-year-old program for reducing the rate of shootings and murders. The Exile system, which threatens those caught with guns with long federal prison sentences, has helped police and federal law-enforcement agencies to get criminals talking, Rosenstein said: "Behind the scenes, that's been one of the most significant aspects of the Exile program."

The case against the BGF is detailed in a lurid 98-page affidavit in support of search warrants, which Rosenstein's office released on April 16. Among the allegations:

•Gang boss Eric Brown enjoyed meals of salmon, shrimp, and Grey Goose vodka while incarcerated at the Maryland Transition Center in Baltimore. Brown is charged in the indictment as the leader of the Maryland branch of the BGF.

•A guard named Takevia Smith texted Brown sexually explicit photos of herself on or about Feb. 24, and later spoke openly about prostituting herself in the prison kitchen. She quit after getting searched for contraband, saying on a wiretapped phone call: "That job be cool while it lasted. But that shit like having a McDonald's job, I got to break the law to get money."

•On March 13, several BGF members including Randolph "Uncle Rudy" Edison, Zachary Norman, and Roosevelt Drummond were stopped by police in a car. Drummond had a gun and was arrested; police also confiscated rubber gloves and a mask. At 6:42 p.m. Eric Brown called Edison, who told Brown the bad news: "They pulled us over, right. You know we gonna do something, but the coon that was setting the whole degree up, he's a rat. He set us all up."

•Tomeka Harris was having an affair with Brown in violation of gang rules. Brown talked about smashing Harris' husband's head in with a bottle of Moët and Chandon Champagne. In a phone conversation with Harris recorded on March 8, at about 12:36 a.m., Brown told Tomeka Harris what he would tell her husband, a BGF member who is incarcerated in the Eastern Correctional Institution for voluntary manslaughter: "I'm going to take that Moët bottle and crack you across your god damn head with it and you're gonna go out and I'm gonna beat your, I'm gonna beat the living shit out of you when you out." Tomeka Harris was indicted on multiple charges in the case (see "The 410 Factor," Mobtown Beat, April 22, 2008).

On the day before the press conference, several defendants quietly made their first court appearances. Darnell Angelo Holmes, age 41 and known as "Moe," arrived wearing glasses and a red tank top showing tattoos on his biceps. Described in court as a daily heroin user, Holmes was detained without bail. Another defendant, Darien Larenz Scipio, 47, complained of back pain so severe he could barely stand up, along with diabetes, high blood pressure, and liver disease. He was also held without bail. More defendants made their way to their first court appearances just as the press conference was getting underway. One of them was Zachary Norman, who police stopped last month with two others while apparently on the way to commit a crime. Norman, 52, arrived in court in a wheelchair. He claimed to need methadone for pain management and spasms, telling the judge, "I haven't had any of it today. By Tuesday I could go into a coma."

The first rounds of detention hearings in the case were held April 20, with several defendants asking to be conditionally released pending trial. One of them, 53-year-old Calvin Robinson, was described by his attorney as an employee of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW). His DPW supervisor, Dorothy Harris, was present at the hearing to testify, if needed, as to Robinson's reliability as an employee in an effort to allow his release and continued employment pending trial. U.S. District Court Judge James Bredar ordered Robinson detained, though, noting that his long-ago criminal history prohibits him from having guns, yet when Robinson was arrested in this case, a gun was found under his mattress.

Scipio, who stands accused of warning a co-conspirator to call off a planned drug transaction at the Belvedere Hotel because a police scanner indicated that the cops were onto the anticipated deal, was also ordered detained, though his attorney argued that the charge amounted to "an attempted [drug] transaction, at best." The judge said he agreed that the evidence against Scipio appeared "thin," but found that "the existence of the scanner"--along with a criminal history that "is damning, to say the least"--convinced him that Scipio should be detained.

At the press conference, officials beamed. "We got some great intelligence and we were able to capture some bad guys with guns," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld. "It's not going to get better than that."

Additional Reporting by Van Smith

BGF Warrant

The 410 Factor

Nightclub links vending machine boss to violent prison gang

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/22/2009

An affidavit in support of search warrants in the BGF case, in addition to documents filed in two other federal cases, suggests an intriguing overlap between the allegedly violent BGF drug gang and a prominent businessman with political ties.

In December, Tomeka Harris and four men were indicted in a federal bank-fraud and identity-theft case which alleged that Harris had dozens of credit cards manufactured with other people's account information. Harris owns Club 410, a nightclub that police shuttered under the city's "padlock" ordinance earlier this month for drugs and violence. In January, the feds filed a multi-million-dollar forfeiture action against assets of John Zorzit, owner of Nick's Amusements, based on allegations of illegal gambling. Zorzit is Harris' landlord at Club 410, making Harris the nexus for three current federal investigations, two of them involving allegations of white-collar crime.

It is by no means clear that these cases are connected. In the BGF search-warrant affidavit, Baltimore Police Det. William Nickoles writes, "based on discussions with other law enforcement officers, I have learned that Harris was arrested on February 6, 2009 on federal fraud charges." Zorzit--who has not been charged with any crime--is not mentioned anywhere in the BGF documents, and Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld punted a question from Sun reporter Justin Fenton about the Club 410 factor.

"I'm reluctant to go past the four corners of the investigation," Bealefeld said.

Reached on April 16, Zorzit's lawyer, Dale Kelberman, sounds unaware of the BGF case. "I don't know that there is any connection other than landlord-tenant," he says. After seizing Zorzit's assets in late January, federal investigators would only say that the investigation into Zorzit was ongoing.

But the Zorzit case--which received attention after a forfeiture action was filed against him in January because for 14 years he used the brother of Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski (D-6th District) as a runner to collect the money from his illegal slot machines--is perhaps more interesting for the amounts of money involved (the feds seized close to $1.2 million in bank accounts and more than $41,000 in cash--including some above the ceiling tiles in an office bathroom) and for his links to Harris. Items 38 and 114 on the search warrant return in Zorzit's case reads, "Tomeka Harris client files."

In the BGF warrant application (see "Guerrilla Warfare," Mobtown Beat, April 22,2009), Baltimore Police Det. Nickoles writes that Club 410 was frequented by BGF leader Eric Brown's friends, called "the McCabe Boys." According to intercepted conversations between Harris and Brown, "Harris discussed how, through her job, she is able to establish different fraudulent corporations for some of her associates," the affidavit states. "I believe that Harris was telling Brown that one of her other business ventures is establishing bogus corporations for close associates so that they can obtain loans from banks in order to purchase high priced items such as vehicles." The telephone Harris was using was registered to a company called Capital First Enterprise, which Harris formed in December of 2007 "as a business solution for new or existing businesses."

According to an Aug. 26, 2008, police report in the liquor board file, Michael Hayes, a codefendant of Harris' in the bank-fraud case, went to Club 410 to argue about a vehicle that he sold to the club owner. He quickly found himself outnumbered, so he fled on his Suzuki GSX 1000 motorcycle "and was shot at." The club was raided in January 2007 under management of the previous owner (who was also a tenant of Zorzit), Michael Holman, who was arrested after a simultaneous search of a condominium unit on the 11th floor of the iconic Belvedere on the corner of North Charles and Chase streets. Police reportedly seized heroin residue, paraphernalia, papers, and a handgun. Those charges were later dropped.

The BGF warrant affidavit details another drug deal that was set to take place at the Belvedere this year, but was aborted when the gang members heard police talking about the meeting on a scanner.

In several stories since March 27, The Sun has quoted Tomeka Harris as the manager and owner of Club 410, reporting that she is a "law student" from Havre de Grace but not reporting the fraud charges she faced or the connection to Zorzit, who has given thousands to local politicians and is one of the city's largest vending machine impresarios, with business interests in Delaware and Florida. Zorzit's liquor license brokerage has raised eyebrows in the past, however. In 2005, The Sun noted that he had sold two licenses that should have expired under a state law that required licenses to be sold within 180 days of a bar's closing. One of those licenses went to the Capital Grille, which reportedly paid $50,000. The other one transferred to Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis, who used it to open his Full Moon Barb-B-Que in Canton.

Additional reporting by Van Smith

Tomeka Harris Bank Fraud Indictment Nick's Amusements Forfeiture Nick's Amusements Return

Working Overtime

Drug conspirator Eric Clash says cooperating rehabilitated him

By Van Smith | Posted 4/1/2009

His well-fitted gray suit and good-natured confidence lend 30-year-old Eric Clash the look of an earnest young professional as he stands behind the defense table on March 9 in U.S. District Court Judge William Quarles' courtroom in Baltimore. With bright eyes shining under his clean-shaven dome and a light, trimmed beard on his chin, Clash doesn't look like what he is: a second-generation drug dealer who, after agreeing to plead guilty to charges in a massive drug conspiracy, has spent the past three years helping the government make criminal cases. He appeared before Quarles on March 9 to ask for leniency, saying he left the thug life for good when he became a cooperator.

When Clash was first charged in 2005 as a member of the violent, politically connected Rice Organization drug conspiracy, which operated in Baltimore from the mid-1990s until the mid-2000s ("Wired," Mobtown Beat, March 2, 2005), prosecutors seized about $150,000 from his bank account and said he "occupied a high level" in the group's hierarchy. Today, with Quarles set to sentence him, Clash is projecting the image of a changed man in grave danger, due to his cooperation with authorities.

Of the 13 Rice Organization co-defendants, Clash is one of three who remains to be sentenced. The other two are Steven Campbell and Anthony Leonard, who also have been revealed in open court to have cooperated with the government. The remaining 10 Rice Organization co-defendants--brothers Howard Rice and Raeshio Rice, Chet Pajardo, Eric Hall, Robert Lee Baker, Michael Felder, Keenan Dorsey, George Butler, Oreese Stevenson, and James Jones Jr.--are serving prison sentences, with release dates ranging from two or three years from now until 2030.

In addition to bringing a steady stream of cocaine to Baltimore, the Rice Organization was responsible for violence, including murder. Among the businesses associated with the crew was Downtown Southern Blues, a restaurant on Howard Street's Antique Row whose landlord was Kenneth Antonio Jackson, an ex-con and strip-club owner with a long history in the drug game and local politics ("The High Life," Mobtown Beat, Jan. 3, 1995). Several Rice Organization members gave campaign funds to local politicians, some of whom held fundraisers at Downtown Southern Blues.

One of the Rice Organization members, Pajardo, co-owned an East Baltimore corner-store property with Hollywood actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, the wife of actor Will Smith ("Star-Crossed," Mobtown Beat, Feb. 9, 2005). Another, Butler, was featured in 2005's infamous Stop Fucking Snitching DVD, produced in Baltimore to warn off potential cooperators. Clash, who bought and sold Baltimore real estate including a westside bar called the Red Door during his drug-dealing years, is the son of Edward Clash, who himself was convicted of drug dealing in 1994.

Four Rice Organization rivals--Willie Mitchell, Shelly Martin, Shelton Harris, and Shawn Gardner--were convicted of numerous federal organized-crime charges last fall. Among them were murder charges arising from the 2002 stabbing of three Rice Organization members, including Clash and Raeshio Rice, outside the now-defunct Hammerjack's nightclub in downtown Baltimore, after a birthday party for Baltimore-born rap mogul Kevin Liles. In February and March, three rivals received life prison sentences while Martin received a 400-month sentence.

Both Clash's lawyer, Robert Simels, and his prosecutor, assistant U.S. attorney Jason Weinstein, tell Quarles that Clash is over and done with his former life in the game, and that he holds promise in lawful pursuits in the future.

Weinstein says Clash is an "extremely bright man" with "impressive potential." He says Clash's sentence reduction will be "richly deserved," since "'exemplary' is the word I'd use to describe Mr. Clash's cooperation." He reminds the judge that Clash had "less of a role in the conspiracy" than two other indicted Rice Organization members, Steven Campbell and Anthony Leonard, who also cooperated as part of their pending pleas.

Simels' job is easy, given the prosecutor's lavish praise for his client: "It is rare in my experience that I have heard an assistant [U.S. attorney] speak as glowingly as Mr. Weinstein has of Mr. Clash," he says. And Simels, a New York attorney with a decades-long history of representing major drug figures in Maryland ("Team Player," Mobtown Beat, Sept. 24, 2008), who himself is currently under indictment in New York for witness tampering in a Guyanese cocaine case ("Big Target," Mobtown Beat, Feb. 12), has plenty of experience.

Simels tells the court that Clash's cooperation has been "remarkable in terms of his assistance to this community, and the United States as a whole," as "set forth fully" in a sealed letter to the judge. He says Clash is married now, has professional expertise in real estate and construction, is taking classes, and has "adopted his faith as his guiding light.

"He's not going to be in trouble again in the future," Simels says. "At some point we have to demonstrate the sacrifice that he's made" and "make sure the reward is an appropriate sentence." The attorney recalls that at one point putting Clash in the witness-protection program was discussed. He says that Clash's cooperation puts him in danger, and "to incarcerate him at this stage puts a burden not only on the [U.S.] Bureau of Prisons, but also on Mr. Clash, who will be looking behind his back at all times."

Simels suggests that Quarles impose a "non-incarceration form of sentence."

"I am pleading for leniency to save my life," Clash tells Quarles on his own behalf. "I have put my family in jeopardy, myself in jeopardy. . . . I am here to better myself." Clash says he now plans to help steer people away from crime. "When I was living that lifestyle, I knew it was wrong," he says. "Nobody forced me into the decisions I made." He says he wants to write a book to help others, especially children, get the direction he lacked when he was younger.

Clash tells the judge that while he was cooperating with the government, he spent three months working as a mortgage broker in New York, and that he went to Detroit, where he learned about educational broadcasting while working on a documentary for a major cable channel.

Quarles tells Clash that his cooperation "goes some distance to correcting some of the damage you and your cohorts inflicted on this community [by] bringing in more than 3,000 pounds of cocaine." Instead of the 10-year sentence the federal guidelines call for, Quarles gives Clash 48 months, with credit for 16 months already served.

After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein explains that Clash received an extraordinary break. As a matter of policy, Rosenstein says, his office recommends a two-level departure for cooperators who help prosecutors in the case they are charged in, and two more levels if they help in other cases. In Clash's case, he says, Weinstein recommended that Clash get the standard four-level departure for cooperators that helped in cases other than their own, but Quarles tacked on two more, for a total of six years shaved off the sentence.

"You really have to do a lot to get recommendations for departures of more than four levels," Rosenstein says, but in cases of cooperators who go the extra mile, "we increasingly make exceptions to it. Ultimately, the judge decides."

In this case, Quarles decided that Clash's work helping prosecutors was valuable enough to schedule him for release from prison in late 2011, and, in order to enhance his safety, to have him assigned to prisons that maximize protection from the expected threats of other inmates.

It may not be all the leniency Clash was hoping for, but it's a pretty good deal compared to the long, hard time his old Rice Organization running buddies are serving.

"Rare Internal Smuggler" Caught with Heroin Pellets at BWI

By Van Smith | Posted 4/1/2009

Frank Aidoo must have an accommodating stomach. When he arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport last Friday evening, March 27, from London, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) already had information that he was suspected of being part of a Nigerian heroin-smuggling outfit, and he didn't hold up well under questioning by agents. As soon as his initial story didn't check out, Aidoo, a 55-year-old Ghana-born Dutch citizen, admitted to having ingested pellets of heroin-and later he passed 100 of them, containing a total of 1.2 kilograms of heroin, according to federal charging papers.

"Internal smugglers are relatively rare, especially here at BWI, so these CBP officers should be applauded for detecting this seriously dangerous concealment method and keeping heroin off our nation's streets," said James Swanson, CBP Port Director for the Port of Baltimore, in a press release sent out today. "Carriers run an enormous risk of a pellet breaching. It could mean almost certain death if only one pellet breached inside a carrier's body." Aidoo is "lucky to be alive," Swanson concluded. The press release included a photo of the pellets that had traveled inside Aidoo's intestinal tract.

Two weeks earlier, hotel security at Baltimore's Marriott Waterfront Hotel alerted law enforcement to a half-kilo of heroin in a room rented by Edward Aboagye, a 27-year-old Ghanian who prosecutors accuse of being part of a conspiracy that was smuggling heroin pellets ("Room Service," Mobtown Beat, March 25). Aboagye, a Morgan State University senior and car salesman, maintained his innocence, insisting that he rented the hotel room in order to meet a man about a car transaction.

Other than the alleged use of pellets and the fact that both defendants are of Ghanian descent, there appears to be no connection between the two arrests-though Aidoo's case, coming so quickly on the heels of Aboagye's, suggests that Ghana-tied "internal smuggling" may not be so rare, after all. Turns out, there's a track record of busting similar operations in Maryland.

In 2006, a couple from Bowie, Godfrey Bonsu and Victoria Boateng, were convicted of heroin smuggling by a federal jury. They had been bringing heroin into the U.S. from Ghana, Germany, and the United Kingdom, using Ghanian couriers who swallowed pellets, arrived at BWI, and delivered them at hotel rooms, where Boateng and Bonsu retrieved the drugs.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), "West African criminal groups, primarily Nigerian, employ couriers to transport heroin" to BWI on "twice-weekly commercial flights from Ghana." In August 2000, the NDIC report continues, two such couriers were arrested within a week of one another at the airport, bringing in a combined total of nearly two kilograms of heroin.

Since Ghana is known as a country from which travelers to BWI smuggle heroin pellets, another recent federal case involving a Ghanian arriving at BWI is worthy of mention.

On March 23-between the arrests of Aboagye and Aidoo-a woman arriving from Ghana on British Airways flight 229 (the same that Aidoo took, days later) presented herself as a U.S citizen, returning from a three-month visit with friends and family in Ghana. She had a passport in the name of Melinda Rochelle Chapman, but in her baggage were photo IDs bearing the name Mabel Penelope Aryee. Under questioning, according to the charging papers, the woman admitted that she is actually Aryee, is from Ghana, and is not a U.S. citizen.

Given the sudden prevalence of Ghanian heroin pellets arriving at BWI, it's a pretty good guess that the questions law enforcers have for Aryee are only just beginning.

Frank Aidoo Ghana Heroin Complaint Melinda Chapman From Ghana Complt

Room Service

Morgan student charged after heroin "pellets" found in Marriott Waterfront Hotel

By Van Smith | Posted 3/25/2009

To hear his attorney tell it, Edward Aboagye is an immigrant success story. The slight, bespectacled 27-year-old Morgan State University senior, majoring in finance and accounting, came to the United States from Ghana nine years ago, and married in 2005. The Laurel couple became the parents of twins in January. He's a resident alien with a green card who owns a lawfully obtained handgun and a car-dealing business in Pigtown. He has no prior record of criminal behavior.

But according to U.S. Attorney Albert David Copperthite, Aboagye is believed to be part of a heroin-smuggling conspiracy that used a courier to swallow five "pellets" of the drug, which were delivered on March 14 "by natural processes" to co-conspirators at a Marriott Waterfront Hotel room rented by Aboagye.

In all, the hotel housekeeping crew found a half-kilogram of heroin worth about $45,000 in Aboagye's room safe and $6,200 in cash behind the counter in the bathroom. Another $4,900 was recovered from a jacket and a purse. A later search of Aboagye's Pigtown business address turned up more heroin, some marijuana, a .40-caliber pistol registered to Aboagye, and 28 bullets in two magazines.

In open court on March 19, Aboagye's attorney, Ivan Bates, tells U.S. District Court judge Paul Grimm that his client is not someone who should be locked up pending trial on federal drug-conspiracy charges.

"He's a family man that is trying to be a student," Bates says, adding that aspects of the government's case require a "leap and a stretch" to be believable.

"He leads two lives," the prosecutor contends. One "with his wife and children in Laurel--and they don't know what he's doing in Baltimore."

Noting that the government's contentions are as yet "untested," and that the defense maintains that Aboagye was at the hotel "to sell a man a car"--not to engage in a drug transaction--Judge Grimm allows Aboagye to be on monitored home detention with $50,000 in unsecured bond put up by his wife.

"There are a number of factual matters that [Aboagye] intends to challenge at trial," the judge notes.

Another Ghanian living in Elizabeth, N.J., Mohammed Marga, also was charged in the conspiracy with Aboagye. Both, according to the charging papers, were interviewed by law enforcers after their arrests, as was a woman--20-year-old Stanina Akonnor--who was initially detained with them, but later released without charges.

Whereas Aboagye denied knowledge of the recovered heroin and money, and claimed he was at the hotel to conduct a car sale, Marga told investigators that he met with Aboagye at the hotel room, where Aboagye told him to call a man named Malik to arrange a heroin sale. On March 13, Marga says, Aboagye drove him to meet and set up the transaction with Malik, who Marga described as a stocky, dreadlocked black male, about 5 feet 9 inches, driving a black Range Rover.

Once the two were arrested the next day, though, the alleged drug deal never went through. Malik was displeased, as was evident from a voicemail he left on Marga's phone. The voicemail, the charging papers contend, "showed that Malik was upset that they did not show up to deliver the heroin and did not call him to let him know what was going on. Additionally, Malik said that he was not going to deal with them anymore."

Aboagye's Baltimore car business, Asco Global Company LLC, is based at 824 Washington Blvd. Its incorporation papers describe it as a "wholesale automobile/vehicle dealer" also engaged in the "import and export of general goods." At 3:13 a.m. on Jan. 22, Aboagye was clocked by police in Howard County going 85 miles per hour in a 1991 Acura with Pennsylvania plates, heading south on I-95. He is scheduled for a March 25 trial on the resulting speeding ticket.

The Marriott Waterfront's director of sales and marketing, Rob McCulloch, tells City Paper the hotel does "not have any official comment" on the incident. When asked if large amounts of heroin had been found at the hotel before, McCulloch says, "Not that I'm aware of."

Mexican Connection

Baltimore drug case with ties to city politics part of nationwide cartel crack-down

By Van Smith | Posted 3/4/2009

On Feb. 25, a Baltimore drug conspiracy was in the limelight as part of the public unveiling of an ongoing federal effort to destroy the Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico. At a press conference in Washington D.C., officials said that Operation Xcellerator, an anti-narcotic initiative targeting the powerful cartel's operations in the United States, had in the past 21 months arrested more than 750 people and seized more than $59 million in drug proceeds, 12,000 kilos of cocaine, 1,200 pounds of methamphetamine, 1.3 million Ecstasy pills, and more than 160 weapons.

Eight of those arrested and charged for their dealings with the Sinaloa Cartel are part of a Baltimore-based drug conspiracy that is tied, through one of its members--Lawrence Schaffner "Lorenzo" Reeves--to an educational seminar program for children seeking to enter the entertainment business. Reeves is co-founder of the seminar business, called Hollywood in a Bottle, and a seminar it held last summer at a Baltimore City public school received support from Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt.

"Just 40 miles from here," said acting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Michele Leonhart, with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder by her side, "we took down violent drug traffickers which were supplied with hundreds of kilos of cocaine from Mexico."

Later that day, U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod Rosenstein told City Paper that the case Leonhart was referring to was against Reeves and his seven accused co-conspirators. Rosenstein added that the Reeves conspiracy is the only Baltimore case that falls under Operation Xcellerator. It was indicted late last August, and has since received extensive coverage in City Paper ("The Hollywood Connection," The News Hole, Aug. 29, 2008).

Reeves, who has prior drug convictions in Maryland and Arizona, pleaded guilty in January to his part in the conspiracy to import more than 330 pounds of cocaine from Mexico. His criminal-defense attorney, Gary Proctor, had no comment for this story.

In July 2008, a City Paper reporter dropped by the National Academy Foundation School, a Baltimore city public school in Federal Hill, where the well-attended Hollywood in a Bottle program was being held. It featured experienced Hollywood professionals sharing career advice with youngsters.

"Joan Pratt was our biggest sponsor," the event's publicist, Sharon Page of Synergy Communications, proclaimed at the time. A month later, after Reeves' indictment, Page backed off on that claim, saying that Pratt only "paid for our T-shirts."

When asked in a Feb. 26 e-mail about the heightened profile of the Reeves case, Pratt gave the following prepared statement: "I'm always concerned about crime and it is troubling to hear about this investigation. I have no knowledge of this conspiracy or facts surrounding this investigation."

Last August, Pratt explained to City Paper that, while she does not know Reeves personally, she does know Reeves' Hollywood in a Bottle co-founder, LaVern Whitt, a native Baltimorean and former Hollywood stuntwoman. Pratt, who runs an accounting business aside from her public duties, filed incorporation papers on behalf of Page's Synergy Communications.

Pratt and her private attorney, Sharon King Dudley, who was hired last year by Baltimore City to investigate employee-discipline matters, were two of Hollywood in a Bottle's four listed sponsors on the company's web site.

Nothing has come to light suggesting that Pratt had any direct interactions with Reeves, or that Pratt had any knowledge of Reeves' criminal activities.

Whitt has said she didn't know about Reeves' involvement in drug activities either. "I needed help, so he came on board," she told City Paper after Reeves' indictment. "I just met him five months ago. This is my hard-earned idea. I need sponsors to help me. I have no idea about that other world. I don't know him like that."

Whitt had Baltimore criminal defense attorney Warren Brown handle any further inquiries on the matter. On Feb. 26, after being told that Operation Xcellerator tied Reeves to Sinaloa, Brown said that Whitt, "is just like probably tons of other people who may have received funds from this guy. She would not know about his involvement in any criminal activities." Lending credence to this claim, he said, is "the fact that she was never contacted by the U.S. Attorney's Office" in connection with the case.

Nonetheless, Whitt's partnership with Reeves has tainted some of her other endeavors, including a documentary-in-progress she's co-producing with entertainment titan Kevin Liles, the executive vice president of Warner Music Group and also a Baltimore native. Called Women in Power, a seven-minute promo of which was screened at the historic Senator Theater early last year, the film's subjects are Baltimore's four top elected officials: Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, and Pratt. In late 2007, Whitt did on-camera interviews with each of them. All four have since sought to distance themselves from the project.

After the Reeves indictment came down last year, City Paper contacted the subjects of Women in Power to ask them what they knew about Whitt and her involvement in Hollywood in a Bottle and her relationship with Reeves. Dixon's then-spokesman Sterling Clifford said he'd vetted Whitt before she interviewed the mayor and turned up no red flags, but Dixon's office had no comment for this story.

Rawlings-Blake's spokesman Ryan O'Doherty asserted on Feb. 26 that the council president regarded Whitt as simply another member of the media seeking access. "Ms. Whitt came to this office to do filming for a documentary," O'Doherty said, "and we granted it, just as we do others, and the relationship ends there."

Jessamy's office, which last year confirmed that Whitt had interviewed the state's attorney, did not return calls for comment on the matter.

Other than Reeves, two other members of the eight-man conspiracy--Devon Marshall and Otis Rich--have also pleaded guilty. Both have violent criminal histories. Marshall was described by prosecutors as Reeves' enforcer, someone who could be counted on to inflict violence to settle disputes. When his Harford County home was searched last year, among the guns that turned up was an assault rifle with 20 armor-piercing bullets. His familiarity with street-level violence landed him on the potential witness list of a death-penalty trial that ended abruptly last spring when two of the three defendants, Harry Burton and Allen Gill, pleaded guilty to charges of running a murderous, decade-long drug conspiracy based at the Latrobe Homes housing project in East Baltimore. Court records indicate that the third man in the Latrobe Homes case, Stanford Stansbury, who has family ties to notorious Baltimore bailbondsman and ex-con Milton Tillman Jr. ("Grave Accusations," Mobtown Beat, April 23, 2008), negotiated a pending plea deal in the case.

Rich's criminal career includes two convictions for drugs and firearms, amid three other dropped murder and attempted-murder charges. On Feb. 20, Rich's name came up in a court hearing in the federal drugs-and-guns case against Andre Kirby. Prosecutors explained that Kirby, on the day that he was arrested last May, had given Rich a ride to the hospital after Rich had been shot amid a surge in gang-related violence.

The five remaining members of the alleged conspiracy have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are awaiting trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 17.

Two of them--Juan Nunez and Marcos Galindo--have transportation-related businesses. Nunez' trucking company, J&R Transport, was run out of an East Baltimore building that also houses his former bar, El Rancho Blanco on Fagley Street, and Nunez' loan for purchasing the building was co-signed by Gilbert Sapperstein, a well-known politically connected figure who was convicted in 2005 of bilking millions of dollars through city government contracts. During hearings in the case, Nunez was described as using drug cash to buy luxury cars from a Los Angeles-based car dealer, selling vehicles with hidden drug-stash compartments, and, despite having no reported income, depositing large amounts of money into bank accounts. Galindo, who has prior guns-and-drugs charges in Arizona, is director of a Mesa, Ariz.-based company called Precision Installation, which designs office space and delivers furniture.

Two other co-conspirators--William Leonardo Graham of Baltimore and Nathaniel Lee Jones of Calvert County--have prior drug-related convictions, and Graham has a prior gun conviction. Also charged in the case is Justin Santiago Gallardo of Annapolis, whose prior criminal history appears to consist of driving-related offenses in Maryland and Arizona.

The prosecution of the Reeves case, says Rosenstein, "makes the obvious connection that drugs are coming to Baltimore from outside of Maryland. We will continue to trace the drugs back to the source, work our way up to the top, and ultimately indict the major players."

Man Gets Federal Charges for Historic 40-Kilo Coke Bust Next to Kevin Liles Drive

By Van Smith | Posted 2/23/2009

Trenell David Murphy, a 33-year-old Baltimore man, was charged in federal court on Feb. 20 in connection with what has been touted by the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) as the biggest coke bust in its history. The location of the bust, on the 3000 block of Presstman Street in West Baltimore, is one block west of Kevin Liles Drive, so named in 2005 by then-mayor Martin O'Malley to honor Liles, the executive vice president of Warner Music Group. Liles, who grew up on the 2900 block of Presstman Street, is promoted as a model of success for youngsters growing up on the hard streets of Baltimore.

According to the five-page complaint against Murphy (see document below), the case was made by detectives who had resumed surveillance of Murphy's activities only hours before the bust at 3041 Presstman St. in West Baltimore. Their prior investigation of Murphy, which had led them in late 2007 to suspect that he was involved in city-wide cocaine trafficking, ended shortly after it began when the detectives assigned to the case were abruptly transferred to other duties in East Baltimore.

The detectives returned to the west side in early 2009, and on the evening of Feb. 19, they picked up where they left off by taking a new look at Murphy and the Presstman Street house, the complaint says. What they observed very quickly resulted in a warrant, and at 1:45 a.m. on Feb. 20, they came through Murphy's door.

After taking Murphy into custody, the detectives searched his black Chevrolet truck parked outside the house and in its bed found "approximately forty (40) wrapped kilogram-sized bricks of suspected cocaine," the complaint states, which also describes them as being wrapped in newspaper.

Later that day, BPD Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld staged a press conference to exhibit the seized drugs, which were no longer wrapped in newspaper. He said the drugs comprised the largest cocaine haul in the department's history, with a value of $2 million to $3 million. Though he said one man had been arrested, he did not disclose Murphy's name nor give the location where the drugs were seized due to the fact that the investigation was ongoing. That information was disclosed in the federal charging papers against Murphy, which came publicly available this morning.

On Feb. 22, City Paper visited Murphy's Presstman Street residence, and spoke briefly with a woman who answered the door and stated that "I'm not supposed to talk to you." Directly across the street from the house is a flashing Baltimore Police Department blue-light camera, a device meant to serve as an investigative tool and deterrent to crime.

The house where Murphy was arrested is one block west of Kevin Liles Drive. Liles, whom O'Malley also appointed last year as a trustee of the state's SEED School, a public boarding school, founded the Kevin Liles for a Better Baltimore Foundation in 2003. The nonprofit seeks to help young Baltimoreans "build ambition, self-esteem, and character," according to its mission statement. His book, Make It Happen: The Hip Hop Generation Guide to Success, "provides clear-sighted advice that stresses determination, hard work, and being true to your dream," according to Lile's blog.

Last year, City Paper reported that Liles was co-producer with LaVern Whitt of Women in Power, a documentary-in-progress about the four highest elected officials in Baltimore City. Whitt's business partner in another venture, a seminar program for kids interested in entertainment careers, called Hollywood in a Bottle, was charged in a federal cocaine conspiracy last year. That man, Lawrence Reeves, has since pleaded guilty to dealing more than 330 pounds of cocaine and is awaiting sentencing.

City Paper asked Liles comment about the fact that the BPD's largest-ever coke bust happened one block away from the Baltimore street named after him. The message, left through his New York accountant, was not returned in time for publication.

Baltimore Police Department spokesman Anthony Gugliemi, reached this morning, said "the complaint speaks for itself."

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland has not yet responded to inquiries about the case against Murphy as of press time.

Trenell Murphy Complaint

Big Target

Feds in New York Dub Indicted Defense Attorney Simels a "Danger," Aim to See His Fees in Baltimore

By Van Smith | Posted 2/12/2009

On Thursday, Feb. 5, the Justice Department took two shots at Robert M. Simels, the self-described "Rolls Royce" of criminal-defense attorneys.

In New York, where Simels is charged with witness intimidation in connection with his defense of former Marylander Shaheed "Roger" Khan ("Team Player," Mobtown Beat, Sept. 24, 2008), who is accused of running a violent Guyanese cocaine conspiracy, prosecutors called Simels a "palpable danger" to public safety and convinced a judge to keep Simels' bond, which is secured with his $2.5 million Westchester, N.Y., home, at $3.5 million. [view pdf below]

Meanwhile, in a Baltimore case that appears unrelated to Khan, another Justice Department attorney asked a judge to order Simels to cough up detailed information to a grand jury about how he's getting paid to represent accused drug trafficker and money launderer Shawn Michael Green ("Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, Mar. 12, 2008).

Just another day in the decades-long war between Justice and Simels.

In the mid-1980s, shortly after Simels had entered private practice on the heels of a career as a young federal prosecutor, Rudy Giuliani, then New York's U.S. attorney, tried and failed to get information about Simels' fee arrangements with clients. But today in Maryland, according to local attorneys, the law is clear that grand juries are entitled to look at attorneys' fee arrangements, though they rarely do so.

"It's rare but not unheard of," says former federal prosecutor and longtime defense attorney David Irwin, when asked about how frequently the grand jury goes after attorneys' fees. He predicts that "the government is going to win the motion and Simels is at best filing a delaying action."

Simels is famous in New York for representing high-profile clients such as Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff ("New York Boys," Mobtown Beat, June 4, 2003) and Henry Hill, whose gangster stories have entered popular culture. But Simels' Baltimore clientele over the years, such as Green, tend not to be household names--though they are accused of being high up in the game and are often well-connected. Two of them--Eric Clash of the Rice Organization ("Wired," Mobtown Beat, Mar. 2, 2005) and Kenneth Antonio "Bird" Jackson ("The High Life," Mobtown Beat [pdf] , Jan. 3, 1995), who owns the Eldorado Gentlemen's Club--have known ties to Baltimore politics.

The motion filed against Simels in the Shawn Green case, by assistant U.S. attorney Kwame Manley, is stunning for its disclosures about a secret grand-jury investigation. Green was captured after nearly two years on the run, and at his first court appearance in December 2008, Simels was at his side. In light of what the Justice Department reveals in Manley's motion, the grand jury is interested in whether or not Simels was getting paid to represent Green during his lengthy stretch on the lam.

What's known about Green so far is based largely on court records in Baltimore and in connection with a sprawling federal prosecution in Philadelphia against the Phillips Cocaine Organization (PCO), in which Green is not a defendant. Real-estate lawyer Rachel Donegan, mortgage broker David Lincoln, and Green's mother, Yolanda Crawley, pleaded guilty last year to their parts in Green's allegedly illicit assets and activities, with interests spanning the East Coast from Florida to New Jersey.

Yet the Justice Department, according to the motion to compel Simels to open up his books, thinks Green kept up the conspiracy while on the run, after his co-conspirators were arrested. It expects to file more charges. The grand jury, the motion continues, "is continuing its investigation of Green and other individuals," and "the Government believes that during Green's nearly two-year period as a fugitive, he continued to launder proceeds of illegal activity through known co-conspirators in this case."

The specific information sought by the grand jury from Simels concerns "attorney fees and retainers received for the representation of Green, the amount of funds received, the identity of the individuals who provided such funds, and the dates and manner in which such funds were provided (i.e., cash, check, wire, etc.)."

Last March, with Green still a fugitive, Simels told City Paper in a telephone interview that he was not Green's attorney. The question was raised because court records show that Simels had been sent mail from U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein in connection with the federal forfeiture of Green's Reservoir Hill apartment building and recording studio.

Simels did not respond to messages left at his office for this article. The Justice Department declined to comment.

The government's strong language came in reaction to a Feb. 2 bond-modification request by Simels' attorney, Gerard Shargel, who sought to remove the secured money bond as a condition of Simels' release pending trial. In it, Shargel points out that the bond set on Sept. 10 "was not based on any judicial finding that Mr. Simels poses a risk of flight or a danger to the community," and thus asserts that the prosecutors cannot show that Simels poses such risks.

The prosecutors, Steven D'Alessandro and Morris Fodeman, went ahead and called Simels dangerous anyhow, while arguing that they are not required to prove that he is. In doing so, they restated the allegations--that Simels sought to bribe and threaten witnesses, including with violence--and note that Simels is wealthy, that the evidence against him is strong, and that his behavior was conducted in his role as an attorney.

"The Court can have little confidence," the prosecutors continued, that Simels will not further obstruct justice "now that Simels, as opposed simply to a client, would benefit" from such crimes. Thus, they concluded, "there exists a palpable danger were the defendant released without significant pre-trial conditions," such as the high bail set when he was first arrested.

The New York round went to the government when the judge agreed last Friday to keep Simels' bond set high. Green's judge in Baltimore, J. Frederick Motz, set a Feb. 23 deadline for Simels to submit his opposition to Manley's attempt to open up his books on the Shawn Green account.

Motion Opposing Simels Bail Reduction Motion to Compel Simels Fees

What's Up With Baltimore City's Inspector General?

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 1/29/2009

We can sort of understand why Baltimore Inspector General Hilton Green might not return our calls promptly. In the fall of 2007, we made detailed and critical note of his failure to follow up on the fairly rampant, fairly blatant phenomenon of building inspectors not doing anything much about shoddy construction, damage to neighboring structures, illegal demolitions, outright building collapses, etc.

We still think it's a pretty big deal in a supposedly modern, U.S. city to have bunches of buildings literally fall down every year. But, we figure, he's got a big job--a whole city full of potential corruption to go after.

So we asked him, about 14 months ago, about his department's annual report, which was, at the time, about a year overdue. "I haven't been here a year," said Green back then, and promised a report in the spring of 2008.

The annual report could be expected to reveal interesting things, like how many cases did his office open, and how many concluded; how many people got canned on account of they weren't doing right, and maybe how many cases got forwarded for criminal prosecution; and maybe even some names and other details that would give a citizen some inkling of what the I.G. was up to and what sort of perpetrations have been curbed by his good efforts.

Spring, 2008 came and went, with no sign of an annual report in the "reports" section of the I.G.'s web site.

Now, we don't want to seem like sticklers for the rulebook--we know how that goes over here in laid-back, sunny Baltimore City. But we feel compelled to point out that Green's $130-odd,000-a-year job requires an annual report by Sept. 1. It is spelled out in the 2005 executive order that created the office, at Section 22.

Summer, 2008 came and went. Still no 2007 annual report, and no 2008 annual report.

Last August we shot Green an e-mail. Didn't hear back.

Through the grapevine we heard that Green had a person working on the annual report, but that person could not interface with the software and/or the web site. That was back in October or November 2008. We called and left a message. Heard nothing back.

Today (Jan. 29, 2009) we called again. Inspector General Green was not in, but was expected to return to the office on Jan. 30.

This time he called back! Inspector General Hilton Green left a message on our phone: "The annual report is being worked on as we speak. I'll be sending it to the printer in the next two weeks and I will be covering that period that was vacated during that 2006 period. So basically I'll be covering 2007 and 2008. Have a good day."

Indeed it is a good day! Soon there will be two years of report of the Inspector General's office's doings. Government transparency at its finest. And we look forward to reading it as soon as it's made available.

Shadow Players

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

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

On Oct. 20, 2008, Mayor Sheila Dixon stood on a makeshift stage in the parking lot of Northwood Plaza, just off Loch Raven Boulevard in the city's Hillen neighborhood. Behind her sat several City Council members, a community activist, and the authors of the press conference's subject, a 60-page study that, among other things, claimed to find $1.2 billion of additional spending money in the 13 city neighborhoods studied. Behind the stage, brightly-painted cars with expensive 22-inch chrome wheels cruised by noisily, and behind those, a long-shuttered anchor store slouched.

Former City Councilman Kenneth Harris was gunned down on Sept. 20, during an early morning robbery of the New Haven Lounge jazz club, a few hundred feet away. The murder--the city's 158th last year--galvanized the community to push even harder for the redevelopment city officials believe will stifle and remove the violent crime that has plagued the surrounding blocks. The newly minted economic report, called the "Baltimore Neighborhood Market DrillDown," was presented by the mayor as the evidence needed to convince national retailers that Baltimore City is underrated as a market. The key metric: $872 million of previously uncounted income from what the report calls the "informal economy."

Presented by Social Compact, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that specializes in these studies, the DrillDown "validates what we already knew through intuition and observation," Dixon said, "that Baltimore is a strong market."

Yet "intuition and observation" have also told generations of Baltimoreans that the city is full of drugs, with perhaps 50,000 addicts served by thousands of street-corner drug dealers. It's a substantial business, and not the kind of enterprise near which grocery store owners want to locate. So it is perhaps not surprising that DrillDown's authors finesse the question of just how that $872 million of "informal" income is earned.

"We quantify the informal economy, but we don't say what kind of jobs go into it," says John Talmage, Social Compact's president and CEO.

That admission leads to more questions. How much is Baltimore City's drug economy worth? Who profits?

Over the past year, City Paper has published a series of loosely related stories about what we've come to call the "shadow economy." The articles spotlighted the ostensibly legitimate business interests of those charged and/or convicted with crimes relating to dealing drugs or laundering drug money, and the way that those interests intertwine with the more respectable aspects of the city's economy. As we pursued these stories, politically connected bail bondsman Milton Tillman Jr.'s name surfaced again and again. There remain more questions than answers about the city's drug economy and who its players are, but with a new year dawning, and with hard numbers quantifying the city's "informal economy" in hand, it seems like a good time to examine the situation.

 

Understanding Baltimore's drug market requires knowing its size, yet despite Baltimore's reputation as a town with a serious and long-standing drug problem, government and law enforcement officials at all levels say they have no idea how much money Baltimoreans spend on illegal drugs.

"It's just an impossible figure to guess," says Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "How would you do it? Look at tax returns? I did check with our Violent Crimes [division] and they said there's just no way to speculate."

"Baltimore society is heavily influenced by drugs, but I'm not sure how I could break out the question as to the economy," U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein told a City Paper reporter in early 2008. According to a Nov. 1, 2008, Baltimore Sun article, the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention and the University of Maryland claimed that 1,800 Baltimore residents belong to 45 known street gangs, but Kristen Mahoney, who heads the office, offers no figures regarding the value of drugs sold in Baltimore. "It's not something that we capture--street value--at my office," she says. A spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Ed Marcinko, concludes a weeks-long phone and e-mail exchange on the subject with a succinct, "At this time we can not assist you with your request."

Three years ago Baltimore Health Department Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein estimated the number of Baltimore addicts at 50,000 ("Scoring Data Points," Mobtown Beat, June 14, 2006). Assuming he's in the ballpark, and assuming each drug-dependant individual must raise $50 each day to pay for drugs (half the figure that the Greater Baltimore Committee, a business group, used in its 2005 report "Smart on Crime"), Baltimore's heroin and cocaine market would be worth $912 million annually.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2002 "accommodation and food service sales" in Baltimore were worth about $1 billion.

In other words, the drug trade generates a revenue stream comparable to the city's hotels and restaurants, an industry so important politically that the city government pledged $305 million in revenue bonds to build a downtown hotel that opened last year.

Not surprisingly, nobody wants to talk about the drug market in terms of the city's economic development. Social Compact's Talmage, interviewed by phone on Jan. 8, is at first reluctant to speak plainly about the criminal part of the informal economy. "It's not illicit," he responds, but then clarifies: "We can't tell you it's absolutely not illicit. It's more likely to be that second job you do on the weekends, or daycare, or selling your services at a church or community organization."

Talmage acknowledges that his report, based not on direct observation or surveys but on statistical accounting of things like utility bills, would also, broadly speaking, measure income derived from illegal gambling, prostitution, and even receiving bribes.

"I can only make a conjecture--my feeling is that something like prostitution is more likely to count than heroin," he says. "Perhaps some of the heroin and illicit drug trade is recycled inside the community, but so much of that money is exported outside the community."

And, indeed, the nature of the shadow economy makes separating outright criminal profits from money earned honestly but under the table difficult, even in specific cases.

Consider Jose Morales, a career thief and drug dealer who presented himself during the recent housing boom as a contractor under the name Masons Unlimited ("With Impunity," Feature, June 11, 2008). He paid his crew about $12 per hour under the table for their work on jobs as varied as constructing the XS bar and restaurant and (according to charging documents) stealing scaffolding, trucks, and earth-moving equipment. The pay--whether for laying bricks or stealing skid loaders--would qualify in the DrillDown report as "informal" income. Morales is currently jailed in Texas for allegedly trying to smuggle six kilos of cocaine to Baltimore aboard a private jet ("Jose Morales Busted," News Hole, Aug. 19, 2008).

Analyzing Baltimore's informal economy surely means factoring in Jose Morales and others like him. It means tracking the money earned by corner boys up the line in drug organizations, to the men who call the shots, and beyond that to the seemingly legitimate bars, hair salons, and real estate developments that filter the money into the banking system.

It means facing not only Baltimore's well-documented addiction to drugs, but also its apparent, and seldom acknowledged, addiction to drug money, which can turn even a neighborhood cleanup project into a culture-clash.

 

Sebastian Sassi lives in Pigtown, on the opposite side of the city from where Ken Harris was gunned down. When Sassi moved into his brick rowhouse three years ago, he set about cleaning up his neighborhood. He's pushed brooms along the sidewalk, picked up trash around the block, and even got city trucks and equipment to come and aid his efforts. And he's called in tips to police about suspected illicit activities. For that, he says, he is hated.

"There's me cleaning up the neighborhood and chasing out the drug dealers, and people actually resent me for it because I'm chasing away the 'underground economy,'" Sassi says.

The DrillDown report found median household income in Pigtown in 2008 was 21 percent greater than reported in the 2000 census--the largest increase of the 13 Baltimore neighborhoods studied. Population also increased, yet the number of IRS returns from the neighborhood actually declined. This points to off-the-books, "informal" cash that DrillDown estimates makes up 7.9 percent of Pigtown residents' income. Sassi contends that some of it is tied to the drug business, and that the drug business binds many of the neighborhood's families together.

"There are people that, to my face, are extremely grateful" for his efforts in the neighborhood, Sassi, a staunch Libertarian who has run for Congress, explains. "But through the grapevine I'll hear, 'Mrs. So and So hates your guts.' Why would she hate my guts? Well, she hates your guts because her nephew just got a six-month bid in [jail] because you helped get him arrested."

For many neighborhood residents without regular jobs, Sassi says, a government check such as Social Security disability "pays for your property tax and your rent, whatever, but the cable bill and the 20-inch rims on the new car are getting paid for by the work these [drug dealers] are doing."

Whatever illicit revenue flows on Pigtown's street corners, it's not much, Sassi estimates: "These kids wear the same clothes four, five, six days in a row. And they're homeless, basically. I don't think they're actually making that much money. But it's enough to make people resent the work that I've done."

Sassi says someone threw a brick through his truck's windshield and the tires have been slashed. He carries a handgun and has obtained an unrestricted state permit to do so. "One guy told me I'm a snitch-ass, bitch-ass, lyin' police," Sassi recalls.

A group of people outside a corner store nod to Sassi as he walks past. Two teenage boys on another corner see him coming and turn around, press their cell phones to their ears, and walk quickly away. Sassi calls them by name. "He's not a bad kid," he says of one 15-year-old. "He just needs some direction."

Direction is hard to come by in Baltimore, where youth sports organizations, charitable foundations, and even churches have been linked to drug dealers. Steven "Pop" Custis, co-founder of the Leon Day Foundation and coach of the Charm City Buccaneers Pop Warner football team, pleaded guilty last January in federal court to cocaine dealing charges and was put on probation ("Does Cocaine Come With That Lexus?" Feature, July 9, 2008). In August, his business partner, Harrington Campbell, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his part in the same conspiracy, which involved a Park Heights car dealership called Charm City Motors and the laundering of more than $1.7 million in drug cash ("Unlucky Charm," Mobtown Beat, August 13, 2008). Custis told the judge he quit dealing drugs in 2000, devoting his life instead to mentoring city youth and providing housing for recovering addicts. But in late 2001, the sole director of his company, Metropolitan Baltimore Developers, was Raeshio Rice, the leader of a violent but politically connected drug-trafficking conspiracy which dates to the mid-1990s.

Court records in a federal case filed last July, and other public records, link Baltimore nonprofit Talent Exposition Foundation to an alleged nationwide drug conspiracy. Beverlie E. Ramocan-Woodland, president and founder of the Talent Exposition Foundation, took "an active role in collecting and hiding" the proceeds of her daughter Querida Lewis' alleged drug ring, according to affidavits in the case ("Femme Fatale," Mobtown Beat, Jan. 14). Woodland has not been charged.

"Beverlie is very passionate about making a difference in the lives of at-risk youths, teens and young adults," according to the web site for the Talent Exposition Foundation, which counts as partners such Baltimore stalwarts as the Abell Foundation, the Center for Social Concern at Johns Hopkins, and the East Baltimore Police District.

Another ongoing drug case links violent drug dealers to city officials through a company supposedly formed to "give back" to the community.

Hollywood in a Bottle, a company supposedly dedicated to teaching young people how to break into show business, was funded in part by Baltimore City Comptroller Joan Pratt. Lawrence Schaffner "Lorenzo" Reeves, a partner in the enterprise, was indicted in August on drug trafficking charges along with Devon Marshall and six others ("And Then There Were Eight," Mobtown Beat, Oct. 1, 2008).

Pratt was also one of the subjects, with Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and Mayor Sheila Dixon, of a planned "Women in Power" documentary produced by Hollywood in a Bottle co-founder Lavern Whitt and famed rap producer Kevin Liles, both Baltimore natives. A seven-minute preview of "Women in Power" disappeared from You Tube in the wake of the drug charges. Whitt and city officials have denied knowledge of their Reeves' involvement in the drug business, and have not been charged with crimes.

Tony Hill, bounty hunter and self-described "secret weapon" of Milton Tillman Jr., has multiple convictions (some under different names and birth dates) for bribery, forgery, theft, and weapons crimes. He also has his own church, Covenant Life Family Worship Center, where he ministers to adults and mentors wayward youth.

Hill's mentees may not be learning how to stay away from gang life. Last spring, 21-year-old Brandon Saunders, a former drug dealer, credited Hill with turning his life around ("Preacher, Teacher, Forger, Spy," Feature, April 16, 2008). But Saunders, who has not been arrested since 2007, also spoke proudly to a City Paper reporter of his continuing membership in a Bloods gang set.

 

For years Baltimore Police and city officials have contended that loosely grouped street-corner crews drive to New York City to buy drugs for resale here. Yet recent federal court cases have tied Baltimore defendants to drug trafficking organizations stretching to Florida, Texas, California, and Mexico, suggesting that a few well-connected Baltimoreans orchestrate shipments of pot, cocaine, and heroin purchased from Mexican middlemen who work for (or are part of) international drug cartels.

They have been doing so for more than a decade, according to Fred Brooks, a Remington native and Baltimore City College graduate who, during one nine-month period in 2003, shipped 600 kilos of Colombian coke direct to Baltimore ("The Dealer," Feature, Jan. 9 and 16, 2008). Assistant U.S. Attorney James Warwick, who prosecuted drug traffickers on both coasts with Brooks' testimony, said the networks disrupted by the Brooks investigation were just "the tip of the iceberg in terms of distribution of large quantities of cocaine in the Mid-Atlantic area."

Brooks, currently serving a 10-year prison sentence, says he never gave up his hometown friends. Presumably some of them are still in business.

The DEA's Heroin Domestic Monitor Program reports that Baltimore heroin is, on average, about 45 percent pure. High purity suggests Baltimore is a distribution hub for the drug, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the nation's primary keeper of illegal drug statistics.

Ethan Nadelmann, a professor of politics at Princeton University and drug-policy expert who heads the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance in New York, says the high purity of Baltimore drugs indicates a highly competitive market, with no monopoly supplier. "So," he explains using a hypothetical example, "the question in Baltimore is, if Joe Blow takes over 40 percent of the market, why is that significant? And it's significant if it's actually having some impact on the supply of drugs in the city . . . or if this person actually has some impact outside the drug market. Does this person have any influence on the legitimate world of business and politics? That would be interesting."

Operators at that level, Nadelmann says, have an interest in ratcheting down the violence and working with police to shut down rivals. "If you have anyone who's in a big enough position to think like a businessman, he wants to reduce the likelihood that people are dying," Nadelmann says. "It goes back to the idea of why were the cops working together with the mob in the old days--there was a payoff, but they also had similar interest in public order."

Baltimore in 2009 is no one's ideal of public order. Yet there is circumstantial evidence that drug dealers and law enforcement have been cooperating here for years. On one hand, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics, federal prosecutors here have doled out sentence reductions for "substantial assistance"--that is, snitching--at almost double the national rate. On the other, newcomers from New York who take over drug corners on the east side tend to get shut down, as the Howard Peppers organization did in 2003, while long-time local street dealers have reportedly been seen palling around with detectives.

Nadelmann, who spent the 1980s researching the DEA's efforts in South America and wrote a book, Cops Across Borders, about how the DEA works in and around corruption in foreign agencies, says such cooperation is commonplace. "If one drug trafficking organization is giving information on others, the police target them, they get their arrests," he says. "And then they either deprioritize the other [cooperating] one or leave them alone."

During the past year or two, federal prosecutors appear to be busy dismantling a large network of related drug trafficking organizations centered in and around Baltimore. In December, for example, Shawn Green was arrested in Pennsylvania after spending more then 20 months as a fugitive ("Return Flight," Mobtown Beat, Dec. 24, 2008). An apartment building he owned in Reservoir Hill (another DrillDown star neighborhood with a thriving illegal drug economy) was seized by the government last spring and sold at auction.

Like Tony Hill, Querida Lewis, and Devon Marshall, Green also has business ties to Milton Tillman Jr., whose 4 Aces Bail Bonds, on the 2300 block of East Monument Street, sits smack in the middle of another of the DrillDown's most interesting study areas.

The DrillDown report sees the area it dubs "East Baltimore Development" as yet another strong market for a grocery store. DrillDown claims the area, an amalgam of Middle East and North Avenue-centered neighborhoods running from Greenmount Avenue to Edison Highway and Sinclair Lane to East Baltimore Street, has an aggregate income 17.2 percent greater than traditional market estimates, with more than $36 million earned annually via the "informal economy." The report claims that between 2002 and 2006 violent crime declined by 32 percent in this area, property crime by 29 percent.

Between 2006 and 2008, 88 people were murdered on the streets of this study area--11 percent of the city's total. Fourteen of the murders were in the area north of Patterson Park, south of Madison Street. It is a neighborhood Glenn Ross knows well.

"They're people of all races," says Ross of the people who buy and sell drugs in his neighborhood a few blocks east and south of the massive, and expanding, Johns Hopkins Medical complex.

Ross has been watching the spectacle for almost 30 years from his home and office on the 500 block of North Milton Avenue: the drug dealers on the corner, the drug users coming up the block, the prostitutes, the hustlers. But Ross, a community activist and sometime political candidate (he is currently a community liaison to 13th District City Councilman Warren Branch), has an eye for pattern and detail, so over the decades he's been able to track the larger movements.

Despite all the killing, Ross says the corner boys cooperate better than the community groups, in part because the community groups split along class, race, and turf lines, and in part because drug dealers sometimes chip in for neighborhood-association block parties, blunting community criticism of the informal economy. On the street, Ross says, a little money buys a lot of loyalty.

"You have drug dealers here, and so a lot of people say, 'How come residents don't tell on the drug dealers?'" Ross says. "Well, these drug dealers pay people. They pay people to hold their stash. They'll pay sometimes $200 or $300 for a basement to cut their drugs. We're talking about single mothers and even some seniors."

These arrangements are by no means universal, Ross says, but they are common. As Ross describes it, the informal economy is a continuum of hustles, from homeless men reselling donated groceries and peddling loose cigarettes for $1 each to full-sized, long-term businesses. He points up the block to an old post office, saying dirty old mattresses have been re-covered there and sold as new merchandise in a store a few blocks south. "We had two chop shops" in the neighborhood, Ross says. Theft of tools and construction supplies from rehabbers has been a popular pastime.

"We tell these developers, when you buy new kitchen cabinets, new water heaters, install them right away," Ross says. "We've seen people stealing two-by-fours, five gallon buckets of paint--anything--circular saws--and selling them up the street to the other guy redoing a house!"

The scams become a way of life. Ross describes a neighbor, discreetly omitting his name. "The guy's on disability," Ross says. "He never worked in his life. He sells drugs. He holds high-stakes card games inside his house, so he always gets the house money. The bedroom upstairs, if someone comes in with a prostitute, he rents it out." This has been going on, says Ross, for "at least 30 years."

Jefferson Street, running east-west through the neighborhood, features two drug corners about two blocks apart, one at Collington and the other at Montford, Ross says. "The Collington group, they're like older guys and they run it more like a business," he says. "They don't have the problems that the younger ones have, the fights, the break-ins." Of the Montford group, Ross says their faces change often, but they're consistently more menacing than the older dealers a few blocks away.

Ross says that the influx into the neighborhood in recent years of Hispanics, mostly men moving north from increasing rents in Canton and Highlandtown, has increased opportunities for hustlers. Slumlords pack 10, 15, and sometimes 20 people in a house, Ross says, and the drug users line up to rob the off-the-books construction workers when they get their pay. The workers who like drugs, Ross says, wait in the vacant houses and give their orders to "runners" employed by the corner boys. Prostitutes are available as runners, too. (In October, police raided a house nearby and charged the proprietor with human trafficking of Mexican prostitutes.)

Asked who runs things in his neighborhood, Ross demurs, talking about "gypsies" from out of town. Ross has a well-earned reputation as a fearless straight talker, but chooses discretion, just like other Baltimoreans who can't--or won't--say the names they've known for years.

 

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."

Femme Fatale

Accused Drug Trafficker Querida Lewis Got a Car Salesman Tangled Up With Milton Tillman Jr.

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 1/14/2009

Visitors to Liberty Ford in Randallstown would probably have a hard time imagining Robert W. Koopman, a bespectacled, gray-haired customer service manager, mixed up with an alleged international drug trafficker. Sitting behind his desk inside the service bay, Koopman, with his quiet demeanor and warm handshake, seems more grandfather than gangster.

But through his acquaintance with a woman named Querida Lewis, who was indicted with two co-conspirators in Maryland last July for running a marijuana-trafficking operation from Mexico to Baltimore via Texas, Koopman's life has become complicated. After buying a house in Owings Mills from Lewis in 2004, Koopman says Lewis got him to rent the house to Milton Tillman Jr., a politically connected bail-bonds impresario and two-time felon with a fearsome reputation who is under investigation by the IRS, the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Now Koopman is suing Tillman. In a case filed late last year in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Koopman alleges that Tillman, who is listed as the sole lessee, owes him $12,400 for four months of unpaid rent at 9833 Bridle Brook Drive, a two-story home in the upscale Rolling Ridge subdivision. Yet public records show that after Lewis sold the property to Koopman, she continued to use the house as a residence and business address into 2008. Forfeiture documents springing from the criminal case against Lewis state that "drug traffickers very often place assets in names other than their own to avoid detection." Tillman allegedly stopped paying rent in August, right after Lewis was arrested.

Court records show that Lewis was involved in a drug operation that extended to Corona, Calif.; McAllen, Texas; St. Paul, Minn., and Philadelphia. The investigation has led to seizure of more than $100,000 in cash and a car belonging to others tied to the alleged scheme, some of whom have not been charged. An unindicted co-conspirator has a trucking company that leased a warehouse and back lot at 300 South Kresson St. in East Baltimore, which wire-taps show were used to move drugs.

Lewis' alleged activities, spelled out in court documents and other public records, also involved cocaine trafficking (though she is charged only with marijuana); residences on two coasts; a trucking company; a courier service; a Reisterstown Road funeral home; her mother, who has a church and nonprofit foundation; and a FedEx driver who handled drug packages addressed to Johns Hopkins University, where his wife works as an administrator. Lewis' trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore was scheduled to start Jan. 20, but has been delayed. She did not return calls for comment. Law-enforcement documents in the Lewis case do not indicate that Tillman is part of the drug investigation

After Lewis was arrested, Koopman posted a $50,000 bond for her in August, helping to secure her release pending trial. She has no criminal record, although in the mid-1990s her name came up in court documents when her then-husband was charged as a drug dealer, fled, and later was convicted.

"You'll have to talk to my lawyer," Koopman says when reporters visit him at Liberty Ford, where his colleagues seem amused by his plight. He says he is aware of Tillman's reputation, which includes a history of ties to drug dealers, but won't say much more. "I've read all the articles in City Paper" about Tillman, he says.

Tillman's attorney Greg Dorsey, who has requested a jury trial in the lawsuit against Tillman, declines to discuss the relationship between Tillman, Lewis, and Koopman. "Those questions should be posed to Mr. Koopman," he says. When reached by phone, Koopman's lawyer, Norman Polovoy, hangs up.

After Koopman bought the Bridle Brook Drive house and listed it as his principal residence, state records show that Lewis' mother, Beverlie Woodland, ran Arrival Messenger Couriers, a company Lewis started in 1994, out of the house. Though Woodland is not charged in Lewis' case, court records state she "is aware" of her daughter's criminal activities and "is taking an active role in collecting and hiding" Lewis' drug money. In August, Lewis was released to Woodland's custody pending trial. The U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment.

Woodland and her husband, Bishop Robert F. Woodland, are incorporators of Destiny of Hope Apostolic Ministries and officers of the nonprofit Talent Exposition Foundation, which works with children. They answered the door at their Pikesville home on Jan. 7 wearing robes, and referred questions for this story to Koopman. As for the now-defunct messenger service, Beverlie Woodland says "I took it over when Querida moved to California in 2004. She said 'Mommy, please.'"

On June 16, court records say, Lewis began orchestrating nationwide drug transactions from Corona, Calif., including instructions to have her mother handle the drug money. "They need to be very careful on who was giving us money," Beverlie Woodland told her daughter on a wiretapped call, after bank officials had spotted two counterfeit $20 bills among the deposited cash.

Lewis and a Pennsylvania woman, Inga Bacote, then traveled in a motor home to McAllen, Texas, near the Mexican border, where Lewis owned one stash house and was looking to buy another. Once in Texas, court records state, Lewis shipped marijuana to Baltimore from a Kinko's FedEx store, where Ruben Arce let her use his employee discount to ship the drugs. Bacote and Arce are also indicted in Lewis' case.

Back in Baltimore, on July 8 FedEx driver Robert Wilson prepared to receive an 80-pound shipment of Lewis' marijuana at a Johns Hopkins University address, according to court documents. Wilson's wife, Amanda Wilson, works for Hopkins as an education assistance program manager. Investigators concluded that Wilson used his wife's business address and described him as an "active co-conspirator" in the Lewis case.

Amanda Wilson tearfully denies any knowledge of these matters in a conference call, during which her husband admits delivering "packages" to Lewis. Though Robert Wilson is not charged in the case, investigators seized $78,490 in cash from the Wilsons' Abingdon home.

Koopman's life has been disrupted by Lewis as well. On a second visit to Liberty Ford, he steps outside his office to speak with reporters and says he is unclear about how he got tangled up in Lewis' affairs.

"She came in to buy a car about eight years ago," he says, declining to explain why he posted a $50,000 bond on her behalf when she was arrested. "I never knew [Tillman] before all of this," Koopman says. "Ms. Lewis made all the arrangements."

Property Investor Gets Jail Time for Building Without Proper Permits

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 1/12/2009

Chalk one up, we guess, for law and order on the collapse front. First District City Councilman James Kraft sent us a press release crowing about the 30-day jail stint awarded to Sandford Kreisler, a Manassas, Va.-based, erm, "property investor" who failed to appear for a court date stemming from a case involving a Pigtown house his crew was working on without building permits.

In 2006, the building was collapsing, Kreisler was ordered to do the job right--and with permits, according to Kraft's release--and was put on probation. (However, a check of online court records did not turn up any cases in which Kreisler was put on probation since 2004. Update--Kraft's aid, the excellent Erin Fiachetti, emailed the case number, 807120023, noting that Kreisler's name was misspelled in the court file). Anyway, supposedly he didn't fix the place up, and he skipped his court date, and so was arrested in Nov. 2008, fined $5,000, and sent to the pokey.

Says Kraft, in his release:


"This prosecution sends a message that Baltimore City is serious about protecting the safety of neighborhood residents and the workers at these construction sites. Contractors need to know that if they come into our communities and perform work with such disregard for safety and standards, they will be held accountable."


Well, we suppose so. Then again, last we checked, John Elder was working as an engineer in good standing.

Return Flight

Fugitive Shawn Green Arrested

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 12/24/2008

After fleeing from a federal indictment in early 2007 ("Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12), Shawn Michael Green was arrested Dec. 14 in Pennsylvania and taken to Maryland to face drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges.

Aside from those charges, court records in other proceedings point to connections with an allegedly violent cocaine conspiracy under indictment in Pennsylvania involving associates of Green, who has hired New York criminal defense titan Robert Simels as his lawyer.

First appearances in federal court in Baltimore on Dec. 19 set a high-profile tone for Green's case, in part because Simels is under indictment in New York on charges of witness intimidation ("Team Player," Mobtown Beat, Sept. 24.)

Between the Pennsylvania and Maryland cases, Green and his associates, who have alleged drug ties to Mexico and property interests all along the Eastern Seaboard, are now under the federal looking glass.

"It is a big country," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said in a statement, regarding Green's arrest. "But most fugitives on federal felony warrants are caught before long. We look forward to Shawn Green having his day in court."

According to federal court documents, Green was a "known narcotics trafficker" in February 2006 when federal agents observed him in a Prince George's County parking lot with two men currently indicted in federal court in Philadelphia: Maurice Phillips and Anthony Ballard, leaders of the alleged Phillips Cocaine Organization (PCO). After the meeting, in which Phillips retrieved a black duffel bag from Green's car, agents stopped Ballard and seized more than $900,000 cash.

Phillips was indicted in 2007 on drug-trafficking, money-laundering, and murder-for-hire charges. Ballard, a 38-year-old Baltimore man with Eastern Shore ties, has agreed to plead guilty to drug-conspiracy charges in the PCO case, and in October in Maryland he pleaded guilty to drug-distribution charges and participation in a Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration identity-theft scam.

Green's precise role in the PCO is unclear, and he has not been indicted in that case, but according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Linwood C. Wright Jr., in Philadelphia, "You can match the overt acts of the Phillips indictment" with the allegations against Green in Maryland "and draw your own conclusions." In all, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland says it has seized or forfeited five properties belonging to Green, Ballard, or Phillips, who owns real estate from New Jersey to North Carolina. Another Baltimore man charged in the PCO case, Sherman Kemp, featured in the Stop Fucking Snitching DVD, pleaded guilty in Maryland in July to drug conspiracy and was sentenced to 180 months in prison.

In addition to his Pennsylvania ties, Green is an associate of politically connected businessman Noel Liverpool ("All Around Player," Mobtown Beat, Oct. 8.) Green, whose Reservoir Hill house was forfeited this spring, and Liverpool, a Morgan State University two-sport star in the 1980s, were in business together in the 1990s in a clothing store, Total Male II. Liverpool has never been the subject of drug-related charges.

While Green, age 42, was on the lam, his co-conspirator and mother, Yolanda Crawley, was convicted and sentenced for mortgage fraud and drug-money laundering. Lawyer Rachel Donegan and mortgage broker David Lincoln also pleaded guilty in the fraud scheme, which involved luxury homes in Maryland, Georgia, and Florida. Green's role in this conspiracy is part of his current indictment.

The accusations against Green "demonstrate how criminal drug dealers operate in Baltimore," according to Rosenstein. "People who do business with drug dealers often know where the money comes from," he says. "Drug-enforcement efforts can be successful only if we follow the money."

On Dec. 19, Simels arrived in Baltimore to enter his appearance on behalf of Green, who already had been brought before U.S. District Court judge James Bredar on Monday, Dec. 15, the day after his arrest. Perhaps 15 to 20 family members and friends of Green packed the courtroom, and several conferred at length with Simels before the hearing.

Though Simels did not contest prosecutor Kwame Manley's request that Green be detained pending trial, he cautioned against holding him at the Supermax facility in downtown Baltimore, where he is currently detained. "I'm concerned about the potential cooperators also housed there that he may be unfortunately exposed to," Simels said. Bredar left the issue to be worked out between counsel and set scheduling on motions leading up to a trial date that has yet to be set.

Shawn Green Arrested

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 12/16/2008

Editor's note: An updated and more detailed version of this story appeared in the Dec. 24 issue.

Fugitive Shawn Michael Green, who has been on the run from federal drug-trafficking charges since early 2007, was arrested recently in Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland. No further information about the timing and circumstances of the arrest are available at this time.

Green, whose importance in the Eastern Seaboard illegal-drug trade is spelled out in criminal cases filed in Maryland and Pennsylvania, is an associate of politically connected Baltimore businessman Noel Liverpool. While Green was on the lam, his co-conspirator and mother, Yolanda Crawley, was convicted and sentenced for mortgage fraud and drug-money laundering. Also pleading guilty in the fraud scheme were lawyer Rachel Donegan and mortgage broker David Lincoln.

After his arrest, 42-year-old Green appeared in federal court in Baltimore on Dec. 15 as members of his family looked on. He gave as his address a residence in Columbia, Md., and told U.S. District Court magistrate judge James Bredar that he would be represented by Robert Simels of New York. Prosecutor Kwame Manley told Bredar that Simels is also under federal indictment. That case, filed in New York, accuses Simels of witness intimidation on behalf of a client accused of running a Guyana-based international cocaine conspiracy. Simels is expected to appear on Green's behalf during a detention hearing scheduled for Dec. 19.

Off-Line

Federal Judges Denied Detention Request for Suspect in Odenton Double Murder

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 11/26/2008

Four days before Russell Kelscoe Harden allegedly committed a double murder in Odenton on Nov. 16, two federal judges denied a detention request from a federal probation officer who found that Harden was a flight risk.

On Nov. 12, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Gauvey ruled that Harden failed to comply with conditions of a monitored release following a 2005 federal gun conviction. Gauvey ordered Harden detained for failure to appear at a mandatory probation meeting and failure to submit to a urine test. In her written order Gauvey initially noted that Harden posed a threat to the safety of others before striking that finding. The next day, U.S. District Judge Andre Davis ordered Harden confined to house arrest with electronic monitoring.

Harden instead ended up with three others in the parking lot of the North Odenton Shopping Center across from Fort Meade on Nov. 16, where he allegedly ambushed and shot four people in a parked car outside Traffic Bar and Lounge in the 1600 block of Annapolis Road, according to Anne Arundel County police. Two of the victims, Terrence J. Covington, 25, and DeMarcus T. Beans, 20, died at the scene.

Anne Arundel police arrested Harden, 26, along with Damon Daryl Dodd, 31, and James Samuel Watkins, 20, and charged them on Nov. 25 with first-degree murder. A fourth suspect, Kecia Liverpool, 31, who allegedly drove a getaway car, was charged as an accessory after the fact and held at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center on a $2 million bond. Watkins and Dodd were held without bond.

Police say the motive for the shooting involves a long running feud between Harden, whose nickname is "Yummy," and Covington.

After his arrest, Harden was turned over to federal custody. On Nov. 26, he appeared in federal court to face new charges that he violated his house arrest, was in possession of the gun that was used in the quadruple shooting, and was in the company of a convicted individual. At that hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grimm ordered Harden detained pending a hearing next week before Judge Davis.

The stretch of Annapolis Road where the shooting occurred, which is populated by strip malls, package stores, tattoo parlors, adult-video stores, bars, and restaurants, has not historically been a violent area. However, two years ago a former federal protective service officer was fatally shot as he sat in his Ford Expedition in the parking lot of the nearby My Place Bar and Lounge, according to news reports.

And in 2004, a man named Calvin Ignatius Savoy, of the Severn drug-trafficking gang known as "Pioneer Boys," shot an Anne Arundel County police officer in the arm in the 1600 block of Annapolis Road, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office press release. The officer survived, but in 2005 Savoy was sentenced to life in prison, as six others pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.

Federal government sources that asked not to be named say Russell Harden's 2005 federal gun conviction arose from the Pioneer Boys case. According to court records, Harden has prior state convictions for guns and violence.

Police also have linked the recent Odenton shooting to a shooting that injured a man later the same day in the 800 block of Betsy Court in Annapolis. Two suspects have been arrested in that shooting, which police believe is in retaliation for the double murder that occurred outside Traffic Bar and Lounge, according to news reports.

A call to the chambers of U.S. Magistrate Gauvey on Nov. 26 was returned by her clerk, who says the judge does not recall the circumstances of her order that indicated Harden was a threat to the safety of others. The clerk confirmed that the judge's initials appear on a notation striking that finding. U.S. District Judge Davis, asked by City Paper to comment on his order of home detention for Harden, had not done so by press time. The U.S. Attorney's Office had no comment.

Ties that Bind

Alleged Getaway Driver in Odenton Killings Linked to Baltimore's Shadow Economy

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 11/26/2008

The alleged driver of the getaway car in the recent double murder in Odenton has not only a history of minor criminal convictions but associations with major Baltimore shadow economy figures.

Kecia Liverpool, 31, of Brooklyn, was charged on Nov. 25 as an accessory after the fact in the quadruple shooting that left two men dead outside the Traffic Bar & Lounge in the 1600 block of Annapolis Road, for her alleged role in driving three murder suspects from the scene. [See Related Story.]

Liverpool is related to former Morgan State University basketball and football star Noel Liverpool Sr., a politically connected East Baltimore entrepreneur and former business associate of federal drug-trafficking fugitive Shawn Michael Green. Green and Noel Liverpool were business partners in a Mondawmin Mall clothing store in the mid-1990s called Total Male II, a spin-off of the Monument Street boutique the Total Male.

In her 2001 Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing, Kecia Liverpool lists The Total Male as her employer, as does Noel Liverpool in a 2004 liquor-license application filed by his wife for the Clubhouse Bar & Grill on Erdman Avenue in East Baltimore.

It is unclear how the two Liverpools are related, but court records indicate that in 2005 and 2008, Kecia Liverpool sued a third member of the family, Ida Liverpool, in a child-custody dispute. In the 2005 custody case Ida Liverpool--who was found guilty of narcotics trafficking in 1997 and received a three-year suspended sentence--resided at an East Baltimore property owned by Noel Liverpool. In the 2008 custody case she resided at an address that served as a business address of a sole proprietorship that Noel Liverpool never completed, and the residence address of other family members convicted of other crimes.

In 1995, Ida Liverpool was sued by the state for non-support of then-minor James Samuel Watkins, one of the three men charged on Nov. 25 with first-degree murder in the recent Odenton double slaying. It also is unclear how Ida and Kecia Liverpool are related.

Anne Arundel County police say the double murders in Odenton are the result of a longstanding feud between James Watkins' and Kecia Liverpools' co-defendant Russell Kelscoe Harden, and Terrence J. Covington, who was shot and killed along with DeMarcus T. Beans. There are no indications that other members of the Liverpool family are involved in that case.

However, Kecia Liverpool has other underworld connections, according to court records, to go along with minor convictions in 2005, 2006, and 2008 for assault, disorderly conduct, and shoplifting. Court records indicate that in 2001 she posted a $41,820 property bond secured by a house at 3311 Parklawn Ave. for an East Baltimore man named Devon Anthony Marshall, who was charged at the time with conspiracy. Marshall has a lengthy record of arrests and charges on a variety of violent drug-related felonies. He was indicted earlier this year in federal court in a major cocaine-trafficking conspiracy involving the business partner of a Hollywood stuntwoman turned filmmaker who was completing a documentary about Baltimore City's mayor, city council president, comptroller, and state's attorney.

Kecia Liverpool is being held at Anne Arundel County Detention Center on a $2 million bond.

Additional reporting by Van Smith

Bad Trip

Fells Point Mushroom Bust Snares a Guns-and-Drugs Convict

By Van Smith | Posted 11/19/2008

Purveyors of psilocybin mushrooms--the kind that send users into psychedelic, sometimes hallucinogenic states--tend to share the peaceful, feel-good reputation of the hippy drug they sell. Still, they are illegal drug dealers, since the magic mushroom is a controlled dangerous substance under federal law. But non-recreational, guided use of the drug is accepted among some in mental-health and spiritual circles—including at Johns Hopkins University, where an ongoing series of studies suggests prescribed psilocybin use can bring positive changes to peoples' lives. So it's easy to see those who sell it simply as relatively harmless merchants of mind expansion rather than as hardened criminals.

Based on what happened in Fells Point last Friday evening, Nov. 14, though, the mushroom trade has its bad seeds. That's when, according to a federal complaint filed Nov. 17 by a postal inspector [pdf], a shipment of mushrooms arrived via an Express Mail package at a rowhouse in the 300 block of South Ann Street. George Victor Kraft retrieved the package and was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute psilocybin. Kraft may have dreadlocks and he might wear beads (see photo), but his record suggests he's not all about peace, love, and understanding. He's already wanted in Sacramento for parole violations on a 2000 California drugs-and-gun conviction, and has theft and attempted armed-robbery convictions in Maryland from back in the 1990s.

According to Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office spokewoman Marcia Murphy, Kraft had his first appearance in federal court on Monday, remains detained by federal authorities, and has no further court appearances scheduled at this time. Murphy, asked whether her office has brought mushroom cases in the past, answers in an e-mail that she's "not sure," adding that "I can't recall any in recent years, though."

Washington, D.C. Shuts Down Lots Where Used Cars Illegally Stored

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 11/18/2008

Baltimore's underground economy took a hit Nov. 18 when Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty announced plans to shutter 23 used-car dealerships that serve as illegal storage for vehicles destined to be sold outside the District of Columbia.

Entire lots had been emptied of used cars the day after the closures were announced by Mayor Fenty outside Citi Motors on Bladensburg Road, just a couple miles from the Washington-Maryland border. Officials with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs cited a number of other reasons for the closures, including lack of sales records, dangerous building conditions, and vehicles unsafe to drive.

According to prosecutors at the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, many cars in those Washington lots are purchased by wholesale brokers in Maryland and Pennsylvania and stored in D.C. to be sold via the internet, word of mouth, or on the streets by unlicensed car dealers, some of whom operate within Baltimore's shadow drug economy.

A City Paper expose earlier this year examined the regulatory gaps in oversight that have rendered the Baltimore used-car business fertile ground for illegal activity. State laws protecting the rights of large institutional lenders have led to loopholes for drug traffickers and money launderers to protect their illicit business activity by re-acquiring vehicles seized by the police. After that story was published in July, Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy indicated that she would be addressing those loopholes during the 2009 legislative session in Annapolis.

The regulatory action taken by Washington, D.C. authorities is relevant to Maryland's auto economy in an even broader sense, according to Rudolph Drayton, head of the asset-forfeiture section of the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office. "It's easy to get a broker's license in Maryland and acquire cars at an auction, because you aren't required to have a car-sales lot," Drayton says. "So people utilize these licensed dealers in D.C. to store their cars and evade the long arm of the law. The D.C. car dealer slaps some paper tags on the car, and it can be taken to Maryland to be sold in a variety of ways."

Drayton could not estimate how many cars sold in Maryland originated from used-car lots in D.C., but based on the numbers of cars seized in Maryland due to drug activity, he says the overall sales could be quite large. "It's a great way for people involved in illegal activity to evade the law," he says.

A cursory search of Maryland court records shows a 2001 Cadillac DeVille purchased from a Bladensburg Road used-car dealer was seized by Baltimore police in January in a bust of a repeat drug offender.

Washington, D.C. authorities have taken note of the underground economy rooted in their city's used car lots. However, city officials there chose regulatory action as a first step, according to Michael Rupert, communications manager at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which closed down three dealerships earlier this month for failure to pay fines for not maintaining proper insurance on cars using dealer tags issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles. At the same time, D.C. officials announced a sweeping probe of 100 of the city's 200 licensed used-car dealers along the main commercial corridors on Georgia Avenue, Bladensburg Road, Benning Road, and Rhode Island Avenue.

The recent car-lot closures are "Phase One" of what officials believe is an entrenched market with possible ties to criminal activity. "We chose the business-license angle rather than the criminal-enterprise angle because, frankly, it's simpler," Rupert says of the 23 closures announced Nov. 18. "It's easy to open a used-car lot in D.C., so these lots have cropped up along commercial corridors and it is creating blight. The first step is to address that issue. Then we can take a closer look at what else is going on."

Rupert acknowledges that car auctions in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and even Georgia are likely involved with the flow of vehicles into and out of Washington. City officials have received anecdotal accounts of large shipments of cars leaving D.C. in tractor trailers, he says. But he notes that Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department, which has a precinct on Bladensburg Road adjacent to several used car lots, has not reported overt illegal activity at those lots.

Nevertheless, Rupert says, "There's legitimate business to be done in this market, but that doesn't appear to be what's happening here."

Middle Man

How Did The Co-Founders of Hollywood in a Bottle Meet?

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 11/12/2008

Hollywood producer and filmmaker LaVern Whitt was distressed to receive a call from City Paper in late August about her association with Lawrence "Lorenzo" Reeves, a Baltimore man who had just been indicted in federal court in an alleged drug-trafficking conspiracy. Whitt was making a documentary about the women who run Baltimore's City Hall, and Reeves had just invested money in Whitt's separate venture called Hollywood in a Bottle LLC, aimed at helping youngsters get into the entertainment business ("The Company You Keep," Mobtown Beat, Sept. 10).

"What does Lorenzo have to do with anything, I just met him five months ago," Whitt told City Paper at the time, adding that a man she met at a Los Angeles Mercedes dealership named "Jason" had introduced her to Reeves, whom she found to be "a cool brother."

Weeks later, a federal prosecutor introduced wiretap evidence in court that described an unnamed Los Angeles car dealer providing luxury vehicles to members of the alleged Reeves conspiracy in exchange for drug cash ("And Then There Were Eight," Mobtown Beat, Oct. 1). Since then, multiple law-enforcement sources in Maryland and Los Angeles have confirmed that an L.A.-area car dealer named Farzan Farmani has leased luxury vehicles to members of the alleged Reeves conspiracy. Some of these sources also confirm that LaVern Whitt and Reeves know each other by virtue of their individual relationships with Farmani, who goes by "Jason."

City Paper has tried to determine whether the unnamed car dealer described in federal court recently and Farmani are one and the same. The U.S. Attorney's Office would neither confirm nor deny that they are. LaVern Whitt has referred all questions to criminal-defense attorney Warren Brown, who did not return calls.

Los Angeles Superior Court records confirm that Farmani is in the luxury-car business. Since June he has had three lawsuits filed against him alleging breach of car-lease agreements. In one of those cases, Farmani leased a 2006 Aston Martin and allegedly failed to make payments totaling $164,000. "It's a classic case of guy rents car, guy doesn't pay rent," says Steven Ernest, lawyer for the plaintiff, Cab West LLC, a finance company that served Farmani at his parents' home in Los Angeles. A call to that home was answered by Farmani's brother Faryar "Tony" Farmani, a San Diego-based lawyer. "Why do you want to talk to Jason?" Tony Farmani says. "I don't have any information I can give you. He doesn't want to talk to you."

A second lawsuit on file in Los Angeles alleges default by Farmani on five Mercedes Benz leases to the tune of more than $800,000. The plaintiff is also seeking conversion damages in excess of $700,000, which means the vehicles have not been returned or were subleased without authorization. The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a restraint against one of the vehicles, a 2007 Mercedes Benz S550, according to court records, and instructed anyone in possession of it to contact the police.

The general manager of Keyes European, the Van Nuys, Calif., car dealer that leased the five Mercedes to Farmani, says he knows the man but declines to answer questions. "He bought the cars, what he does after that is his business," says the general manager, who also declines to give his name. "That's none of your business," he says.

Additional reporting by Van Smith

Alvin K. Brunson Day

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 11/12/2008


By city council proclamation, Friday will be decreed as "Alvin Kirby Brunson Day" in Baltimore, according to his sister, Brenda.

Brunson lost his life on March 30 when the house he was working on at 562 Wilson St. collapsed. He had hoped to renovate the building into a museum of Pennsylvania Avenue's Black history. There were bizarre circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

Brenda is angling to have the proclamation read at noon in front of her brother's former residence, 541 Wilson St. She says the proclamation idea came to her very recently, and that she's pleased that 11th district City Councilman William Cole agreed to get it done in time for Nov. 14th.

Friday would have been Alvin Kirby Brunson's 50th birthday.

"Buzzard" Pleads Guilty to Drug Charges

Associate of Fugitive Drug Trafficker Shawn Green and Indicted Philadelphia Kingpin Maurice Phillips Pleads Guilty to Cocaine Distribution with Street Value of $1.3 Million

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 10/9/2008

Anthony Wayne Ballard, aka Buzzard, a 38-year-old man from Baltimore, pleaded guilty on Oct. 8 to major drug-distribution charges and participation in an identity-theft scam that involved a mole inside the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

In 2006 Ballard was stopped in Prince George's County along with Maurice Phillips, indicted kingpin of the Phillips Cocaine Organization of Philadelphia, and fugitive drug trafficker Shawn Michael Green, best known locally as a business associate of East Baltimore entrepreneur Noel Liverpool Sr., who set up Green's clothing store, Total Male II. During that stop law enforcers seized more than $900,000 cash. Green was indicted in federal court in Baltimore in 2007 on drug-conspiracy and money-laundering charges and fled. He is at large. Phillips is the focus of a federal drug-conspiracy case in Philadelphia that involves allegations of drug trafficking, money laundering through the purchase of real estate, and murder for hire. Ballard has pleaded guilty in that case as well.

Liverpool, a former Morgan State basketball and football star who has owned real estate and a number of defunct clothing stores, has never been charged or convicted of a serious crime.

On Oct. 8, Ballard pleaded guilty to moving large amounts of coke between Baltimore and the Eastern Shore from 2004 to '08. During a search on Nov. 24, 2004, at his home on Shadyside Road in Baltimore, law enforcers recovered seven kilograms of cocaine from his car and $25,000 in drug cash from the house. Later that day, law enforcers recovered more than $6,000 in drug proceeds from another Ballard residence at 922 E.43rd St.

Ballard, who also has resided in Princess Anne, in Somerset County, has drug- and gun-related charges dating to the mid-1990s. He pleaded guilty to felony drug charges in 1998, and guilty to a drug-trafficking conspiracy in Baltimore in 2001, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison.

On Feb. 9, 2006, law enforcers observed him exchanging bags with Phillips and Green late at night in a parking lot in Prince George's County. A search of two vehicles revealed drugs and approximately $890,000 in cash. Law enforcers seized an additional $34,000 from Ballard that same day. During the search Ballard presented a fraudulent Maryland driver's license. Between December 2005 and October 2007, he admits that he conspired with an MVA employee to obtain Maryland driver's licenses and personal-identification cards with the names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth of other individuals without their knowledge.

On Jan. 8, 2008, law enforcement arrested Ballard and seized more than $80,000 in drug proceeds and a fraudulent ID card. Shortly after, he was added as a defendant through a superceding federal indictment in the Phillips Cocaine Organization case in Philadelphia, in which Ballard has agreed to plead guilty. Ballard will forfeit more than $1 million in drug proceeds seized during the separate investigation that led to his federal charges in Maryland. His plea agreement here states that the government is recommending a 17-year sentence to run concurrent with a similar sentence for his role in the Phillips Organization. He is scheduled for sentencing in federal court in Baltimore on Jan. 8, 2009.

Maurice Phillips is facing trial late next year, in a complex and chilling case that extends from Mexico to the Eastern Seaboard. Phillips and 10 other defendants, including Ballard, were indicted on a range of violent drug-trafficking charges including use of a FedEx employee's uniform to disguise an assassin hired to kill a potential witness who had been part of their drug-money laundering conspiracy. The federal government has seized a number of Phillips' houses from New Jersey to North Carolina, including a house in Prince George's County and a Baltimore residence at 4111 Boarman Ave.

Shawn Green has been a federal fugitive since he fled in early 2007. His accomplices in his drug and money-laundering schemes included his mother Yolanda Crawley, mortgage broker David Lincoln, and lawyer Rachel Donegan, who were sentenced earlier this year to two years, 15 months and probation, respectively.

All Around Player

How Did Noel Liverpool Sr. Go From Being a Successful College Athlete to Being Part of The City's Underground Economy?

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 10/8/2008

In his heyday, Noel Liverpool Sr. was a business major at Morgan State University who started for both the basketball and football teams and carried a 2.5 grade point average. Students called him "Pool" and even chanted his name at a basketball game one night in 1987, as the powerful center poured in 25 points for the Golden Bears.

Like many college athletes Liverpool did not end up in the NBA or the NFL. Nor did he land at a Fortune 500 company or a local investment firm like Legg Mason. The East Baltimore native instead became an entrepreneur, acquiring property, opening men's clothing stores, and establishing himself as a low-key local icon of sorts.

But there's more to Liverpool than his image as an inner-city businessman implies. Liverpool's clothing companies all failed, some of his associates have turned out to be involved in the drug trade, and his name is associated with a tavern known to law enforcement as a neutral zone where criminals, public officials, and police mingle. He has no criminal record, and despite 20 years as a businessman has little to show on paper, besides a 2,200-square-foot house in Randallstown, a string of failed companies, and a habit of getting sued (and losing) in civil court. (Read a detailed history of Liverpool's business and real estate dealings.)

Now, in the federal investigation of Milton Tillman Jr., another East Baltimore businessman with whom Liverpool has ties, Liverpool may have turned up on the feds' radar as well.

Tillman Jr., a longshoreman, former club owner, and an ex-con who controls vast swaths of real estate and a sizable chunk of the city's bail bonds market, was the target of a recent raid by the FBI and the IRS that yielded a 40-some-page list of documents seized ("Tillman Jr. Properties Raided by Feds," The News Hole, Aug. 20; "Citizen of the Year," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 27). Some of those documents and state business records make clear that a key nexus between Tillman Jr. and Liverpool is their affiliation with Capers LLC, the liquor-license holder and owner of Five Mile House tavern, on Reisterstown Road in Northwest Baltimore. The bar is renowned as a gathering place for power players in the black community--including police officers, politicians, businessmen, and drug dealers.

On Aug. 20, the feds descended on Tillman Jr.'s 4 Aces Bail Bonds and New Trend Development offices at 2332 E. Monument St. Among the items they seized was a check of an unspecified amount to Noel Liverpool, according to search-warrant returns filed in federal court ("Documents on Tillman Raid Available," The News Hole, Aug. 22). Search-warrant returns further state the FBI and IRS were seeking tax or real estate information about companies associated with Tillman Jr. and his son, Milton Tillman III, including Capers LLC, which lists both Liverpool and Tillman III as board members.

Asked of the significance of these relationships, Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Clarke, who is handling the Tillman investigation, declines to confirm or deny that Liverpool is a target. "You may be ahead of us or you may be behind us, but I just can't say anything about it," Clarke says.

So, just who is Noel Liverpool Sr.? And what's the deal with Five Mile House? Neither Liverpool nor the Tillmans nor their respective attorneys returned calls for comment.

Liverpool is a 1985 graduate of Patterson High School who excelled in basketball and football. He was recruited to play football at Morgan State but chose basketball instead. By his junior year he went out for football as well--an unusual feat in college athletics. "If anyone can play both sports, he's the guy," then hoops coach Nat Frazier told a reporter at the time.

Former Morgan State sports information director Joe McIver says Liverpool still attends the occasional Golden Bears basketball game. He recalls Liverpool as a 6-foot-5, upward of 220-pound center who was strong but short for his position. "He was all-conference one year," McIver says. "He was kind of quiet, but outgoing."

Liverpool, who entered the university with the class of 1989, does not appear in the Morgan State yearbook. Even a 1987 school newspaper article about him is accompanied by a team photo in which he does not appear. Morgan State officials refuse to confirm whether he graduated. Current sports information director Leonard Haynes did not return calls seeking to confirm other biographical details. According to McIver, the university's assistant budget director, Marvin Hicks, is a good friend of Liverpool's. He did not return numerous calls from City Paper.

After college, Liverpool went into the men's clothing business, but his companies--C-Lo Clothing, Inner City Gear, Inner City Gear II, and Inner City Gear Entertainment Inc.--all folded after a few years in the mid- to late 1990s. In 1996, Liverpool helped Shawn Michael Green, currently a fugitive from a federal drug-trafficking indictment, set up a store in Mondawmin Mall called Total Male II. The store is now defunct ("Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12). The original Total Male is located next door to Tillman Jr.'s 4 Aces Bail Bonds, and was the subject of a 1997 Baltimore Police Department special investigation into drug trafficking, according to court documents. Total Male is a trade name formerly registered to a company that Tillman Jr. founded in the 1980s, All Pro Sports Enterprises Inc.

Former Baltimore City Liquor License Board Commissioner Jeff Pope served on the board when Liverpool's wife, Etta, submitted an application in 2004 for a liquor license at 4217 Erdman Ave., the Club House Bar and Grill, which had been owned by drug dealers since 1990 ("Creative Licensing," Mobtown Beat, April 9). Liverpool listed Total Male and Five Mile House as former employers on his wife's application. Pope was a senior at Morgan State when Noel Liverpool was a freshman, but he doesn't recall him making a big impression.

Web sites characterize Five Mile House as a pub with dancing, catering, and after-hours events. The Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association held its Christmas party there in 2005, in an upstairs hall that also is rented by unions and companies for social events.

Retired Baltimore police sergeant Craig Gentile, formerly of the department's vice squad, characterizes Five Mile House as "Luxembourg, for the black community."

"Politicians could rub elbows with high-level drug dealers," he says. "Or, police could go in there off-duty. There were a lot of fundraisers. But if a senator or congressman was going to be there, we'd be instructed to stay away."

Gentile recalls that when Five Mile House came up at ComStat meetings, which was not an infrequent occurrence, by the time he and his crew got there, the place would be empty or closed. "You can put up all the gold lighting and ferns you want, but it's still like putting lipstick on a pig," he says.

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm, now the chief of security at Coppin State University, recalls going to a Christmas party there one year but says he knows nothing about the place. Hamm presided over ComStat meetings as commissioner from 2005 to '07, and told City Paper in 2007, "I'm born and raised here. . . . I know who the players are, I know who the pretenders are, and I know who the powerbrokers are."

Yet Hamm says he has never heard of Noel Liverpool Sr., and that he knows little about Milton Tillman Jr. Informed that Tillman Jr. is under federal investigation--a story that has been widely reported--and that the feds have seized evidence related to Liverpool and Five Mile House, Hamm replies, "That's news to me."

Additional reporting by Van Smith

The Companies, Properties, and Legal Disputes of Noel Liverpool Sr.

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 10/7/2008

Editor's note: Read accompanying article about Noel Liverpool Sr..

Noel Liverpool Sr. entered Morgan State University with the class of 1989. Since the mid-1990s he has engaged in a multitude of business and real estate transactions, and he has been sued more than a dozen times.

Companies: All but two of the following Liverpool companies are defunct.

Inner City Gear Inc., incorporated in 1995 as clothes retailer located in Mondawmin Mall; charter forfeited in 1999.

Inner City Gear Entertainment Inc., incorporated in 1995 as event ticket sales outlet in Mondawmin Mall; charter forfeited in 1999.

2707 W. Cold Spring LLC, established in 1996 as clothes retailer in Mondawmin Mall, with business office at 2707 W. Cold Spring Lane; charter forfeited in 2000.

The Total Male II Inc., incorporated in 1996 as clothes retailer in Mondawmin Mall by Shawn Michael Green, with Noel Liverpool Sr. acting as company representative; charter forfeited in 2000. Green, currently a fugitive, was indicted on federal cocaine conspiracy charges in 2007.

Inner City Gear II Inc., incorporated in 1996 as clothes retailer located at 2707 W. Cold Spring Lane; charter forfeited in 1998.

C-Lo Clothing Co. Inc., incorporated in 1998 as clothes retailer in Mondawmin Mall; charter forfeited in 2000.

Liverpool Enterprises Inc., incorporated in 2000 as real estate holding company located at 2405 E. Monument St.; charter forfeited in 2004.

Capers LLC, incorporated in 1999 with Liverpool as member and purchased Five Mile House (see below) for $400,000; charter forfeited in 2006, reinstated in 2007.

Noel S. Liverpool, sole proprietorship applied for but not completed in 2003, located at 4700 Parkside Drive (see below).

4217 LLC, established in 2004 as real estate holding company located at 4217 Erdman Ave.; charter forfeited in 2006.

EMLNSL Corp., incorporated in 2004 as real estate holding company and to operate Club House Bar and Grill at 4217 Erdman Ave.; liquor license transferred in 2007, but business remains incorporated with Etta Liverpool as sole director.

Real Estate Holdings: Liverpool only holds title to one of the following properties.

1043 N. Milton Ave. obtained as a gift in 1993 from Timothy T. Spearman; Liverpool mortgaged the property in 1995 for $32,900 and later defaulted on the loan, with the property foreclosed upon in 2005; Isidore E. Liverpool, a relative, resided there when he pleaded guilty to narcotics trafficking in 1997.

9705 Marriottsville Road, Randallstown, purchased for $143,000 in 1994; mortgaged the property for $27,200 in 1995; mortgaged it for $30,000 in 1997 to finance Inner City Gear (see above); used it partially secure loan to Capers LLC (see above) in 1999.

1631 E. North Ave. obtained through a 99-year lease in 1994 from Stanley Rochkind for $10,000; assigned in 1996 to Shawn M. Green (see above, Total Male II) for $87,000; Green mortgaged the property for $104,000, and in 2004 Baltimore City seized the property from Green and Rochkind in a condemnation proceeding for $92,000.

1633 E. North Ave. obtained as a substitute purchaser in 1994 for Maurice H. Solomon, who was the highest bidder at $1,500; Liverpool then mortgaged the property in 1995 for $84,000, and in 1999 used it to partially secure loans totaling more than $360,000 to Capers LLC (see above); Baltimore City seized the property from Liverpool in 2004 in a condemnation proceeding for $120,000.

2405 E. Monument Ave. purchased in 1997 for $45,000; used it to partially secure loan to Capers LLC (see above) in 1999; sold in 2006 for $190,000.

2411 E. Monument Ave. purchased in 1997 for $20,000; in 1999 used it to partially secure loans totaling more than $340,000 to Capers LLC (see above); sold property to Milton Tillman III in 2007 for $50,000, with a no-interest loan of $30,000.

5302 Reisterstown Road purchased in 1999 by Capers LLC (see above) for $400,000, with Liverpool as a member, taking out a $344,250 loan from 1st Mariner Bank; in 2001 company borrowed another $80,000 from lawyer Jeffrey Chernow, who represents Liverpool in a number of other business matters; in 2006, Chernow appointed a substitute trustee to collect on his loan--usually a sign of default; in July 2007, 1st Mariner appointed a sub-trustee as well; in August 2007, Dr. Rex Frost of Lakeside National LLC bought the loans from 1st Mariner and modified them, forgiving $8,000 of principal; in May 2008, Chenow filed papers indicating his loan to Capers LLC is paid in full. On May 30, Frost lent Capers an additional $100,000.

4700 Parkside identified as address for sole proprietorship of Noel Liverpool Sr. in 2003 that was never fully formed; address also identified as residence of personal reference in support of 2004 liquor license application, and of multiple family members convicted of felonies, including first-degree arson, drug possession, drug trafficking, and prostitution, from 1995 to 2004.

Lawsuits and Debt Collection: Liverpool has had numerous judgments against him, some of which he has paid only after a creditor threatened to seek discovery in a civil court proceeding.

Mayor and City Council v. Noel Liverpool, 1993, drug-related forfeiture action, eventually dismissed.

Congress Talcott Corp. v. Inner City Gear (see above), 1999, judgment for $7,516.

Bank of Maryland v. Inner City Gear, Inner City Gear II, 2707 Cold Spring LLC, and Noel Liverpool, 1999, judgment for $21,831.

American Express Travel Related Services Inc. v. Noel Liverpool, 1999, judgment for $18,578.

Bank of Maryland v. 2707 Cold Spring LLC, Inner City Gear, Inner City Gear II, and Noel Liverpool, 1999, judgment for $149,145.

New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. v. Inner City Gear and Noel Liverpool, 1999, judgment for $29,815.

Kandel, Klitenic, and Chernow LLP (see above) v. Noel Liverpool, 2707 Cold Spring LLC, and Inner City Gear, 1999, judgment for $15,727.

Columbia Sportswear Co. v. Inner City Gear and Noel Liverpool, 2000, judgment for $33,758.

Jack Schwartx Shoes v. Noel Liverpool, 2000, judgment for $5,289.

Puma North America Inc. v. Inner City Gear and Noel Liverpool, 2000, judgment for $9,246.

Village of Cross Keys Inc. v. Noel Liverpool and Inner City Gear, 2000, judgment for $129,510 (Total Male II and Five Mile House served as wage garnishees for Liverpool).

Waterview Resolution Corp. v. Noel Liverpool, 2000, judgment for $15,588.

Leasecom Corp. v. Noel Liverpool, 2000, judgment for $1,507.

Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund v. Noel Liverpool and Inner City Gear, 2000, judgment for $2,914.

Maryland State Comptroller v. Noel Liverpool, 2001, judgment for $124,150.

Platinum Financial Services Corp. v. Noel Liverpool, 2002, judgment for $6,139.

Cindy Diamond v. Noel Liverpool, 2005, foreclosure on property at 1043 N. Milton Ave. (see above).

Jacqueline and Robert Meek v. Noel Liverpool, Etta Liverpool, 4217 LLC (see above), and EMLNSL Corp. (see above), 2005, judgment for $268,988.

And Then There Were Eight

Hollywood-Tied Drug Conspiracy Case Grows

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?"

Team Player

Lawyer in Guyanese Coke Case Accused of Witness Intimidation

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 9/24/2008

New York criminal defense attorney Robert Simels calls himself the "Rolls Royce of attorneys." The claim is based in large part on his 90 percent acquittal rate and his representation of legendary gangsters such as Henry Hill of Goodfellas fame. But his stature as a legal titan is more complicated than his success in fighting for clients. It is also based on his controversial methods, which have long irked judges, prosecutors, and peers alike.

Simels' critics, whose concerns have been aired publicly since the 1980s, at times in open court, may not find it surprising that he was recently arrested in New York on federal charges that he plotted to intimidate witnesses on behalf of the head of a violent Guyana-based drug organization.

Yet while Simels has carved a reputation in New York worthy of some twisted episode of Law and Order, he also has established a deep roster of clients with Maryland ties (see article at left), including the Guyanese kingpin with whom Simels was allegedly scheming this summer to "eliminate" witnesses.

The defendant's name is Shaheed Khan, though he also goes by Roger Kahn and "Boss Man." In the early 1990s, he was a gun-running, pot-dealing extortionist in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. He fled to Guyana after U.S. authorities charged him in 1993 with being a felon in possession of a firearm. There, Khan heads a vast cocaine-trafficking organization that operates a paramilitary death force called the Phantom Squad, according to separate U.S. charges filed in 2006.

On Sept. 10, the international intrigue surrounding the Khan organization peaked, as Simels and co-counsel Arienne Irving were arrested and charged in federal court. The affidavit for their arrest chillingly portrays the attorneys going too far to protect their clients' interests, and raises questions about how far they might have gone in the past. Intercepted conversations, many of them recorded via body wire worn by an informant and member of Khan's Phantom Squad, show Simels and Irving discussing violence as a means of "eliminating" witnesses or "neutralizing" their testimony against Khan.

The intercepted conversations suggest that Simels intended to place potential witnesses in difficult positions. According to the affidavit, which details a series of meetings and discussions over a four-month period, Simels explored "a range of options, from offering them money to murdering their family members." In one of the conversations, Simels is recorded telling the Phantom Squad member-turned-informant that Khan "wants you to do whatever needs to be done." Off limits, however, was another witness' mother. "Don't kill the mother," Simels tells the informant during a June meeting at his law office, or "the government will go crazy."

Federal prosecutors have been wary of Simels, who was an assistant U.S. attorney in the 1970s, long before the Khan case. He handled a drug-conspiracy case in New York City in 1988, for instance, in which two government witnesses recanted their sworn statements and a third was shot. After the shooting, Simels met privately in prison with the man who confessed to shooting the witness and got him to change his story, according to court records. Prosecutors told the judge that Simels had warned the confessor that he should not testify against his "friends" from the street "while his family was out there." A legal logjam ensued, as Simels figured to become both a witness and the lead attorney in the case; the judge declared a mistrial.

In 2005, according to a New York Law Journal article published on Sept. 11, 2008, New York federal judge Joanna Seybert aired her suspicions that Simels withheld full information from his own client about a plea-bargain offer, possibly so the case would continue and Simels could continue getting paid or tap into some of his client's drug profits. Just last year, in the Khan case, New York federal judge Dora Irizarry criticized Simels for revealing the names of potential witnesses at a press conference in Guyana. Irizarry declined to sanction Simels but wrote that his "reckless" conduct "degrades the standards of this profession."

Now, as Simels faces witness-intimidation charges, Baltimore-based prosecutors and defense attorneys similarly express discomfort with him and his methods. One assistant U.S. attorney who has gone up against Simels, speaking on background, puts it like this: "He has done cases [in Maryland] a number of times involving serious, sizable drug dealers. He doesn't have a good reputation. His clients never cooperate, even when it is in their best interests. I find that unusual, and one could wonder about whether his loyalty is to the client."

Towson-based criminal defense attorney David Irwin, a former federal prosecutor, says Simels is aggressive and hard charging. But the veteran defender cautions that attorneys must be careful to balance such zealousness against ethics--and the law. "I tell my young associates," Irwin says, "make sure when you are talking to a witness, that if someone were taping the conversation, you wouldn't mind hearing it come out in court or in the media."

Regarding the taped conversations that led to Simels being charged with witness intimidation, Irwin says, "It certainly sounds as if Simels is at least stomping on the line, if not stepping over it."

The drug-dealing charges against Khan don't indicate that his cocaine came to Maryland. However, in 2004, a large haul of Guyanese coke totaling more than 150 kilograms was seized coming from Georgia to Baltimore.

Simels' attorney in the witness-intimidation case, Gerald Shargel, has been quoted in news coverage calling the government's allegations against Simels false. "Bob Simels is well-known as a tenacious, effective, and highly capable defense lawyer, and he was doing his work," Shargel said, adding that "it's easy for prosecutors to make an accusation, but it's quite another thing for them to prove it."

Five More Indicted in Drug Conspiracy of Hollywood in a Bottle Co-Founder

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 9/24/2008

The bare bones of a nationwide drug-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 over the past two weeks. The case, which started with three defendants, now has eight [pdf]. It alleges a violent and far-flung cocaine conspiracy featuring a pair of notorious East Baltimore figures.

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 stuntwoman and 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 called Women in Power.

Two of Reeves' alleged co-conspirators, Devon "Big D" Marshall, and Otis "O" Rich, who was arrested on 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. Both have experience in the ground transportation business.

At his detention hearing on Sept. 3, prosecutors described Devon Marshall 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 him 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 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.

Speaking on background, a top Baltimore law enforcer describes Rich and Marshall (who has a conspiracy conviction and numerous violent drug charges dating to the early 1990s) as major figures. "Devon Marshall is equally feared and loved in this town and for good reason," the law enforcer says. "Otis Rich is a big catch."

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 Calvert County, pleaded not guilty on Sept. 22 and was released. Jones pleaded guilty to felony drug charges in 2006 and was sentenced to a 10-year prison term, most of which was suspended.

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 and detained Nunez, after hearing allegations of Nunez using aliases, depositing large sums of money and acquiring luxury cars despite no reported income from various businesses, including an internet business and an interstate transportation company.

The eighth member of the alleged cocaine conspiracy is Justin Santiago Gallardo, of Annapolis. He was released following his indictment on Sept. 3.

According to the 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 specialist Warren Brown. Brown confirms that Reeves took out a bank loan and invested money in Hollywood in a Bottle, but insists his client is in the clear. "What's Reeves' role in all of this?" Brown asks. "A lot of times these guys put A together with B to bring them into a conspiracy. If he was secretive about whom he was dealing with, how can [they] put anything on my client?"

The Company You Keep

City Hall Filmmaker's Business Partner Accused of Running Drug-Trafficking Operation

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 9/10/2008

From the looks of LaVern Whitt's MySpace page, the Baltimore native is not only making it in Hollywood--she's living the dream.

The former stunt woman, now a TV, film, and video producer, poses for photos with celebrities at resorts from Cancun, Mexico, to California. Her list of acquaintances includes fellow Baltimore native Jada Pinkett Smith and husband Will Smith, comedian Cedric the Entertainer, and actress LisaRaye, the former first lady of Turks and Caicos Islands and star of the sitcom All of Us. In one photo on MySpace, Whitt cuddles with "my partner," Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis.

But Whitt's pretty-people world came crashing down around her on Aug. 28 when another man she refers to as "my partner" on her web site--a lesser-known figure named Lawrence Schaffner "Lorenzo" Reeves--was indicted in federal court in Baltimore on drug-trafficking charges.

The indictment of Reeves, along with a Harford County resident with East Baltimore ties, Devon Anthony Marshall, and an Annapolis man named Justin Santiago Gallardo, has prompted Whitt to pull the plug on two media projects linked to Baltimore City Hall. One is an unfinished documentary on the lives of the four black women who govern the city, titled Women in Power. The other is a seminar called Hollywood in a Bottle, designed to educate youngsters on how to get into the film business.

Reeves, a co-founder of Hollywood in a Bottle LLC, appeared in federal court on Sept. 3 along with Marshall, where prosecutors described wiretap evidence of Reeves employing Marshall as a menacing street enforcer tasked with inflicting violence over drug-money disputes.

Whitt's business ties to Reeves expose an intersection of two worlds: one populated by entertainers, financiers, lawyers, and politicians, the other by people accused of facilitating large shipments of cocaine to the Baltimore region.

Baltimore's top elected officials--Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Joan Pratt, and State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy--were interviewed on camera last fall by Whitt. The resulting seven-minute promotional film for Women in Power was screened earlier this year at the Senator Theatre.

All four say they have never met Reeves. Some are distancing themselves from Whitt, who tells City Paper she was driven to launch Hollywood in a Bottle by the urge to "give back" to her community. She and Reeves formed it in March with Reeves as the resident agent, using an Odenton address. Whitt says she brought in Reeves because "he seemed like a cool brother" who could help finance her vision.

Hollywood in a Bottle held a seminar at a Baltimore City public school on July 26. It cost more than $100 per attendee and featured seasoned Hollywood veterans coaching youngsters on various paths to stardom and behind-the-scenes success. Within a day of learning of the indictment of Reeves (News Hole, Aug. 29), Whitt's web sites for Hollywood in a Bottle and a YouTube promo clip of Women in Power came down (News Hole, Sept. 4).

Official desk calendars obtained by City Paper show that Rawlings-Blake, Pratt, and Dixon each met with Whitt late last year to be interviewed for Women in Power.

Following the Sept. 3 meeting of the city's Board of Estimates, on which Dixon, Rawlings-Blake, and Pratt serve, Dixon refused to answer questions about Whitt. However, in a telephone interview later that day, mayoral spokesman Sterling Clifford says he vetted Whitt when she pitched the City Hall film project and found nothing amiss. Asked if the mayor is concerned about revelations that Whitt is partnered with an indicted cocaine trafficker, Clifford replied in an e-mail, "That will depend largely on what we learn of what Whitt knew and when she knew it."

Approached by a reporter after the same Board of Estimates meeting, Council President Rawlings-Blake asked, "What kind of connection are you trying to make?" and characterized Whitt's documentary pitch as a routine media matter.

In response to City Paper's written inquiries, Pratt writes in an e-mail that she met Whitt through a neighbor, and that she provided T-shirts for the Hollywood in a Bottle seminar on July 26. Public records show that Pratt, a certified public accountant, filed incorporation papers on behalf of Hollywood in a Bottle's publicist, Synergy Communications. Pratt and her private attorney Sharon King Dudley, whom Baltimore City recently hired to investigate employee-discipline matters, are two of the four listed sponsors of Hollywood in a Bottle.

A spokeswoman for Jessamy confirms that the city state's attorney met with Whitt on Nov. 26, for an on-camera interview. "It was sold to us as something totally legitimate, and something that would promote Baltimore," writes Jessamy spokesman Margaret Burns in an e-mail.

On Sept. 3 Reeves and Marshall, both 37, appeared before U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar for detention hearings. Both men have criminal records: Reeves was convicted in 2001 of drug trafficking in Arizona and in '02 in Maryland; Marshall has a prior conspiracy conviction and numerous criminal charges in Maryland for drugs and violence dating to the 1990s.

Reeves, short, balding, and wearing a maroon jumpsuit, enters the courtroom and opts not to fight his detention pending trial. But Marshall--six and a half feet tall, heavily tattooed, and upward of 300 pounds--seeks pretrial release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Gallagher tells the judge the government tapped Reeves' phone from June until late August. The drug shipments came in "large quantities," she says, describing numerous intercepted telephone conversations between Reeves and Marshall, who allegedly served as a violent "enforcer-collector" for Reeves. The indictment accuses the two men, along with Justin Gallardo, of conspiring with "others known and unknown to the grand jury."

According to the prosecutor, a recent search of Marshall's Abingdon home produced three loaded weapons, including one she describes as an assault rifle containing 20 armor-piercing bullets. Marshall's attorney argues that the weapon belongs to Marshall's wife, and urges his client's release because he has four children and a job prospect at the Sparrows Point steel-making complex.

Judge Bredar points out that Marshall has used multiple aliases, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers, and has a remarkable criminal history involving violence, though few convictions. He orders Marshall held in custody.

When first contacted on Aug. 29, Whitt enthusiastically describes her endeavors but expresses dismay at news of Reeves' indictment. She says Hollywood in a Bottle is her attempt to reach out to youngsters who might not have the wherewithal to launch a career in Tinseltown.

To finance her vision, Whitt says she intends to channel corporate donations through nonprofit organizations, such as Say It Loud, a California 501(c)(3) listed on Hollywood in a Bottle's web site as its "fiscal sponsor." "I kicked it off in Baltimore because that's my hometown," Whitt says, adding that she plans to hold seminars in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Whitt, who also has an interest in fancy cars and music videos, says she met Reeves through a mutual associate at a Mercedes dealership. "I needed help, so he came on board," she says.

Until news of Reeves' indictment surfaced, Hollywood in a Bottle and Women in Power held promise for Whitt. Executive vice president of Warner Music Group, fellow Baltimore native Kevin Liles, partnered with Whitt as co-producer of Women in Power. Whitt's publicist, Sharon Page of Synergy Communications, tells City Paper on Aug. 29 that the documentary is gaining interest: Film and TV producer Tracey Edmonds (Soul Food, Who's Your Caddy?)--the ex-wife of Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Eddie Murphy--may want to turn it into a sitcom. "It's a major story," Page says.

Now, however, Whitt's endeavors seem up in the air. Businesses associated with her risk being tainted by her connection to Reeves. Her California production company, Journey Entertainment LLC, lists Maryland state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-40th District) as a publicist for Women in Power. (Pugh did not respond to calls for comment.) Whitt's other Hollywood in a Bottle partner, Freeman White III, a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and the director of Women in Power, has his own entertainment company, A Free World Productions LLC, also based in California.

Then there's Whitt's "partner" Ray Lewis. While their relationship is unclear, another of Whitt's production companies, Journey T-52 Productions LLC, based in Encino, Calif., contains the Ravens linebacker's jersey number in the company name. Photos of Whitt and Freeman White posing separately with Lewis suggest the three are close. Lewis did not return calls for comment.

On Sept. 5 Baltimore criminal defense attorney Warren Brown, who represents Whitt, downplays her involvement with Reeves: "He is a guy who invested some money, unbeknownst to [Whitt], as he was about to be indicted."

City Hall Filmmaker Pulls Plug On Web Sites After Business Partner's Indictment On Drug Trafficking Charges

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 9/4/2008

Los Angeles-based filmmaker LaVern Whitt, producer of the Women in Power documentary about Baltimore's top elected officials reacted to the recent federal drug trafficking indictment of her business partner Lawrence Schaffner "Lorenzo" Reeves by taking down websites devoted to her various endeavors.

Whitt is partnered with Reeves on an educational project called Hollywood in a Bottle aimed at helping youth get into the film business. The project held a seminar on July 26 in Baltimore. At the time, Reeves had been the subject of a wiretap investigation that led to his indictment in federal court on Aug. 28 along with Justin Santiago Gallardo and Devon Anthony Marshall. Gallardo was released from custody and Marshall and Reeves were detained following a hearing in federal court on Sept. 3.

Informed by City Paper of the indictment on August 29, Whitt, a Baltimore native with a long resume of film, TV, and video credits as a stuntwoman and producer, expressed surprise and dismay. "I'm not from that world. I wouldn't associate with that world," she said, before referring questions to her attorney, criminal defense specialist Warren Brown. The next day, Aug. 30, Whitt's website for Hollywood in a Bottle was taken down. She did not return a call for comment.

Hollywood in a Bottle came on the heels of Whitt's unfinished documentary titled Women in Power, featuring the four women who hold the highest elected offices in Baltimore: Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Joan Pratt and State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy. Portions of the documentary, which examines the personal backgrounds of the four officials, screened at The Senator Theater earlier this year. Those clips, previously featured on YouTube, also came down the day after Whitt learned of Reeves' indictment. He is not involved with the documentary, according to Whitt.

Whitt is well-connected in Hollywood and in Baltimore, according to her MySpace page, which features photographs of her and numerous celebrities such as actors Jada Pinkett and Will Smith, comedian Cedric the Entertainer, and Baltimore Ravens football star Ray Lewis.

The Next 10

As High Zero Celebrates a Decade in Existence, The Red Room Looks Ahead

By Bret McCabe | Posted 9/3/2008

The cat is out of the bag, and now everybody knows what we spoiled locals have known for what feels like forever: The freaks run amok in Baltimore making all kinds of art racket, and--gasp--not only is it compelling, but people pay attention. We like it. And, yes, sometimes it's young guys in unironic cartoon T-shirts making a neon-pink barrage of noise or bearded men who look like they smell of fusty LPs and out-of-print books making bent metal sound like birdsongs, but just as often it's women making the scene onstage, in the audience, and organizing the events. And when even the plywood slats at Rolling Stone take notice, well, you know, the pigs are flying over Pigtown, a snowball's chance in hell just exponentially increased, and other cliché yawns.

So come, all ye circuit-bending alchemists, vid-game music hot-wirerers, techno-files, utopian art-school grads, DIY theater go-getters, virtual conceptualists, digital explorers, freak-flag-flying folkies, electronics margin walkers, and other new-media and old avant-garde enthusiasts who may have migrated to Baltimore because it sounded like some kind of batshit promised land. Welcome to the nearly anything-goes warehouse you've only read about.

Yes, that's right: Bring it. "There are great scenes out there, but one of the things that makes me continuously excited about the scene here is that it sort of manages to make the dissolution of boundaries seem really effortless," says local experimental culture spark plug John Berndt, one of the co-founding members of the Red Room Collective that organizes the High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music, which begins its 10th incarnation Sept. 16. A native Baltimorean, Berndt has been in the local fringe-art scrum since his teens, in the early 1980s, so he's seen and created his share of out-of-pocket experiences. "And, of course, because it's improvised and experimental, it's not all great. Nobody ever claims it's all great. What people do claim is that by this method you can get really amazing experiences that you can't get in any other way."

First launched in 1998, High Zero's scattershot early years (ask the organizers and performers themselves) gelled into an intense crucible in 2000 when it anchored its evening performances at Theatre Project after two years of rotating venues. Having a home base for the festival's main concerts--where, each night, four newly formed groups made out of a mix of local and visiting musicians who more than likely have never played with each other before improvise a set of music--freed the organizers to focus on spreading its beloved mischief, in the form of the High Jinx street performances that begin about a week before the festival starts, to as many citizens as possible. And every early fall since, a group of national and international solo artists invade Baltimore for roughly a week of inspired mayhem and social experiments that you can watch come together into something beautiful or fall apart before your eyes.

Some arts organizations might mark their 10th anniversaries with a self-congratulatory celebration. While High Zero 2008 does expand to five days and include some marquee names, the Red Room Collective is seizing the opportunity to dissect its own identity and purpose. It is a rotating group of individuals who have curated nearly a concert per week since 1996, usually at Normals Books and Records, and who are committed not only to its own survival but some idea of forward experimental progress as well. And so as the festival turns 10, the Red Room is welcoming new members--longtime local improviser Tom Boram, who performed in the first High Zero and is making his fifth appearance in this year's incarnation; experimental wordsmith/performer Ric Royer; and musician/experimental foodie Shelly Blake-Plock (a City Paper contributor)--and thinking very seriously about what to do next, whatever that may be.

"One of the dangers that I, at least, see is that scenes, when they reach a certain point, will sort of fragment and become very inward, and you simultaneously lose the potential audience expansion, which is in some ways the most exciting part, because people who don't have any background in these things may actually make really interesting contributions," Berndt says. "What we set out to do semi self-consciously [with the Red Room] was to create an opportunity to have a really strong collaborative situation in Baltimore, and really strong presentations to the public, and to have enough gigs to really support musicians staying in Baltimore and being able to work on their work. And that's what's been successful and been accomplished. So the question is, what makes us relevant in the next 10 years? Is it more infrastructure? Is it archives? Is it a better venue? Is it a combination of all those things? Is it better places to stay and more frequent residencies?"

This nexus is what enticed both Boram and Royer to become Red Room members. Both had been asked to join before, but the idea that the Red Room can and should change is what made them want to take part. "I think it will be different," Boram says of the Red Room's future. "I think new people will inspire new ideas, and they're going to try to offer new things. It will change as the city changes. And that's one of the things that convinced me to join--that what it's been for the last 10 years, the next 10 years are likely going to be a pretty big shift."

Boram, the Leprechaun Catering ecstatic familiar to High Zero habitués as a versatile multi-instrumentalist, cites the community of musicians fostered by the Red Room/High Zero as integral to his own development as an artist. "All the musicians that I've met in the last 10 years have made all the difference," he says. "I've been influenced by everybody that I know--this city has been great to me. I've had fantastic experiences because of music, but mostly because of the community that creates it."

And the flexibility of this community is what enticed Royer to join. One of the three co-organizers behind the annual Transmodern Festival of performance art, Royer was initially skeptical of the invitation. "Not only do I not do not so much music anymore, but I don't do much improvising anymore," he confesses.

"I said, `Look, if I'm involved, experimental and improvised music is not going to be my main focus,'" Royer continues. "And that's why they asked me. All the reasons that I was concerned about why they wouldn't want me were reasons why they wanted me."

And he is very excited about the possibilities of where the Red Room may wander. "I really like what they have on the web site," Royer says about the Red Room's home page. "A `laboratory for paracultural revolution.' I like what that does to my head and the images that that conjures and the type of events that that suggests--it transcends definition. And a lot of times the events do transcend definition. And in a way that's a starting point for me going into the collective. If I walk into this room, am I going to see a laboratory for paracultural revolution or am I going to see a storage room in a bookstore with some people goofing off? Sometimes, it's a coin flip when you walk in there."

He looks down at the tape recorder and laughs. "I know I shouldn't be saying this with that on, but this is me being a maverick politician," he says. "There's the answer that I feel compelled to give as a promoter with great allegiance and loyalty to the people involved and their intentions, and that is that it's great and that it is very diverse. And then there's another side of me that wants to say that I would like to see it be more, as a week-to-week event. Its week-to-week purpose, I think it's stale. And I know it's hard--especially when you have a collective full of very active people, active solo work. And so, yeah, instead of sitting back and thinking, This could change, I thought I might see what I could do instead of just complain about it."

And it's the continued, involved commitment of Baltimore's creative well that has always fueled the Red Room's vitality. Just looking at its current membership--Berndt, Samuel Burt, Audrey Chen, Chiara Giovando, Rose Hammer, Stewart Mostofsky, Mike Muniak, and Paul Neidhardt--and past members (Dan Breen, Neil Feather, Eric Allen Hatch [a CP contributor], Andy Hayleck, Ian Nagoski [an erstwhile CP contributor], Catherine Pancake, Evan Rapport, Kate Turney, and Bob Wagner) charts a roll call of not only some of the more prolific and interesting artists to come out of Baltimore in the past 15 years, but people who have given so much of their own time in creating opportunities for other artists and art ideas here. Just as High Zero is a music festival that breeds social expansion, the Red Room is an experimental music collective that has always been about community building and pushing their art to try to go wherever it hasn't yet.

The Red Room and High Zero are "just an expression of three factors that are really key identity factors of Baltimore," Berndt says. "One is the collective/collaborative mind-set where people just assume that they're going to be doing things with one another rather than holding them close to their vests. The second thing is sort of disinhibition or nonconformity, people being willing to do things that people may not already know if they're cool or uncool. When Tom Boram smashes his sitar or Dan Conrad gets up and does his thing, there's not really a protocol of whether that's good or bad.

"And the other thing is this sort of mixing of cultural levels, which I think is probably more and more true nationally, but I think Baltimore has been sort of avant-garde in this, where you have people who are really conversant with trash culture but also really conversant with really difficult and really cerebral culture, and their interests kind of range anarchically over those areas," he continues. "So the sensibility is really hard to pin down because it's not a destructo, fuck-everything type of sensibility, but it's also not an academic sensibility. It's a sensibility that sort of has this noblesse-oblige feeling, like, `We own it all.' And why wouldn't you want to have intense catharsis and humor and difficult intellectual problems? Isn't that what life should be about?"

Present History

Tony Conrad's Multimedia Art Continues to Mine The Intersections Between Yesterday and Today

By Marc Masters | Posted 9/3/2008

"History is like music . . . completely in the present,"musician

and filmmaker Tony Conrad wrote in 1997. In the 11 years since, Conrad's main concerns--art, sound, image, and history--have been radically altered by technology, making his dictum even more accurate. "The present has rolled along, and it's kept history right with it," Conrad says, speaking via phone from his Brooklyn, N.Y., residence. "Right now we're at the verge of some ambiguous point where people want to throw tradition out the window, but at the same time, people want to accept everything, and take advantage of being able to listen to and watch anything they want from the past."

Conrad's work deals with such intersections between past and present, image and sound, and reality and imagination. Often it deals with them all at once, as it might when he visits this year's High Zero Festival as one of its special 10th anniversary artists. He performs in a duo with his brother, Baltimore-based artist Dan Conrad. "It will be a kind of multimedia, light-sound-performance environment," Conrad says. "I use a continuous tone on my violin to establish a new relationship to listening, and he uses combinations of colored lights to address things that happen in the viewer's eye, such as afterimage and persistence of vision.

"We're both concerned with the ways in which noise and signal interfere and interact in forming a conscious image. Dan's light will have intermittent aspects, and my sound will be concerned not only with pitch and minimalism but with the kind of noise that has been so exciting in younger musicians' work in the last decade. When we combine these things we get a result that involves shadows of the performer and manipulations of light and mysterious aspects of sound--so that the total effect should be a little disorienting, but hopefully quite pleasant."

Conrad's own artistic history is so extensive that the past can hardly contain it. In the 1960s, he created a form of musical minimalism using long, sustained violin tones, made alone and in the Theater of Eternal Music alongside La Monte Young and future Velvet Underground founder John Cale. (Conrad even played in a pre-VU group with Cale and Lou Reed called the Primitives.) Echoes of this innovation can be heard in Cale's work with the VU, as well as in contemporary drone music, from the ambient drift of Stars of the Lid to the doom metal of Sunn 0))) to even the noisy hip-hop of Dälek.

"When I first began working with sustained tones, I drew from the instruction I got from an inspired teacher," Conrad says. The teacher "suggested that I play very slowly and very carefully in tune, and listen to the sounds of my instrument very closely. The fact that this revolutionized music is interesting, because it's sort of a going back to basics, much like rock 'n' roll did with the beat."

While he was pioneering minimalism, Conrad also became an innovator in avant-garde cinema. His most well-known film is 1965's The Flicker, in which he alternated black and white frames into patterns that "may induce epileptic seizures or produce mild symptoms of shock treatment in certain persons," as an opening title card warned. Since these early accomplishments, Conrad has continued to perform, record, and make films, while also teaching video at the University at Buffalo.

That's just a taste of his vast biography, which is explored in detail by Columbia's Branden Joseph in his recent book Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage. Conrad himself continually reassesses his past by compiling archival releases for the Table of the Elements label. "I still have a lot of music that hasn't found its way to daylight yet," he enthuses. "I want to release some of my experimental free jazz from the early '60s and some piano music from the '70s." But Joseph's book has impacted Conrad's view of personal history even more than this archival work.

"Reading this version of my artistic life made me realize that sometimes when you look back at the past you find that events and actions of an earlier time have assumed a completely different meaning and need to be seen in a different way," he says. "If they maintain their integrity and directness, they are completely relevant to things happening today. When I see that, I get very excited."

Conrad is similarly excited by a recent trend that dovetails nicely with his ongoing passion for sound and image. "Experimental musicians have begun doing concerts with experimental films, almost like the way musicians used to play along with silent movies. And holy smoke--it turns out it works!" he gushes. "I think that it's a fantastic way for people to access abstract film and get into experimental music. But for me, there's something much deeper that has to be brought into play, and that has to do with the links that music and film have to social and political understanding. That sounds pretty abstract, but once you see things on that level, it becomes fascinating to try to make them fit together in the act of performance."

For an example of such an attempt, Conrad cites one of his recent performing methods. He sometimes plays behind a screen, with a backlight casting his shadow forward onto it. He chose this setup to emphasize the distance between performer and audience, but also "because this was a way of doubling the performance, so the viewer could see both the real and the projected," he says. "The viewer would then think of this doubling in terms of time and space, and this could relate to memory, to the fact that my musical work had echoes in the past. Part of what you experience is in the here and now, and part of it is in the imagination. It also is about the power of illusion, because people see the shadow--the illusion--as much bigger and more impressive than the real thing."

Visions of Light

Philadelphia's Peter Rose Remaps Urban Topography in His Experimental Films

By Martin L. Johnson | Posted 9/3/2008

In a few weeks, the Philadelphia-based filmmaker Peter Rose will come to Baltimore. Guided by local improviser and High Zero co-organizer John Berndt, Rose will visit several desolate landscapes in the city and take video of them using a process he calls "transfalumination."

"I've just been studying the way light works, and trying to find ways of seeing things in some altered fashion," Rose says by phone. "I've been studying what happens when you project a sheet of light into space. It's an interesting way of deconstructing three-dimensional objects."

Making his first appearance at High Zero, Rose is the only filmmaker on this year's program. Although Rose began his work as a filmmaker, he has also produced video art, installation art, and more recently has worked with musicians to produce soundtracks for his films.

He started making films in 1965, an era when experimental filmmakers sought to escape the confines of narrative and expectations of aesthetic beauty through making work that returned ceaselessly to the basic questions of the medium. In his 1982 "Secondary Currents," which is described in the film's title credits as a "film noir," Rose pushes the sound and image concerns of structuralist filmmakers by creating a work that is "imageless": on a black screen, white subtitles translate the gibberish of the unreliable narrator in the voice-over.

Although Rose's film fit squarely in the structuralist tradition, he says that he tried to expand the concerns of experimental film in order to envelop larger issues. "I always thought about how to take those structural questions and integrate them into something that was more lyrical or poetic," he says. "[More recently], the structural has been subsumed to larger questions about perception. The questions of the medium are the starting point, but I don't see that as the end point."

Like many experimental filmmakers, from Ken Jacobs to Ernie Gehr, Rose's investigations into film as a material object with aesthetic uses led him away from cinema proper in order to explore new ways of seeing. In his most recent transfalumination work, he uses specialized lighting techniques in order to explore the "interstices of urban geography." Although Rose's work will not be entirely improvisational, as is much of the music at High Zero, he says that he thinks of this work as performative.

"I consider the way I'm producing these images improvisatory," he says. "It's not scripted or any way rehearsed. I'm going to structure these things as little performances taking place on the screen."

In his "Studies in Transfalumination," which is available on YouTube, Rose turns warehouse buildings, leafy trees, and fields of grass into otherworldly chiaroscuro-like images, stripped down and segmented by his light device. The effect combines the hyperrealism of contemporary photography with the abstract imagery of Stan Brakhage's hand-painted films.

Rose's High Zero videos will be accompanied by the Baltimore-based improvisational orchestra Second Nature. Rose, who says he uses musical concepts to structure his pieces, feels that the orchestra will see the work with fresh eyes. "The idea is for them to know very little about what's going to be on the screen," he says. "It will be a loose configuration of sound and image."

Experimental filmmakers have long had difficulty finding an audience for their work, which Rose, like other filmmakers, argues is due to problems with distribution, not lack of interest. He has joined experimental film luminaries such as Jacobs and Jonas Mekas in putting much of his work online on a range of sites, from YouTube to the avant-garde online depository Ubu. Rose says that putting his work online allows him to reach audiences he might not otherwise.

"Putting the work up on the web and making it accessible functions as a beautiful end run around the curatorial system that I've always had problems with," he says. "You do find, if you're lucky, an audience of a more distributive sort. It's still an underground thing, but it's a little more transparently accessible."

While Rose's High Zero performance will not be entirely improvisational, he says that he hopes that the speed at which he will make and edit his light videos in Baltimore, and the rapid response of Second Nature to those images, will pay off. "We've got these two groups of people that are working blind, and hoping that when something is put together something miraculous will happen," he says. "I'm looking forward to that night. It's going to be a surprise."

Class Interactions

Audience, Music, and Artist Constantly Influence Each Other in Jenny Graf Sheppard's Sound Universe

By Raven Baker | Posted 9/3/2008

The only thing that is certain about the performance local artist Jenny Graf Sheppard is curating

for this year's High Zero Festival is that she has little interest in traditional boundaries, especially distinctions between performer and audience. Her loose compositions, which include a piece called "A Performance of Experimental Archeology by the Stone Carving Oraclestra," will be directed, in part, by audience members--whether they realize it or not.

"The musicians have been given instructions that whenever they see something that is, [for example], round, they play this," she says. "Or whenever they see something that is pink being picked up, they play this. The audience, just by doing various things, will be giving cues [to the musicians]. I haven't worked it all out yet, but some of it is going to involve eating, I believe, hors d'oeuvres."

It would not be the first time Sheppard has fed her audience. During an earlier interview, in a back booth at Canton's cozily old-school Sip and Bite diner, the multidisciplinary musician, sound artist, and filmmaker fondly recalled Taste Test, a performance she staged years ago involving snacks, homemade incense, and a group of musicians playing compositions drawn from field recordings of customers noodling around on various instruments at a Guitar Center in Chicago.

These days, Sheppard's crop of projects include an in-the-works solo album as well as new releases from her experimental electronic duos Harrius and Metalux, the vinyl LP release of the Proud Flesh film soundtrack on local label Ehse Records (made with Harrius partner Chiara Giovando), and an upcoming untitled sound installation at Chicago's Lincoln Conservatory that Sheppard describes as "sonic/ultrasonic composition for ferns"--which, she assures, will include bits that are also audible to humans.

Though 38, Sheppard, with her girlish laugh and wide, attentive eyes, could easily pass for a decade, or more, younger. And it's startling when she mentions certain dates, like 1991, when a German magazine contacted her for an interview, seemingly incredulous that Sheppard, then 21, was playing in Foo, a progressive rock band. "It was so primitive," she says of the journalist's questions, like whether her lyrics were about being female. But, as she quickly points out, women in rock were still seen as something remarkable, a rarity at the time. "Isn't it amazing?" she muses. "That was so recent, but it seems so ridiculous."

Even more ridiculous considering Sheppard got her start in music at an early age, making the coffeehouse rounds as a folksy singer/guitarist during her teen years in Bethesda and Washington. While continuing to pursue music as a young adult, Sheppard studied filmmaking and developed a strong interest in the social sciences and psychology, particularly ethnographic documentaries, but she was troubled by dominant methodologies that pushed for definitive answers and a false sense of objectivity in research. "Ethnographic film, even though I respect it, doesn't jibe with my personality at all," she says. "It's about categorization, objectification, and distancing yourself from your subject. . . . For me, my thesis will always have these fluctuations. I am always in a constant mode of dialogue and debate. I can't feel comfortable saying, `This is it.'"

These doubts led Sheppard to explore social issues on her own terms, as with her 2002 The Guitars Project. Bringing together her passions for music, cultural critique, and empowerment, Sheppard gave electric guitars to six older women who were living with Alzheimer's. Meanwhile, she documented the women's experiences--with the guitars, each other, and their changing sense of self--through a combination of video, photography, and sound recordings. For Sheppard, The Guitars Project implodes conventional notions about both the electric guitar, with all its masculine and youthful trappings, and older women, whom she sees as often absent or sheared of agency within mainstream cultural narratives.

"If I feel there is a lack of something, if I don't see something represented, I think it's fascinating to see it," Sheppard says, referring to the recurring theme of older women defying stereotypes in works such as The Guitars Project and Proud Flesh. "For me, it's like a fantasy to see a woman, an older woman, in a role you don't typically see her play. How would that read with an audience? Would it be uncomfortable or humorous or just confusing? Would it be exhilarating, a turn-on?"

Just as her work challenges audiences, Sheppard is challenged by people's reactions to her work--thesis fluctuations, as she might put it. One such fluctuation, which she recalls with humor, happened while presenting The Guitars Project to a predominantly Asian-American elementary school in Chicago's Chinatown a few years ago. "I started talking to them about what [it] is that you think your grandmothers and your grandfathers can do and what can't they do," she says with a wry smile, explaining that she assumed the images of older women playing guitar would be so alien that the kids would be surprised, maybe even scared. Instead, many laughed. "They all seemed to say: `Oh, my [grandparents], they do this and they do that. `They gave me the sense that their grandparents actually played a big role in their lives. I was like, `Whoa, wait a minute. This is a totally different part of American society.'"

Brain Man

Dan Conrad's Light Experiments Tease and Taunt Sensory Perception

By Lee Gardner | Posted 9/3/2008

Ask Dan Conrad about his recent work with the Chromaccord, the nearly indescribable sui generis light device he's been thinking about, tinkering with, and playing for decades, and he cracks a wry smile and characterizes it as "a failure."

"Whenever I tell somebody that, they say, `No, no, no,'" he says, mimicking the sound of sympathetic reassurance. "But it misses the point." The point, Conrad says, is that while many of the people who've seen the Chromaccord in action over the past dozen years find themselves entranced by its shifting hues and the peculiar vividness of the visual it produces, its effect is too abstract, too ephemeral to build much of a following.

"I found that if I played the Chromaccord in Baltimore more than once a year, or even every other year, the audience would dwindle and go away," he says. "It had perpetual novelty appeal and very little sustaining appeal."

But "failure" hasn't deterred Conrad: "I still love it. I'm happy to do it and happy to pull it out anytime."

Thus Conrad is sitting in a Roland Park coffeehouse talking about his upcoming performance at the High Zero Festival, for which he will collaborate with his older brother, artist and composer Tony Conrad. The younger Conrad will not be playing the Chromaccord but a still-under-construction light device that operates on the same principles. He says he's not sure how what he's designing is going to work, exactly, much less whether it will work at all. "On the other hand," he says, "that's what the situation calls for."

Spending time talking to Conrad makes it clear that he is an experimental artist in a deeper sense than those merely lumped under that rubric because what they do is abrasive or hard to fathom. With his background in science (including 21 years teaching physics at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute) and his lifelong passion for art, he is engaged in a restless inquiry into visual stimulus, music, and the brain, and how they all work off each other, an inquiry that is part technical, part philosophical, part aesthetic, and part emotional. And at age 62, it is only intensifying.

It's fitting that the Maryland native's latest experiment is being conducted with his brother, since Tony Conrad provided one of the early inspirations for Dan's work with his 1965 film The Flicker, which used black and white frames to create a stroboscopic effect, which in turn created a hallucinatory effect. The idea that light could have a direct effect on the brain fused with Dan's interest in the color theories of Josef Albers, which he discovered while studying painting at Amherst College during the late '60s.

After relocating to San Francisco in the early '70s, Dan began work on the first of several devices he has developed and built that use shifting areas of contrasting color to exploit the eye's retinal afterimage effect--put as simply as possible, staring at a green circle and then staring at a red circle makes the red even more intense, thanks to the afterimage of the contrasting color still lingering on the retina. Expand that idea to encompass the entire spectrum of visible light, shifted via faders on a control panel and veritably vibrating thanks to the after-image effect, and you get some inkling of the device Conrad eventually dubbed the Chromaccord

Conrad returned to Maryland in the mid-'70s to earn a master's degree in painting from Maryland Institute College of Art, but opted for teaching science instead of a studio career when he found himself with a family to support. He stowed the Chromaccord in his attic for years, but by the mid-'90s he was spending a lot of time thinking about art and hauled down the lights and screens. He soon developed close collaborations with local musicians ranging from sitarist Jay Kishor to electronic musician (and erstwhile City Paper contributor) Ian Nagoski, with whom Conrad improvised live, complementing their sounds with his subtly shifting colors ("Pigments of His Imagination," Arts & Entertainment, July 4, 2001). As much as he enjoyed the Chromaccord wowing small audiences at the Red Room and the 14 Karat Cabaret, however, he continued to struggle with the limits of what amounted to a new medium.

"You go to hear music and there's a light show, that's great," he offers. "You don't go to see the light show and there's music." He attempted to create color-based compositions for the Chromaccord, but even he couldn't remember how they went. Typically, he suspects a neurological explanation; put simply, "There's a part of the brain that's devoted to color change, and it's very small."

Hence, failure. But Conrad notes that as far as he's concerned the failure of the Chromaccord is no greater than that of "almost all other light-show work" other than cinema. And, as he says, he remains fascinated by it.

"Apparently the High Zero group thought it would be interesting to have a Conrad brother performance," Conrad says of the impetus that brings him back to live light performance alongside his sibling, whom he says will play "violin in the form that he usually plays"--sonorous, sustained drones. Although they often focus on different mediums and have only performed together once before, Conrad sees essential similarities in what they're each trying to do. "Part of the purpose of the Chromaccord is to have the stimulus function neurologically, so that the neural response is a part of the medium," he says. "[Tony's] approach to minimalism is of that same nature. The reason to sustain the sound and create these complex constructs of sound is to sustain it to the point that neural interaction becomes apparent." In other words, both Conrads make art that doesn't just stimulate your thoughts or emotions; it interacts with the way your gray matter itself works.

To hear Conrad tell it, the Chromaccord taking a backseat for a while may be a good thing. Enabled by technological improvements like programmable color LED systems and bespoke circuits made by local electronics whiz Peter Blasser, Conrad has been working on a series of light boxes that work on some of the same principles of the Chromaccord but evolve their colors in a more sophisticated design, and much more slowly. But nothing has done more to boost his art than his retirement from Poly at the end of the 2007-'08 school year. After putting aside his art career decades ago to teach science, he's back to art full time.

"I feel very fortunate to be able to make this step, and because of that I feel a great responsibility to bring a discipline to [my artwork]," he says. "I don't want to travel and see the world. I really, really want to do my work. I feel like it's an almost obligation."

High Zero 2008

Schedule of Events

Posted 9/3/2008

This 10th anniversary of High Zero expands to five nights, opening with a free performance at the Baltimore Museum of Art, before settling into its familiar format of four nights of group improvisation introduced by a solo set. For information about individual tickets or a festival pass--and participating artists' biographies--visit www.highzero.org, and don't forget to frequent the High Jinx page for a regularly updated list of uncategoriazable something-or-other performances taking place around the city in the days leading up to and during the festival. All performance start at 8:30 p.m., except the Saturday matinée, which begins at 1 p.m.


Tuesday, Sept. 16

Free concert in the Fox Court of the Baltimore Museum of Art

Films by Peter Rose accompanied by the Second Nature Orchestra.


Wednesday, Sept. 17, at Theatre Project

Solo opening set: Tom Boram (synthesizer, voice)

Group One: Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar), Magali Babin (amplified metal), Rose Hammer Burt (saxophones), Robert van Heumen (electronics)

Group Two: Dan Blacksberg (trombone), Carson Garhart (inventions, electronics), Michael Muniak (electronics)

Group Three: Tony Buck (drums), Audrey Chen (voice, cello, electronics), Arrington de Dionyso (voice, bass clarinet)

Group Four: Robert van Heumen (electronics), Bill Nace (guitar), Ric Royer (voice, tapes)


Thursday, Sept. 18, at Theatre Project

Special performance: Olga Adorno (self)

Group One: Liz Allbee (trumpet), Bill Nace (guitar), Paul Neidhardt (percussion, friction), Carlos Santiago (violin)

Solo set: Magali Babin (amplified metal)

Group Two: Alessandro Bosetti (electronics, voice), John Eaton (alto saxophone, voice), M.C. Schmidt (electronics)

Group Three: Liz Allbee (trumpet), John Berndt (electronics, reeds, inventions), Dan Blacksberg (trombone), Samuel Burt (clarinet, electronics), Rose Hammer Burt (saxophones), Chris Corsano (drums), John Eaton (alto saxophone, voice)


Friday, Sept. 19, at Theatre Project

Special set: Tony Conrad (violins), Dan Conrad (inventions, voice, light)

Group One: John Berndt (electronics, reeds, inventions), Tom Boram (synthesizer, voice), Samuel Burt (clarinet, electronics), Arrington de Dionyso (voice, bass clarinet), Robert van Heumen (electronics)

Group Two: Tetuzi Akiyama (acoustic guitar), Janel Leppin (cello, electronics), Camel Zekri (oud, guitar, electronics)

Group Three: Magali Babin (amplified metal), Alessandro Bosetti (electronics, voice), Michael Muniak (electronics)

Group Four: Liz Allbee (trumpet), Magali Babin (amplified metal), Tom Boram (synthesizer, voice), MV Carbon (electronics, tapes, cello), Audrey Chen (voice, cello, electronics)


Saturday, Sept. 20, at Theatre Project

Special Matinée Show

Jenny Graf Sheppard (curator)

Performers: Tetuzi Akiyama (acoustic guitar), Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar), Liz Allbee (trumpet), John Berndt (electronics, reeds, inventions), Tom Boram (synthesizer, voice), Alessandro Bosetti (electronics, voice), Tony Buck (drums), M.V. Carbon (electronics, tapes, cello), G. Lucas Crane (tapes), Chris Corsano (drums), John Eaton (alto saxophone, voice), Bill Nace (guitar), Ric Royer (voice, tapes), Camel Zekri (oud, guitar, electronics)


Saturday evening

Solo opening set: Arrington de Dionyso (voice, bass clarinet)

Group One: Tetuzi Akiyama (acoustic guitar), Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar), Tony Buck (drums), Paul Neidhardt (percussion, friction)

Group Two: M.V. Carbon (electronics, tapes, cello), G. Lucas Crane (tapes), Michael Muniak (electronics), M.C. Schmidt (electronics)

Group Three: Audrey Chen (voice, cello, electronics), Chris Corsano (drums), Carson Garhart (inventions, electronics), Paul Neidhardt (percussion, friction)

Group Four: Tony Buck (drums), Janel Leppin (cello, electronics), Michael Muniak (electronics), Bill Nace (guitar)


Sunday, Sept. 21, at Theatre Project

Opening solo set: John Berndt (electronics, reeds, inventions)

Group One: Alessandro Bosetti (electronics, voice), Samuel Burt (clarinet, electronics), Carlos Santiago (violin), Camel Zekri (oud, guitar, electronics)

Group Two: Arrington de Dionyso (voice, bass clarinet), Carson Garhart (inventions, electronics), Janel Leppin (cello, electronics)

Group Three: Dan Blacksberg (trombone), Samuel Burt (clarinet, electronics), Ric Royer (voice, tapes), M.C. Schmidt (electronics)

Group Four: Rose Hammer Burt (saxophones), Chris Corsano (drums), G. Lucas Crane (tapes), Carlos Santiago (violin)

The Hollywood Connection

Federal Drug Indictment Snares City Hall Filmmaker's Business Partner

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 8/29/2008

On Aug. 28 a federal grand jury in Maryland indicted three men on drug-trafficking charges, including a business partner of Los Angeles-based filmmaker Lavern Whitt, producer of a documentary about the four women who hold the highest elected offices in Baltimore City.

Whitt is also the founder of Hollywood in a Bottle, an educational initiative aimed at helping young people get into the entertainment industry--a project that touts City Comptroller Joan Pratt as a top sponsor.

Due to Whitt's business ties to one of the accused traffickers, 37-year-old Lawrence Schaffner Reeves, the indictment brings Baltimore's drug-fueled shadow economy from Los Angeles to the steps of City Hall. Reeves, who had prior drug convictions in Maryland and Arizona, made his first appearance in federal court on Aug. 28. He has a detention hearing on Sept. 3, along with a Baltimore man named Devon Anthony Marshall, who has a prior conspiracy conviction and numerous criminal charges in Maryland for drugs and violence dating back to the early 1990s.

Whitt, a Baltimore native, independent filmmaker and former stuntwoman now living in Los Angeles, is completing the Women in Power documentary with Kevin Liles, a legendary entertainment executive formerly with Def Jam Records and now an executive vice president of Warner Music Group. The film focuses on the four women--Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Pratt, and State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy--who govern Baltimore City. A seven-minute promotional version of the documentary, which was screened at Baltimore's historic Senator Theatre earlier this year, is available for on-line viewing on YouTube.

Whitt and the director of Women in Power, Freeman White III, also are business partners with Reeves in Hollywood in a Bottle LLC (www.hollywoodinabottle.com), a Maryland company that on July 26 held a symposium at the National Academy Foundation High, a Baltimore City Public School in Federal Hill. On Aug. 29 the U.S. Attorneys Office in Maryland confirmed that the indicted Lawrence Reeves and Hollywood in a Bottle's Lawrence Reeves are one and the same.

At the July symposium, Hollywood in a Bottle's publicist Sharon Page of Synergy Communications, heralded Pratt's involvement. "Joan Pratt was our biggest sponsor," Page told a City Paper reporter who visited the event. Hollywood in a Bottle's website lists Pratt as one of its four sponsors, along with Pratt's private attorney Sharon King Dudley.

State business records also show that Pratt filed incorporation papers on behalf of the group's publicist, Synergy. After the event, though, on Aug. 29 Page downplayed Pratt's involvement, saying "She paid for our t-shirts." When informed of Reeves' indictment, Page said, "I'm not going to talk about this any further."

In an e-mail, Pratt confirmed her involvement with Hollywood in a Bottle, but did not respond to a follow-up request for comment about Reeves' indictment. She confirmed that she knows Whitt, but asserted that she does not know Reeves.

Lavern Whitt, however, was reached by phone in Los Angeles. She said she met Lawrence Reeves through an acquaintance with ties to the music-video business and an interest in high-end cars. She said Reeves "seemed like a pretty cool brother. He said he was into Hollywood and was willing to help me with my vision. I just want to give back."

Hollywood in a Bottle is separate from her documentary work, Whitt insisted, as she expressed dismay over the indictment of Reeves, who she referred to as "Lorenzo."

"I just met him five months ago," she said. "Oh my God. This is my hard-earned idea. I need sponsors to help me. I have no idea about that other world. I don't know him like that."

Whitt referred any further inquiries to Baltimore criminal-defense attorney Warren Brown.

The indictment [pdf] charges that Reeves, Devon Anthony Marshall, and Justin Santiago Gallardo conspired "with each other and with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury" to distribute cocaine from approximately March 2006 until August 2008. Gallardo, who was released following his arrest, appears not to have been charged before with crimes in Maryland, though he has a drug-related criminal record in Arizona.

The most recent Maryland court case involving Marshall, before this federal indictment, was a rent-escrow case he filed in 2006 against New Trend Development, one of the companies whose offices were raided Aug. 18 by federal agents investigating the business activities of politically connected bail bondsman and real-estate investor Milton Tillman Jr., and his son, Milton Tillman III. This year City Paper has published extensive coverage of Tillman, including about the raids ("Tillman Properties Raided by Feds," News Hole, Aug. 20; "Citizen of the Year," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 27).

Bailed on Murder Charge, He's Arrested for Shooting

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/28/2008

The man who police say killed Robert Long execution-style was arrested again on Sunday and charged with shooting a man during an armed robbery.

Demetrius Smith, 25 of 416 Parrish St., is a convicted drug dealer who on July 8 was charged with shooting Robert Long twice in the head near the railroad tracks on Stricker Street. Less than two weeks before his murder on March 24, Long had agreed to become a witness against Jose J. Morales in a series of theft and witness-intimidation cases.

In the documents charging Smith with Long's murder, homicide detectives wrote that they "were able to develop the suspect, Demetrius Smith, as the person who shot the victim, Mr. Long. Witness(es) who will be identified at a later date, were located and interviewed. Mr. Demetrious Smith was positively identified as the person who shot Robert Long by the witness(es) through photographic array(s)."

A bail commissioner recommended that Smith be jailed pending trial, but District Court Judge Nathan Braverman released Smith on $350,000 bail, saying the police had not produced a strong enough case.

Former Assistant State's Attorney Page Croyder, who retired earlier this year, criticized Braverman in several blog posts at the Center for Emerging Media. After reviewing the case file, Croyder wrote that in her experience defendants like Smith were dangerous. She noted that his lawyer claimed he was a home-owner, but the house is not in his name. She suggested that his ability to easily make a $350,000 bail (his lawyer asked for "any bail") suggests Smith is a serious drug dealer, not a minor player. And she suggested that the cryptic charging documents were written carefully to protect the witnesses.

"Judge Braverman doesn't get that," Croyder wrote. "He is always complaining that he needs to know 'more.' How many witnesses? What did they say? He knows that a defendant can use this information to find out who the witness or witnesses are. He knows all about witness intimidation, and witness murder. He just doesn't care."

As the Baltimore Sun reports today, Smith was arrested on Aug. 24 and charged with armed robbery, first-degree assault, and handgun violations for allegedly shooting Clyde Hendricks, 56, in the leg during a robbery in the 400 block of Parrish Street. He was held without bail in the case.

Croyder says she's not surprised: "Who could have guessed" Smith would reoffend-"except maybe an experienced prosecutor."

Police sources say they know of no connection between Long's murder and Morales. Smith and Morales seem linked only by coincidence.

Smith's July 8 arrest came the same day Morales--who had outstanding warrants for skipping court in several cases--was tracked down to a Dundalk duplex and arrested. Despite Anne Arundel prosecutors' desire that he be detained pending an assault trial there, Jose bailed out of the Baltimore City Detention Center with $30,000 cash on July 25.

He resurfaced on Aug. 15 in Edinburg, Texas, where he plopped a bag containing $23,000 on an airport ticket counter and asked to charter a jet to Baltimore. Federal agents summoned to the scene soon discovered six kilos of cocaine, which Morales allegedly told them was to be sold in Baltimore to repay a $30,000 bail bond.

Citizen of The Year

Who Is Milton Tillman Jr.?

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 8/27/2008

To white-collar prosecutors he's a target. According to Drug Enforcement Agency documents and a deceased narcotics prosecutor, he's a violent drug trafficker. But to people he's done business with and public officials who know him, he's a plain, soft-spoken, and successful minority businessman.

Differing perceptions aside, voluminous financial records seized by FBI and IRS agents on Aug. 18 from bail bonds impresario, property developer, former nightclub owner, and politically connected longshoreman Milton Tillman Jr. make clear that the towering East Baltimore figure is under the feds' microscope. (See, "Tillman Properties Raided by Feds," News Hole, Aug. 20.)

Tillman's holdings are substantial. He and his son Milton Tillman III own more than 20 companies and more than $10 million in real estate in Baltimore City and surrounding areas. He also owned two nightclubs in the 1990s. He was convicted for attempted bribery in 1993 and in '96 for tax fraud. Some who have done business with him fondly refer to him as "The Emperor."

Tillman has long shown an interest in politics, with at least $8,250 in contributions since 2001 to some of the state's highest elected officials, including $1,000 in January to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (whose campaign says he will return the money). Also since 2001, Tillman captured much of the city's bail-bond market from mostly white businessmen who controlled it for decades. When he was prosecuted in state court in 2007 for fraudulent use of property as bond collateral, the minority-business community cried foul. "The trial is significant in that it raises serious question as to whether there are two systems of justice and whether race is a factor in prosecutions of minority businesses who become pioneers in new industries," read an article posted on the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association web site. A Baltimore City jury acquitted Tillman, his son, and others.

Yet despite two stints in federal prison and persistent government investigations, Tillman plays it close to the line. He has mutual business interests with underworld figures and others who associate with hard-core criminals, prompting widespread speculation and accusations in federal court that connect him to Baltimore's drug trade. One of his bail bonds companies is located at a property owned by a notorious fugitive of Greek descent. Law enforcers sarcastically refer to Tillman as "Citizen of the Year."

Since March, City Paper has written seven articles touching on the Tillmans and their significance in Baltimore life: "Grave Accusations," Mobtown Beat, April 23; "Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12; "One Angry Man," Mobtown Beat, March 26; "Preacher, Teacher, Forger, Spy," Feature, April 16; "Cashing Out," Feature, July 2; "Creative Licensing," Mobtown Beat, April 9; "Redemption Song and Dance," Mobtown Beat, March 19.

State Sen. Joan Carter Conway's husband, Vernon "Tim" Conway, an inspector with the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners, grew up with Tillman. The Conways run a tax service on East Monument Street across from Tillman's businesses. In an interview with City Paper in May, Sen. Conway described him as "a quiet individual, low-key, no entourage." She said high-level fraud prosecutions should target bankers, investors, and lawyers who facilitate Baltimore's underground economy, implying the government should stop harassing Tillman unless it has evidence he committed a crime. "The big boys never fall," she added.

Informed of the recent raid, Conway reiterated: "The government is always investigating something. If Mr. Tillman committed a crime, so be it. He has a reputation out there. Is it true? I don't know."

The stories below examine various aspects and associates of Tillman's business universe, as the federal probe of one of the city's most enigmatic figures unfolds. Numerous attempts to reach Tillman Jr. for comment on these stories were unsuccessful. Court documents related to the investigation can be viewed here.

All The Emperor's Men

Mobtown Beat: Tillman Associate Has Business Ties to Heroin Ring by Jeffrey Anderson

Friends of Milton Tillman Jr.

Mobtown Beat: Raided Businessman's Political Beneficiaries Discuss Donations by Van Smith

The Greek Connection

Mobtown Beat: Raided Bail Bonds Building Owned by Federal Fugitive Ioannis "Crazy John" Kafouros by Van Smith

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."

Tillman Properties Raided by Feds

By Jeffrey Anderson, Van Smith and with additional reporting by Chris Landers | Posted 8/20/2008

Court documents relating to the recent federal raids of properties associated with politically wired Baltimore bailbondsman Milton Tillman Jr., and his son, Milton Tillman III, became available today. Seven affidavits supporting the search warrants, posted here, were sworn out on Aug. 14 by U.S. Internal Revenue Service special agent Thaddeous Miller and submitted to U.S. District Court magistrate judge Paul Grimm by Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Joseph Clarke, who prosecutes white-collar crime. Press accounts have reported at least some of the raids occurred on Aug. 18.

The warrants were executed at seven locations: 2332 East Monument St., the East Baltimore offices of the Tillmans' Four Aces Bail Bonds and New Trend Development, a real-estate company; 1101 North Point Boulevard, Suite 121, the companies' Baltimore County location; 1003 Greenmount Ave., a building owned by federal fugitive Ioannis Markos Kafouros (whose "Wanted by FBI" poster is here, City Paper's coverage of Kafouros' disappearance is is here.) that serves as the business address of XPress Bail Bond Inc., a company incorporated by Tillman III in 2002; premises at the Dundalk Marine Terminal, occupied by Ports America, identified as "Building 1200A, Berth 12"; a single family home at 2410 Pinewood Ave. in Northeast Baltimore owned by Tillman Jr. and his ex-wife, Sandra Stansbury; 3818 Kimble Road, an attached brick house, also in Northeast Baltimore, owned by Sandra Stansbury's mother, Lorraine M. Stansbury (this address was frequently used as the principal office of Xpress Bail Bond); and a 2001 Buick Regal, Maryland License Plate No. 9DGM64.

City Paper since March has written seven articles touching on the Tillmans and their significance in Baltimore life. One concerned late federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna's open-court statements calling Tillman, Jr. a violent drug dealer ("Grave Accusations," Mobtown Beat, April 23). Two were about a fugitive drug trafficker ("Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 21; "One Angry Man," Mobtown Beat, March 26). One profiled a bounty-hunting minister with a criminal history ("Preacher, Teacher, Forger, Spy," Feature, April 16). One covered Baltimore City's bailbond's industry ("Cashing Out," Feature, July 2). One looked at the Baltimore City liquor board's lax oversight when it comes to criminals in the liquor business ("Creative Licensing," Mobtown Beat, April 9). And one reality-checked the rehabilitated image of an old-time gangster ("Redemption Song and Dance," Mobtown Beat, March 19).

Jose Morales Busted in Texas Trying to Charter Jet to Bring Cocaine to Baltimore

By Van Smith | Posted 8/19/2008

Serial criminal Jose Joaquin Morales was supposed to be in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday, answering to charges that he wrote a bad check for nearly $4,000 in construction materials from a Jessup supply store last fall. Instead, Morales was facing much more serious charges in U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas, in McAllen, where he was accused on Aug. 18 of crimes associated with his alleged attempt to transport $180,000 worth of cocaine to Baltimore using a chartered jet.

According to the charging documents, in the middle of the afternoon last Friday, Morales arrived by taxi at the Edinburg, Texas airport next to the Rio Grande near Brownsville. He passed through the airport lobby on his way to the bathroom, then returned to the counter where he produced $23,000 cash to pay for a chartered jet to take him to Baltimore. The airport sent for a jet, and once it arrived, law enforcers approached Morales to ask him some questions. His "statements were not fitting the facts," the complaint explains, so the agents sought and received Morales' consent to search his bags. The drug-sniffing dogs got involved, too, and pretty soon six kilograms of cocaine was being recovered from the restroom trash can.

"Morales stated he was provided currency to purchase Cocaine in the McAllen, Texas area," the complaint continues, and that "he was being paid to reimburse a $30,000 cash bond he owned [sic] to an individual for a prior arrest. He also stated he was planning to sell each kilogram of Cocaine in Baltimore, Maryland for $29-30,000 U.S. currency. Once the cocaine was sold, MORALES was to return the proceeds to another individual in Baltimore within one week."

Well, it didn't go according to plan. Then again, Morales isn't known for having the most well-laid plans, as City Paper has shown in recent months here, here, here, and here. Chartering a jet out of southern Texas, right next the Mexican border, in order to hand-carry $180,000 worth of cocaine to Baltimore is no way to succeed in the game.

Read this document on Scribd: Jose Morales Criminal Complaint

Unlucky Charm

Charm City Motors' Harrington Campbell Is Sentenced

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.

Charm City Motors' Harrington Campbell Sentenced to 11 years

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 8/6/2008

The former proprietor of Charm City Motors, Harrington Campbell, was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison today 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.

The two classmates from Northwestern High School's Class of 1992 started up Charm City Motors in the mid-1990s, and in time it came to exemplify the infiltration of drug dealers into the poorly regulated used car industry in Maryland, according to public records, trial testimony and interviews with law enforcers. ("Does Cocaine Come with That Lexus: The Not-so-Charmed World of Charm City Motors," July 9, 2008.) 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 kilos of cocaine hidden in a compartment in a car from the Charm City lot--"troubling." Hassett said, "But for the structuring evidence I don't think we'd be here today. The only evidence that links the two conspiracies together is Reginald Jones," who testified 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 the testimony of Reginald Jones 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 replied, "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 stabbed in federal prison, where he is serving the remainder of a 12-year sentence, until 2013.

No Way Jose

County Police Arrest Jose Morales

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 7/16/2008

Jose Morales was arrested in Baltimore County last week, on the same day the suspected murderer of Robert Long, the man who agreed to testify against Morales in court, was arrested in Baltimore City.

Baltimore police arrested Demetrius Smith and charged him with the March 24 murder of Long, who had agreed two weeks before his death to testify against Morales in multiple theft cases.

Smith, 25, was arrested in the 300 block of South Parrish Street in West Baltimore, one block from his home, according to police. He is charged with first-degree murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and handgun violations, according to court records. He is due in District Court on Aug. 6 to face the charges.

After more than a month on the lam, Morales was arrested on open warrants in Dundalk and is being held without bail in the Baltimore County Detention Center, according to Baltimore County police.

Morales, a career thief, drug dealer, and unlicensed contractor who is currently facing charges in four Maryland counties, was the subject of a City Paper profile last month ("With Impunity," Feature, June 11). He failed to show up to face trial on theft and assault charges in Baltimore City on May 28, and later skipped an Annapolis District Court hearing on second-degree assault charges, forfeiting more than $90,000 in bail bonds posted in his cases, court records indicate.

On July 10, an Anne Arundel County police "special enforcement team" received word that Morales, 32, was hiding out in a side-by-side duplex at 17 Woodland Ave. in Dundalk. They called Baltimore County police for assistance. According to the police report, officers received permission from the property's owner to search unit 17A and, shortly after entering the house at 1:30 p.m., deduced that Morales had scrambled into the attic. Morales refused to come out when police called, instead shuffling across to 17B, lowering himself down into the neighbor's house and trying to escape out the back door. A detective arrested him on the back porch. "It should be noted that Defendant Morales is not a resident of 17B Woodland Ave and did not have permission" from the tenant or owner "to enter the dwelling," the police report states.

The tenant, a 22-year-old mother of one, was not home during the incident, according to the building's owner.

Morales was charged with third- and fourth-degree burglary and failure to obey a lawful order, according to court records. A hearing on the new charges is scheduled for Aug. 8.

Morales is due in Annapolis District Court on July 18 to face charges that he assaulted his wife in April. The Anne Arundel State's Attorney's Office has taken special note of Morales. "He has an active case that we have been very diligent in make sure he goes to trial," spokeswoman Kristen Fleckenstein says. "It's our goal to ensure that he is present for his trial." ()

Does Cocaine Come With That Lexus?

The Not So Charmed World of Charm City Motors

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 7/9/2008

The courtroom was emptying out and tears lingered on Steven Ray Custis' cheek as he contemplated the biggest break of his life. The heavyset 34-year-old, known to hundreds of Baltimore teenagers as "Pop," had just been spared prison time despite his role in a five-year drug conspiracy from the late 1990s involving Charm City Motors, a used-car dealership on Reisterstown Road. "Let's go home, Big Boy," a family member said at the May 23 federal court sentencing, as Custis gathered himself and walked out a free man.

Custis pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana in a scheme that lasted from 1997 to 2002. In 2000, police nabbed an associate of his in Texas carrying 3.2 kilograms of coke in a hidden compartment inside a car that had come right off Charm City's lot. Along with company president Harrington Campbell, who after a conviction in April on drug and fraud charges has yet to be sentenced, Custis moved dope for years using Charm City Motors as a conduit. Custis is also coach of the Charm City Buccaneers, a Pop Warner football team once sponsored by Charm City Motors, and he co-founded a youth baseball league named after a famous Negro League star.

In sparing Custis, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake accepted his explanation that he had walked away from the drug game after the 2000 Texas bust and devoted his life to mentoring kids and renovating slum housing for the benefit of recovering addicts. While his family members watched and held their breath, Custis apologized to Blake for selling drugs in the community where he claimed to be a legitimate leader. "I did wrong and tried to make up for it," Custis sobbed, as he described a humble journey of redemption that went unchallenged by the federal prosecutor.

For weeks since that day in court, after initially agreeing to an interview, he avoided talking about his renaissance, emerging shortly before press time for this story with answers to at least some questions about his past. It is clear, however, that before his redemption, Custis worked with Campbell and others to use Charm City Motors to exploit a poorly regulated industry that is known among law enforcers as a pipeline for drug traffickers to move dope and launder money with little chance of getting caught.

A typical scam--one that Charm City Motors engaged in, according to court testimony--involves using drug cash to buy cars and issuing fake loan documentation associated with the purchase. When law-enforcement officers seize the vehicles, which often happens, the car dealer tries to repossess the car with a phony lien. The express purpose of such a scam, according to veteran law enforcers who have seen it executed to perfection, is to facilitate drug trafficking and money laundering by keeping cars and money moving through the underground economy.

According to local, state, and federal law enforcers, there's only so much the government can do to prevent it. "After a while, it's like being a doctor," says veteran Assistant State's Attorney Rudolph Drayton, who handles on average more than 300 drug-related forfeitures per year. "You see similar patterns of illness, and it's just a matter of how the illness was contracted."

In the mid-1990s, Custis and Campbell, members of Northwestern High School's class of 1992, saw an opportunity to exploit such gaps in the system. In 1995, Charm City Motors opened for business, incorporated in the name of Campbell's sister, Collette. Though Campbell had no criminal record at the time, for Custis, who says he joined the company in 1997, it was not his first foray into Baltimore's shadow economy. Like many young men, he had an unfortunate early childhood. His father was incarcerated, and his mother was a heroin user who died from an overdose when he was 18, so he was raised by his grandmother. He witnessed family members who abused drugs and was convicted in a drug-related conspiracy in 1992.

Nevertheless, Custis showed initiative. In the early 1990s, before going into business with Campbell, he began rehabbing slum houses and selling them to working people for reasonable prices. At Charm City Motors, the two started slowly by specializing in low-budget used cars in the rough Park Heights neighborhood, on a stretch of Reisterstown Road that includes numerous auto repair shops and dealerships.

On a recent weekday, that commercial stretch was still thriving. No one answered the door at Charm City Motors, however, which is housed in an attractive red and yellow building with fresh paint and stucco. A Buick Riviera, a Toyota Camry and a Pacifica sat unattended on the lot. Neighboring auto shops were open for business at the corner of Reisterstown Road and Shirley Avenue, in front of the Malcolm X Youth Center. A colorful mural adorns the side of Charm City Motors, behind which sits the Towanda Recreation Center, where a group of boys idled by the woods beyond the outfield of a baseball diamond, and two city Department of Recreation and Parks employees sat in a truck in a nearby cul-de-sac under a Kurt Schmoke drug free school zone sign.

Employees at the neighboring businesses were eerily silent in response to questions about Custis, Campbell, and Charm City Motors. Harrington Campbell declined to comment for this story.

Drug dealers need to wash tons of cash through legitimate businesses before they can spend it. To counter money laundering, the federal government requires all cash transactions involving $10,000 or more to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service. Auto liens are but one way drug dealers skirt that law. Here's how it works:

A used-car dealer has a luxury car for sale for $20,000, and a drug dealer buys the car with $15,000 in dirty cash. The car dealer creates documentation of a bogus car loan and records a phony lien in its own name for $5,000. The car dealer also records a trade-in of a vehicle worth $10,000 without actually accepting a trade-in. The effect is that the car dealer avoids having to report a $15,000 cash payment to the IRS. Then, when the drug dealer gets caught and authorities seize the car, the car dealer repossesses the vehicle using the phony lien as a hook. Sometimes the car dealer records a trade-in to account for the full purchase value, using a ghost vehicle identification number, which has the same effect as keeping a cash transaction off paper. A drug dealer often will send a friend, lover, or family member to buy the car as a straw purchaser, so the documentation is in someone else's name.

Charm City Motors is one of 301 used-car dealers in Baltimore City, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), which issues dealer licenses and enforces the state's vehicle code. But despite a background-check requirement that gives the MVA authority to deny a license to anyone convicted of a serious crime, the MVA has no specific policy regarding the denial of licenses to convicted drug dealers, according to MVA special projects manager Andy Srebroski. Once a used-car dealer is in business, Srebroski says, the majority of MVA's 35 investigators spend 98 percent of their time responding to consumer complaints--about 3,000 per year--or site-inspection requests by prospective dealers. "We would love to be proactive, but we have a small number of people who are required to react to consumer complaints first. And consumers will complain about anything."

Srebroski says the MVA has occasion to work with law enforcement on cases of auto theft, fraud, and special investigations related to drug trafficking, but usually in a reactive manner. So if a used-car dealer is selling drugs or systematically recording fake liens and selling cars to drug dealers, the MVA might be the last to find out. The same goes for straw purchasers, he says. "We go by what's on paper. Unless it starts on paper, we're not going to look at it."

A typical eyebrow raiser, according to Drayton and other law enforcers, is the sale of used cars at inflated prices with high interest rates to people who have little or no legitimate income and poor credit. However, that may describe any number of low-income folks, and even when a drug trafficker buys a used car and gets caught dealing drugs, there's no guarantee the car dealer had any idea whom he was selling to.

Law enforcers in Baltimore also may notice certain car dealers extending loans without going through a third-party lending company and then recording liens on the cars they sell. When those same companies assert liens on seized late-model luxury cars favored by drug dealers, such as Lexuses, BMWs, Mercedes, or Cadillacs, that's a tip-off that illicit activity may be taking place.

The problem is that such information is culled from a revolving door of cars that pass through asset-forfeiture divisions of law-enforcement agencies, based on day-to-day activities of police who mostly are interested in capturing criminals and taking drugs off the street. Last year, Baltimore City seized more than 400 vehicles that were involved in drug trafficking. "We don't have a set routine," says Sgt. John Taylor of Baltimore Police Department's Violent Crime Impact Division, when asked if the city has a task force or protocol for targeting criminals in the used-car business. "It's a case-by-case basis."

What's more, Maryland's vehicle-forfeiture laws are drafted in a way that makes it easy for lien holders to get forfeited cars back in their possession--a loophole so big that drug dealers and corrupt auto dealers can drive a truck through it.

 

According to court records, Custis and Campbell began dealing drugs in 1997. In time the two began selling late-model luxury cars purchased wholesale at auto auctions in Pennsylvania. The cars were sold at high retail prices with steep interest rates. Wire transfers intercepted by federal investigators showed that Custis and Campbell had also begun buying drugs from a major Los Angeles drug trafficker named Jerome Bruce, who had a Mexican connection named Cesar Aragon. The California connection was supplemented by a connection in Texas, and in 2000, Custis and unnamed co-conspirators recruited a man named Norman Edmond to drive to Texas in a car purchased at Charm City Motors that contained a secret compartment for storing drugs. Once in Texas, Edmond was to meet Campbell, who had flown down from Baltimore.

At his sentencing in May, Custis contended that his involvement with drugs ended that same year, after Edmond was arrested leaving the Houston area with 3.2 kilos of cocaine that Campbell had placed in the compartment of the car bound for Baltimore. Custis, who provided cash for a lawyer to defend Edmond against charges in Texas, said that the incident, coupled with the birth of his daughter, set him on a straight and narrow path.

At Campbell's trial in April, the testimony of Edmond, Bruce, and a third convicted drug dealer named Reginald Jones established that Campbell was buying drugs wholesale and selling retail, just like with his cars. The used-car business provided not just a business front, but also an opportunity to work different financial scams. The jury heard how Jones would pay cash for a vehicle--with drug money--and also buy cocaine from Campbell while he was at it. Then, according to Jones, Campbell would issue phony loan documentation and take out a bogus lien on the car so that, in case it was seized and forfeited by the government, Charm City Motors could claim the loan was in default and get the car back to be resold or traded. Court records indicate that since 2002--two years after Custis left the company and claims to have gone straight--Charm City placed liens on at least eight cars, including a 1997 Mercedes Benz E 420, a 1995 Chevrolet Tahoe, and a 1997 Acura that were later seized by the police. In most cases, after asserting their liens, Charm City abandoned efforts to get the cars back when authorities asked for more documentation.

Court records further show that Charm City operated in a violent criminal milieu. A list of customers who bought cars from Charm City that were seized from 1999 to 2005 includes convicted drug traffickers and a rapist. A 2007 federal indictment out of Philadelphia alleging a murderous, multimillion-dollar drug conspiracy known as the "Phillips Cocaine Organization" shows that members of that group, led by Maurice Phillips, bought cars from Charm City as well. One former employee whose wages were garnished in 2001, Shannon Starke, has state drug convictions from 1996 and 2003. In 2002, Starke also was charged and later convicted in federal court on wire fraud for his part in a complex nationwide conspiracy to obtain cash from finance companies through business leases for nonexistent computer equipment. He received probation.

Charm City was not the only questionable car dealer that found a home at Reisterstown Road and Shirley Avenue. A dealership named Platinum Motors was located at 4016 Reisterstown Road, on the same lot as Charm City. Founded in 2000 by Damon Young, who was convicted of drug trafficking in 1998, Platinum Motors also catered to--and hired--criminals.

Since 2002, according to court records, at least 16 customers bought cars at Platinum Motors--including several Lexuses, a Lincoln Mark VIII, and a Cadillac--that later were seized by the authorities in drug-related cases. Platinum had liens on all of them. One employee had a violent drug history.

In 2007, Young took over Select Autohaus on York Road in Cockeysville, which was founded in 2005 by Calvin Newsome Jr., who was convicted in 1997 on federal drug charges and sentenced to 70 months in prison. Select Autohaus appealed to a similar clientele. In January 2006, one customer had three of his cars forfeited on the same day: a 1999 Oldsmobile, a 2003 BMW 320i, and a 2000 Cadillac DeVille.

A visit to Select Autohaus indicated that a new dealer, Hunt Valley Auto, is now in business at that location. "We have nothing to do with those people," an employee at Hunt Valley Auto says, when asked about Young and his associates. State records indicate that Platinum Motors was located at 5115 Pimlico Road, across from the racetrack, until 2005. The manager of a two-bay repair shop called Small's Garage at that address confirms that Platinum Motors, and Young, who once dealt used cars off a back lot, are long gone. On a recent visit to Small's, an upside-down Platinum Motors sign was leaning against the fence to the lot. "All sorts of people are looking for that guy," the manager says. "He still owes us money for rent." Efforts to reach Damon Young were unsuccessful.

 

In retrospect, it's a wonder Steven Custis was able to get out of the drug life. According to statements he made at his sentencing, at first he had to borrow money from a relative who borrowed against his own credit card. "I was broke when I left the game in 2000," he told Judge Blake. In an interview shortly before press time, after avoiding questions for weeks, Custis says, "You have to understand Charm City Motors was eight years ago for me. People who I'm doing business with now don't know about my past life." Custis further insists Charm City used his name after he broke ties with the company in 2000, and that he never had any involvement with Damon Young and Platinum Motors.

Custis' story leaves room for clarification that he admits he is hesitant to provide. "I don't want my words twisted, or it to seem like my situation is being thrown in the judge's face," he says.

In the mid-1990s, as he and Campbell were getting Charm City Motors off the ground, Custis approached a woman named Betty Hawkins, who was organizing a youth baseball organization in the name of famous Negro League star Leon Day, a Baltimore native who died shortly before his induction to the Hall of Fame in 1995. In a recent interview with City Paper, Hawkins, a friend of Day's widow Geraldine, says Custis wanted to help with the league and that Charm City Motors also wished to sponsor a Pop Warner football team, the Charm City Buccaneers. Those endeavors led to the establishment of the Leon Day Foundation in 2001, which lists Custis as treasurer. "We formed an organization and became a 501(c)(3)," Hawkins says, "so we could save at-risk kids" in the Franklintown Road area of Southwest Baltimore.

Custis also is the incorporator of a real-estate company called Metropolitan Baltimore Developers Inc. (MBD), which he founded in 2001. Though MBD and the Leon Day Foundation are not related entities, Custis is the link between the two; both forfeited their corporate charters at the same time in 2003 and revived them at the same time in '06. And though Custis told a federal judge in May that he left the drug game in 2000, the sole director of MBD beginning in late 2001 was Raeshio Rice, a leader of the Rice Organization, a violent drug-trafficking conspiracy in Northwest Baltimore that dates to the mid-1990s ("Wired," Mobtown Beat, March 2, 2005). The Rice Organization was known for transporting large amounts of cocaine and heroin across the United States--and laundering assets through real estate. In 2007, after pleading guilty to racketeering and conspiracy to distribute narcotics, Rice was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.

"What does that have to do with me?" Custis protests, when asked about his business ties to the convicted racketeer. "If I had anything to do with that, I'd be in prison now, too, right?"

Steven Custis' brother Gregory (known as "Peanut") was also involved in the city's drug trade. In the late 1990s, while Custis and Campbell were dealing drugs, selling used cars, and sponsoring the Charm City Buccaneers, Peanut had his own Pop Warner football team. He was deep into the drug trade when, in 2003, police arrested him with large quantities of crack and several guns--one block from his brother Steven Custis' business at 2824 W. Cold Spring Lane. In 2006, Peanut was sentenced to five years in federal prison, with credit for time served since his arrest in 2003.

A recent visit to 2824 W. Cold Spring shows that it is a family residence, practically within eyeshot of the block where Peanut sold crack. "I don't know what my brother or the next person was doing," Steven Custis says. "He's a wonderful coach. As long as anyone is down here working with the kids, I don't care what they're doing in other areas of their life."

Pop Warner officials with the Metropolitan Baltimore Football Conference did not return calls and e-mails for comment.

Harrington Campbell and Steven Custis went their separate ways around 2000, when Custis resigned from Charm City Motors. Neither was prosecuted for their drug-related crimes until 2007. But whereas Custis pleaded guilty, accepted responsibility, and, in the words of his attorney William Purpura, "admitted his culpability and that of others," Campbell kept silent and went to trial. That trial, earlier this year, exposed another layer of criminality to the used-car business--one that could result in a lengthy prison sentence for Campbell.

Though state and local authorities could see an eyebrow-raising pattern of vehicle seizures involving Charm City customers, the company only came under federal scrutiny because of illegal drug transactions. Once the feds looked closer at the company's financial records, investigators also noticed that, from at least March 1999 to November 2003, Campbell was structuring bank transactions--that is, concealing assets by depositing amounts less than $10,000, the threshold for reporting cash transactions to the IRS. (Custis denies any involvement with the structuring offenses, though bank records show his name on at least one transaction, on March 27, 2001.)

Compared to money laundering, which is taking dirty money and running it through a business or bank to remove the taint of illegality, structuring is a more common crime that is committed as a means to conceal other illegal activity or to avoid tax consequences. (Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was snagged in a prostitution sting earlier this year after bankers reported to the IRS that he was structuring financial transactions to conceal his withdrawal of large sums of cash.)

The critical mistake for Campbell is that, rather than spreading his deposits to various banks in increments below $10,000, he used five different branches of the same bank, which was easily detected by IRS investigators. A review of evidence from the trial shows that Campbell was depositing money in $8,000 and $9,000 increments that consisted of dozens of money orders usually in the amount of $500, purchased in the name of Campbell or one of his associates, and paid to Charm City Motors. Asked what kind of car dealer transacts business by money orders in such a manner, Campbell's lawyer John Hassett says, "I do not know the answer to that question. But he declared all of his income to the IRS."

Hassett declines to comment on whether Campbell simply was trying to avoid reporting vehicle transactions that shed light on his clientele. He has asked for a new trial and got an extension for Campbell's sentencing. A hearing date has been set for Aug. 6. He argues that if Custis got no time for his role in a drug conspiracy, the judge should not throw the book at Campbell. He finds it troubling that the top investigator for the IRS and convicted drug traffickers testified against his client as if the drug dealing was directly tied to the structuring. "It's fascinating when the [federal] government puts thugs on the stand, then brings in the guys with the suits and documents. It shows the power the government has when it puts someone in its sights."

Despite the various crimes and suspicious players and activity associated with Charm City Motors, it is the rare case of a used-car dealer getting caught. Yet the industry has a long history of ups and downs that raise questions about why the government has not committed more resources to policing it in a proactive manner.

In the early 1980s, when cocaine use was exploding in Baltimore and most major U.S. cities, the State's Attorney's Office was aggressively taking drug dealers' cars off the street, according to Rudy Drayton, who has been head of the office's asset forfeiture section for more than a decade. The city continues to be more active than other jurisdictions, he says, pointing to more than 400 vehicles seized each of the last two years, up from 300 in 2005. But the game has gotten more sophisticated, and state laws make it easier for drug dealers.

Whereas in the 1980s prosecutors could not help noticing that drug dealers were showing up at car dealerships with bags of money for their flashy cars, over time they deployed more subtle tactics. "It was always easy for drug dealers to use cars for money-laundering purposes," Drayton says. But in the old days, at least when authorities could see past a straw purchase, for instance, they could seize and forfeit a vehicle and slow down the drug traffickers, he says.

Around 1988, however, at the height of the drug war, Maryland amended its laws to allow lien holders to regain possession of a seized vehicle almost immediately, simply by filing an affidavit that the car loan was in default and they needed to repossess the car. The law also made it virtually impossible to invalidate a lien held by a car dealer who had sold a vehicle to a drug trafficker unless authorities could prove actual knowledge on the part of the car dealer that drug money was a part of the transaction. Likewise, straw purchasers could not be prosecuted without evidence of actual knowledge that their name went on a vehicle title to facilitate a drug dealer's activities. Known as the "innocent owner defense," the law allows drug dealers to exploit their friends, family, and so-called loved ones by not disclosing their purposes for obtaining a vehicle in someone else's name.

The law change was a boon for unscrupulous used-car dealers. MVA regulations allow a used-car dealer to issue loans on the premises without having to go through a third-party lender, which is why such dealers have signs that say bad credit no credit we finance and guaranteed credit approval. So once a car dealer gets paid cash and records a phony loan and a bogus lien, it's easy to swear out an affidavit saying the loan is in default after the car has been seized. According to Drayton, once the affidavit is submitted, the government has to give the car to the lien holder, "no ifs, ands, or buts."

Another feature of the lien scam is the purchase of cars at auctions in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. When a customer comes to a used-car dealer and doesn't see what he or she wants on the lot, the car dealer can go to an auction to purchase the desired vehicle at a wholesale price, then sell the vehicle to the customer at a marked-up retail price. When the customer is a drug dealer with a large amount of disposable cash that he or she needs to conceal anyway, price is hardly the issue.

The auction dealers sell on consignment, so the used-car dealer can buy multiple vehicles on a line of credit, return to Baltimore, and sell a bunch of cars at a significant profit, for cash, then proceed with the fake loan/phony lien scam. With a 30-day time period to pay off the line of credit, the used-car dealer has cash earning interest in the bank and the ability to get the same car back and resell it in the future, in the event law enforcement breaks the revolving cycle of cars, cash, and drugs. Even then, the interruption in business is temporary.

"We see it happen all the time," says Drayton, who has processed more than 3,000 forfeitures in the last decade, but who says 95 percent of what he sees is the result of police just doing their jobs. Yet the city State's Attorney's Office--like the MVA and the Baltimore Police Department--cannot point to an investigative branch that targets patterns such as car dealers holding a large number of liens on late-model luxury cars and recording loans with exorbitant interest rates to customers with no reportable income. "Why would a small used-car dealership want to float all that paper?" Drayton asks.

Matters just got worse in November 2007: The Maryland Court of Special Appeals struck down the Baltimore State's Attorney's efforts to force lien holders to go before a judge to determine if their liens are valid. This further hampers prosecutors' efforts to pierce the veil of legitimacy. "We don't have the legal tools to go after this activity," Drayton says.

In response to City Paper's inquiries, Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, says the office intends to address a legislative solution in the near future. "There is substantial need for legislative action," Burns writes in an e-mail. Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld would not confirm any similar intentions.

Overall, veteran law enforcers say, the legal and regulatory deck is stacked in favor of drug dealers who, with each arrest and seizure, get wiser to the limits of the law and flaws in the bureaucracy.

At the local level, where day-to-day observations of law enforcers can be most useful, police are frustrated by the shell game of finding documentation to prove a criminal conspiracy. "We can look into car dealers," a veteran Baltimore police officer says. "But when we get out there they might not have any records, or they might say their receipts are in a shoe box at their other store. We can't always review how people are paying for cars."

State regulators are similarly hamstrung. While the MVA can investigate shoddy record keeping of car dealers suspected of facilitating the drug trade, MVA authority is limited to compliance and administrative fines, which is no match for a criminal conspiracy.

In addition, Maryland's money-laundering statute is narrow in that it prevents authorities from going after money that criminals use for legal services. And limited resources are already an issue for state and local law enforcers. Thus, the most promising opportunities to broaden investigations go to the federal government. Asked about how the feds investigate drug-money laundering in the auto-sales business, a veteran assistant U.S. Attorney laughs and says: "Maybe you should ask the U.S. Attorney if he has ever thought about establishing a task force." A spokesperson for Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein says the office does not specifically target such activity. Rosenstein could not point to any such recent prosecutions other than Charm City Motors.

"It's ridiculous," is a common refrain from law enforcers at numerous agencies who were interviewed by City Paper about how Maryland law applies to used-car dealers. "We had a used-car lot that we knew was dirty," a veteran drug task force officer says. "But by the time we combed through the paperwork and dealt with all the people who had claims on the vehicles we had seized, we ended up with like five cars. It was a pain in the ass."

No one will ever be able to say for sure how sophisticated Charm City Motors was with its used-car business. The case against Custis and Campbell in federal court arose from routine dope investigations, while Campbell's structuring offenses were amateurish and easily detected, once authorities bothered to look. And though Charm City had liens on a number of seized cars, and allegedly employed the fake-lien ruse to reel those cars back in, it also abandoned those efforts when questioned.

But for every Charm City Motors, law enforcers can only suspect others who might be dirtier, a little more slick, and thus not likely to get caught. Plus, used cars are still a way for a regular business owner to make a buck. Not everyone deserves investigators crawling all over their lot because they are selling used cars to a low-income clientele.

 

Next door to Charm City Motors recently, the new tenant where Platinum Motors used to be, Deandre Wiggins has just opened his own business, Five Star Motors, after working for other companies for more than a decade. "I was wondering why I never met [Campbell]," Wiggins says, in response to questions about his absentee landlord and the seemingly defunct Charm City Motors. "But a lot of car dealers have folded because of the economy."

Wiggins says that, with the energy crunch, the business climate for used cars is not ideal, but he observes, "People buy cars because they need them, not because they want them." As far as car dealers go, he says, it's important to have your cars and financing in order, because otherwise, when tough times hit, you'll be in trouble. That is why he uses third-party lenders, he says, so he isn't floating loans to people who have poor credit and little income. The added benefit for Wiggins is he won't likely be a magnet for questionable customers. When asked if he's ever been approached by customers who want to pay in large sums of cash, or who are suggesting they act as investors so he can go to the car auction and bring back a number of flashy cars, he says, "If someone approaches me with some sort of investment proposal, I prefer to get the lawyers involved, and to get it in writing."

That's another good sign that Wiggins, and others like him, will not attract unwanted attention from law enforcers, either. Not that any such attention would lead to a focused or proactive enforcement effort, according to those who do the enforcing.

Falling Through The Cracks

City Historian Killed in Collapse Was Mired in Bureaucracy

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 6/25/2008

Alvin Brunson didn't even want the house that broke his leg and then killed him.

He tried to leave it behind in 1994, but the three-story rowhouse across the street from his own home on the 500 block of Wilson Street caught up to him--or anyway, the back taxes did. The city took him to court, and he lost, so he paid them.

And then Brunson's nightmare really began.

The history of 562 Wilson St. and Alvin K. Brunson (friends call him Kirby) is told in a two-inch-thick stack of documents Baltimore Housing released recently to City Paper under the Maryland Public Information Act. There are court files, tax bills, e-mails, letters, building permits, and housing-inspection reports.

Combined with Brunson's own records, which his family shared with City Paper, the documents depict a 15-year rolling tragedy of bureaucratic error, legal bluster, and plain bad luck. In the end, it appears that Brunson's decision to make something good of the situation led to his death under tons of rubble when the house collapsed on March 30 ("Hot Property," Mobtown Beat, April 23; "In Appreciation," Mobtown Beat, April 16; "Building Collapse Kills Local Historian," The News Hole, March 31). Cheron Porter, director of communications for Baltimore Housing, says the city is not commenting further on the Brunson situation, but questions remain about the city's role in the tragedy.

Brunson's fateful odyssey began on Sept. 20, 1993, when he and two partners paid $800 for a tax lien certificate for 562 Wilson St. Buyers of tax certificates pay the back taxes owed on the property, then they charge the original owners high interest and fees to get their buildings back. If the original owner doesn't pay, the certificate holder can foreclose and take the property. The trio hired attorney Marc H. Baer to handle the matter.

Not long after Brunson and his partners bought the tax certificate, 562 Wilson burned. "I called Marc Baer to let him no [sic] that we were no longer interested," Brunson wrote in a time line he later sent to city officials and his own attorneys. According to Brunson's account, Baer "stated that he would take the necessary steps to stop our paperwork from being processed."

But the court awarded Brunson and partners the property.

In the fall of 1994 Baer sent Brunson and his partners a bill for $670.30, which would have covered the back taxes and water bill on the property and completed the transfer. Brunson and his partners ignored the bill.

Brunson thought little about the house until September 2002, when a surprise call from assistant city solicitor Kyriakos Marudas informed him that he owed more than $10,000 in back taxes on 562 Wilson. Protesting that he never took possession of the property, never received a tax bill, never got a deed, Brunson fought the charges in court. In May 2004, he lost the case. District Court Judge Ronald A. Karasic reduced the tax bill to just under $4,000 and, essentially, forced the house on Brunson. It took him almost a year to pay off that judgment.

The house was a burned-out hulk filled with debris. Brunson, who friends and family say worked as a handyman and small-time contractor in the 1990s, was 10 years older than he'd been when he first eyed the fixer-upper. Brunson set out to make the best of it.

Brunson, who has written some books on Baltimore history and landmarks, had founded the nonprofit Center for Cultural Education, which he operated from his home at 541 Wilson St ("Street of Dreams," Feature, Feb. 2 and 9, 2005). He also did significant work to that house, attaching a two-story brick addition to its western side. "Kirby was a handyman," says Kenneth Westary, vice president for institutional advancement at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, and a board member of Brunson's Center for Cultural Education. "You look at that addition--he put that up himself. He knocked out a wall, he put up almost a whole other house next to his house. Put in a deck, put in a bathroom."

These days the deck is soft, the brick addition leaning slightly away from the main house.

Brunson decided to rehab 562 Wilson and move the center into it as an expanded museum and gathering place. His time sheets indicate he began cleaning out the building on Dec. 12, 2004, but he apparently didn't get much done before an accident laid him up. According to an account Brunson wrote to a city lawyer in July 2006, "In 2005, I satisfy the judgment. I finally get to go inside the property to inspect it and fall through the floor and break my leg."

Laid up for months, Brunson made ambitious plans for the building and set about raising money for the project. He eventually wrote the Baltimore Development Corp., the mayor, and the foundation operated by movie stars Will and Jada Smith, among many others.

In a plan submitted to many in support of his fundraising for the project, Brunson estimated he could get the work done for $38,500. A typical gut rehab of a rowhouse costs well over $100,000. Brunson was relying heavily on volunteer labor--mainly his own.

City officials were impressed enough that on Oct. 30, 2006, Mayor Martin O'Malley informed Brunson that his Center for Cultural Education would be awarded a matching grant of up to $16,500 from the Baltimore City Heritage Area Small Cap Grant Fund. The mayor presented Brunson a giant foam-board check, though it is unclear whether it ever transformed into real money, in part because Brunson let the corporate charter lapse in 2003.

Severely underfunded but undaunted, Brunson worked on the house, often alone but sometimes with help from several volunteers, according to time sheets he kept on his project. He and a few others put in thousands of hours.

They did not know that in 2005 the city had taken the house back. Documents indicate that the people working for Project 5000, Mayor O'Malley's much-hyped program to acquire 5,000 vacant or abandoned city properties and return them to productive use, never realized that Brunson had unknowingly foreclosed on the building in 1994. As Brunson had never gotten a deed to file, records of his ownership were obscure, and the Project 5000 team did not coordinate with the team led by Marudas, the lawyer who had pinned the house on Brunson and extracted a $4,000 dowry for it. So in 2005, Project 5000 filed papers to snatch the building from the previous owners and claim it as a city-owned property.

Brunson noticed the house was again owned by the city when he checked online tax records in July 2006, so he wrote to Jennifer Lloyd, a city lawyer for Project 5000. In a cordial e-mail, Brunson called the situation a "`living' nightmare" and asked, "Please tell me what did I do wrong. I believe that I have done every right here. But, I really feel victimized."

Lloyd set about making things right, but that process would ultimately outlive Kirby Brunson. A water bill totaling $857.99 materialized (this despite Brunson's contention that the water meter at 562 had been removed years before). Clearing the bill took years. According to e-mails, Lloyd pushed for answers and kept Brunson informed of the bureaucratic tangle.

Meanwhile, Brunson pulled permits and worked. The biggest job was digging out the crawlspace, Brunson's housemate Henry Smith says.

"We had so much sand coming out of that it was unbelievable," Smith says. "He wanted to make that a basement and eventually an eatery."

Brunson's time sheets indicate he and others were excavating as of Sept. 2, 2006. Yet there is no permit for the excavation and underpinning, as required. It is unclear why Brunson--who was apparently fastidious about records and open communication with the city--neglected to pull a permit for his basement dig-out.

Underpinning is a dangerous process in which the home's foundation is lowered, usually by digging out one small section at a time and filling the space under the wall with poured concrete or concrete blocks. It normally requires an engineer's plans and a licensed contractor; numerous houses in Baltimore have collapsed in recent years because of faulty underpinning.

The job was apparently beyond Brunson's means.

Smith says that in December 2007 a piece of the party wall collapsed in a horseshoe shape under the house. "That's what got him to start getting cinder blocks, jacking it," Smith says, adding that the partial collapse upset Brunson only inasmuch as it cost him time to rebuild it.

Brunson kept working under the building, and he kept giving tours and speeches, all in his tireless effort to promote Upton and the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor in its historic glory. According to his time sheets, he installed a concrete footing on March 9, 2008, and spent 32 hours repairing the basement walls from March 15 to March 18. His time sheet for March 27 reads "basement--underpin." There was more underpinning on the 28th. On March 29, Brunson was "Preparing floor for slab of concrete."

On March 30, the day he died, Smith says Brunson was quitting the job early. "He told me he had to wrap it up early, he had a talk down at Eubie Blake" National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center on Howard Street.

Smith says reports that Brunson was in the basement when the house collapsed are wrong. Smith says he talked to his friend and housemate just a few seconds before the house came down. They were both outside, in front, and then Brunson turned and walked down Brunt Street, between his building and 564 Wilson. "I knew he didn't make it anywhere near back inside the building," Smith says. He points to a spot across the alley from the old 562 site, up against the next building. "That's where they found him."

Smith marvels at the speed with which the city dispatched its trusted contractor, P&J, to demolish not only 562 Wilson but also the attached home at 560. "I never seen the city move so fast," he says. "They knocked everything down the day of the funeral." Smith says the roof at 560 Wilson had collapsed 10 months before Brunson's property, and he thinks that may have contributed to his friend's death (an inspector's photograph dated Jan. 9, 2008, shows roof damage at 560). Another house on that side of the street has a collapsed roof as well, and all but one are vacant. A city housing inspector had recommended demolition of the whole block on Oct. 4, 2007, and again on Jan. 9, 2008, when the notation read, "recommending to chief [Eric] Booker for razing of the entire even side of the block with the exception of 556 which is occupied."

On Friday, June 13, Abraham and Ernestine Brunson spent three hours at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration reregistering their son's pickup truck. They look a little weary when they return to his home to speak to a reporter. "He had done so much work on it," Ernestine says, looking out the window at the flat field across the street where her son perished 10 weeks ago.

The couple has just begun their search for answers, but they seem sure that fault for the collapse lies with someone other than their Kirby. "It could have been all those other buildings that were next to his. The one next to his was all burned out," Ernestine says.

As she sets out with her husband for the three hour drive back to their home in Richmond, Va., Ernestine Brunson says, "I think some changes should be made."

$300,000 Rowhouse Collapses in Upper Fells

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 6/13/2008

Daniele Ard says he was working in the bathroom of his three-story rowhouse at 1715 Gough St. when it collapsed.

"I just walked out to get my Gatorade," he says. "And I felt a whoosh of wind. I heard a big boom and a gust of air. I was like, 'What the hell was that?'"

The partial collapse on June 11 damaged the neighbor's house at 1717 Gough. By the next afternoon there was a foot of water in the basement, an observer says, and both houses appeared to be in peril. A city housing inspector condemned 1715 Gough.

It was an unusual collapse in a city that has far more than its share of them. Unlike most collapses, Ard's home was not a long-abandoned wreck and it was not under renovation when its walls buckled. A few hours after the event Ard says he doesn't know what happened. "There's speculation that it might have been an explosion," he says, "and speculation that it might have been a foundation issue."

Four blown-out windows next door and a blown-out door in Ard's house suggest the possibility of a sewer-gas or natural-gas explosion.

Ard paid $300,000 for the renovated home in January, according to land records. He borrowed the whole amount (minus transaction costs). He says he had trouble with the house from the start--first a gas leak, which BGE fixed after some prodding, and then a mold problem under the first-floor bathroom tiles. "The subfloor did have an absolute horrible smell on one side," Ard says, adding that he had removed the toilet, plugged the drain pipe with a rag, chipped out the tile, and removed part of the subfloor on the day the back wall of his house fell.

Ard sounded surprised when a reporter told him that the home's previous owner had pulled a permit in January 2007 to "repair basement walls due to deterioration," and another in March 2007 whose online summary reads "excavation and placement of concrete must be done under the direction of a structural engineer as indicated on the certification of the work filed with the approved plans. Engineer's certification containing inspection dates and approvals must be filed with the building official within 10 days of the completion of this work."

He says he does not know who did the work or who engineered the basement excavation. "If you find out, you let me know," Ard says. "If the insurance doesn't cover this, obviously it's a hell of a loss for me."

Records indicate that Tyler Weidman owned the building when the permits were pulled. He paid just under $160,000 for the house in November 2006 and apparently oversaw the renovation work.

Weidman could not be immediately reached for comment.

But court records indicate that he is currently facing three foreclosures on city properties. His partner in a company called "C&W Investments," Joel Colley, also has a pending foreclosure and had a court judgment entered against him in February, totaling nearly $400,000.

According to an "Investor Prospectus" for C&W Investments, Weidman has bachelor's degrees in business management and civil engineering from Salisbury University, is a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, owns and operates a wholesale auto dealership, and has been a real-estate investor since 2003.

C&W Investments offered investors a guaranteed 9.25 percent return, at minimum. "We strive to exceed our clients' expectations," the prospectus, dated 2007, reads in part, "with unsurpassed quality and in the fold of the utmost integrity."

With Impunity

Jose Morales Has Earned a Reputation For Being Above The Law. Who's to Say He Isn't?

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 6/11/2008

Climbing up the construction scaffolding on the corner of Preston and Calvert streets, carrying an aluminum baseball bat, Jose Joaquin Morales Jr. delivered a practiced message. "I am going to fucking kill you!" he yelled at Warren Lumpkin.

It was Dec. 21, 2006, about quarter after 10 a.m., according to a police report of the incident. Lumpkin, a pasty, skinny dude with a weak chin and strong hands, scrambled down and then back up the cold steel tubing as Morales swung the blue bat. Ditching his heavy work gloves while steadying himself on a narrow wooden plank, Lumpkin pulled a three-inch buck knife.

"Come on down here," Morales yelled from the ground, Lumpkin recalls in a recent interview. "You try to come up here and I'm cutting you," Lumpkin says he replied. Morales retreated to his pickup and blasted down Preston Street as someone dialed 911.

Lumpkin had ratted out his former boss, and, somehow, Morales knew it.

In the 18 months since that alleged attack in midtown Baltimore, Jose Morales has been arrested five more times, on charges of passing bad checks, theft, assault, and witness intimidation--the latter charge for another alleged attack on Lumpkin. Morales' right-hand man, Robert Wayne Long, shared many of the same charges, and caught one of his own, too, for auto theft. Morales' construction businesses--Mason's Unlimited and ABR Construction--petered out with the housing bust, and his spacious Severn home fell into foreclosure. As usual, Morales' court cases dragged on and on, through delay and postponement.

The three current Baltimore City Circuit Court cases against Jose Morales and Robert Long--involving the alleged theft of construction equipment and subsequent alleged assaults and threats against Lumpkin--have been easy to overlook. There were no drug sales alleged, no murders, not even an injury.

Then on March 24, Long was found near the railroad tracks at the elbow of South Stricker and Cole streets with at least one bullet lodged in his brain.

At that moment, the case against Morales got more complicated. And Long's death may--just may--have brought new attention to Morales' 14-year adult criminal career of unsafe construction, violations of building and zoning codes, theft, assault, drug dealing, and fire setting.

When he died, Long was not just a crack junkie and a habitual thief. He was not just a sloppy mason with a bald head and a bad attitude. Less than two weeks before his untimely death, Long agreed to serve as a witness against Morales.

"He was?" Morales exclaims on May 28, trying to sound surprised over the telephone a few hours after blowing off his scheduled trial on his pending charges. Of Long's murder, he says, "I don't know nothing about that," adding, "He was in a bad neighborhood. Drugs will do it."

Lumpkin says Long "told everybody," including Morales, that he planned to testify. But Lumpkin says he doesn't think Morales killed Long. "He's got no friends," Lumpkin says. "Can't get nobody to do nothing for him anymore."

Arrested more than 30 times and convicted of five felonies since 1994, Jose Morales, 32, is the picture of the successful career criminal. In more than a decade of allegedly threatening people and setting fires, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of vehicles and construction machinery--and even the identity of a fellow drug dealer--Morales has spent less than 24 months in jail and prison, records indicate. Although cops who have dealt with him and people in his old neighborhood whisper that Morales is dangerous and politically wired, close business associates, a neighbor who is a Baltimore City councilman, and even his own father profess ignorance of his criminal habits.

At a court appearance last July, Morales promised to talk to a reporter in detail, but more recently says he's changed his mind, declining an interview for this article. His lawyer, Stanley Needleman, likewise declines to say much about his client's behavior. "Why are you so interested?" Morales asks after an April court appearance.

We're interested because Morales seems to exemplify what can go wrong when city and state regulators, police, and prosecutors are uncurious about triple building collapses, stolen earth movers, arson, drug dealing, and seemingly endless scams. Perhaps because Morales' crimes straddle four jurisdictions, and because many of his victims have rap sheets of their own, no law enforcement agency (with the apparent exception of a couple of cops on the regional auto theft team) has made him a priority, and so he has developed a reputation for impunity.

As of deadline, Morales was at large with a bench warrant issued for his arrest for skipping court. No suspect had been named in Robert Long's murder, but Warren Lumpkin, who has not been contacted by homicide detectives, says Long tried to call him on the night he died and left a phone message five days before claiming that Morales had threatened to bash his head in with a bat.

Some colleagues overlooked Morales' criminal tendencies, at least until recently. "He's a young guy, he's a little bit tempered," John Elder, an engineer who has often worked for Morales, said in 2006, shortly after Morales came to City Paper's attention for allegedly terrorizing the 200 block of South Chester Street ("Building a Case," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 16, 2006; "Missing Property," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 23, 2006). Elder defended the young contractor, claiming "he does responsible work," and that "I know he's licensed" by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. Both of those claims were false.

Elder professed ignorance of Morales' criminal history, just as city officials who had worked for years with Elder during and after his own time as a city employee professed ignorance of Elder's criminal history. "I heard some rumors that somebody said [Morales] had stole some construction equipment," Elder allowed two years ago. "I'm a little surprised he would steal something like big construction machines."

Morales' father says the same.

"He went to good schools," Jose Joaquin Morales Sr. says of his namesake son.

Jose the younger is a muscular 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, but the elder Morales, sitting at a table in his nearly empty Arizona Bar and Grill on a Friday afternoon in May, is a trim 5-foot-9, with wisps of white hair trailing like smoke from the sides of his balding head. His eyes twinkle in a kindly way, but he has little information for a reporter asking about his son. "You're taking me by surprise right now," he says, almost apologetically. "I did not know he was in trouble."

Jose Morales Sr., 58, came to Baltimore from his native Colombia in the early 1970s. He says he served in the U.S. Navy as part of an "exchange" program.

In 1984, Morales Sr. moved with his wife, Mary, to Morrell Park in Southwest Baltimore, settling into a two-story detached home with a garage at 2507 James St. Their son Jose had just turned 9. He would grow into a fine third baseman, his father says.

By 1990, Morales Jr. had withdrawn from Cardinal Gibbons School (he attended only eighth and half of ninth grade, according to the school's records). According to a police source who spoke on condition of anonymity, he had also graduated from stealing bicycles to stealing cars and dealing drugs. He was arrested for battery on Oct. 18, 1993, three weeks after his 18th birthday. The charges were dropped.

Young Jose moved out of the house right around his 18th birthday, his father says, and he kept catching criminal charges: He was arrested in the city four times in 1994, on charges of assault, deadly weapon, malicious destruction, disorderly conduct, and theft. The theft case would eventually stick, costing Morales Jr. $176 in restitution and a one-year jail sentence.

But first, Morales would fight the charges in court for 22 months.

Morales was arrested six more times in 1995. Charges included theft over $300 (several instances), removing a vehicle's serial number, arson, malicious burning, malicious destruction, battery, and possession of a deadly weapon with intent to injure. On April, 19, 1996, Morales began serving his one-year sentence for the 1994 theft case.

He apparently spent all or most of 1996 in jail. On Dec. 11, 1996, Morales was found guilty of felony theft and sentenced to five years in prison, with three years and nine months of that suspended.

Morales caught a break, common in Baltimore, according to Page Croyder, a former assistant state's attorney for Baltimore City. The strange length of his prison sentence--one year, three months, and 19 days--indicates that he was sentenced to "time served" for the new crimes, she says. So for the theft case, plus new guilty pleas on Feb. 21, 1997, for malicious burning, theft, and malicious destruction, Morales was set free on two years of supervised probation.

"It's what I call a package deal," Croyder says, and since her January retirement from the prosecutor's office she has criticized the practice. In a column for the Center for Emerging Media, radio host Marc Steiner's online home, Croyder also attacked State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy and her spokeswoman, Margaret Burns, for hobbling the so-called "war room," a special unit created in 2004 that Croyder headed, which was supposed to make sure violent repeat offenders got special attention when they violate their terms of release.

Morales' next arrest was Oct. 28, 1998, for an alleged assault with a handgun. As a convicted felon, Morales is not allowed to have a gun. As a recent re-entrant serving probation, Morales could have seen his probation revoked and his full five-year sentence restored. But that didn't happen, and the charges were dropped. He was charged again in May 1999 after an altercation with a cop, and again in November 1999 with firing a gun. Again, Morales could have lost his probation and been made to serve his full sentence. Instead, those charges were dropped. Morales remained a free man.

In 2000, Morales was indicted on five drug-related counts, pleading guilty on June 28, 2001, in Baltimore County Circuit Court to conspiracy with intent to distribute narcotics. He was sentenced to probation, with urinalysis and other conditions.

Despite violating those probation terms twice and skipping court three times on the probation violation cases, Morales spent only five weeks in jail on the charges, online records indicate. He walked out of court in Towson a free man on Aug. 16, 2004.

Morales' father says he remembers nothing of his son's early criminal history, and knows nothing about any fires. "The drugs I heard about," he acknowledges. "Maybe I was too hard on him."

As his son's criminal career blossomed, Morales Sr.'s economic station steadily improved. In 1996, Morales Sr. bought 245-255 S. Bethel St., a 7,000-square-foot industrial space one block west of Broadway, from Enterprise Electric Co. There was no mortgage recorded on the $58,000 purchase price.

In 2000, Morales Sr. opened the Arizona Bar and Grill at 25 S. Broadway. Between 2002 and '07, undercover police cadets bought alcohol at the bar three times, resulting in small fines each time. The Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners investigators' last visit to the place--just a couple of months after Morales Sr. bought the building for $550,000--is notable.

"What are you doing here?" bar manager Lorena Morales demanded on Feb. 3, 2007. "What is the problem now?"

According to his report to the Liquor License Board, Baltimore police officer John Kowalczyk reminded Lorena Morales, Jose Sr.'s 37-year-old second wife, that he had told her after discovering numerous violations the night previous that he would return that night to reinspect. He and police Sgt. Fred Dillon then found numerous patrons with fake or no IDs, poker machines without the required tax stickers, and, on a shelf above the sink behind the bar, a bag of "suspected cocaine."

"As this officer passed the bag it appeared as though Ms. Morales was attempting to recover the bag," the report says. "Officer Kowalczyk turned and ordered Ms. Morales away from the bag, and then retrieved same." Lorena Morales was charged with drug possession. Those charges were later dropped.

Morales Sr. paid a $400 fine for the underaged drinkers and other violations; the drug charges against the bar were postponed several times, then dismissed on Oct. 18, 2007, when the police officers failed to appear for the hearing.

Besides the Arizona, Morales Sr. is also a heating and air conditioning contractor specializing in commercial kitchens, he says. (Like his son, Morales Sr. is unlicensed, according to Maryland Home Improvement Commission records.) Morales Sr. says he knew his son was a mason, but "I thought he was doing good."

Morales Sr. says he was unaware of his son's current legal troubles, and sees him only rarely. "We never kinda connect," he acknowledges. "Man-to-man or father-to-son." He says all of his children are estranged. They all blame him, he says, for divorcing their mother in 1999.

Jose Morales Jr.'s mother, Mary D. Morales, has signed loan documents for her son's businesses, put his work vehicles in her name, and in 1999 put her name on an Anne Arundel County house that Morales Jr. flipped the following year. For this she has endured police visits and search warrants at her home at 2507 James St.

On the afternoon of May 28, there is a pallet of bricks piled in the front yard, the home's rebuilt brick facade mostly finished but with gaps here and there around the trim and stairs. The doorbell is broken. A knock sets a small dog barking, and a woman who looks a bit like Barbara Bush, but with hair of iron-gray instead of cotton-white, answers.

"No, I don't wanna talk to you," Mary Morales says. "I really don't wanna talk to nobody. OK. Good day." She closes the door.

At first glance, Morrell Park looks like it could be a middle-class enclave. The fan-shaped, square-mile section of Southwest Baltimore straddling I-95 is blessed with an assortment of modest single-family homes with neat yards. DeSoto Park and the Carroll Park Golf Course offer inviting green space; Camden Yards is a mile and a half jog up Washington Boulevard, Morrell Park's main drag.

But the neighborhood has been plagued by crime and grime. There are 11 liquor licenses in the neighborhood--including Good Times, owned and operated by City Council Vice President Edward Reisinger (D-10th District). The bars and their environs are sometimes the site of disorder (as in 2004, when Reisinger got into a fistfight with a drug dealer). The Orioles Nest No. 292--a private gambling club whose members included elected officials and drug dealers--opened in April 2005 at 2930 Washington Blvd. ("Fouled Nests," Feature, November 23, 2005), seemingly immune to police action until it was suddenly shut down in the fall of 2006.

Some longtime residents say the problem is political corruption, directly linked to street crime. In fact, Morales Jr.'s exploits over the past decade have left some people with the impression--whether true or not--he has political ties that make him untouchable.

"I heard some people who he had problems with disappeared," a man walking on James Street says. "You can't do what he does with impunity" without political connections. He declines to give his name or to elaborate on the supposed political connections.

"You have no idea the heartache that this person caused this community," says another resident, who asks that their name not be revealed because they fear for their safety.

Even some outside the neighborhood say this fear is well-founded: A federal law enforcement officer told City Paper in 2006 that Morales Jr. was suspected of multiple arsons. People in Morrell Park still remember when Morales' house blew up.

"It was just a big explosion," says one neighbor of 2825 Carroll St., which burned spectacularly early one morning in February 2002. Like several others on the street, all of whom declined to give a reporter their names, he remembers that the hydrant in front of the house malfunctioned ("it was vandalized," another witness claims), necessitating a huge response from the fire department. He remembers that several young people had lived in the home, and none of them were in it when it burned.

"It was the worst I've ever seen," another neighbor says. "All I know is I woke up, my son said, `Gimme the keys, I'm gonna move your car.'" She says the flames melted some of the steel siding off the house next door.

According to land records, Morales bought the house on a spacious corner lot with a detached garage on July 31, 1998, for $70,000. He took out a $69,900 mortgage and, as a first-time homebuyer, received an additional $4,600 low-interest loan from the city's Department of Housing and Community Development to cover closing costs.

Both Morales and his sister Herminda used the address, according to public records. Neighbors say that between five and eight people seemed to live there. "There was an abundance of people in and out," a man who lives up the street says. "I stayed as far away from them as possible."

A source close to the investigation says the fire was ruled an arson, though no one was ever charged. Morales' mortgage was paid off by August 2002, and he sold the plot--which he now owned free and clear--in 2003 for $30,000, records show. A new house was built on the site in 2005. In late April, City Paper asked the Baltimore Fire Department to retrieve its records of the fire. Despite repeated phone calls and e-mails to the department's spokesman, Kevin Cartwright, the records were not produced. A captain at the neighborhood fire station says he remembers the blaze but cannot comment about it.

The Carroll Street blaze is not the only one Morales is tied to in the area. In 2004, Nicole O'Brien accused Morales of burning her 1998 Lincoln Navigator, and Morales was arrested.

According to an application for statement of charges that O'Brien filed in Baltimore City District Court, she and Morales "had a confrontation over money" on Jan. 8 and again on Jan. 12, 2004. "He became very aggressive and violent," she contended, and spat on the truck's window during the first encounter. During the second, "he threatened to have me beat up, my truck blown up, my house blown up," O'Brien wrote. At 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2004, the Navigator was destroyed by fire while parked on the 1600 block of Inverness Avenue.

Morales was arrested March 18, 2004, on four counts: assault, arson, threatening arson, and malicious destruction. Added together, the maximum penalty on the charges totaled 43 years and $45,000 in fines.

George Luis Arias bailed Morales out, using a Pigtown house he owned as collateral. He apparently did not realize at the time that Morales had stolen his identity, bought a house in Pasadena using it, was skipping the mortgage payments, and would soon unload it at a big profit, sticking Arias with a capital-gains tax liability.

Attorney Stanley Needleman defended Morales, getting his bail reduced from $150,000 to $50,000 so Morales could get out of jail after one night. A month later, all the charges were dropped.

O'Brien could not be reached for comment, but two sources in Morrell Park say she had dated Morales, and that Morales bought a home using her name in Anne Arundel County. Property records show a Nicole K. O'Brien purchased a Glen Burnie ranch house from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2003 for $109,000. The house sold in mid-'05 for $225,000.

A second witness listed on O'Brien's charging statement is her brother Patrick. He calls a reporter whose business card was stuck in his door, but, like many others whose lives Morales has touched, declines to talk about him. "That was in the past," Patrick O'Brien says. "Nobody wants anything to happen in the future, know what I mean?"

Although Morales' notoriety in his home neighborhood seems complete, it isn't. One prominent Morrell Park merchant professes no knowledge of Morales. And that's interesting, because his bar, Good Times, stands less than 150 feet from the Morales residence at 2507 James St. The two properties are nearly back-to-back.

Asked if he knows Morales, City Councilman Ed Reisinger shakes his head no. "Maybe six or seven years ago, I heard something about him," he says. "Why? What'd he do?"

He did quite a bit, according to court records. But not everybody whose life Jose Morales Jr. touched bothered to go to court.

"I probably paid him close to 65, 75,000 dollars worth of work," says Mike Coster of b4 Design, a company that has produced drawings for hundreds of rehabs and rebuilds in Southeast Baltimore. "And every lead I gave him he burned."

Coster contends Morales produced fake invoices for materials on one job, overcharging by about $6,000. "A lot of people he burned, some are suing," he says by phone in April. "I think mine's more criminal. I haven't really proceeded" to press charges.

In September 2006 a judgment was entered against Morales in the amount of $120,397.86, in favor of XS LLC, a North Charles Street eatery. According to Melvin Kodenski, XS's lawyer, Morales collected $70,000 to renovate the building, screwed it up to the point where it was structurally unsound, then abandoned the job. Kodenski (who incidentally defends Morales Sr.'s Arizona Bar before the Liquor License Board) says he doesn't know why XS owners Phillip Quick and Maurice Bloom hired Morales' Mason's Unlimited.

"I asked him, `Phil, what did you fall on your head that morning or what?'" Kodenski says.

There are more judgments in Anne Arundel County: repossessions of a $50,000 truck bought in Mary Morales' name and a leased Caterpillar skid loader on which Morales' company neglected to make payments. There are several bad-check charges as well. Coster says that for a time his phone was "ringing off the hook" with people asking where to find Morales.

But Morales does not steal only from customers and suppliers. Friends and business partners are fair game, too.

George Arias, the man who bailed Morales out after he was charged with burning Nicole O'Brien's SUV, filed criminal charges against Morales after discovering his credit had been damaged by identity theft. On April 26, 2006, after a lengthy investigation by Anne Arundel police, Morales was charged with 10 counts relating to identity theft. Strung together, the maximum sentence on all these charges totaled more than 78 years in prison.

He served not a single day.

On the day Morales was charged with the ID theft, he was already on probation for replacing the vehicle identification number on a 1997 Ford F-350 flatbed truck that had been stolen from Alcap Construction in July 2003, according to court records. Morales pried off the VIN plate from the stolen truck and in its place taped the VIN plate from a 1992 truck registered to his mother, according to the police report. When police stopped the truck, two of Morales' employees were in it, and the glove compartment was full of Mason's Unlimited business cards. Morales might have been sentenced to a maximum of 18 months in prison for the crime, but after multiple postponements of the case, he was sentenced in September 2004 to two years of probation. The case file indicates that he did not pay his probation fees.

It is not clear why Morales wasn't jailed after he was charged with the identity theft, which violated the terms of his probation (he was also criminally charged three other times in Baltimore City while on probation for the truck theft case, and convicted of rinsing lead-laden brick-washing sludge into the Chesapeake Bay). "If he was on probation in Anne Arundel County and he committed a crime in Baltimore City, we would have no way of knowing this," says Kristen Fleckenstein, spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel State's Attorney. "We could look it up, but there is no flag automatically sent out, no e-mail."

A spokeswoman for Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, whose office has recently highlighted cases in which it jailed violent offenders on probation violations, says Morales' charges did not rate attention from the "war room."

"The war room is for repeat violent offenders," Margaret Burns says. "The way it's designed is only to identify anyone who is arrested for a violent crime, who is on parole for a violent crime." Morales' current assault cases--including the alleged attack on Lumpkin with a baseball bat--are all misdemeanors, she explains.

Fleckenstein says the state Division of Parole and Probation decides when to "violate" a convict, but Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, says probation officers merely advise prosecutors and judges about parole and probation violations (which they seem to have done in Morales' cases). The decision to charge and convict the offender for the violation, Vernarelli says in an e-mail, "is a matter wholly decided by the court. Similarly, whether a warrant or summons is issued for a particular offender for violation of probation is a matter left to the discretion of the court."

After stealing George Arias' identity and using it to borrow $249,000 against a house he sold the next year for $345,000, Morales pleaded guilty to a single count of making a false entry in a public record. On Sept. 21, 2006, Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Joseph Manck sentenced Morales to 12 months of unsupervised probation and fined him $500. "Unsupervised" means he is not under the control of the Division of Probation, so any violations would go unnoticed.

Morales chose his victim well. Arias is currently serving a five-year sentence in federal prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Arias' lawyer says the drug charges, which were pending when Arias discovered the identity theft, complicated the case against Morales because the federal government won't transport witnesses to testify in state court.

"George got arrested and unfortunately got sentenced before this case went to trial," says Joe Murtha, who defended Arias in the federal drug case. "It's sort of awkward when someone is getting ready to go to prison and is a victim."

Arias, who came up with Morales in Morrell Park, had bailed Morales out of jail and even signed on to a commercial loan as "partner" in Mason's Unlimited. Murtha says he doesn't know the extent of the pair's relationship. He does say that his client was worried that his credit rating would remain damaged long after his prison bid ends. "He was concerned that this was something that was just going to linger," Murtha says.

In the spring of 2005, Keisha Rice bought 8075 Woodholme Circle, in a leafy Pasadena neighborhood of capes and ranchers, from Morales, then posing as Arias.

She says after she found out whom Morales was, she took it upon herself to check every nook and cranny for drugs and found nothing. "I had to go through the whole house," Rice says. "I have kids in here." Like many who have dealt with him, however, her main gripe with Morales is his workmanship: A back window and a skylight in the house both leaked, she says, adding, "Don't get me wrong, I love the house once I fixed it."

Rice went to testify against Morales in the summer of 2006. The first court date was postponed. On the second go, he pleaded to the misdemeanor public record charge. "He should have gone to jail for what he did to me," she says. "My thing was, lock his butt up, `cause he cost me money."

Locking up Morales is no easy feat, records filed in Glen Burnie District Court show. Jean C. Morales, Jose Morales' wife, from whom he is separated, has tried.

In a complaint filed last Halloween seeking protection for herself and her two young sons, the former Jean Castranda reported that Jose Morales Jr. banged on the door of the home they shared at 1432 Grimm Road in Severn. "[W]hen I let him in he started screaming and yelling because I had a conversation via e-mail with his girlfriend. I asked him to leave because he was scaring me he said no I called the police with the phone in my hand he grabbed me shoved me up against the wall told me don't fuck with him he will kill me.

"He has threatened to kill me before," Jean Morales continued. "[L]ast year the police came to our home for domestic violence and could not make him leave even though there was broken glass everywhere and broken refrigerator and my children were screaming and scared."

The judge granted the protective order, barring Jose Morales from the home and from Jean's workplaces at the Long and Foster's BWI/Fort Meade office and the Ritz Cabaret, a gentlemen's club at 508 S. Broadway, five blocks from the Arizona Bar and Grill.

Morales violated the order, according to a second complaint Jean filed on May 7, 2008, a month after Morales was arrested for assaulting her at their Severn home. "He is coming and going as he pleases," she wrote. "A few days ago he said if he seen me out at night he was going to hurt me."

The judge ordered Morales to pay his wife $25,000 to vacate the home within 30 days. The Severn property, from which Morales apparently ran much of his business during the past two years, is currently subject to foreclosure proceedings. The vinyl-sided modern colonial with an attached two-car garage occupies a large corner lot hemmed by an eight-foot stockade fence with planks missing here and there and a section knocked out in the back. The backyard features a small aboveground pool and a few beat-up trucks. One corner is occupied by a stack of rusting scaffolding.

On the afternoon of May 29, Jean Morales, a petite woman with light brown hair, answers the front door and declines to talk to a reporter about her husband. "No," she says softly. "I'm not going to get involved in that. No."

Warren Lumpkin started talking to police about Jose Morales Jr.' crimes in the summer of 2006, phoning in anonymous tips about stolen scaffolding. He knows Morales has put word out that he's a snitch, but he doesn't care, he says. Lumpkin says he never would have talked if Morales hadn't told police that he--Lumpkin--stole items he hadn't taken.

Lumpkin, who turned 30 last month, grew up with Morales in Morrell Park. "We all stole," he acknowledges of their teenage years together. "Kids steal--you're supposed to grow out of it."

In a long interview on April 15, Lumpkin says he sold drugs until he was 17 or 18, when his girl got pregnant, and he knew he had to give up that life. But court records list some 20 criminal arrests between 1996 and 2007, when Lumpkin was placed on probation for drug possession. Lumpkin's criminal record includes several arrests for assault and racial harassment and a 2000 attempted murder charge, which was dropped.

Lumpkin says he worked for nine years at the Simkins Industries plant in Catonsville, and lost his job when it burned down in 2003. He says he was hard-up for work when he signed onto Morales' contracting crew in early 2005. "I knew his MO. He was about makin' money," Lumpkin says. "I was kind of fond of him."

During Lumpkin's time on Morales' crew, Morales was charged with passing bad checks and with theft, and Mason's Unlimited was convicted of water pollution. The group also collapsed three adjoining rowhouses on South Hanover Street. Lumpkin recalls feverishly shoring up 906 and 910 S. Hanover after the outside walls buckled. He says the buildings gave way after Robert Long dug too deep with a Bobcat during a basement underpinning job at 908. "Jose told him it was too deep," Lumpkin recalls. "Rob was in there stamping the ground saying, `Look, it's solid.'"

For $12 an hour, Lumpkin worked jobs at 234 S. Chester St. and 2814 Fleet St., he says, and tolerated Morales' habit of becoming scarce on payday. He says he fell out with Morales after declining to take part in a July 2006 scaffold heist: "When I told him I wasn't in he started treating me like an asshole."

Stealing equipment for jobs was standard operating procedure at ABR Construction and Mason's Unlimited, Lumpkin contends. When caught--a rare occurrence--Morales would instruct a crew member (Long, usually, Lumpkin says) to take the rap, and then maybe pay restitution or buy the machine in question. Given Morales' experiences in Baltimore City, stealing may have made more sense than renting or buying--especially when it came to earth-moving equipment. Police reports say that in November 2005 Morales stole a skid loader owned by Alban Tractor Co., from a Baltimore County job site, and in August 2006 stole a skid loader and an excavator worth $75,000 each from Biddinger Contracting in Anne Arundel. On any of these thefts, Morales could have been sent to prison for 15 years or more. Biddinger Contracting owner Frank Biddinger says he found his machines in a Morales job site at 1325 Towson St. in South Baltimore, and that unhelpful Baltimore police advised him to just take the machines back. The charges in the case were later postponed indefinitely for lack of evidence.

Compared to skid loaders and trucks, stealing scaffolding was child's play, Lumpkin says. "Scaffolding don't have serial numbers on it," he explains. "[Morales] knew what he could get away with."

Morales bid a lot of contracting jobs, often juggling two or three at a time. But the stolen equipment wasn't always meant to aid in their completion, Lumpkin says. It was sometimes a prop to dupe customers.

"We'd set up the scaffold to get the first [one-]third payment," Lumpkin says. "Half the time he'd go take it down the next day" and abandon the job.

On July 5, 2006, working in the rain, members of Morales' crew took eight hours disassembling a $30,000 scaffold at 1465 Key Highway, Lumpkin says, rebuilding part of it at 234 S. Chester St.

Police received an anonymous tip about the pending theft but did not swing by the crime scene, where they might have caught the thieves in the act. Over July and August, Lumpkin and Morales argued over Lumpkin's pay and over a cell phone Morales had given his worker. On Sept. 12, 2006, Lumpkin called in another tip--this one got to the Baltimore Regional Auto Theft Team, known as the RATT.

Police seized some of the hot scaffolding from various Morales job sites, and Lumpkin says Morales blamed him for the theft. The cops started to trust Lumpkin's version of events after he told them about his anonymous tips, charging documents indicate.

The RATT investigation ground on for months, with mainly Baltimore County police detective Steve Sunderland and Baltimore City police detective D. R. Fields bird-dogging Morales' crew, questioning them, arresting them, watching. Lumpkin says he quit Morales' crew in the fall of 2006, and that Morales withheld his last week's pay. A couple of months later, Morales allegedly attacked Lumpkin with a baseball bat at the midtown job site. Morales was charged with assault, and that case is still pending jury trial.

Thanks in part to Lumpkin's cooperation, Morales was arrested on Feb. 1 and Feb. 15, 2007, charged with the scaffolding theft and taking the Alban skid loader. Lumpkin agreed to testify in those cases, and since then has taken off days from work to do so at least five times. On almost every date, postponement came at defense attorney Stanley Needleman's request.

The multiplying court dates presented a stage for further drama. "Where's my money?" an unhappy customer demanded of Morales outside Courtroom 2 at the South Baltimore District Court on Patapsco Avenue last July. Morales was there on the still-pending theft and assault charges; the unhappy customer was there to confront Morales. "You got my money?"

"You was in a contract and you held the work up," Morales replied calmly.

"You're a fuckin' liar," the man yelled as a bailiff rushed to order the man from the building. "You took $16,000 of my money and walked away!"

After that day's postponement, Lumpkin contends, Morales and his girlfriend, Tiffany Frey, chased him in separate cars and boxed him in at the intersection of Patapsco Avenue and Annapolis Road, where Morales threatened again to kill him.

"It's bullshit," Morales said after a hearing on the matter last August. "Why would I wait for him to come to court before going after him?" Morales claimed Lumpkin concocted the story in order to extort money. "He wants $15,000 to make this all go away," Morales said. "This case and the other cases."

Morales told a reporter he intended to pay: "Wouldn't you? I spent more than that on bail."

Lumpkin did not make a court date, and the assault charges against both Morales and Frey were nolle-prossed last October; Lumpkin denies asking Morales to pay him, excepting the $500 he says he is owed for work. He continues to come to court, usually waiting hours in a holding room before being informed of the latest postponement. On April 17, 2008, he takes a late morning break on the Calvert Street island separating the east and west downtown Circuit Court buildings. Flicking his cigarette butt into the street, he predicts Morales' days of freedom are numbered: "You can't take everybody's money, live like a king, and expect no consequences."

Jose Morales jr., apparently, thinks he can now that Robert Long is dead.

"Co-defendant ain't around no more," he says without emotion, standing in front of the courthouse before his April 17 postponement.

A few days later, a four-page "State's Supplemental Disclosure," signed by detectives Field and Sunderland, made its way into Morales' case file, describing a March 11, 2008, meeting of Long; his attorney, Alex B. Leikus; Assistant State's Attorney Katie O'Hara; and the detectives regarding the scaffolding theft. "During the meeting," the document says, "Long admitted to his part in the case . . . [he] stole approximately $30,000 worth of scaffolding from the Key Highway job site and delivered it to Morales."

Long told police that he took the scaffolding under Morales' direction, using Morales' dump truck, and that Morales paid him to do it. He said that some of the scaffolding he stole was never recovered, and was stored in the backyard of Morales' home in Severn, where police saw it a few days later, stacked behind a fence. A few days later, police searched the house, seizing the scaffolding and other evidence.

Sitting outside the courtroom on April 17, Morales acts as if none of it happened. He tells a reporter that his cases have all been dismissed, right before they are merely postponed for another six weeks.

Riding the elevator down afterward, Morales smirks when asked why he had just lied. "I must have been mistaken," he says. Then he thinks of something more clever.

"They're gonna nolle it," Jose Morales predicts. "They just don't know it yet."

Editor's Note: We mistakenly reported that Jose Morales' father, Jose Morales Sr. is an unlicensed heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning contractor. In fact, Morales Sr. is a licensed HVAC contractor, though he is not licensed with the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, as was correctly stated above.

Red-Eye Special

Overnight Package From California Leads to Baltimore Drugs-and-Guns Bust of D.C. Judge's Son

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 5/28/2008

A seven-pound FedEx package left Eureka, Calif., one afternoon in late April, bound for a Northeast Baltimore apartment in the Dutch Village townhouse development. The next afternoon, less than two hours after the package's April 25 arrival, a warrant-waving team of Baltimore police officers and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents forced its way through the apartment door to find about seven pounds of marijuana, most of it in large, heat-sealed packages.

What promised to be a mundane pot-package investigation quickly became a major felony case involving a high-profile defendant, based on the rest of the apartment's contents: five loaded guns, a bunch of cocaine and heroin, a bulletproof vest, $8,000 cash, and 20-year-old Morgan State University student Phillip Robinson Winkfield, who was charged with multiple drug and firearms charges.

The defendant's mother is Deborah A. Robinson, a Washington, D.C., federal magistrate judge, whose 20-year career on the bench has brought numerous luminaries before her as defendants, from drug lords and an NBA star to high-level White House officials and a former D.C. mayor. Her son is a 2005 graduate of the exclusive Maret School in Washington and attended University of Delaware in '05 and '06 before coming to Morgan as a legacy student; his mother graduated from there in 1975.

Robinson divorced Winkfield's father, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs attorney John C. Winkfield, in 1992, but both were present in Baltimore City District Court on April 28 when Winkfield was ordered held without bail. Robinson told authorities her son had been living at the Dutch Village apartment for a year and a half. Prior to that, Winkfield's official address for 18 years was a home in upper northwest D.C. owned by his mother ("Just Family," Mobtown Beat, May 15).

A recording of the April 28 hearing obtained by City Paper reveals that District Court Judge Halee Weinstein based her no-bail decision on the seriousness of the charges against Winkfield, many of which carry possible 20-year sentences, and her perception of him as "a risk of public safety as well as a flight risk." On May 23 Winkfield was indicted in Baltimore City Circuit Court, and his arraignment was set for June 30. It is unclear whether Winfield's case will remain in state court or go to U.S. District Court.

If Winkfield's upbringing and education appear at odds with a drug dealer's stock-and-trade, some of the other circumstances surrounding his case are puzzling, as well. The publicly available facts raise more questions than they answer. Was he in the wrong place at the wrong time, with nothing to do with the whole mess? Is he a college pot dealer mixed up with others who are deeper into the game? Is he a troubled young man who got in over his head? Is he a straight-up gangster?

This much is clear: Winkfield lived in the apartment, and when the warrant was served he was there with a lot of drugs, guns, and money. DEA spokesman Edward Marcinko says his agency believes the evidence points to Winkfield owning the contraband and contends the case "may lead to federal charges."

But Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy says no federal charges are pending. The decision to bring them, she says, would rest on whether Winkfield could get the longest sentence at the state or federal level, and whether he is a repeat offender. Murphy also notes Winkfield was not the target of any investigation when police raided his apartment.

Winkfield's lawyer at the April 28 bail-review hearing, Craig Ellis, told the judge that Winkfield has two 2007 misdemeanor convictions in Virginia, for possessing a weapon and drug paraphernalia. "His mother was there with him," Ellis said of the Virginia case.

Murphy writes in an e-mail that Winkfield's case, and the decision-making over whether or not it goes federal, will not be treated any differently due to the fact that he is the son of high-profile parents. "Identities of defendants' parents don't matter to our charging decisions," she explains.

Baltimore City State's Attorney spokesman Joseph Sviatko writes in an e-mail that the Winkfield case "is still under investigation." In response to a City Paper request for information about recent joint state/federal investigations in Baltimore that resulted in federal prosecutions, Sviatko points to one case involving fewer guns and less drugs and money than in Winkfield's case, and several others involving large, lengthy conspiracies.

An affidavit sworn by DEA special agent Alfred Cooke, who obtained the search-and-seizure warrant that resulted in Winkfield's arrest, shows that investigators were focused not on Winkfield but the FedEx package, which originated from an address in Eureka, Calif., on a thoroughfare known for violent drug activity. Eureka is the county seat of Humboldt County, the principal growing location for high-grade marijuana in the United States, hence its nickname, "The Emerald Triangle."

According to the affidavit, investigators were acting on information from the DEA in Providence, R.I., which received a tip from a confidential source who "has prior law enforcement experience." The same source has provided information in the recent past leading to the seizure of 1,000 pounds of marijuana and $280,000 in cash. Veteran law enforcers say it is rare that an informant comes from a law enforcement background. DEA agent Marcinko declined to answer questions about the tipster or the circumstances leading to the tip.

The parcel's sender was listed as "Sara Brown," a name that law enforcers could not connect with the Eureka return address on the package. The recipient at Winkfield's Dutch Village address was a person named Fernella George, who, according to the search-warrant affidavit, is tied to the apartment via another individual, Cyprian Ekwunazu. City Paper's attempts to contact George and Ekwunazu were unsuccessful, and though public records confirm Ekwunazu's ties to the address in the 1990s, it is unclear whether either of them lived there at the time the package arrived.

DEA agent Marcinko says there were signs that Winkfield did not live there alone, but declines to say whether officials have identified other residents or believe them to be connected to the seized evidence. He notes that, in general, the names on a package of drugs do not always match up with the actual recipient or sender.

The affidavit states that a FedEx truck arrived at Winkfield's apartment at around 2 p.m. on April 25 and delivered the package at the door. When drug task force agents walked by the door a few minutes later, the package was no longer sitting at the foot of the door, the affidavit states. Just prior to the delivery, agents had observed a black male with dreadlocks leave the apartment, walk to the Dumpster, and return to the apartment. Just after the package delivery, two white males and a white female arrived in a car with Virginia tags and entered the apartment. When police raided the place, they found Winkfield, who is a black male with dreadlocks, and a whole lot of contraband: the pot, the cash, the five loaded guns (including two shotguns and an assault rifle), the bulletproof vest, 166 grams of heroin, 210 grams of crack, and an ounce of powder cocaine.

"This was a routine investigation," Marcinko explains. "But what surprised us was the amount of drug and nondrug evidence seized." Winkfield's attorney Robert Mance, who responded to a phone call to Robinson's chambers, declined to comment for this article. Baltimore Police Department spokesman Sterling Clifford has not returned numerous calls or e-mails requesting information about the case.

If authorities who were looking to intercept a parcel of marijuana were surprised to find a cache of loaded weapons and large quantities of hard drugs, the presence of a federal judge's son is also intriguing. Information about Winkfield is hard to come by. His parents have declined to talk about the matter or his upbringing. Calls to the Maret School, on a historic campus in the Woodley Park section of Northwest Washington, have not been returned. His attorney Mance confirms that he grew up in the D.C., residence owned by his mother, and that he has a sister. At his bail-review hearing, attorney Ellis urged the judge to release Winkfield to the custody of his father, citing a history of counseling and willingness to undergo further counseling.

Winkfield's Facebook page offers a skimpy portrait of a student with friends at University of Delaware and the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Va. City Paper could not confirm whether Winkfield ever attended Mary Washington, but a Facebook friend who asked not to be named says Winkfield "stood out" on campus, where he had a girlfriend. "He used to wear Bob Marley T-shirts," the friend says, adding that "I knew he liked weed, but I didn't know he was a dealer."

Bundy's Money

By Van Smith | Posted 5/16/2008

The Sun reported yesterday that Sean Rondell Bundy, 24, and Tyron Sherrod Rich, 26, were indicted in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The Atlantic City, N.J.-to-Elkton story of the immediate drug-distribution charges against these guys is what The Sun wrote about, but much more intriguing is what didn't make the paper: the part about Bundy's money.

On May 13, the same day as Bundy's criminal indictment, federal Judge J. Frederick Motz ended a 20-month-old forfeiture case by ordering the government to return $190,000 of the alleged drug cash it had seized from Bundy, payable by check to Bundy's new lawyer on the case, Russell Neverdon, who replaced Harold Glaser.

Before Bundy suddenly replaced Glaser on the forfeiture case, the attorney--who now represents Bundy in the new criminal charges--did a lot of work on the cash-forfeiture case. Early last year, Glaser filed a fascinating set of documents and exhibits in an effort to show that Bundy's cash was legit.

"$75,000.00 was a loan from boxer Hasim Rahman," Glaser wrote, referring to the former heavyweight champion from Baltimore. Glaser found various other ways to explain the rest, including the church-related income of Bundy's mother.

Ex-champ Rahman's alleged drug-world ties came out before in Baltimore federal court records, in a 2003 criminal case involving violent drug dealers in the nightclub business. According to news reports, Rahman denied co-owning the now-defunct downtown nightclub Emineo on Calvert Street, though the government's main witness in the case, Louis Colvin, testified at trial that he did.

Bundy, whose nickname in the court records is "Bumb Rock," so far has survived some serious drama in the drug game, despite his young age. Federal court records describe him as a west-side rival of east-siders Stanford Stansbury, Harry Burton, and Allen Gill, whose capital murder and drug-dealing cases remain open, with trials scheduled for June. Much of the violence alleged of Stansbury, Burton, and Gill is composed of deadly shootouts with Bundy and his crew in 2003.

Attempted murder charges against Bundy in Baltimore Circuit Court also are scheduled for a June trial. Court records show he's been out on bail on those charges, which allowed him to be in Atlantic City in April, doing the alleged deeds that led to the federal drug-distribution indictment handed down this week.

Bundy's bail in the state case was posted by Lee Dixon, an agent of Milton Tillman Jr.'s Four Aces Bailbonds (who has been covered in a lot of CP articles recently: here, here, here, here, here, and here), with three others putting up real estate they own. One of them was Ricardo Burks Jr., and court records show he is facing city handgun charges, with his bail also posted by Dixon. Burks' trial is scheduled, like Bundy's state case and the Stansbury crew's federal one, for June.

As for the $190,000 to be returned to Bundy, U.S.Attorney's Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy explained in a May 16 e-mail to City Paper that the money "had been seized in 2005 and early 2006" and that the government could not "prove that it could be traced to drug crimes that occurred before the money was seized," so "we were required to return the money." Murphy adds that Bundy's "criminal indictment was the result of a proactive investigation that developed evidence to support the allegation that Bundy was dealing drugs in 2008." The same-day timing of the closing of the forfeiture case and the filing of the criminal indictment, she writes, was "a bizarre coincidence."

Clarification: Records of the federal drug-money forfeiture case against Sean Bundy show attorney Russell Neverdon replacing Harold Glaser as Bundy's attorney just prior to the May 13 closing of the case. Neverdon on May 28 called City Paper, however, and stated that the court records fail to reflect that he recently returned as Bundy's attorney on this matter, having been Bundy's lawyer before Glaser took over some 20 months ago.

Unequal Terms

Accused Dealer Shawn Green's Mother Goes to Prison; White Lady Lawyer Goes Free

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 5/7/2008

The Rev. Michael McFadden was stunned and hurting as he led an impromptu prayer session in the hallway outside the courtroom of U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz on April 25.

"Lord, we don't understand the things that have happened here today," intoned the spiritual leader of the College Park Church of Christ, in response to the two-year prison sentence Motz had just handed to 60-year-old single mother Yolanda Crawley.

Crawley pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud in misrepresenting her income to obtain $2 million in luxury-home mortgages on behalf of her son, fugitive Shawn Green. Green is indicted for drug trafficking and money laundering and remains at large ("Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12).

For the second day in a row, anger, denial, and cries of inequality resulted from the widely varying sentences given to Crawley and her co-defendants on the white-collar end of Green's alleged drug and money-laundering conspiracy.

On April 24, Motz had handed down a 15-month sentence to David Lincoln, a 38-year-old mortgage broker who pleaded guilty last year in the same home-loan scam. His family was seething over his sentence because, on March 18, attorney Rachel Donegan, who is white and who also pleaded guilty to wire fraud in the case in 2007, got probation for a similar role in preparing bogus mortgage applications for Crawley to sign ("One Angry Man," Mobtown Beat, March 26).

"The judge is wrong and a racist," said Crawley's family friend Herbert Malone, of Baltimore, standing in the hallway after she was sentenced on April 25. "He let the white girl off and put time on two black people."

"Only in America," chimed Louise Wylie, also a close friend of Crawley.

Judge Motz did not return a call for comment. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office defended the sentences, insisting the prosecution's recommendations to the judge were consistent with federal guidelines and individually negotiated plea agreements, which the office cannot discuss.

The case began with an investigation of Shawn Green, whom authorities have suspected of large-scale cocaine and heroin trafficking since the early 1990s, according to law-enforcement documents. In 2006, investigators stopped Green and two other men in a car with close to $1 million in cash. Soon they also discovered that Green was using real estate and a recording business to launder drug money. The investigation led to Crawley, Lincoln, and Donegan, who all copped to wire fraud.

The scheme was complex: Lincoln fabricated income figures to accompany Crawley's loan applications; Donegan drew up the papers and filed them with lenders; Crawley signed the applications. Green's drug money was used to buy pricey real estate in Florida, Georgia, and Maryland. With help from Donegan and Lincoln, Crawley then refinanced the luxury homes, paid off new mortgages with her son's drug money, and repeated the cycle.

All three deny knowing for sure that Green's money was dirty.

Throughout the recent sentencing hearings Green, who fled last year after being indicted, has loomed as the elephant in the room. Just as troubling as his disappearance is the mess he left in his wake: a mother on the hook for aiding her son in his drug-related crimes, and two white-collar accomplices pointing fingers at one another.

Add to the mix an inconsistent federal prosecutor, a duped and angry judge, and a community in denial, and the Green conspiracy goes beyond establishing a nexus between drugs and white-collar fraud in Baltimore: It shows the difficulty the public and the justice system have in confronting the city's shadow economy in a rational, honest, and fair manner.

"Ms. Crawley is a good woman who made a mistake," attorney Jon Norris said of Crawley, who signed 10 home-loan applications that grossly overstated her income and were used to buy property with Green's alleged cocaine and heroin proceeds. "She didn't do it for greed; she did it for love of her son."

"Ms. Crawley did not do the wrong thing for the right reasons," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kwame Manley snapped back, as he described palatial estates, gated condominiums, and beachfront property purchased in the name of Yolanda Crawley.

"I don't know whether to be impressed or angry about the crowd assembled today," Motz said of Crawley's 40 or so supporters who appeared in court on April 25. "I'm concerned these people are not able to see the facts."

Motz then asked: "Where did the money" for the houses "come from?"

"Drugs," Manley replied.

"Whose communities are destroyed by those drugs?" the judge inquired.

"Everyone's," Manley said.

In all, Green is indicted for laundering $4 million in drug proceeds through real estate, luxury vehicles, and credit card accounts. Now his mother and David Lincoln are going to serve prison time. Yet Rachel Donegan, 38, who softened Motz with a tale of woe, is free on probation.

On March 18, at Donegan's sentencing, Motz heard little about her role in the conspiracy. Instead, with no objection from the prosecutor, Donegan's lawyer claimed his client was led astray by Lincoln in a personal relationship that she was desperate to save. Defense attorney Gregg Bernstein further contended that Donegan was instrumental to the health and well-being of her troubled niece, and argued she should not go to prison. Calling her a "minor participant," Motz sentenced Donegan to three years probation.

On March 20, Motz, perhaps sensing he had the wool pulled over his eyes at the Donegan hearing, blew his stack when Manley asked for just 10 months prison time for Lincoln. "I don't understand why Mr. Lincoln isn't here as a co-conspirator . . . on the white-collar end of a major drug operation," the judge said, before delaying the hearing. "The perspective I'm bringing today is different from what I think you all thought coming in."

At Lincoln's resentencing, on April 24, his attorney William Purpura presented e-mails and other evidence to show that Donegan was equally involved in the wire-fraud scheme and thus equally culpable as Lincoln. In a letter to the court Purpura also argued that Lincoln cooperated with law enforcement immediately and "was instrumental in Rachel Donegan's accepting responsibility." This time, however, the prosecutor was tough. Manley asked for 16 months prison time for Lincoln--the maximum under sentencing guidelines and the plea agreement.

"I remain concerned about Mr. Green's source of income and whether Mr. Lincoln was willingly blind to it," Motz said before handing down a 15-month sentence and criticizing Lincoln for not accepting responsibility for his crimes. "Whether I should have given Donegan more time is something others can debate," the judge said. "I'm comfortable with it."

Afterward, Lincoln's family members were shell-shocked. Some accused Donegan's lawyer of lying about a personal relationship between Donegan and Lincoln that no longer existed. Lincoln's live-in girlfriend, Jessica Pineda, was on hand to attest to that. Documents filed with the court showed Pineda and Lincoln lived together with Pineda's daughter from 2002 to 2005 at an address also used by Guilford Title and Escrow, a company established by Donegan. "Was the court misled?" Pineda was asked. "Definitely," she said.

"Why are we talking about drugs when the charge is wire fraud?" Lincoln's father complained. "My son knew nothing about drugs. They allowed [Donegan] to walk. There were lies."

The next day, at Crawley's hearing, supporters similarly refused to accept that their loved one had been a party to a drug money-laundering operation.

The well-dressed, older crowd was anxious from the start, as Motz declared his intent to impose a stiff sentence. The judge became upset when Crawley's lawyer tried to retract these statements Crawley made to investigators, on March 26, 2007: that she had been "suspicious that [her son] was engaged in drug activity because she had never seen an office or desk for him" at his place of business; and that she did not "observe any legitimate music business" at her son's Reservoir Hill recording studio in an apartment building that the government later seized.

Unlike at the Donegan hearing, Manley was aggressive. He said Crawley's retractions were "beyond ludicrous." He also harped on the fact that Green gave his mother a "special phone" for talking only to him. "Who gives their mother a special phone?" Manley said. "Drug dealers do. She knows this is a sign of illegal activity."

Crawley's lawyer, Jon Norris, submitted written testimonials of good character and argued to the judge that his client "is a mother who loves her son." Norris argued that Crawley neither devised the money-laundering scheme nor facilitated it.

Rather, Norris argued, Crawley lent her good name and signature to documents that misstated her income, which she admits was wrong. Norris then urged the judge not to punish Crawley for the crimes of her son. "I understand the court's and the prosecution's anger," Norris said. "I'm angry, too," he added, chastising Shawn Green for running from trouble instead of facing it and "for leaving his mother out to dry."

The Rev. McFadden got up and spoke, as did family friend Herbert Malone, of Crawley's truthful and charitable nature. Then Crawley spoke: "I'm a God-fearing Christian woman," she sobbed. "We all fall short sometime. Please show mercy."

Crawley's sobs prompted sobs from the gallery. The two-year sentence elicited a gasp from several observers. "They just railroaded her," an observer said on the way out of court. "I don't know how they sleep at night," another said, referring to the prosecutor and the judge.

"The facts were fabricated," Malone declared in the hallway. "The judge didn't listen to a word she said. He already made up his mind. I've seen hard-core drug dealers get less time."

Wise Elder?

Engineer With Criminal Record and Links to Collapses Back At Work

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/30/2008

John D. Elder is once again an engineer in good standing.

The professional engineer, whose criminal record and connection to several building collapses were the subject nearly two years ago of a City Paper article ("Collapse," Feature, August 2, 2006), agreed to a 120-day license suspension last August after the state agency that oversees engineers, the Maryland State Board for Professional Engineers, concluded that he perjured himself repeatedly by failing to disclose his criminal record on his license-renewal applications as required ("Open Perjury," Quick and Dirty, Sept. 12, 2007).

At the time, a source close to the board said that Elder would not likely be getting his license back because he still faced sanction for his involvement in four building collapses and had not paid his 2007 state income taxes. The source, who asked not to be quoted by name because the board cannot comment on open cases, said that the board assumed that, by the time Elder's 120-day suspension lapsed at the end of December, the board would be ready to sanction him again--and that even if that action were delayed that Elder's tax bill would keep him sidelined.

But it did not work out that way.

Elder says he cashed in a $16,000 retirement account to pay about $12,000 in back taxes. Then, in March, he went to the board to ask that his license be reinstated.

"I took my application down there in hand," Elder says. "The first time I took it down they wouldn't give it to me. They wanted another letter saying that nothing had happened in the interim," meaning that Elder had not been arrested on criminal charges. He has not been arrested since 2004, according to online court records. The board agreed to reinstate Elder's engineering license at its April 10 meeting.

Milena Y. Trust, an assistant attorney general at the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, which the Board for Professional Engineers falls under, will not confirm that the board had expected to end Elder's engineering career. "When the license is suspended for 120 days, that's exactly what it means," she says, adding that there is another case pending that, by law, she and the board cannot discuss. "His license was reinstated. With the ongoing case, again, I cannot comment."

Bob Mead, executive director of Maryland Society of Professional Engineers, expresses surprise that Elder has been reinstated. "I would expect that if what you wrote is true, in the substantive issues, I would expect that that man would lose his license, permanently, and pay a fine," Mead says.

But Elder maintains that he bears no responsibility for the collapses ("No Fault," Quick and Dirty, Nov. 22, 2006). And he says the licensing board agrees with him.

"They did investigate the collapses--everything I told them turned out to be true," Elder says, laying blame for the destruction on the various contractors and homeowners involved. "The people that caused all the collapses, they didn't follow the instructions. People want to cut corners."

Elder says he could not baby-sit his clients to make sure they followed his plans. "I can't be a policeman and go out there and check on people on a daily basis," he says. "I have to rely on people to call me" for inspections.

Trust would not verify that the board has investigated the collapses, citing confidentiality requirements.

Mead suggests another possibility: "It is my understanding that staffing has been an issue in the design-professions cluster," he says.

Harry Loleas, deputy commissioner of occupational and professional licensing at the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, says his division has only 12 of the 16 investigators it is budgeted for, though three of those slots are being recruited. "We have a fair degree of turnover from time to time," he says. "But I will give you an absolute assurance that any vacancy in an investigative position is totally without impact on the standing of the complaint that you've inquired about."

And so John Elder is back in business, at least for now, and no one could or would say when the hearing, if any, will be held regarding the collapse cases.

"It may take them time to verify everything I said," Elder says. "I know one thing, I didn't tell them anything that was incorrect."

Hot Property

Why Did Baltimore City Give Rubble to a Dead Man?

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/23/2008

On April 4, Alvin Brunson finally got his building back. The 12-foot-wide, three-story rowhouse at 562 Wilson St., which Brunson had lost in a tax sale in October 2004, was gone--crumbled to rubble--by then. Brunson, too, was dead, having perished in the building collapse ("Building Collapse Kills Local Historian," The News Hole, March 31; "Alvin K. Brunson," Mobtown Beat, April 16). But Baltimore City transferred ownership back to Brunson--misspelled as "Brunsen"--five days after he died, according to land records reviewed by City Paper.

Actually, the city transferred the building to Brunson's nonprofit, the Center for Cultural Education. And this may be a problem, as the center's corporate charter was revoked in 2003. So, officially, the property at 562 Wilson is now owned by a defunct corporation, in care of a dead man.

This is a strange turn of events. But there is logic to it, when one understands the city's potential liability. The available records indicate that, for years, Baltimore Housing officials knowingly allowed an unlicensed contractor to do dangerous work on a city-owned building. The contractor--Brunson--died as a result. But if the building could somehow have been considered his property the whole time, the city's liability for the incident vanishes.

An attorney representing Brunson's family calls the transfer of ownership "fishy to say the least."

To recap, Alvin Brunson was a fixture on Pennsylvania Avenue. He made it his business to know the neighborhood's history, and it was his life's passion to try to preserve that history, first in his home at 541 Wilson St., and eventually, he had hoped, in a museum across the street at 562 Wilson.

To that end, Brunson established the Center for Cultural Education in 2001. And he had ambition, though not the money, to restore the house at 562 into a museum.

In 2004, Brunson lost 562 Wilson to the city for back taxes. He was trying to get the building back, and had convinced the city's Board of Estimates to return it to him, as of August 2007.

But Brunson couldn't wait to regain ownership of the house, and city housing officials did not make him wait. On June 8, 2006, they granted him a construction permit for the building he did not then own. They extended the permit on Jan. 3, 2007.

Here the story gets murky. News outlets have reported that Brunson was underpinning the basement, a dangerous process that involves digging away an existing foundation and replacing it with a deeper one, to gain headroom. Permit records available online do not show any underpinning permits, but they show that other permits were granted to do major work on the house. The last one was granted on Feb. 21, 2008, and calls for the reframing of the walls and floors.

On the afternoon of March 30, as Brunson and two others worked inside, the building collapsed. Two workers narrowly escaped; Brunson was crushed in the basement.

City Paper asked housing officials to explain the circumstances. They did not respond. On April 3, Cheron Porter, Baltimore Housing's communications director, e-mailed this statement:

Official Statement the Passing of Mr. Al Brunson: [sic]

Baltimore Housing is saddened by the loss of Mr. Al Brunson. Mr. Brunson was a Baltimore treasure and his light will truly be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very trying time.

At the time of his death, Mr. Brunson was working on 562 Wilson St., a property that was in the process of being conveyed back to Mr. Brunson after he lost it in a tax sale in 2005. However, it was generally acknowledged and understood in good faith that he was the owner. At the time of his death, we were actively working to have the records reflect his ownership. Mr. Brunson did have active permits pulled on the property. We have reached out to his family to see if there is a way we can assist through our Community Services Division.

Based on the statement, City Paper asked more questions: Why did the city not transfer the building to Brunson for all those months? And why did the city allow him to pull construction permits for more than a year before he even had an agreement to transfer ownership? And who are the inspectors responsible for this neighborhood? Housing officials did not respond.

On April 17, Brunson's sister, Aletha Brunson, says she is unaware of the property transfer to her brother's name. She also wonders whether it was Brunson's work that caused the collapse--or the effect of another collapse nearby. "I have been told that the roof of the building adjacent to my brother's collapsed a couple months ago," she says, adding that she visited the site around Thanksgiving and toured 562 Wilson St. then. "The building he was working on was structurally sound. My brother knew what he was doing."

City Paper provided Ms. Brunson with the land records for the property transfer, which are dated Aug. 24, 2007, but were not recorded until April 4, 2008. Alvin Brunson's signature does not appear on the papers. Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano's does.

Herman Braude, a Washington-based lawyer who is representing the Brunson family, says he has questions about the city's transfer of the property. "It was August of 2007 when they made the agreement," he says. "Why did it take them almost a year to make that transfer? And can you do that to a corporation that doesn't exist anymore?"

City Paper has requested records relating to Brunson and 562 Wilson St. under the Maryland Public Information Act. The newspaper awaits the city's response.

Preacher, Teacher, Forger, Spy

From Bounty Hunter to Bible Thumper, Pastor Anthony Hill Presents a Paradox

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/16/2008

IT was nearing midnight when the cops stormed the Prince George's County apartment, handcuffing one resident and terrorizing the rest of the family inside. The three plainclothes detectives--they wore badges around their necks and drove a big Ford sedan--said they were there to arrest "Jose," but he wasn't there, and they lingered after the family told them Jose had moved out.

The officers--William Mossman, Antwan D. McKnight, and Anthony Golphin, according to a police report--ransacked the Hyattsville apartment and another upstairs where more members of the family lived. Then they rifled the family's pockets, taking a total of $1,570.

Then things got weird.

After midnight, as they left with the family's money, the detectives discovered that their car had been towed.

But the story of that spring night three years ago, drawn from a state police officer's report of the incident, is not what it first seems. And those thieving detectives were not what they appeared to be, either. The story of that night is also part of a larger story, an evolving and still cryptic tale that revolves around a little-noticed Baltimore City bribery case, the threatened foreclosure--for the second time--of a Remington church, and a shadowy, high-stakes industry that one defense lawyer described as the "wild, wild West." At its center stands a friendly, gregarious, heavily armed pastor who calls himself "the secret weapon."

That clergyman blames events before and after the Prince George's incident on his status as the strong right arm of Milton Tillman Jr., the politically wired East Baltimore businessman and bail-bonds impresario whose close links to at least one drug fugitive have lately come to light ("Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12). But despite a long public record of his deeds and misdeeds, the pastor remains an enigma, right down to his name.

In recent court records, Anthony Golphin is known as Anthony J. Hill. In some court records he is 46 years old, in others 50. As Anthony Golphin Hill, he is the beloved "Pastor Tony" of the Covenant Life Family Worship Center, a handsome brick storefront church at 2602 Huntingdon Ave., one block east of North Howard Street. Hill is also a bounty hunter who since 1989 has tracked down bail jumpers, sometimes using illegal means. He has earned himself multiple convictions for theft, forgery, bribery, and handgun violations while facing down charges as varied as perjury and attempted murder.

"It has its ups and downs," Hill says when first asked, on March 13, about the bounty-hunting business, which in recent weeks has, by his account, taken him as far afield as Houston and South Bend, Ind. "I just treat people fair."

The two faces (and shifting identities) of Anthony Hill place him and his church at the nexus where Baltimore's underworld melds with legitimate businesses--both for-profit and non-. Hill ministers to Bloods gang members while falsely telling a judge he operates a state-licensed youth services organization. He captures dangerous criminals but also helps some escape. Hill stacks his church's board with ex-cons but has, according to his lawyer, given state and federal prosecutors information helpful on many important cases.

Vanessa Vereen, the church's clerk and an old friend of Hill's from when they were co-workers at Verizon, in the 1990s, says Pastor Tony's "creativity" drew her to his church. "He delivers his message through drama," she says, "which a lot of people can relate to."

Tony Hill's life has seldom lacked drama.

On the night of May 19, 2005, Hill, McKnight, and Mossman drove to 1409 Langley Way in Hyattsville. They came to the apartment complex, a warren of squat, two-story brick buildings rented mainly to Hispanic immigrants, to find "Jose," who was not further identified in the police incident report and subsequent court records. Hill and his crew had adorned themselves with fake badges, handcuffs, and a pellet gun that looked like the semiautomatic pistols police usually carry.

After holding the four men and one woman they found in the two apartments against their will for several hours and relieving them of their cash, the bounty hunters exited the apartment building to discover that their car, a 2001 Ford Crown Victoria they had registered earlier that day with a temporary tag, had been towed for a parking violation. They went to the impound lot to get it back, but instead of complying with the fake police, the woman behind the glass at Henry's Wrecker called the real cops, prompting the bounty hunters to flee in a white van, according to the Maryland State Police report of the incident.

Police quickly caught up to the bounty hunters and arrested them. Hill--who gave his name as Anthony Golphin--was initially charged with multiple counts of robbery, theft, impersonating an officer, and false imprisonment. McKnight, a 31-year-old Essex man with a 2003 gun conviction, was charged likewise, through the charges were later dropped. The last member of the crew, Mossman, is a mystery; a search of his name in the Prince George's County court file finds no record of the incident, although Mossman is named in the "probable cause" report submitted to district court in the arrests of both McKnight and Golphin/Hill.

Carlos A. Quintanilla Godoy, the member of the family who told police he had been handcuffed and whose account of the incident police appear to have relied on most heavily, backed out of a scheduled interview with City Paper, saying he was too busy working and asking, "What's in it for me?" A paralegal who served as translator for the conversation, Mario Gonzales, says Godoy contends the state police report account is accurate, except for the amount stolen. "[Hill] took $10,000 from the family," Gonzales translates.

On Jan. 12, 2006, Hill pleaded guilty to theft of under $500, receiving a short jail sentence to run concurrent to another one he was already serving, and all the other charges against him regarding the incident were dropped. But he says he and his men are innocent and is incensed that anyone would think otherwise.

"There was no money taken," Hill says by phone on April 8. "That money was all ours. Nobody was handcuffed. There were like seven or eight people in that apartment. Why would we put handcuffs on one if we couldn't put handcuffs on all of them?"

This interview comes after several weeks of cordial, if brief, communications. But in the April 8 interview, Hill is by turns angry, pleading, and mocking. "We don't take stuff from people," he says. "We don't do that. Did they report that everyone in that house were illegal aliens?"

Asked why he went to Prince George's County at all that night when, by order of a circuit court judge, he was supposed to be home in bed, Hill says, "You got to do what you got to do."

On the night of the ill-fated May 2005 raid, Hill was already under house arrest, with a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, awaiting trial on a 12-count indictment charging him with handgun possession by a convicted felon, forgery, misuse of a state seal (seven counts), perjury, and the bribery of two court officials.

The bribery case against Hill hardly rated mention in the local media, with only WBAL-TV's Jayne Miller airing a short report after his arrest and indictment on Jan. 14, 2005. Asked about the case initially on March 13, when City Paper first contacted him, Hill sounds nonchalant about the ordeal.

"It's just like any other business," Hill says. "You need people looking out for you, you need information, because information is key."

As Hill explains it, he asked an old friend to look up some information for him so he could locate a bail-jumper, and thereby ran afoul of the bribery statute in a very technical way. "The state's case was, because I bought her lunch, they say I paid her," he scoffs.

Hill says the case against him was motivated by larger concerns, political and corrupt. "It wasn't so much they don't like me--they don't like the company I work for," he says, adding that the prosecutor in his case, Elizabeth Ritter, "was very close to Fred Frank," the state's largest-volume bail bondsman, who, in recent years, has been challenged for business by Milton Tillman Jr.'s company, 4 Aces. To get at Tillman, Hill contends, Tillman's enemies came after the linchpin of Tillman's operation: Tony Hill.

"Everybody in the city knows I'm the secret weapon," Hill brags over his cell phone as he enters a downtown parking garage during the March 13 interview. "Ask anyone in the city. . . . They're thinking, If I get him out of the way, [4 Aces] will fold."

Last summer, Ritter prosecuted Tillman on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury for his part in an alleged conspiracy to use the same properties to post multiple bails; he and his co-defendants were found not guilty on all charges. Noting that Ritter had served with representatives of Fred W. Frank on a bail-reform committee, Tillman's lawyer moved that Ritter be dismissed from the case or that she recuse herself. Both motions were denied. Ritter could not be reached for comment.

Brian Frank, who operates his uncle Fred's eponymous bail business, scoffs at the notion that Ritter favors his company, but he does confirm Hill's notoriety. "He's very well known," Frank says. "I don't know if he always gets his man--I know he's had significant issues with the law."

Hill says his troubles were anything but significant. "It was a bunch of petty stuff, man," he concludes.

Aquetta Jenkins, an elder at Covenant Life Family Worship Center, says she met Hill by accident, after he called her best friend for help tracking a fugitive. Jenkins' friend's name, Shaquetta, was close enough to her own that Hill got them mixed up. "He's talking to [Shaquetta], thinking it's me," she laughs. "He's telling her all about me."

Naturally, Shaquetta called her best friend to tell her all about the bounty hunter. "`I know he's doing the job,'" Jenkins says her friend told her, "`but there's something different about him.'"

They found out later that Hill had his own church. Shaquetta joined right off, Jenkins says. After some hesitation--she was a lifelong member of another church--Jenkins joined Covenant Life as well, bringing along her children. Part of it was curiosity, Jenkins says: "I said, you know too much about me, I want to find out about him."

Sitting in a small room inside the church, at a dark wood table with a doily on it, Jenkins holds out a video titled Pimpology--Purpose in My Pain. The garish blue cover features Hill dressed up like a gangsta thug. "We do a lot of illustrated sermons," she says.

Hill's dramatic preaching style, stripped down to street vernacular, unbound by churchly convention, and unafraid of taboo, strikes a powerful chord in Jenkins, a nurse and nurse educator who teaches at Coppin State University.

"He was absolutely teaching the word," Jenkins says. "I'm a student. I always had my notebook."

Jenkins says Hill pushed her constantly to be her best, to stretch her abilities, to believe in herself and in her own bright future. "There would not be a day where he didn't say, `Something is going to happen. Something wonderful. All you have to do is walk into your place,'" she recalls. "I came to find out who he is, and all he showed me was Christ." She flashes a smile that could light a stadium.

Vanessa Vereen (yes, she says, she is a distant cousin to Tony-winning actor Ben Vereen) was one of the first to join her friend Tony's church six years ago. "He told me he was getting ready to start a church. I said I'll be there," the church's secretary remembers.

Covenant Life Family Worship Center was incorporated on Oct. 1, 2001, and took up residence in rented space at 5426 Harford Road, a former bank building attached to a dollar store.

On his church's web site Hill calls himself Dr. Anthony Golphin Hill. He says he earned his doctorate from Logos Theological Seminary, which is an online university run, according to its web site, from a Georgia post-office box.

Church is something of a family enterprise. Dennis M. Golphin, Hill's half brother, is "presiding bishop" of the Living in Favor Global Network Ministries, overseeing a network of churches, of which Covenant Life is one. Golphin says he admires his younger sibling's head for business.

"He's been very enterprising all of his life," Golphin, who now lives in North Carolina, says by phone. "I gave him a puppy once when he was 9 or 10. He sold his puppy."

Golphin laughs at the memory. "We tell that story all the time," he explains. "He sold his dog for 10 or 15 cents, I think it was. He said he was happy, because he made a profit."

The brothers learned the art and business of preaching from their father, Milledge Golphin, who came to Baltimore from South Carolina around 1950. Working as a parking-lot attendant, he founded the New Galilee Baptist Church of God in Christ Jesus Apostolic Faith, at Biddle Street and Argyle Avenue. Milledge Golphin had no formal religious education, but by 1971 his church had some 2,000 members and took up residence at 3016 Oakley Ave., where it still thrives today, along with sister congregations in both North and South Carolina. Milledge Golphin died in 1999.

Dennis Golphin is a Vietnam vet and an expert in jiujitsu. His younger brother took after his older brother in the latter regard, too, taking up karate. Hill says he was teaching martial arts at a school in Park Heights around 1989, when a bondsman he knew "offered me $1,000 to get a guy. The first time out I went to Philadelphia. First time out I had to kick a door down."

Hill says he's been doing the job ever since, despite its dangers. Hill says he's never shot at anyone but has been shot at.

The shooting came not during an entry, he says, but on Vine Street as he sat in his car. "It was about four years ago," Hill says. "A guy unloaded his gun inside our car. Nothing hit us. We was in a Chevy Cavalier, and he was in a Lincoln Continental." Hill says bullets went through both doors and there were holes in the headrests, but neither he nor his partner was hit. "I just put it down to God's grace," Hill says. "It just was not my time."

NEARLY six feet tall, thick-necked, and solid in a neat, single-breasted charcoal-gray suit with lots of buttons, Tony Hill towers over his diminutive attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell.

Ravenell and two other defense lawyers join Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Ritter at a bench conference at a videotaped plea hearing on Oct. 25, 2005, before Circuit Court Judge John M. Glynn. Out of Hill's earshot, the judge asks what would appear to be a pertinent question: "Who is he, really?"

Ritter shakes her head, shrugs her shoulders, and holds her hands out.

"What's his real name?" Glynn asks.

"Anthony Hill," Ravenell says.

"Anthony Hill?" Ritter says with surprise. "We have Golphin."

"Anthony Hill Golphin," Ravenell amends.

"Who's Golphin?" the judge inquires.

"That's the name he used," Ravenell says.

"But who is he?" Glynn again asks, "really?"

"Good question, Judge," Ravenell responds, laughing.

"That's always a mystery around here," Glynn says.

The plea conference capped a series of events that began more than 14 months earlier, just after 3 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2004, when Baltimore police detective David Rosenblatt took a call from AT&T Wireless Services. The AT&T representative told Rosenblatt about a suspicious subpoena for "subscriber information" the company had received the previous night. It was a court order, signed by Judge Kathleen Friedman and stamped with the judge's seal, requesting phone records for an AT&T customer. A similar document demanding another customer's records had been received on May 20--this one marked "Urgent !!! Kidnapping!"--with the same fax number and the same address. The faxes purportedly came from detective "R. Miller."

The police soon discovered that Friedman had retired in May. The address of the "police station" on the faxes was a McDonald's on East 29th Street. The fax came from a machine at the Covenant Life Family Worship Center, 5426 Harford Road, Baltimore.

There were many others. Nextel complied with one. Sprint got one from a "Sgt. James Walker" on Feb. 14, 2004. A contact number on that one traced back to New Trend Development Co., 2332 E. Monument St., which is also the home of 4 Aces Bail Bonds.

By Aug. 18, 2004, police had search and seizure warrants for the church, Hill's home on Bolton Street, and a yellow Hummer registered to Covenant Life Family Worship Center. From the home and church, cops seized hundreds of confidential court and police documents Hill was not authorized to have. From a nightstand in Hill's bedroom, police confiscated a Glock semiautomatic pistol.

Police also stopped the Hummer as Hill left his house, finding inside it a police tactical agent's dark blue bulletproof vest, a flashlight, a baton, gloves, flex cuffs, Mace, and a replica handgun. The raids resulted in a charge of perjury, five counts of illegal gun possession, and seven counts of counterfeiting or forging a court seal. Hill was jailed for about two weeks, bailed out, and then went back to bounty hunting on weekdays and preaching on Sundays, as the investigation continued.

Tracing the documents back to their origin in police and court files, investigators focused on a pretrial division clerk named Michelle R. Middleton, who Hill had once dated, and a police department records clerk named Shirley Mae Wiggins, who was nearing retirement. Both would eventually admit to committing crimes by helping Hill, who continued to access confidential documents after the August raids.

On Jan. 13, 2005, police raided Hill again, finding a police baton, two folding knives, and another real-looking fake gun. They also took Hill's steel handcuffs, a "United States Fugitive Agent" badge, and more purloined paperwork he'd gotten from Middleton.

Hill's new bail was initially set at $5.5 million, before being reduced to $300,000. He was out in a week.

On Jan. 20, 2005, in return for immunity, Middleton told the grand jury that she gave Hill protected information "hundreds" of times over seven years, and that, for each bundle of records, he paid her up to $200 cash--not, as Hill would later tell a reporter, "lunch."

"It wasn't, `If you give me five records, I'll give you $200,' or, `If you give me,' you know, `10 records, I'll give you $300,'" she testified. "It was whatever he gave me, whatever he gave me. I never asked for an amount. I never asked him for money for the records. We had been friends."

In November 2004, Hill paid another court worker, Dale Linnard Robinson, $50 for forged court papers that allowed him to get his driver's license renewed after it had been suspended. Robinson also supplied Hill with false court papers that rescinded a bench warrant on a New York drug dealer named Benoni T. Cole. Cole had skipped bail and remained at large for more than 90 days, forfeiting his bond, which would have cost 4 Aces money. Until it was discovered, Hill's scam canceled 4 Aces' debt to the court.

The police clerk, Shirley May Wiggins, told investigators that at Hill's behest she regularly handed over confidential information, including suspect photos, to a female 4 Aces employee. Both Wiggins and Robinson were charged as well.

At Hill's plea hearing, his lawyer casts his crimes as mere technical fouls, the driver's license scam being a case in point. Judge Glynn acknowledges that there "is a process by which" Hill could have gotten his license restored legally.

"Absolutely a process," Ravenell exclaims. "And none of this, all of this stuff, at best, any of this was a shortcut to do things that could have been done."

This prompts Brian Thompson, a lawyer representing Wiggins, to wax philosophical.

"The bigger problem--I've been representing these bail bondsmen for a long time--and yeah, they're street guys," Thompson tells the judge. "But the bigger problem is it's the wild, wild West. There's absolutely no regulation whatsoever. Nobody knows what they can and can't do."

"They do know what they can and can't do, your honor," Ritter says. "They do know they can't bribe people."

At about the same time as the alleged attempt on Hill's life, in 2004, his church was looking for a larger space. One became available at the corner of 26th Street and Huntingdon Avenue, a former Salvation Army store that had been bought three years earlier by Dennis Hatton, of Accokeek in Prince George's County, and dubbed the New Dimension Faith, Love, and Deliverance Temple Inc. (For some reason, Hatton incorporated the church from an abandoned drug house at 1303 Greenmount Ave.) In October 2003, a finance company called Blue Island Inc. had foreclosed on the church building, citing unpaid interest on a $125,000 mortgage.

"You never like to foreclose on a church," says the lender, Rex Frost, a retired psychologist who has invested in Baltimore-area real estate since the 1960s. "It's like foreclosing God."

Hill and his wife, LaTonya--Frost refers to them "Tony and Tony"--bought the building at the December 2004 auction. "Right on the steps of the courthouse," Hill says. Land records indicate the Hills pledged $37,000 in cash and financed the $175,000 purchase through Lakeside National, closing the deal in April 2005.

Both Blue Island and Lakeside National are controlled by Frost, who says his three sons own the companies.

Hill laughs when asked where he and his wife, who filed for bankruptcy over a $6,600 debt less than a month before closing on the church property, came up with $37,000 in cash shortly after he was charged with multiple felonies and had to raise two separate $300,000 bail bonds. "We have sponsors," he says during the March 13 interview. "Donations and sponsors who donate to our 501(c)(3), tax-deductible gifts." Asked for detail, Hill laughs again. "Let's just call them sponsors," he says.

Frost's companies lend at interest rates up to 14.9 percent. They are involved in dozens of current foreclosure cases and have hundreds more loans outstanding--many of them on properties owned by borrowers with links to Milton Tillman Jr., who has been convicted of attempted bribery and tax evasion, and last year fought off charges that he illegally staked the same properties to back multiple bails.

In the summer of 2005, as Hill faced his own felony charges, he began moving his flock, which a prosecutor later claimed had dwindled to about 15 people, into the new Covenant Life in Remington. But the new location came with a surprise.

"The water-meter size is one of those large ones which bills at several hundred dollars a month," Hill says. "We weren't aware of that."

Those water bills mounted, and on Dec. 19, 2007, a company called DonWil Properties LLC filed a new foreclosure action. Frost's company was named a defendant in that suit, but Frost says he no longer has an interest in the building.

Loan documents indicate that in December 2007 the church borrowed $200,100 from GreenPoint Mortgage Funding of California. Leatrice O. Scott signed for the loan on behalf of the church, which now counts between 50 and 60 people in its congregation, according to Hill. "We're small and growing," he says.

At Covenant Life, contacts with the criminal-justice system are not shameful. Like Jesus, the church has welcomed the legally wayward into its fold, beginning with its pastor and board of directors. Besides Hill, board members include Edward Fowler, 47, who has been convicted of theft and forgery, and Robert Campbell, a bail bondsman who is either 48 and has multiple convictions for drugs, assault, and theft, with another drug case pending, or is that man's 69-year-old father, the founder of Campbell Bail Bonds, who has no criminal convictions. Messages left with the bail-bonds company were not returned.

"My church knew, they hung with me and stuck with me every step of the way," Hill says, speaking of his 2005 legal ordeal. "That kind of stuff qualifies me to really be a pastor to people in the city. I been there, I done that. I've been arrested. I know what that's like, to deal with that . . .

"One of my mottos is--Pastor Tony Golphin: The pastor who is just like you."

On Dec. 6, 2005, Kenneth Ravenell is trying to convince Judge Glynn to keep Tony Hill out of jail. Hill had pleaded guilty to two counts of misuse of a state seal and one count of bribery.

"We think he has done a lot of good for law enforcement," Ravenell says during the videotaped proceedings. "And I'm concerned for his safety, if he is in fact incarcerated, because of ongoing investigations that he's involved in as well as people he's actually brought to justice."

During the hearing Ravenell cites letters of support from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Purcell and postal inspector James Smith, although he does not enter these into evidence. He cites several ongoing criminal cases, including the prosecution of a bail bondsman and alleged arsonist named Roy Marshall, and admonishes the judge to tread cautiously, lest he undercut other, more serious cases. "I think the state should have some concern and maybe want to make some decisions about how they want to proceed when [Hill is] involved in these ongoing investigations as a witness for the prosecution," Ravenell says. (Ravenell did not return a reporter's phone call; a spokeswoman for the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office says it has a policy of not confirming letters such as the one Purcell allegedly wrote on Hill's behalf. "If he did it because the guy was cooperating with us, I can't confirm," she says.)

Prosecutor Ritter takes the opportunity to list Hill's prior convictions. In November 1989, shortly after beginning his bounty-hunting career, Hill was charged with aiding in the escape of suspected drug dealers by using forged court forms. He was also charged with a handgun violation. Ritter tells the court that Hill was convicted of forgery and obstruction of justice in that case, echoing a letter Hill's own lawyer sent to the court, but the court record indicates that these charges were dropped. Hill does have a forgery conviction dating from 1985, however.

In 1994, Hill was arrested in Montgomery County and charged with theft, forgery, and uttering a forged document. He later pleaded guilty to theft of over $300 and received an 18-month suspended prison sentence with two years' supervised probation.

Although Ritter does not mention it in court, Hill was arrested again, in August 1997, and charged in Baltimore City with attempted first-degree murder and handgun crimes. All of those charges were dropped, and City Paper was not able to learn more about the circumstances surrounding that case.

At Hill's sentencing hearing, on Dec. 6, 2005, Ritter pounds away at what she clearly regards as Hill's habit of untruthfulness. He told the court, she says, "that he was a volunteer for the church and that he got no pay" other than small stipends for speaking. "But, your honor, in 2003, when he applied for a car loan at Baltimore County Savings Bank, his brother, Dr. Dennis Golphin, filed a W-2 indicating that [Hill] earned $54,000 from the church, and that he also got a $20,000 housing allowance."

Ritter tells Judge Glynn that Hill used a bogus nonprofit company called J.A.T. Community Development, circa 2003-'04, to fool a juvenile court into handing over a juvenile offender. Hill told Judge Martin Welch at the time that J.A.T. had four houses up and running, fully licensed, as shelter and juvenile alternative treatment centers, according to Ritter.

But "there was no juvenile facility," Ritter says. "There never had been." The location Hill told the court would house juveniles, 807 N. Fulton Ave., is actually owned by Campbell Bail Bonds and was being used as an adult male detox center, with no juveniles allowed, Ritter says.

"This behavior of this particular person is not going to stop," Ritter concludes. "And it goes to the core of the court system."

Ravenell objects to Ritter's spin, naming the juvenile Hill got custody of. "Why didn't she tell you what Brandon Saunders became after being there in [Hill's] juvenile facilities?" Ravenell demands. "He became a productive young man in the community."

Glynn sentences Hill to 10 years, with all but 18 months suspended, followed by three years' probation. Hill's prison time is set to begin tolling on May 23, 2005--three days after his arrest in Prince George's County--so that he can be awarded "time served" credit for the months he was monitored in his home under curfew. He ends up serving just a few months behind bars.

At the same hearing, Dale Robinson, the court worker who gave Hill a false document, is sentenced to probation before judgment and 80 hours' community service. Shirley Wiggins, the police clerk, pleads guilty to a single count of exceeding her authorized access to a computer system and receives probation. At Thompson's request, Judge Glynn withholds adjudication until after Wiggins retires from city service, so her conviction would not affect her ability to collect her pension.

From the dock, Hill speaks without the drama he employs from his pulpit. "I am sorry for what I'm here for today," Hill, dressed this day in a windbreaker, tells the judge. "I'm not in the bail-bond industry. I'm not going back to do that any more. I'm already pretty much retired from that, pursuing stuff with the church now and some other things. . . . " His voice trails off.

Just inside the front door of the Covenant Life Family Worship Center, a suit of armor stands sentry. The walls are decorated with posters exalting the "spiritual warrior." The church's pulpit is a glass case housing a samurai sword.

Hill warmly greets a visitor from behind the light and sound board in the sanctuary. It is March 30, 10:30 a.m., an hour before the regular Sunday service, and Hill's firm handshake and warm embrace are welcoming.

Hill had e-mailed the reporter several hours before, at 3 a.m., saying he had just gotten back from South Bend, Ind., where he had captured a fugitive. In the e-mail, he apologized for not being available to talk in depth about his life and work, and offered to meet later.

As the early birds start to arrive amid the folding chairs, Hill asks some trusted church members to sit for interviews, including Vereen and Jenkins. Brandon Saunders comes in last.

He is thin, his pants sit low on his hips, and he is noticeably taller than the 5-foot-7 he rates in his criminal records. He says he was 16 or 17 and locked up in juvenile detention, about four years ago, when he met the man he now calls his "father." Anthony Hill walked in with a cross around his neck and asked Saunders what he was into. "I told him I wanted to be a audio tech," Saunders says. "He let me work the sound board" at the church.

Saunders is meant to be the kind of success story everyone in the judicial system wants told. He was a street thug. He was a car thief, a hustler, a drug dealer making $1,500 every day. He was homeless, he says, sleeping on the playground behind Belmont Elementary School with a seven-shot .25-caliber pistol under his Dickies jacket. And now his life is better. Now he has a job. Now he is changed. Saunders is about to turn 21. He makes $8.50 an hour at My Cleaning Service, working when they call him.

After a few minutes, Saunders' story starts to transform. At first it is all past-tense. He had a mouth full of gold, a car for every day of the week, $10,000 in a Reeboks shoe box when he was arrested. But then his story, told in a flat, matter-of-fact monotone, creeps into the present tense.

"I'm Blood since 2003, for real," Saunders declares, before reciting a litany of Compton neighborhood knowledge drummed into him by his set. "I got shot by a Crip last summer. Almost killed me, for real, for real. Right here." He grabs his left leg above the knee.

The gang, he says, is "not all bad. We get the homies jobs, we put homies in school." There are rules to follow--good rules--like no sex with your sister, meaning the girls in your own set. And the Bloods pay the rent, pay for the babies, throw the big cookouts in the neighborhoods, and watch your back. The gangsters handle neighborhood disputes, protecting the civilians from thefts by junkies, purse snatchings. Or, anyway, protecting the good neighbors--the ones willing to live and let live. The others, the ones who call the police to report drug dealing, do not get the same consideration, Saunders explains: "Their kids getting beat down on the front lawn, we just let it happen, kna-mean?"

Hill, Saunders says, "never stereotypes. He never stereotypes my friends," and he welcomes them, with their red bandannas, into the Covenant Life Family Worship Center.

"I won't not be telling people about God, just because I am what I am," Saunders says. "Christianity--that's gangbangin'. Jesus had 12 disciples. They weren't people who'd never done nothing before. They'd been locked up, stealin'."

This is the message Brandon Saunders says he takes from Pastor Tony Hill: "Shine a light. Shine a light on these people, man. Everybody does more good stuff than bad stuff."

Hill will not fully explain his longstanding habit of defying the law, the strange contradictions in his life. From mid-March until early April, Hill politely but consistently ducks a reporter's phone calls and e-mails, promising always to meet and talk later, and then failing to make himself available for an in-depth interview. Along the way he says he is in Houston, South Bend, and West Virginia, tracking down fugitives.

If Hill told the truth about his wherebouts, he violated the terms of his probation. "He's not supposed to be out of state," Alicia Ranson, a field supervisor for the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation, says on April 10.

Hill calls the reporter 10 minutes after the conversation with Ranson ends. "Are you out to get me?" he demands. "That question gets me violated." In a short telephone conversation, Hill amends that he was never out of state, saying he "must have been tired" when he e-mailed saying he had been in South Bend. "I'm always right here in Maryland," he says, laughing.

He admonishes a reporter for coming "through the back door," asking questions about the church but then turning attention to his criminal record, even though he had acknowledged his record during earlier conversations. Finally, Hill says, he's not mad. "This stuff blows over," he concludes.

For Tony Hill, it always has.

Creative Licensing

Examination of City Liquor Licenses Reveals Lack of Oversight

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 4/9/2008

The Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners recently took rare action, revoking the licenses of two bars tied to illegal drugs. On March 20 officials closed West Baltimore's Sugar Hill Tavern after police received a dozen reports of illicit drug activity and underage drinking; a week earlier the board revoked the liquor license at Chuck's Place, near Highlandtown, after police seized seven ounces of cocaine and $11,000 cash.

State law to the contrary, the Liquor License Board has a history of allowing convicted felons to obtain control of liquor licenses, and also of hiring them ("The High Life," Mobtown Beat, Jan. 3, 1995; "Close Inspection," Mobtown Beat, July 3, 1996). The recent revocations appeared to be a sign that the agency in charge of the city's estimated 1,350 liquor establishments has gotten serious about cracking down on drug crime in the bar business.

However, a pair of liquor-license applications--one pending and another that has been approved--and interviews with top Liquor License Board officials expose policy discrepancies about the renewal of licenses for convicted felons. A passive approach to background checks leaves the door open for purchasers to front for individuals connected to the criminal world.

In one case the board approved two license renewals, a license revival, and a license transfer, despite written disclosure that the applicants were convicted drug dealers. Another case shows how the blasé attitude of some board officials with regard to straw-man purchasers makes it possible for convicted felons to influence the city's bar business.

Liquor License Board officials say they have no authority and show no interest in probing applicants' personal or business associations to ferret out illicit arrangements. Board spokesman Douglas Paige refers to the practice of having someone stand in for someone else on a liquor license as "shadow ownership" and says, "We're [OK] with that."

The liquor licenses reviewed by City Paper were owned or are being sought by individuals with close ties to prominent East Baltimore businessmen who have connections in the drug underworld: Milton Tillman Jr. and Noel Liverpool Sr. Both men, who loom in the background of the liquor-license transactions, had business interests in an apparel company called Total Male, which has a history associated with drug trafficking. (See "Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12.) Tillman also has criminal convictions for attempting to bribe a public official and tax evasion. Both license applications feature endorsements from prominent former public officials.

On paper, Liverpool's wife, Etta, was the owner of Club House Bar and Grill, at 4217 Erdman Ave., until last year. But court records and interviews with the bar's previous owners--who are convicted drug felons--suggest that both of the Liverpools had an interest in the establishment. Noel Liverpool has no criminal record, but he did, according to the attorney who drew up incorporation papers, establish Total Male II in the mid-1990s on behalf of Shawn Michael Green, a fugitive indicted for drug trafficking and an alleged associate of the Phillips Cocaine Organization, an allegedly violent $31 million drug ring.

At Lucky's Tavern, at 1601 N. Milton Ave., a mortgage broker with business ties to Tillman--who also had an interest in Total Male and says he commands 80 percent of the city's bail-bonds market--is seeking a license transfer from a relative of Tillman's.

Samuel Daniels, executive secretary of the Liquor License Board, says the board does not investigate applicants or their associates, short of a cursory background check to rule out applicants' felony convictions. "We do not have capability to address that," he says. "I'm not even sure if we can subpoena bank records."

But he stresses that the board has broad discretion to review a matter should irregularities pertinent to an applicant's background or associates come to its attention, much of which is available through online public-records databases. Daniels further contends the Liquor License Board is improving its standards for vetting applications but concedes, "It's still possible for things to slide through via incompetence--or worse."

The license history at Club House Bar and Grill presents a murky scenario that Daniels would like to avoid. Since 1990, the license belonged to Robert Charles Meek Jr., known as "Chuckie," and his wife, Jacqueline Lynn Meek. In 1998, they transferred the license to William T. Bickford, known as "Little Bill." The Meeks pleaded guilty in 2000 to conspiracy to distribute 126 kilograms of cocaine. The following year, Bickford pleaded guilty to drug charges and later defaulted on a purchase agreement, which led to a legal battle and allowed the Meeks to remain secured creditors on the license despite their drug conviction.

Liquor License Board officials now disagree about whether the Meeks, as convicted felons, were entitled to be on that license, which the board nevertheless renewed in 2002 and '03.

Daniels says the board screwed up: "There's two ways that happens," he says. "Either someone knew and looked the other way, or someone was incompetent and didn't notice."

Paige, however, insists secured creditors can remain on a liquor license even if they do have criminal pasts because they are prevented from operating the bar.

Current Liquor License Board chair Stephan Fogleman, who did not preside at the time of the Meeks' situation, offers a compromise interpretation: "The license is both a piece of paper worth value and a right to operate a bar. And since a secured creditor will never actually operate a bar, the longstanding policy of the board is that secured creditors can retain the license for its monetary value."

Jacqueline Meek recalls that after her conviction, while her husband was incarcerated, she lined up a buyer for the bar: Noel Liverpool. But by the time a legal battle over the bar's ownership was resolved, the license had lapsed because the bar had been closed for more than 180 days. Meek contends that after a closed-door meeting with board officials she was allowed to revive the license and give it to her mother-in-law, who promptly sold it to Liverpool's wife, Etta. Court records show that the Meeks dealt with both Noel and Etta Liverpool in collecting their mortgage payments and later sued them both for untimely payment.

Etta M. Liverpool, according to her liquor license application, is a former employee of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services and Justice Resources Inc., a defunct Baltimore-based nonprofit group that worked with troubled youth. In late 2004, the liquor board issued her license application for Club House. Her application states that it excludes her husband because the couple was expecting a divorce. (City Paper could find no records that show the couple ever divorced.)

Neither Liverpool has a criminal record.

The application further states that Noel Liverpool was unemployed at the time, but was previously employed at Five Mile House, a Reisterstown Road tavern frequented in the 1990s by politicians, police officers, and businesspeople; a company called Inner City Gear, which he founded in the mid-1990s; and Total Male, the popular men's clothing store located at 2330 E. Monument St., which also had a location called Total Male II, for which Shawn Green served as president.

Total Male has a questionable history, and is a business intersection for Green, Liverpool, and Milton Tillman, a founding board member of the company that owned the trade name. Law enforcement documents show one of Shawn Green's addresses as 2330 E. Monument St., also the current location of a pair of Tillman's businesses: Four Aces Bail Bonds and New Trend Development. In 1997, Total Male was the subject of a Baltimore Police Department special investigation into drug trafficking, according to court records and Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman with the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office. At least two of the company's former employees have federal drug convictions.

The Liverpools are politically active, and through Liverpool Enterprises Inc., which lists Etta as sole director, gave $4,000 to both state Sen. Joan Carter Conway and city Comptroller Joan Pratt from 2001 to '04. Etta Liverpool also enjoys the support of former state delegate and former assistant chief liquor inspector Kenneth Webster--Conway's former campaign manager--who appears on her liquor-license application as a character reference. Conway's husband, Vernon Conway, works at the Liquor License Board.

Late in 2006, Etta Liverpool sold the Club House bar, and when contacted by City Paper she declined to answer questions.

Fogleman calls the history at Club House "unusual." When asked to comment about the questions it raises about the associations of those in the bar business, he offers, "It's too bad it took so long for this to come out."

A different scenario is unfolding at Lucky's Tavern--one that the Liquor License Board appears ill-equipped to sort out. Again, a politician has vouched for an applicant with no criminal convictions. But the applicant also has apparent business ties to Tillman, whose family currently owns Lucky's.

The current license at Lucky's is held by Patricia Brown, as executor of the estate of her mother, Patricia Black, who also is Tillman's mother. According to a 1998 appeals court ruling, Tillman was convicted of tax evasion in a scheme that included taking a cut of payroll checks cashed at the bar by his mother.

Black died in 2002. Brown has handled licensing affairs at Lucky's Tavern since then and also became vice president of Tillman's Four Aces Bail Bonds in 2006.

The new applicant for the license at Lucky's Tavern is Brian Winfield, a mortgage broker who purchased the bar and is awaiting license approval. During a 2007 criminal trial in which Tillman was acquitted of posting fraudulent property bonds, a defense lawyer argued there is no evidence of a business relationship between the two men. Winfield says they are just friends, and that he has no intention of fronting for anyone in the bar business.

However, public records show that Tillman and Winfield have both signed on behalf of Principals of Debt Consolidation Inc., a company Winfield formed in 2000. In 2006, Tillman signed a consent decree on behalf of the company, which was a co-defendant with several Tillman companies, in a dispute over lead paint in 108 residential rental properties, court records show. Winfield says he has no knowledge of the lawsuit and was never served with papers.

In January 2007, state property records show Winfield's company also entered into a deed of trust along with a number of Tillman companies to secure a blanket loan of $850,000. Winfield says his company is dissolved, and that he no longer owns the property that was used to partially secure that loan.

Former city councilwoman Pamela Carter, director of the Dawson Family Safe Haven Center, a government-funded community center located at the site of the arson that killed neighborhood activist Angela Dawson and her family, is a character reference on Winfield's liquor-license application.

Of her relationship with Winfield, Carter says, "He asked me to support his application. I've known him to be a hard-working young man, interested in real estate. I couldn't say anything bad about him. He always calls to wish me a happy birthday."

Daniels, the Liquor License Board's executive secretary, says that political figures who support liquor-license applications are offering a stamp of approval that does not go unnoticed. "You could surmise such references are offered for testimonial value."

Additional Reporting By Chris Landers

Building Collapse Kills Local Historian

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 3/31/2008

A city-owned rowhouse collapsed yesterday, killing an amateur historian who was attempting to renovate it. The tragedy again raises questions about the city's monitoring and policing of building permits and its own huge stock of vacant buildings, which have been collapsing at an alarming rate for years.

Alvin Kirby Brunson owned the house at 562 Wilson St. for years before the city took it for back taxes in September of 2005. He did not sell it to the city for $218,000, as The Sun reported. According to news reports, the building collapsed at about 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 30, as Brunson and two other men were working in it. The two workers fled the building in time; Brunson, City Paper's Best Community Historian in 2005, was trapped in the basement.

Firefighters took about three hours to dig his body from the rubble.

Brunson operated the Center for Cultural Education from 541 Wilson, a house across the street from the collapsed building. Though his center only lasted two years before being forfeited for nonpayment of state taxes in 2003, Brunson was a tireless neighborhood booster, and he led City Paper reporter Christina Royster-Hemby on a tour for her 2005 feature about the history of Pennsylvania Avenue.

City records indicate that someone pulled permits to "reframe interior walls," "construct new subfloors, replace floor joist, construct new stair steps" in June 2006, nearly a year after Brunson lost the building for nonpayment of taxes (or water bills). A second permit requesting a "time extension" of the first was granted in January, 2007, and a third, to "reframe walls & floor in basement using 2"x4" studs on walls & 2" x 8" floor joist as per code" was granted on Feb 21 of this year.

Builders and engineers have told City Paper in the past that removing all the floor joists from a rowhouse weakens the structure and can lead to collapse.

There were no plans filed with the permits, and no building inspector visited the project, according to the city building permit records available to City Paper. The available records do not say who pulled the permits, but circumstantially it appears that Brunson did.

Brunson is not a licensed contractor or homebuilder, according to state records.

Ordinarily, municipalities do not allow the former owners of their buildings to renovate them, as doing so would open up liability issues for city taxpayers. It appears that Brunson did not realize that he was no longer the building's owner, and the city's Housing Department did not inform him of that fact, opting instead to approve his permit applications three different times.

City Paper has asked city housing officials to answer questions about the collapse and about their monitoring of the building and the permits issued. We hope to hear from them soon.

One Angry Man

Two Sentencing Hearings Shed Light On City's Shadow Economy

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 3/26/2008

U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz's temper flared during the March 20 sentencing hearing of Baltimore mortgage broker David Lincoln, who pleaded guilty last year to bank fraud for his part in an alleged drug and money-laundering conspiracy headed by fugitive Shawn Michael Green ("Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12).

"I'm getting myself riled up here," Motz said from the bench. "I don't understand why Mr. Lincoln isn't here as a co-conspirator . . . on the white-collar end of a major drug operation." Green, himself a former mortgage broker, clothing-store owner, and record-studio executive with a thin rap sheet, has been in hiding since early last year, after being indicted for cocaine and heroin trafficking and money laundering. The indictment calls for the forfeiture of property and assets totaling more than $4 million.

The senior judge's remarks came as assistant U.S. attorney Kwame Manley was seeking a 10-month prison term for Lincoln for helping Green launder drug money. Motz indicated he would prefer to put the 38-year-old mortgage broker behind bars for 10 years. The judge's comments were unusually stark and echoed widespread discontent among the federal judiciary regarding decades-old sentencing guidelines that weigh heavily against low-level drug offenders and street-corner dealers.

"So I'm going to postpone the sentencing, think it through myself," he said before rescheduling Lincoln's hearing until April 4, the same day that Green's mother, Yolanda Crawley, is scheduled to be sentenced for using her son's drug proceeds to pay off fraudulently obtained mortgages on luxury homes in Florida, Georgia, and Maryland.

On March 18, Motz had been less stern when a third participant in the mortgage-fraud scheme--attorney Rachel Donegan, Lincoln's ex-lover--appeared for sentencing. Donegan, who surrendered her law license after pleading guilty last fall, left Motz's courtroom in tears, even though the judge had sentenced her to three years probation rather than prison time.

Motz had justified Donegan's light sentence after defense attorney Gregg Bernstein argued that she was a minor participant who did not know she was dealing with drug money, and that her judgment was clouded by Lincoln's dominance over her. "I think those arguments are very well put," Manley said, agreeing with his adversary. "I don't have any quibble with that at all." Another mitigating factor, Bernstein argued, was that Donegan was distracted by a bitter custody battle involving her young niece. "Tough to give probation to somebody who committed mortgage fraud who is a member of the bar," Motz replied, before doing just that.

But on March 20, with Lincoln before him, Motz said he may have misread Donegan's role. "I came in based upon the Donegan sentencing" believing that "she was motivated into committing a crime because she was trying to maintain a relationship that had fallen apart with Mr. Lincoln," Motz said. "That may be inaccurate," the judge observed, after hearing Lincoln's attorney, William Purpura, oppose attempts to transfer blame to his client.

In addition, Donegan and Lincoln have been sued recently in connection with mortgage irregularities that suggest their improprieties may not have been limited to phony loan applications on behalf of Shawn Green. One lawsuit seeks a full audit of their loan-processing activities.

Outside the courtroom after his hearing, which fell on his birthday, Lincoln seemed taken aback when told by a reporter that Donegan received probation after blaming him for her actions. When asked whether the blame was misplaced, he paused, then replied coolly, "After I think it through, I'll call you."

Finger-pointing aside, Motz said his larger concern was how the case reflects entanglements between drug dealers and white-collar professionals. "Seems to me, Mr. Lincoln was on the edge of society" with people who are "probably worse than street dealers," the judge said. "Here's an intelligent person . . . taking illegal money and putting it into the legal mainstream." In contrast to Manley's recommended sentences for Donegan and Lincoln, Motz continued, prosecutors routinely go for 20-year career-criminal sentences against street dealers.

Manley acknowledged there was "some evidence" that Lincoln knew he was helping a drug dealer, and that the government could have charged Lincoln as a co-conspirator. However, the prosecutor said, "To be fair to Mr. Lincoln . . . he did not participate in the selling of drugs." In addition, Manley said, Lincoln offered prosecutors a list of 10 clients referred to him by Green: "When people sit down with the government and make efforts to talk with us, help us out, we will do so in response."

Lincoln and Donegan offered title services and mortgage brokering for real-estate transactions, turning out loan applications via two companies: Guilford Title and Escrow and First Metropolitan Mortgage. Green is described in court proceedings as a social and business acquaintance of Lincoln.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein told City Paper on March 20 that Green's alleged conspiracy includes at least two other men charged with drug-trafficking crimes. In 2006, Green was stopped in a car containing nearly $1 million in cash, along with Maurice K. Phillips and Anthony W. Ballard, who since have been indicted in Pennsylvania and Maryland, respectively. Phillips is the alleged kingpin of the Phillips Cocaine Organization, whose members are charged with murder-for-hire to protect a $31 million international enterprise that stretched from Mexico to the U.S. East Coast. Unlike Green, Phillips and Ballard are in federal custody awaiting trial.

Adding to Green's mystique are his ties to a pair of politically connected East Baltimore businessmen: Noel Liverpool Sr. and Milton Tillman Jr. Green turned to Liverpool Sr. in the mid-1990s for help in setting up a now-defunct urban apparel store, Total Male II, in Mondawmin Mall. Tillman Jr., a convicted felon and former club owner who boasts the largest share of Baltimore City's bail-bonds market, is a founding board member of the company that owns the Total Male trade name, which Green used with the company's written permission.

Law enforcement documents obtained by City Paper also show one of Green's addresses as 2330 E. Monument St., a location shared by Total Male and two of Tillman Jr.'s companies: Four Aces Bail Bonds and New Trend Development.

Green and his far-flung connections loom over the pending sentencing hearings for Yolanda Crawley and David Lincoln--and the lenient sentence that Motz already handed to Rachel Donegan.

Challenging Donegan's love-gone-bad story are court records claiming that other home loans processed by Guilford Title and Escrow are improper. Two lawsuits recently filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court portray a pattern of questionable conduct rather than an "isolated, aberrant episode" during the summer of 2005, as Donegan's attorney successfully argued before Motz. The lawsuits allege that, since that summer, she failed to record numerous loan documents with the courts, a lapse that has clouded title to at least seven properties in the Baltimore area.

One lawsuit claims the total number of affected properties is unknowable without a full audit of the company. That has yet to happen, but the lawsuit contends available records "raised additional questions concerning the proper handling of funds received and disbursed by Guilford," and calls transactions in and out of Guilford's escrow account "highly unusual."

The other lawsuit makes the same claim--that Donegan failed to record loan documents--regarding a home purchase by Carolyn Pratt and Cynthia Glover, also named as defendants. Pratt confirms she was in the bail bonds business at the time of the purchase and wrote bails in conjunction with Milton Tillman Jr.'s company as recently as 2006. A public-records search for contact information for Glover leads to an address related to Shawn Green's drug conspiracy: 2339 Eutaw Place. The Reservoir Hill apartment building was owned by Green until the government seized it in a forfeiture proceeding and sold it at auction on March 20--the date of Lincoln's cut-short sentencing hearing.

Pratt says she knows little about Donegan and Lincoln, and nothing about Green. "This mixes us up with something that we don't even know anything about," she says, adding that she and Glover are "kind of stuck in the middle of not knowing what these people are up to." City Paper's attempts to reach Glover, including through Pratt, were unsuccessful.

Green's alleged ties to the Phillips Cocaine Organization add to the intrigue. Details of his own conspiracy case remain under seal, but the Phillips indictment offers a road map for the convoluted world of high-level drug dealing.

The 62-page Phillips indictment that federal authorities filed last September identifies several key modus operandi requiring the services of lawyers and money managers. They include: compartmentalizing the organization so that members of the conspiracy do not know what the others are doing; using fraudulently obtained loans to purchase investment properties, and drug proceeds to repay those loans; employing relatives, friends or money-laundering associates to open bank accounts and purchase expensive homes and cars; and making cash payments to attorneys representing co-conspirators and other drug traffickers to engender loyalty.

The question Judge Motz will be asking at David Lincoln's sentencing on April 4 is: To what extent was he knowingly involved with more than simply a handful of bogus loans? The question Lincoln and his lawyer could be asking is: How did Rachel Donegan get off without facing a single night in prison?

Flight Connections

Shawn Green Is More Than An Accused Drug Trafficker On The Run

By Jeffrey Anderson and Van Smith | Posted 3/12/2008

For more than two decades, East Baltimore clothing store Total Male has been associated with fashionable urban attire. Located on a bustling block of Monument Street, not far from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the popular store has also sold tickets to concerts and hip-hop DJ events.

But a federal drug and money-laundering indictment unsealed last year against 41-year-old fugitive Shawn Michael Green, who was the president of an affiliated West Baltimore store called Total Male II, complicates Total Male's image as simply a place for scenesters to buy clothing and tickets to parties.

The indictment also opens a window into two well-connected East Baltimore businessmen with interests in Total Male--and in politics: Milton Tillman Jr., a sizable figure in real estate, nightclubs, and bail bonds, who was part of the company that owns Total Male, which is located at 2330 E. Monument St.; and Noel Liverpool Sr., a former football star at Morgan State University who has had interests in bars, apparel, and real estate, and who helped Green open Total Male II, in Mondawmin Mall in 1996; Total Male II has since closed.

The ties between these two men and Green suggest an overlap in the city's legitimate business economy and the drug underworld.

Green suddenly disappeared sometime around March 26, 2007, when federal agents attempted to bring him in on drug charges after arresting his mother, Yolanda Crawley, and serving search warrants on a number of their Maryland and Florida properties. As a result, the investigation was disrupted, but the unsealed indictment accuses Green of drug trafficking since 1998 and calls for forfeiture of $4 million in cash, property, and other assets. On March 20, a four-story Reservoir Hill apartment building owned by Green is scheduled for auction as a result of the forfeiture.

Though Green remains at large, three of his co-conspirators--lawyer Rachel Donegan, mortgage broker David Lincoln, and Green's mother--pleaded guilty last year for their parts in his alleged drug and money-laundering scheme and await sentencing in the coming weeks. All three copped to wire fraud that allowed Crawley to purchase luxury homes in Maryland and Florida using false loan applications. The probe into Green's alleged conspiracy is ongoing, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office, and the indictment mentions "others" who are allegedly involved, in addition to Green, Crawley, Donegan, and Lincoln.

Green's case is intriguing in part because he fled, but also because of the stature of Tillman Jr. and Liverpool Sr. Nothing to tie Tillman Jr. and Liverpool Sr. to Green's alleged conspiracy has come to light publicly so far.

To some, these two businessmen are icons in the underserved communities of East Baltimore. Together, the two are fully in charge of large swaths of property that bear the scars of inner-city poverty. Between them, Tillman Jr., Liverpool Sr., and their family members, along with their various companies, own scores and scores of properties around the city and surrounding counties, including more than a few along East Monument Street. On a recent afternoon on Monument, for example, near where Total Male operates, there was a palpable sense of disorder along the strip of liquor stores, carry-outs, bail-bonds companies, and tax-service providers that populate the block. A Baltimore police officer was writing up an older gentleman for what appeared to be loitering while ignoring a crew of young street-bike riders as they tore off down the street popping wheelies.

The trade name Total Male was registered from 1993 until it lapsed in 1998 to All Pro Sports Enterprises Inc., which was formed in 1985 with Tillman Jr. as a board member. In 1996, Liverpool Sr. helped Green set up Total Male II, according to the attorney who filed the incorporation papers, with the written permission of Total Male's resident agent.

Green is listed in incorporation papers as president of Total Male II, and his mother and his father, Michael Green, are also listed as officers of the company. Corporate records list the principal office as 2339 Eutaw Place--the address of Green's forfeited apartment building scheduled to go to auction, which also served as home base for Green's Platinum Hill recording studio.

Among the many mysteries surrounding Green and Total Male is the claim to the brand name. Anthony J. Dease of Royal Supreme Motors, an auto dealership and tag-and-title service a block away from Total Male's East Baltimore location, claims that "I was in Total Male long before Shawn Green was there. I started the business like 25 years ago." Dease was convicted for stealing city funds in the mid-1980s, but adds, "I work for the city now."

Confusion about Total Male's ownership structure is only partly cleared up by state business records. The trade name was owned by All Pro Sports, and in 1992 Dease was listed as the company's president. In 1993, John H. Bates Sr.--who owned the Monument Street property that houses Total Male and other Tillman businesses--became the resident agent. The property is now owned by Tillman Jr.'s son Milton Tillman III, who bought it in 2005. Reached by phone in early March, Bates contends that he is "one part of Total Male, the one in Mondawmin Mall," and when asked if he knows Shawn Green says, "Yes, I do," but declines any further comment.

The formation of Total Male II comes with its own backstory. Attorney Leronia Josey drew up its corporate papers in the mid-1990s. She recalls dealing not with Shawn Green but with Noel Liverpool Sr. in setting up the company. Though she confirms that Bates gave Green written consent to use Total Male II as a business name, she says she never met Green.

"I remember [Liverpool] as an enterprising person who wanted to own a piece of the American Dream," says Josey, a former member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents who currently sits on the Maryland Higher Education Commission. "I do a lot of work for churches and small businesses. There was a big push for economic development at the time."

According to Josey, Liverpool saw a market for fashionable urban apparel. "I went to Mondawmin Mall and said, `I need to see what you're doing with this store,'" she recalls. "There were all these nice coats and jackets." She says she hasn't had contact with Liverpool in more than a decade.

Green's indictment potentially sullies the images of Tillman Jr. and Liverpool Sr. as community leaders and raises questions about whether Baltimore's illicit economy is intertwined with its legitimate business and civic landscape.

Most emblematic of this, perhaps, is their ties to politicians. One of Liverpool's companies, Liverpool Enterprises Inc., has donated $4,000 to each of the campaign committees of Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt and state Sen. Joan Carter Conway. Conway's CIG Professional Tax Services is located directly across the street from Total Male, at 2331 E. Monument St., and her husband, Baltimore City Liquor License Board employee Vernon Conway, is her partner in that business.

One of Tillman Jr.'s real-estate companies, New Trend Development, has donated $1,000 to Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith's campaign and $500 each to former Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell and former Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, who ran for Maryland attorney general in 2006. Tillman's 4 Aces Bail Bonds has contributed $4,750 to politicians since 2001, including $1,200 to Maryland Del. Talmadge Branch and $1,000 to state Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Though Liverpool Sr. has a clean criminal record in Maryland, Tillman Jr. has twice been convicted in cases that reverberated in Baltimore political circles. The first, in 1993, was an attempted $30,000 bribe of Gia Blatterman, then the acting chair of the Baltimore City zoning board. In 1996, shortly after Tillman was released from prison in that case, a jury convicted him of tax evasion for his use of front companies to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in nightclub revenue. Most recently, Tillman Jr. and others were acquitted of illegally using property to underwrite bail bonds in criminal cases.

Attempts to reach Liverpool Sr. and Tillman Jr. for this article were unsuccessful. Jeffrey Chernow, an attorney for Liverpool Sr., did not return several calls. Tillman Jr.'s attorney Gregory Dorsey said he would relay a message to his client, who did not return the call.

Much less is known about Shawn Green. Despite being indicted as a longtime major drug trafficker, he has managed to fly below the radar. Federal court records in Florida indicate he has had previous drug arrests, but in Maryland he's only been charged before with one crime: a 1992 disorderly-conduct charge in Baltimore City. In 2006, according to court documents, federal law enforcers seized more than $900,000 in cash from people they identified as Green's associates. Federal law enforcers decline to say how the cash seizure helped investigators move the conspiracy case forward--or any other details or insights about the case against Green.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein insists that Green's sudden disappearance last March is not unusual. "Usually we catch them in a week or two," he says. "About five or 10 suspects a year remain at large." He says he has no idea when Green fled but believes it was after federal agents arrested his mother and served search warrants at six properties on March 26, 2007. Rosenstein also does not seem flustered by Green's flight. "There were two priorities," he says, pointing to the intended arrest of Green and seizure of drugs, money and documents. "The main priority was to execute the search warrants." He adds, "We have lots of evidence that we won't disclose unless or until we go to trial."

Which means there's more to Shawn Green than what's in the public record. And though Josey may have been satisfied that Total Male was simply helping its owners chase the American Dream, court records show that some of its employees and principals have engaged in illegal activity. Other than Dease and Tillman Jr., who have criminal backgrounds, those records show at least two Total Male employees were convicted on federal drug trafficking charges.

And then there's Shawn Green, indicted for major drug-related crimes, but yet to be caught or convicted.

The New York Way

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 3/3/2008

New York City has a problem looks familiar to City Paper readers: shoddy engineering work that leads to collapses and injuries. According to today's report in the New York Times, city officials gave architects and engineers authority to inspect and sign off on their own construction projects--just as Baltimore did. The results have been similar.

The response, however, has not been.

In Baltimore, collapsing buildings and unpermitted demolition in the city's expensive waterfront neighborhoods have damaged houses and angered neighbors. Engineer John Elder, one of the most notorious offenders, has lost his engineering license because he routinely perjured himself on his renewal application. After being alerted by City Paper, state officials took more than a year to suspend Elder.

But city officials have done little to reign in shoddy contractors or the city building inspectors who appear to wink at the substandard work. The city's Inspector General, Hilton Green, apparently has more important things to do.

Brooks on Brooks

Imprisoned Dealer Reveals More About Drugs in Baltimore

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 2/13/2008

A recorded voice says to "press 5" to accept a prepaid call one early January morning. Baltimore drug dealer Fred Brooks is calling from federal prison. He has plenty to say.

"This goes in a lot of directions," Brooks says, referring to all the investigations and cases he's helped the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office pursue since he became an informant in 2003. Then, of his bona fides as a drug dealer he adds, "You're going to find that in a lot of the big drug cases from 1990 on, I was the major supplier."

Just as City Paper was going to press last month on a two-part series about Brooks ("The Dealer," Feature, Jan. 9 and 16), he began communicating in earnest about his career, which ended suddenly in 2003 when he was caught dealing drugs with associates of the Tijuana, Mexico-based Arellano-Félix cartel. In letters and phone conversations that occurred after City Paper's print deadline, Brooks expounded on his role as one of Baltimore's largest wholesalers of heroin and cocaine since the late 1980s. He also provided a time line of his activities. Rich in detail, Brooks' communications do more than chronicle the rise (and fall) of a drug dealer. He contends that in his experience, a culture of corruption inside the Baltimore Police Department and at the highest levels of city and state government warrant greater scrutiny.

"Baltimore is a pay-to-play city," he told City Paper on Jan. 4 in a phone call monitored by federal prison officials, as he explained how he was able to conduct drug-related business out of his nightclub in the mid-1990s, Club Indigo. "[Others] took it to a further limit with politicians to keep the feds off their back. I didn't and that's why I'm in prison."

Currently serving a reduced 10-year federal prison sentence, Brooks emerges as a man with bitter regret for the "chain reaction" of pain and loss he caused, but he also expresses disdain for what he contends is incompetence and public corruption from the streets to the halls of power. "In my early 20s, I was like most boys," he writes in a letter postmarked Jan. 8 but received after Part 1 of the series was published. "I felt invincible and when I encountered the joke of the state legal system I really felt untouchable. I knew as long as I had money I wouldn't go to jail. I probably have paid over $5 million in bails in my life. I watched attorneys grease the pockets of prosecutors in the hallways of the courthouse. I remember at [age] 23 telling my father that Baltimore had no jail that could hold me."

City Paper first wrote to Brooks in November to seek comment on his life, career, and 2005 testimony in federal court in Baltimore, which led to convictions of six Mexicans from Southern California, who helped him bring 600 kilograms of Colombian cocaine from Los Angeles to Baltimore during a nine-month period in 2003.

Some of the Mexicans were associates or employees of L.A. grocery king George Torres, a former partner of Horatio "Carlos" Vignali (of Bill Clinton "Pardongate" fame) and an alleged drug kingpin currently facing RICO charges in federal court in L.A. Raul Del Real, one of the Mexicans Brooks testified against, is identified in federal court documents as a key potential witness against Torres on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

At first, Brooks seemed willing to share details of his story that no federal jury has ever heard. In a letter received by City Paper just after Thanksgiving, he wrote, "the subplots [of my story] are so many but far more interesting than just me. The U.S. Attorney's Office had to use almost a half-dozen [prosecutors] from the organized crime division and prosecuted me with their two best [attorneys]. . . . [Former U.S. Attorney Thomas] DiBiagio and people from the Department of Justice sat in on most of my court proceedings. Have you spoken with them?"

But as word of City Paper's inquiries around Baltimore got back to him, Brooks' attitude changed. "What I had hoped wouldn't happen is happening," he wrote in mid-December. He was concerned that street-level gossip of an article about him was making people uncomfortable.

Then his attitude changed again, as Brooks accepted the inevitability of his story coming to light. "For the purpose of true accuracy I will give you a timeline of my drug career," he wrote in a letter postmarked Jan. 4, but received after the print deadline for Part 1 of the series.

After the series ran, Brooks agreed in mid-January to a regular visit from City Paper, but prison regulations prohibit such visits unless the visitor had a relationship with the inmate before he or she was convicted. On Feb. 1, the federal prison warden where Brooks is serving time denied a request for a formal media interview, which Brooks also had agreed to. Prison authorities have refused to give any specific reason for denying the interview request, other than to say it is related to "ongoing safety and security concerns."

A prison official tells City Paper these concerns have nothing to do with Brooks or his communications. His letters come across at times as cryptic, yet they are insightful. Many of his contentions are hard to corroborate and could be taken as the arrogant ramblings of a criminal trying to rationalize his actions. However, he also points to troubling perceptions if not realities of the city--dark secrets, compromised officials, intergenerational "Baltimore beefs"--that are not unfamiliar to other criminals, victims of crime, or any observer of the criminal justice system.

The U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment on Brooks' status as either a prisoner or an informant, nor would it respond to any of the broader allegations he makes regarding public corruption. But the government's belief in him as a credible informant is illustrated by the fact that he made at least 50 government-taped phone calls to various drug dealers around the world after being taken into custody in 2003. In a monitored call on Jan. 4 of this year, Brooks told City Paper that he has provided assistance on international drug investigations related to Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Jamaica, and that he has testified before a federal grand jury on at least one occasion.

Though remorseful of his actions as a dope trafficker, Brooks seems motivated by more than hope for redemption. He is indignant about the "system of prisons, cops, lawyers, and judges" whose livelihoods are dependent on the ravages of the drug war. "Knowing that I am a part of the problem is an almost unbearable burden," he writes, in a letter postmarked Jan. 22.

Brooks also expresses a desire to be understood for what he is--and is not. "I have refused to give up anyone in Baltimore I consider my friend," he writes in a letter received just last week.

Much of his correspondence criticizes law enforcement while touting a business plan that he felt was shrewd and more humane than that of violent drug dealers. "What makes this hard for people to understand is how I stayed completely under the radar of the feds until 1994," Brooks writes, in a short letter that accompanied the time line he provided. "Maryland had no clue and the formula was simple: I didn't kill people. I was organized and I stayed low key without the violence."

In actuality, Brooks' formula for staying out of prison from the late 1980s to the early 1990s was more complicated, as a follow-up letter and his time line indicate.

According to Brooks, family members taught him how to sell drugs, but a Colombian associate whom he met in 1989 put him on the path to large-scale narcotics trafficking. Brooks contends that by 1992 he was supplying more than half of the heroin coming into Baltimore, and that he had six lieutenants who supplied major drug dealers all around the city. "I was completely insulated," he writes in his time line, postmarked Jan. 4. "I was so far removed and as people were catching federal cases I was nowhere in the picture."

Brooks contends his formula also relied on public corruption, incompetence, money, secrecy, and the city's lack of regard for the devastation of drugs and drug dealers. For instance, he writes in his time line, after his first arrest for dealing heroin in 1992--a street arrest he claims was tainted by planted evidence, as he was beyond street dealing by then--"I was introduced in Boot Camp as `the millionaire,' and basically I completely ran my operation out of there. There was nothing I wanted for."

During a second incarceration in 1996, in federal prison at Fort Dix in New Jersey, instead of rehabilitation, Brooks writes, "I met people from all over the world and I thought I could get into the hassle-free importation game if things didn't work out when I came home."

Which is just what he did, after efforts to "fly straight" yielded to a series of personal and financial problems that led him back to drug dealing, in 2000. Even while on probation, Brooks says he was flying all over the world, setting up drug deals. When he was finally arrested in 2003, the U.S. Attorney's Office offered to reduce his sentence and turned him into a government asset that has left him beholden to provide assistance when called upon.

Brooks says he has done just that. Yet above all, he seems anxious to expose more about what is at the root of Baltimore's perpetual cycle of drugs and violence. Feeling that the game is rigged--and not necessarily on the street--he writes, "My only hope is that somewhere some kid or young adult will read this and decide that this road is the wrong turn."

Balling The 'Jack

Ex-Con Aims to Reopen Hammerjacks as Heaven

By Van Smith | Posted 1/30/2008

"The law is very clear that the licensee can't be a convicted felon," explains Douglas Paige, spokesman for the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners. He's fielding questions about a newly filed application to transfer a liquor license from the closed Red Lyon Tavern in Canton to the old Hammerjacks nightclub property, downtown at 316 Guilford Ave. The plan is to open a large club called Heaven, but a convicted felon who is not the proposed licensee is listed in the application as its full-time operator. Felons are barred from holding liquor licenses, Paige says, but full-time operators of liquor-licensed businesses can have a felony background, as long as they're not on the liquor license. Having paid the $400 filing fee and filled out the necessary paperwork, he says, "the applicants are entitled to a hearing."

Valentine's Day is the scheduled date of the hearing in the Pressman Board Room in City Hall, Paige says, and the three-member Liquor Board then will decide what to do about the proposed transfer. "The board would have grave concerns about this, I'm sure," he predicts. "They will have to look over this application closely to see how this is going to be operated."

The application lists Leroy M. Brown, 50, and Joanne Giorgilli, 63, as the would-be owners of Heaven's liquor license, and the full-time operator of Heaven would be Joanne Giorgilli's 41-year-old son, John Americo Giorgilli. Known to many as "Johnny G," Giorgilli's career as a nightlife impresario includes Club 101 in Towson, which closed in the mid-1990s amid controversy, and the China Room, a downtown club that operated at Uncle Lee's Szechuan Restaurant and closed down in the early 2000s. He is currently under indictment in Baltimore County for first- and second-degree assault and false imprisonment, and since the mid-1990s he's racked up charges and convictions for drugs and violence and served at least one stint in jail. The state's online court-case database lists 85 cases dating back to 1993 in which Giorgilli was a criminal defendant.

On Jan. 25, Liquor Board Chairman Stephan Fogleman told City Paper that "the Liquor Board, in addition to making sure that licensees aren't felons, wants to make sure the actual operators aren't felons, too. . . . There are numerous ways we can look at applications such as this, and we will do just that at the hearing."

One issue raised by information in the Heaven liquor-license application is the source of funds for starting up the club. The application shows that Brown has no money in it, but, since the Giorgillis live in Baltimore County, he satisfies board requirements that a resident city taxpayer be on the license. Joanne Giorgilli, a 29-year employee of Maryland School for the Blind, is listed as 100 percent owner, with the money for the club coming from her Bank of America savings account. Not mentioned in the application is the fact that Joanne Giorgilli is listed as co-debtor in her husband's 2005 filing for bankruptcy protection. Two others listed in the license application-John Goertler and Ron Jones-are named as each having $200,000 available to pay for remodeling, should the club need financial assistance.

"If the question is, do I have that kind of money, the answer is yes," says Goertler, one of John Giorgilli's former partners in the China Room. "If the question is, have I committed fully to [putting $200,000 into Heaven], the answer is, not at this time. I'm thinking about it."

Jones declined to be interviewed, but sources who spoke to him about it say he, like Goertler, is considering the Heaven proposal. Jones, a former Baltimore City police officer whose interests over the years include for-amusement-only gambling devices, dry cleaning, used cars, bars, and strip clubs. ("Mob Rules," Books, Oct. 6, 2004).

The Hammerjacks property is owned by 316 Guilford Avenue LLC, controlled by Richard W. Naing, and is on the footprint of a proposed skyscraper. Lonnie Fisher, project manager for RWN Development Group, says "we do not care to make any comment on the liquor application at this time." The license application states Heaven has a three-year lease on the building for $15,000 per month.

John Giorgilli would not answer questions about Heaven during a phone interview on Jan. 28 unless, he said, City Paper gave him "final proof and approval of whatever is written" about the deal. When asked if he had a financial stake in the proposed club, his response was, "No, not at this time."

Brown says the plan for Heaven is for it to be like Hammerjacks was-a place for large crowds to gather for a good time. "It's going to be just basically like it was before," he explains, "for enjoyment, for partying." Brown refuses to say whether he has a monetary stake in the club, stating only that "I'm going to be a part of it. As for John Giorgilli, Brown says, "we're friends, business friends."

For 12 years, Brown's job has been, as he explains it, to "assist, teach, and counsel mildly mentally challenged adults" for the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, a Woodlawn-based nonprofit that promotes ways other than incarceration and institutionalization to help troubled people. Brown says he's never before been on a liquor license and is not entirely familiar with what the requirements are.

"As a juvenile, there was some stuff," Brown says of his own criminal record. "But I thought that was expunged." When reminded that public records indicate that a man with his name and birthday was convicted of breaking and entering, in 1986, and of theft, twice, in 1993-long after Brown passed his juvenile years-he exclaims, "You have a computer there and you can look that up?" He asks for the web address, says, "I'm going to look that up," and abruptly ends the phone call.

Subsequent attempts to reach Brown for this article were unsuccessful. Whether his record of criminal convictions came up in the Liquor Board's required review of his background was unclear as of press time, as was the question of whether Brown's theft-related background, which includes a history of incarceration, bars him from being on a liquor license.

"Leroy Brown, I didn't know he didn't have a clean record, and that pisses me off," Giorgilli says. As for his own background, Girogilli owns up to having one felony conviction-"and that's under appeal," he says, "so that doesn't even really count, according to my lawyer. I served jail time, I paid restitution, I paid my debt to society, and it's under appeal."

Giorgilli refused to discuss or confirm details of his criminal charges and declined to have an attorney explain any possible discrepancies in the online court records, which show he was guilty of second-degree assault and false imprisonment in 1997, drug possession and telephone misuse in 1998, a traffic violation with $14,000 in court costs and fines in 2000, and theft and passing a bad check in 2005. A pending sentence-modification motion was filed in the drug case in 2005. His arraignment on the open assault charges was held on Jan. 7, though no court date had been set as of Jan. 28.

Melvin Kodenski, a veteran lawyer for clients appearing before the Liquor Board, is the attorney for both parties in the license transfer for Heaven. At a Jan. 24 hearing, Kodenski appeared before the board with Craig Stanton, the current owner of the Red Lyon liquor license that owners are hoping to move to Heaven. The Red Lyon shut its doors last July, Kodenski told the board. Since inactive licenses die for good after 180 days of disuse, unless a 180-day "hardship extension" is granted, Kodenski asked the board to extend the license's life for another six months.

"This is the license that's up for transfer to John Giorgilli for the old Hammerjacks," Kodenski said. "So while the board's mulling that, we're asking you to give [Stanton] an extension."

The board agreed, pushing back the deadline for transferring the license to July 9. Thus, if Stanton's Red Lyon license does not go to Giorgilli, as proposed, Stanton still has time to find another buyer.

In the Liquor Board's conference room the day after the Red Lyon's extension, board spokesman Paige is reminded that the circumstances surrounding Giorgilli's application for Heaven are similar to a case uncovered by City Paper 12 years ago. That situation involved a large club called the Royal Café slated for the old Sons of Italy Building on West Fayette Street downtown. In that case ("The High Life," Feature, Jan. 3, 1996 [pdf]) Kenneth Antonio "Bird" Jackson, owner of the Eldorado Gentleman's Club and a felon and former lieutenant in "Little Melvin" Williams' drug organization, appeared to be the co-owner (with his mother, Rosalie Jackson) of the proposed club, but a high-school guidance counselor named Mary Collins applied for the license. Though the Liquor Board approved the Sons of Italy license, the club never opened and Jackson eventually sold the building to the University of Maryland.

Why, Paige is asked, is there a prohibition on felons being on liquor licenses when felons are permitted to own and operate liquor-licensed businesses? Isn't the point to keep felons from owning and running nightclubs, whether they are on the license or not?

"That's a matter for the legislature," Paige responds. "The law is the law. We just administer it."

The Dealer

The Rise and Fall of Fred Brooks and How Drugs Get to Baltimore. Part Two.

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 1/16/2008

The Orioles had lost another one, a 5-0 drubbing by the Red Sox and their ace Pedro Martinez, and the crowd from Camden Yards was spilling over to Hooters in the Inner Harbor as Fred Brooks sat down to discuss serious business with a Los Angeles drug-trafficking associate.

It was Sept. 10, 2003, and Laurencio Gonzalez, aka "Lalo," had flown to Baltimore from L.A. after discovering that a shipment from Brooks that was supposed to contain $1 million in cash was, in fact, empty.

The restaurant was frantic, Brooks later recalled for a federal jury in Baltimore in 2005-so frantic that drug task force agents seated at a table 10 feet away were worried the conversation would not come through clearly on the tiny microphone hidden in the pager on Brooks' belt.

Brooks had been through a lot in his rise as a Baltimore drug dealer: From the street corners of Remington he'd built an organization with more than 30 employees who dealt drugs in 17 countries; he'd lost friends and associates to the violence that ravaged the city; he'd been to federal prison, where he made contacts that propelled his trafficking enterprise to a $6-million-a-year business, less than two years after his release in 2000.

Though U.S. Customs agents had Brooks under surveillance since 2001 and were on the verge of wiretapping his phone, it seemed like dumb luck a month before the meeting at Hooters when a group of agents decided to have lunch one August day at the Chick-fil-A near Arundel Mills mall-just as Brooks and his brother Kelly were there, too. The Brooks brothers were hard to miss: two African-American men, each weighing more than 250 pounds, Fred with a white patch on his face, the result of vitiligo, a loss of pigmentation of the skin.

After agents followed them to their rooms at the nearby Hampton Inn and Suites, where they had been wholesaling kilos of cocaine for days, it was only a matter of time before the Brooks' lives were turned upside down.

Now, a month after being caught with 30 kilos of cocaine, large amounts of marijuana and heroin, close to $1 million in cash, and numerous tools of the trade-cutting agents, scales, strainers, and packaging materials-Fred Brooks was working for the government. (Kelly Brooks also was arrested in August 2003 and also cooperated as a government witness.)

Lalo, a representative of Tijuana's Arellano-Félix cartel, played it cool during the meeting at Hooters. He simply wanted assurance that Brooks was truthful in claiming ignorance about the missing money. Brooks was too good a distributor to lose. The Tijuana bosses had already decided they wanted to meet him in person, to see if he could be trusted with even more cocaine. During the meeting, Lalo placed a call on his cell phone and handed it to Brooks. At the 2005 trial for Lalo and an associate, Brooks testified that he spoke briefly with an older gentleman from Tijuana, who absolved him as well: "He asked me if everything happened the way I said it did. And I said, `Yes.' And he said `Everything will be OK.' And that's it."

Having squashed the disappearance of the large sum of money, the two men got back to discussing "another shipment of money [from Baltimore] and a possible continuation of sending cocaine from Los Angeles," Brooks told the jury.

The meeting concluded with Lalo asking Brooks for $5,000 as a show of good faith, so he and his associate, Jose Jesus Gutierrez, aka "Chuy," could relax in Baltimore for a few days. Brooks agreed, walked out of Hooters, and went back into custody. U.S. Customs agents sent an undercover agent to deliver the cash to Lalo, so he and Chuy could kick back for several hours at the Goddess Bar, a strip club on Eutaw Street in the shadow of the Bromo-Seltzer Tower.

That was the last Lalo, Chuy, or any of their associates-Jose Mendoza, aka "Chato," Raul Del Real, aka "Ra-Ra," or Victor Jimenes, aka "Picachu"-heard of Fred Brooks. That is, until a year later, when Los Angeles-based drug task force agents began arresting them as well.

Today, Lalo and Chuy are just into their 45- and 40-year prison sentences, respectively; Mendoza is doing 13 years; Del Real is sentenced to 15 years and is identified in court documents as a key witness in the upcoming RICO trial in federal court in Los Angeles of George Torres, one of L.A.'s most notorious alleged crime figures.

Meanwhile, Brooks sits in a federal prison cell serving a reduced 10-year sentence and wondering if he will make it out alive, having taken down such well-connected drug traffickers. "There are more Mexican gangs in this prison than you have fingers or toes," Brooks wrote City Paper in December. "Last week a guard was stabbed and a guy from D.C. was murdered."

On its own, Brooks' story is a compelling journey down the path of a Baltimore narcotics trafficker. Brooks' letters leave little doubt that he had a prolific drug-dealing career before he got hooked up with the Mexicans, and that his cooperation with the government did not end with testifying against them, either. Yet despite his substantial cooperation with the U.S. Attorney's Office, documented in multiple volumes of corroborated testimony before a federal jury in 2005, gaps remain.

For instance, it remains unclear exactly who groomed Fred Brooks for his rise from the streets of Remington to the center of an international narcotics network that, in his words, "consisted of 17 countries from England, Bermuda, the entire Caribbean, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico" ("The Dealer, Part 1," Feature, Jan. 9). It's also unclear exactly where the Brooks brothers fit in the pantheon of Baltimore's more infamous drug traffickers.

What is more certain is that with the arrest of Fred Brooks, U.S. drug enforcement and customs agents caught a break in a two-decades-old investigation of George Torres, the Los Angeles-based magnate of Numero Uno grocery markets, and the former business partner of Horacio "Carlos" Vignali, of President Clinton "Pardongate" fame. And that, with Brooks' cooperation, federal agents were able to take Raul Del Real, a close associate of Torres, off the street.

Torres is described in law enforcement documents as one of Southern California's largest drug traffickers of the 1980s and 1990s, and as an alleged former associate of the Arellano-Félix cartel. Though court papers filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles concede that the government had never been able to establish enough evidence to charge Torres with drug trafficking, his association with Del Real and knowledge of Del Real's drug-dealing activities cannot be disputed, according to portions of wiretap transcripts on file in federal court in L.A.

Likewise, Del Real's violent nature is without question. In August 2002, he and an associate were caught with a half-million in cash, a loaded Smith and Wesson, and 40 pounds of marijuana, according to court documents. On Dec. 26, 2002, Del Real visited a suspected member of the Mexican Mafia named Armando "Pericho" Ochoa in Los Angeles County Jail, where a recorded conversation suggested both men, as rivals, had been involved with deadly disputes. A wiretapped call between Del Real and his sister in August 2003 has him pondering an incident in which he "broke a guy," a possible reference to murder, according to an affidavit by law enforcers listening to the call.

Del Real has told federal authorities that Torres enlisted him to seek violent revenge against his enemies on more than one occasion. In 1998, according to a federal indictment in Los Angeles, Torres asked Del Real to kill another drug dealer associated with Torres whom Torres believed had stolen $500,000 from one of his Numero Uno grocery stores. The associate, Ignacio Meza, has been missing since 1998 and is presumed dead.

Del Real's brother Albert, a drug addict, actually worked for Torres in the grocery business, as a warehouseman and a delivery man; both Albert and Raul Del Real were engaged in a drug conspiracy with Fred Brooks at the time Brooks was arrested in Baltimore in 2003. When the feds arrested Brooks, he implicated Raul Del Real, who then pleaded guilty and rolled on Torres.

In the end, Brooks represented more than the start of a chain reaction that has led to confessions and accusations on both coasts: He gave investigators-and a federal jury-a candid look into the multibillion-dollar drug connection between Baltimore and Los Angeles, including a detailed description of some of the many ways that drugs flow east from L.A., as the money flows west from Baltimore.

The nagging question that remains for local drug traffickers and others close to the dope trade is, what is Fred Brooks telling the authorities now?

Kelly Brooks was enjoying the famed Morgan State University choir at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall one night in December 2002 with his girlfriend and her family when his cell phone went off. His brother Fred was with some Mexican associates in South L.A. and was calling to tell Kelly to get down to Norfolk, Va., right away. A large package of cocaine was waiting for him.

Fred and Kelly had been shipping thousands of pounds of marijuana from Los Angeles to Baltimore in hollowed-out reels of electrical cable for months now, but this was a potentially more lucrative opportunity. "He told me in street slang to pick up 15 to 20 units in Norfolk," Kelly Brooks testified in federal court in 2005. "Units" meant kilos, Kelly stated, and the code word for cocaine was "Nissan."

Within hours, Kelly was headed down I-95 to Norfolk, where he met a man named "Chuy"-Jose Jesus Gutierrez-in a minivan in the parking lot of a motel. Chuy was not ready with the cocaine, so Kelly booked a room and rested until Chuy returned, this time in a pickup truck, with a Hispanic female. Chuy gave Kelly a gym bag full of cocaine, which Kelly placed in his trunk, and they followed each other back to Baltimore, to wait for Fred Brooks, who by then was on a plane from Los Angeles.

Once they neared Baltimore, Kelly directed Chuy and his female companion to the Fairfield Inn at Route 175 and U.S. 1, in Odenton, adjacent to Fort Meade. He assured Chuy that his brother Fred would be by in the morning with a substantial amount of money, "and that under no circumstances would [Chuy] be in town waiting more than a day for the balance." Kelly then took the cocaine-wrapped in vacuum-sealed plastic packages with black lettering that read soto-to a stash house at 30th Street and Guilford Avenue, in Baltimore.

About 10 days later, Chuy returned to Odenton and met Kelly at a woodworking shop Kelly rented behind what is now a tattoo parlor at 1588 Annapolis Road, also known as Route 175. He was driving the same pickup truck. "My brother [Fred] used [the woodworking shop] as a place to manufacture containers for drug smuggling," Kelly testified.

Chuy pulled the pickup into the shop and cranked down a spare tire from beneath the truck bed. They cut it open and removed 10 more kilos of cocaine marked soto. But the Brooks brothers wanted more. "We wanted to be in the 50- to 100-unit range . . . every two weeks," Kelly testified.

Chuy was skeptical. "He found it hard to believe that we could transport those amounts [of cocaine] safely from California to Baltimore," Kelly stated. Fred Brooks had handled larger amounts of drugs in the past, however, and Kelly was one of his most trusted employees. A 12th-grade dropout from Baltimore City College with a GED, Kelly was not as accomplished as his brother Fred, who had both attended college and done time in federal prison, but Kelly had skills to go with his 1991 assault conviction and his '99 conviction for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Kelly told the jury that he dealt drugs before Fred did. The brothers had a cousin that was a midlevel heroin dealer in Baltimore in the 1980s, Kelly testified, so at age 14 he would go to his cousin's house before school and package heroin. When he branched into dealing marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy-drugs he obtained from Fred-he was promoted to running the various businesses the brothers established to conceal their drug money. Kelly testified that he ran several businesses with drug proceeds: a beauty-supply company, a hair salon, a DJ service called Cold Sounds, and an electronics company, In Phase LLC, in which he invested $200,000. Kelly also worked in freight transportation, with Hogan Brothers and Safeway Delivery Service. He was dependable.

In February 2003, Kelly Brooks flew to Los Angeles to meet with Chuy's boss Laurencio "Lalo" Gonzalez. They met at the Real Deal Car Wash in South L.A. owned by Jose "Chato" Mendoza and Raul "Ra-Ra" Del Real. (The car wash at 3113 Maple St. was in a densely populated Hispanic neighborhood a few miles south of Los Angeles City Hall, less than six blocks from George Torres' flagship Numero Uno market.)

Up until that point, the group had been transporting cocaine from Los Angeles to Baltimore in spare tires, hidden under sport-utility vehicles driven by two women, with Chuy following in a separate vehicle. Often the couriers would switch vehicles in Oklahoma or Wisconsin to avoid traveling with California tags.

"Chato was speaking to Lalo about that we had a pretty ingenious way of transporting narcotics," Kelly testified, referring to the false electrical cable reels he built in his Odenton wood shop for shipping marijuana. The Brooks brothers proposed filling the reels with cocaine in L.A., sealing them with industrial sealant, and shipping them back and forth cross-country via freight company.

Kelly called Fred, who was in Baltimore, to get assurances that they could move 100 kilos of coke every two weeks. The meeting with the Mexicans in L.A. went well, Kelly testified, and afterward Chato told Kelly that the group, which received its cocaine from the Tijuana cartel, had such faith in the Brooks brothers that they were considering how to fill a trailer with 1,500 kilos and ship it to Baltimore.

"Now that we were in the area, they were also servicing people in Virginia and in Washington, D.C., and they needed to get a larger amount on the East Coast," Kelly stated.

Jason Getzes was expecting to get laid off from his job at the Philadelphia Electrical Co. and he needed money to launch a new career as a real-estate investor. In December 2002, he contacted his old prison mate Fred Brooks.

Getzes and Brooks had done federal time together at Fort Dix federal prison in the late 1990s, but whereas Brooks had been a successful drug dealer in Baltimore before going to jail, Getzes, according to court records, had been alternating between classes at Penn State University and working at DuPont when he was busted in 1996 for trying to manufacture ecstasy for a party.

Getting a job when he was released from federal prison in 1998 had been hard enough. So now, fearing a layoff from his $35,000-a-year job, Getzes looked to Brooks for a loan.

But Fred Brooks had other plans for Getzes, a white guy in his early thirties from suburban Philadelphia who could be trusted with large quantities of drugs and money. Brooks proposed that Getzes join his drug conspiracy and relocate to L.A., to oversee packaging and shipment of large quantities of marijuana, at a salary of $3,000 a week.

Brooks promised Getzes he would pay for an apartment and a storage facility, provide him with a GMC Yukon, and set him up with the contacts in L.A. to begin working. When Getzes got to Los Angeles in January 2003, he found a structure of management and labor already in place. He would team up with Hispanic workers from the same South L.A. neighborhood where George Torres' Numero Uno market had flourished for decades; some of them worked for Torres' grocery business. Once there, Getzes would report to "Chato" Mendoza, a business partner of "Ra-Ra" Del Real.

Usually, according to search-warrant affidavits, Ra-Ra and Chato would store their drugs and money at their girlfriends' or mothers' houses, but their principal staging area for drug transactions was the Real Deal Car Wash.

Kelly Brooks soon arrived in Los Angeles and showed Getzes how to package the large shipments of marijuana that Fred Brooks was buying from Chato and Ra-Ra at the time. Getzes, testifying in federal court in 2005, said that they would cut 150-pound blocks of marijuana into 30-pound parcels; wrap them with alternating layers of plastic and dryer sheets, to mask the smell from drug-sniffing dogs; seal them in plastic with Seal-a-Meal machines from the supermarket; and stuff them into hollowed-out reels of electrical cable. They placed the reels into boxes, drove the boxes to Staples, and used the office-supply chain's in-house United Parcel Service pickup system to send the drugs to Baltimore.

Once Kelly went back to Baltimore, Ra-Ra's laborers, including Victor "Picachu" Jimenes, and Ra-Ra's brother Albert Del Real, would come to Getzes' Santa Monica apartment to meet him, and the group would go to a U-Haul storage facility Getzes had rented on Pico Boulevard, which runs from the Pacific Ocean through downtown L.A. They used a white panel truck with hidden compartments to conceal tools and ledgers.

At first, the money for the marijuana came from Baltimore in hollowed-out computer hard drives, but eventually the cable reels came back from Baltimore filled with cash. In the meantime, Fred and Kelly Brooks had also begun to accept courier shipments of cocaine from Ra-Ra and Chato. In May 2003, however, police in Nashville, Tenn., stopped an SUV and searched underneath, discovering 20 kilos packed into an oversized spare tire. Lalo had paid the couriers who were arrested $50,000 to keep their mouths shut. Still, the timing was right to switch up the routine.

By then, Kelly, an electronics enthusiast, had designed false electrical cabinets that looked like concert equipment, to ship even larger amounts of drugs. They also upgraded their packaging, moving to an industrial-sized sealing machine called a "Super Mutt."

Fred Brooks flew to California to supervise the transition, and the whole crew-Kelly Brooks, Getzes, Chato, Ra-Ra, and Picachu-had dinner at the Pacific Dining Car, a vintage steak joint less than a block from the Drug Enforcement Agency task force offices in L.A., to discuss the plan, according to Getzes' federal court testimony in 2005. Afterward, Fred instructed Getzes on how to package the cocaine and ship it inside the electrical cabinets. He wanted extra layers of packaging, Getzes testified, and also suggested a new shipment method: Forward Air, a ground-freight company located near Los Angeles International Airport, in El Segundo. The money would come back the same way but via a different company, Airway Express.

Once at Forward Air, employees of the freight company would use a forklift to hoist the electrical boxes from the truck, put them on a pallet, and wrap them with shipping wrap. (Though it is unclear whether Fred Brooks had accomplices at these legitimate shipping companies, in a letter to City Paper he contends that in his career he has used various methods of shipping drugs, including paying off baggage handlers at airports and employees at FedEx. "You name it, I did it," Brooks writes. "Planes, cargo boats, FedEx, cruise ships.")

Soon, Getzes was shipping 400 pounds of marijuana and 40 kilos of cocaine per month using the electrical cabinets-all headed to Fred Brooks and his East Coast customers.

Then, in August 2003, something went wrong. Getzes received a call early in the morning on Aug. 20 from one of Brooks' Baltimore-area associates known as "Pus Boy," who said there was a problem back East. Pus Boy told Getzes to dispose of all documents, vacate his Santa Monica apartment, and await further instructions. Getzes had just sent two shipments totaling over 60 kilos of cocaine to Brooks and was expecting the return shipment of money, so naturally he was concerned.

Soon Getzes' cell phone also was blowing up with calls from Chato, who was wondering when the money shipment would arrive. Getzes remained in the dark for much of the day, wondering about the money, wondering about this mysterious problem Pus Boy had alluded to. Later that afternoon, Getzes reached Pus Boy on his cell phone and learned that federal authorities executed search warrants at both Fred and Kelly Brooks' houses, and that Fred was being charged with a probation violation. (That was was only partially true. In reality, Fred was being held on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.) Getzes reported what he knew to Chato, who seemed relieved to be told it was just a probation violation, and went to meet the drug crew in person to see if the money Fred was supposed to have sent had arrived.

That night, Getzes climbed into the panel truck with Chato, Ra-Ra, Picachu, and another associate and drove to the airport, where they picked up the electrical boxes Fred Brooks had sent from Baltimore. However, when they got back to the Real Deal Carwash in South L.A., posted lookouts in the parking lot, and unloaded the boxes from the truck, there was no money. "Mr. Mendoza was frustrated," Getzes later testified. "Mr. Del Real was agitated to the point where he was making accusations that Fred Brooks had kept the money and tried to trick him. He was so agitated spit was flying from his mouth."

Though Getzes didn't know exactly what was going on, he kept his wits and tried to dissuade Ra-Ra from sending people to Brooks' home looking for him: "I explained I knew Fred to be a drug dealer, but not a thief. He was interested in business, not in a hijack or double cross."

Ra-Ra was not easily satisfied. "He told me to put my money where my mouth was to prove to them that Fred was in legal trouble and that he didn't hijack them," Getzes testified in 2005. At that point, he gave out the Brooks brothers' real names-until then they had been known simply as Kelly and Dougie-so that a Los Angeles-area lawyer could run a background check.

The next day, Aug. 21, Getzes met in person with Lalo, the boss of the crew, and persuaded him that he was on the level. The meeting was tense at first, Getzes testified in 2005, but eventually everyone relaxed, then went for Thai food on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica and afterward walked across the street to check out an antique car showroom, as Lalo was a collector of vintage lowriders.

Later that night, Fred Brooks, knowing that he was out of the game for good, that there would be no chance of making up for the disappeared money, and that Del Real and the others were still suspicious of a ripoff, let Getzes know that he should get out of town immediately and destroy any remaining evidence of drug trafficking.

Somewhat rattled but unharmed, Getzes flew back East to find out what had really happened.

Veteran U.S. Customs agent David Albrecht had been on to Fred Brooks since 2001, after receiving information from a source in the Caribbean that Brooks' cell-phone number was showing up on surveillance of a place associated with drug smuggling. The Mexicans were not Brooks' only suppliers.

By August 2003, based on the investigation he had built from that tip, Albrecht had obtained a wiretap order for Brooks' phone and was getting ready to set it up when he discovered that Brooks and his brother Kelly were dealing kilos of cocaine out of the Hampton Inn at Arundel Mills, thanks to task force agents stumbling across the brothers while they were eating at the Chick-fil-A near the mall.

With Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport less than five miles away, and convenient exits for the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 100 right in the mall parking lot-not to mention Kelly Brooks' woodworking shop and storage facility just minutes away in Odenton-the Brooks brothers had quite a hands-on operation going.

Albrecht's crew set up surveillance and followed one of Brooks' customers from the Hampton Inn; after an exchange down the line with a second party, Baltimore police arrested a suspect with of a kilo of cocaine with the telltale markings soto, indicating it came from the same Tijuana cartel that had been supplying Brooks for much of 2003.

On Aug. 18, 2003, Albrecht found out from a hotel manager that the Brooks brothers had checked in again, and, he testified in 2005, "unfortunately, or fortunately for everybody-unfortunately for my wiretap-we're not allowed to let drugs go on the street, so we had to take action."

Task force agents followed Kelly to the parking lot of a Bennigan's in Woodlawn, where they watched him hand a kilo of coke to a customer, and followed Fred to the storage facility on Annapolis Road, then to a stash house he kept at 5107 Roland Ave., just blocks from the Gilman School in well-to-do Roland Park.

After arresting Fred Brooks, the agents found $700,000 in black bags back at the hotel room, another $136,000 in the trunk of his Mercedes, and a cache of drugs at both the hotel room and the Roland Avenue apartment, where Brooks used a rear entrance off a quiet street and kept supplies for cooking up crack.

Brooks agreed to cooperate with the investigation "almost immediately," Albrecht testified in 2005, and spent the next couple of weeks after his '03 arrest making a series of telephone calls-50 in all-to various customers and suppliers all over the world. Law enforcers monitored those calls, including calls to the Mexicans in L.A., to arrange the meeting at Hooters between Brooks and Lalo, who, along with Chuy, Chato, Ra-Ra, and Picachu, was now a target of a bicoastal investigation. (After the meeting at Hooters, the Mexicans would never see or hear from Fred Brooks again until he faced them in court in 2005. Search-warrant affidavits on file in federal court in Los Angeles show the Mexicans continued their drug-dealing activities under surveillance well into '04, until they were arrested.)

In fact, after Brooks had been out of the picture for more than a year, Lalo was unfazed when drug cops showed up in October 2004 at the apartment he rented behind his parents' house on Otis Avenue in South Gate, a small, mostly Hispanic suburb of Los Angeles known for its corruption and drug trafficking. That is, until police executing a search warrant came across court records and personal background information for Fred Brooks and Jason Getzes, sitting in plain view on the kitchen table. At that point Lalo slumped down in his chair and let out a heavy sigh, according to an agent who testified at the '05 trial for Lalo and Chuy.

"Ra-Ra" Del Real, "Chato" Mendoza, and the other co-conspirators pleaded guilty, forgoing a trial. Del Real agreed to testify against George Torres, who has been indicted in Los Angeles on a variety of racketeering charges, including conspiracy to murder Ignacio Meza, among others. Picachu Jimenes fled and was a fugitive until recently, when he turned up in Ohio under an assumed name, serving time in a county jail for drug-related offenses. (Law enforcement sources also are investigating the disappearance of Meza, further raising the significance of Del Real's role in the case.)

As for Getzes, after the moneyless containers arrived in Los Angeles, he returned to his parents' house in Philadelphia, and a few days later took a train to Baltimore, where he met with Fred Brooks, on Aug. 26, 2003, in a parking lot next door to the Knight's Inn on Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville. They drove around in Brooks' truck, and Getzes told Brooks what had happened in Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to Getzes, however, Brooks had worked with the feds to set up the ruse of the shipment of electrical boxes containing not cash but worthless newspaper and was now wearing a wire. (Getzes later testified he never would have gone to such a meeting had he known Brooks was arrested on new drug charges.)

By the time the two men finished their talk, they were in an Embassy Suites parking lot, Getzes testified: "We got out of the truck, and at that time [Brooks] told me that he had recorded the conversation, that he had a new narcotics charge, that the government knew all about me, and that I basically needed to cooperate to help myself and him."

A minute later, police arrested Jason Getzes. After cooperating at the trial for Lalo and Chuy in 2005, he's serving a reduced seven-year sentence in federal prison.

In letters to City Paper from prison Brooks contends he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If he did not cooperate with the government and go along with the deception that would allow Getzes to get away from the Mexicans, then his friend would have been killed. "I didn't cooperate to save myself," he writes. "I did it because millions of dollars was missing. How would I face myself when I thought about the lives of my friends I could have saved?"

Now, at age 40, Fred Brooks worries about his well-being. One could wonder if he would do it all any differently. "I never took into account the `chain reaction' of events that would occur," Brooks writes. "I never felt anyone else's sense of loss, until I looked back at all my losses along the way. I would say that 95 percent of the people in prison are just sorry they got caught. But I am sorry that my life went this way."

Bomb the Waverly Giant

By Tim Hill | Posted 1/14/2008

We doubt very much you'd win a mural contest with a proposal to bomb the Waverly Giant supermarket with graffiti--what'd you think we meant?--but if you think you could work with the theme "Past, Present, and Future," by all means download the application form from the Baltimore Office of Promotion and Arts web site (look for the "Arts Council" link) and get yor proposal in by Feb. 28. Or you can call (410) 752-8632. The sponsors of the contest--the Better Waverly Community and the Baltimore Mural Program--are offering artists (you gotta be 18, sorry) $1,000 and $2,500 to cover a few wide-open spots on their building at the corner of Old York Road and 33rd Street. There's quite a lot of space to work with, especially the wall facing Old York, so come up with something cool, eh? We're big fans of public art here, particularly of the homegrown variety, and always ready to praise deserving artists . . . for what it's worth.

The Wire: David Simon Repeats, The Wire’s Sun Is Not the Real Sun

By Bret McCabe | Posted 1/10/2008

David Simon is an opinionated man with a big mouth. Anybody who has ever interviewed, worked with, or talked to him knows this. The Wire's fifth season debuted this past Sunday, Jan. 6, and one of the season's many story lines involves a fictional daily newspaper called the Baltimore Sun. Now, nobody likes seeing a version of themselves portrayed in fiction--especially journalists--and especially when that portrayal is as complex and fraught as we've come to expect from The Wire's depiction of institutions.

A reporter is ethically challenged. Head editors make questionable news decisions and editorial-coverage proclamations. Veterans are mistreated. Midlevel editors find themselves in frustrating positions. This is the world of newspapering on The Wire--a show not exactly known for its depiction of shiny, happy organizations. Since 2000, in fact, Simon has been publicly critical of the editorial management that took over The Sun when he left in 1995, most noticeably in an article by Abigail Pogrebin in the October 2000 issue of the now defunct media magazine Brill's Content.

Understandably, the real Sun has taken some offense. Since Sun TV critic David Zurawik offered his overview of the new season's first seven episodes, in the Sunday, Dec. 30, edition of the paper, five other pieces about the show have run under the Sun's aegis. Two by columnist Jan. 2 column titled "An insult . . . but it's our insult" and a Jan. 6 column that focused on Simon's April 2007 "My Nemesis"-themed Stoop Storytelling appearance--brought up Simon's so-called antipathy toward the paper. The Jan. 6 column goes so far as to to suggest that The Wire's fifth season is some kind of personal act of revenge.

A piece by Los Angeles Times writer Matea Gold and a piece from local Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols ran on the Sun's web site, both of which bring up Simon's low regard for former editors at the paper. "I think people in the newsroom understand that there's a personal angle in this upcoming season for David," Sun editor Timothy Franklin says in Nuckols' AP story.

Given that The Wire debuted this past Sunday and only the first two episodes can be viewed via On Demand, may Calvert Street be protesting too much?

"It's absolutely a fictional Sun," Franklin says in a Jan. 10 phone conversation. Franklin says he has watched a few of the season's early episodes. "Look, this isn't a documentary, it's not a reality show. To my mind, this doesn't depict the real-life Baltimore Sun newsroom any more than ER depicts the emergency room at Cook County Hospital or Grey's Anatomy depicts a hospital in Seattle.

"Sure, it's awkward to have yourself being portrayed on television and to be writing about yourselves," he continues. "But David Zurawik, who is, to my mind, one of the nation's premiere TV critics, I think has done a terrific job under difficult circumstances writing about the season and critiquing the season and doing it in a fair and even-handed way."

Despite Simon's personal history with The Sun during his tenure there, he has nothing but good things to say about the current regime. "What The Sun did was gracious and brave and typical of the who-gives-a-damn indifference of a good newspaper," Simon says, by phone on Jan. 7, of the paper agreeing to let The Wire call its fictional paper The Sun. "And I admire them for it and I am grateful to them for it. It would not have mattered much for us to call it the Baltimore Light or the Baltimore Beacon, but they allowed for just a little bit of verisimilitude in our fictional story and they did so at some risk. And for that reason, viewers ought to be clear about the differences between fact and fiction. I want to thank them [the paper] specifically."

Simon doesn't know how he can say it any plainer. "Look, this is a fictional story," he says of the fifth season. "These characters don't exist at the Baltimore Sun. The events as they are depicted do not occur in the manner described. And to say further that there are journalists who are doing very good work at the Baltimore Sun and trying extremely hard to put out a good newspaper every day. And that they should feel no personal connection to the fiction [The Wire's paper] as they attempt to do that job. They certainly shouldn't feel any shame."

The Sun had an idea of what was coming with this season. About a year ago, before the fifth season even started shooting, Simon and a few of his producers met with Franklin, managing editor Bob Blau, deputy managing editor Sandy Banisky, and others, to ask if it would be possible to use the publication's name in the fifth and final season of the series. "I was very open about what the story line involved," Simon says. "I told them that there would be a reporter with some challenged ethics. I also told them that there would be some good journalism on display but that it would deal with some of the myriad problems that are confronting newspapering certainly over the last few years."

"What happened was David and some of his producers came in and we had lunch, and he basically told us he wanted to focus the final season of The Wire at least in part on the media's role in Baltimore and asked for permission to use the Sun name and Sun facilities to some degree, and that sort of thing," Franklin says. "And what I told him was, `Look, I'm the editor, I oversee the newsroom, but any kind of arrangement like that is going to have to go through the business side of the operation.' So the then-publisher, Ronnie Matthews, had another executive at the company work with David to see if they could come to agreement, and eventually they did."

That agreement, according to Tim Thomas, the Sun's vice president of business development (and former vice president of marketing), was modeled after similar filming agreements made by the Los Angeles Times, another paper owned by Chicago's Tribune Co. And that agreement basically granted the producers of The Wire permission to shoot interior and exterior spaces of the Sun's Calvert Street newsroom headquarters and the printing facility by the Fort McHenry Tunnel, and the right to photograph and reproduce the Sun's name, logo, slogans, etc.-the "marks," in advertising parlance.

"We gave them a limited right to use the marks," Thomas says by phone Jan. 10. "There's stipulations on them being able to use our marks, and one of those stipulations that the producers agreed was that they wouldn't use our marks to imply that The Sun is affiliated with or endorses the show in any way. We just felt that what we were granting here was a realistic setting to a complete work of fiction. We didn't want David Simon to have to use a fictional paper called the Baltimore Tattler or something.

"The Sun is an institution here, and we felt that providing a realistic setting was perfectly fine," he continues. "What [Simon] said was, 'Here's the basic story line,' [and] he really wanted to have that realistic setting for his story. And we said, `OK, then you need to provide some assurances to us.' And we had many discussions, but the agreement essentially says that he agrees to use our marks in a way that won't damage our reputation or our first-class image. He agreed to do that and he said that--and he actually wrote it into the agreement--that he'll provide a fair and nuanced depiction of a modern American--I'm quoting--a `modern American newspaper in a fictional drama.' So that's essentially the agreement that we came to."

What is more than likely rankling many Sun staffers is one specific plot line still developing this season. "There's a story line that develops about fabricating news," Franklin says. "And, first of all, I think it's a cliché, it harkens back to a couple of other prominent episodes in the newspaper business in past years, but that is just not the ethical standard that journalists here or, to my knowledge, at any other metro newspaper ascribe to. We have very strict ethical codes of conduct and reporters work very, very hard. They're very conscientious. They try to get it right. And that's just not what it's about."

"I understand the sensitivities of people at The Sun, and it's for that reason that I wanted to say this," Simon says. "They are entitled to distance, in the same way that [Gov. Martin] O'Malley's entitled to distance from Carcetti and [mayor] Sheila Dixon is entitled to distance from [The Wire's City Council president] Narese Campbell, and all of our characters are rooted in the real but nonetheless not real.

"Having said that, to be at all relevant, it has to take place in a world in which the internet is transforming journalism in the ways that it's doing, in which buyouts and cutbacks and layoffs are a fundamental part of the industry," he continues. "That's happening nationwide. And in which there is a continuing concern over the--how should I put this?-over the priorities of out-of-town newspaper chain ownership. I think these are all legitimate criticisms that have to be addressed if the piece is going to be meaningful because these are the fundamentals in newspapering today."

Does Simon have a problem with certain Sun editors from his past? Damn right he does. "I left The Sun very disappointed in management, but if you go back you'll find that I held my tongue for about five years," he says, before discussing the incident that made him break his silence, incidents specific to Simon's dealings with former Sun editors John Carroll and William Marimow. "I've never been one to hold my tongue if I thought something was wrong, and I understand that it's problematic for people who worked with them in other situations where they've done notable, commendable things. I don't doubt that they have been involved with a great deal of positive work. But in Baltimore they tolerated a journalistic fraud and they defended that fraud in the same manner that cost [former New York Times executive editor] Howell Raines and [the late, former New York Times managing editor] Gerald Boyd their careers. And to this day they seem to be comfortable with it. And they did it in the newspaper where I grew up. That was their mistake."

So, yes, it's personal, but not at the sake of the show. "The point of the Stoop [Storytelling] piece was me laughing at my own vanity," Simons says. "It really was. The 4 or 5 million people who are going to watch The Wire do not care what happened on July 26, 1995, in the Baltimore Sun newsroom. Here I am posed at the moment where I could address myself to the most personal story there is for me in The Wire--as I was not a cop, a dockworker, a schoolteacher, or a politician--and in truth, the story has to survive on its own. It has to contain so many different elements and so many different emotions in order that it can accomplish what it needs to over 10 hours. So it has to have a variety of themes, some of which are intensely affectionate to journalism and some of which is an argument of how journalism fits or doesn't fit against the other elements of The Wire already created. And all of that stuff has nothing to with David Simon or what he did at the Baltimore Sun."

Franklin does admit that steadfast ethics are a constant in any journalistic practice. "I think you always have to stay vigilant and talk about it in the newsroom and talk about it with your reporters and have training sessions, and we do those things," Franklin says. "Accuracy and ethics are things that have to be part of the very core of the institution and what you do. But the bottom line is you can do all those things and, I suppose, still have a rogue reporter going off on their own. But I think if editors and reporters are communicating every day, communicating about stories and asking good questions of each other, then hopefully that can be caught and prevented."

Possibly, the lingering distaste for those episodes of dishonest journalism in recent years--Janet Cooke, Jim Haner, Rick Bragg, Jayson Blair, Jack Kelly, Stephen Glass, etc.-- is what makes the still-developing story line in The Wire's current season still feel relevant. It is difficult to stop a dishonest reporter who doesn't care about violating his or her readers' trust and his or her institution's name. People lie, they make things up, and they bend the truth to suit what they want to say. Maybe that is one of the many themes The Wire is hoping to address over the course of this season.

"Newspaper critics who don't know of my distaste for these fellows, they come to [Season 5] cold and they experience it for what it is on the screen," Simon says. "Those who know a little something about it or who once talked to me at a party or who read the piece in Brill's, they bring that to their criticism. And there's not too much I can do about that. But given the 50-some odd reviews that I've got on my desk right now, I'm pretty sanguine that we got it right. If 25 of them came in and said, `Bullshit,' I'd be worried."

The Dealer

The Rise and Fall of Fred Brooks and How Drugs Get to Baltimore. Part One.

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 1/9/2008

The voice on the other end of Fred Brooks' cell phone in August 2003 was familiar, but the tone was agitated, the words ominous. Brooks had been in business with Mexican drug traffickers for more than a year without major mishap, but now his Los Angeles associate Raul Del Real was telling him that $1 million had gone missing. Someone was going to pay with his life.

"Have you called Jay?" Del Real asked, referring to Jason Getzes, a member of Brooks' East Coast drug crew stationed out in L.A. "Guys are going crazy. Everything comes down to Jay. We know everything about him. To tell the truth, it's a done deal. We can take him out right now. Not even you can help him. We have people worldwide--everywhere."

Days earlier, Brooks had received his usual twice-monthly shipment of Colombian cocaine, which had made its way through Tijuana, into Los Angeles, and across the country to Baltimore in an ingenious manner. An innovator in a high-risk industry, Brooks had become so proficient at selling large amounts of coke--which he stashed in a Roland Park apartment and sold wholesale to Baltimore drug dealers from a hotel room at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover--that he was on the verge of brokering bigger deals.

But having opened a shipment from Brooks 3,000 miles away in a sleazy car wash in South L.A. and finding no money in return for the drugs, which they sold to Brooks on credit, the Mexicans now suspected a ripoff. On the phone, Brooks assured Del Real that he had sent the money as he was supposed to do, and that he did not know what the problem was. Then he had an associate call Getzes to tell him to destroy all evidence of drug trafficking, such as ledgers and shipping receipts, and get the hell out of L.A.

This conversation between Brooks and Del Real, monitored by federal agents with the DEA's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, was a pivotal moment in the lives of both Brooks and Del Real. Del Real, a violent criminal linked to one of L.A.'s most mysterious alleged crime figures, was unaware that he was being set up. Brooks, on the other hand, was about to face the consequences of making one of the hardest decisions of his already complex life: to become a government informant. In fact, Brooks was about to become the catalyst for an international drug conspiracy investigation that had multiple targets on both coasts.

Taking Brooks off the streets of Baltimore was a big enough accomplishment, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney James Warwick, who described Brooks to a federal jury in 2005 as one of the city's most prolific and resourceful drug traffickers. "I do not recall ever having investigated a matter in which such large amounts of cocaine were brought into this or any jurisdiction," Warwick told the jury, describing Baltimore as a "consumer" city of drugs and L.A. as a "source" city--a symbiotic relationship that enabled Brooks to bring 600 kilos of cocaine into Baltimore from L.A. in a nine-month period in 2003.

With Brooks' help, Warwick also sent Del Real and six other Mexicans from L.A. to federal prison--two of them for more than 40 years. "We've just hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of distribution of large quantities of cocaine in the Mid-Atlantic area," he said of the Baltimore-L.A. connection.

Brooks was an atypical drug dealer and a major catch in other ways. A Baltimore City College graduate with a flair for numbers and business, he started dealing in Remington in the late 1980s and built an organization that, he contends, dealt drugs in 17 countries and involved more than 30 employees, with Brooks himself operating under 50 different aliases. In a letter that arrived at City Paper just before press time, he offers details of his early rise as a Baltimore drug dealer that no federal jury has ever heard, including early connections to the Medellin and Cali cartels of Columbia and groups in Sicily, Afghanistan, and the Caribbean.

According to residents in Remington, where he grew up in a middle-class household, Brooks also helped transform the mixed-race neighborhood adjacent to I-83 from a drug-consuming area to a drug-dealing area, with violent results.

With his brother Kelly, he rose above Baltimore's sectarian crime infrastructure in part by recruiting white kids from Remington and training them to go into black neighborhoods and sell drugs, according to sources who observed him build an organization from the ground up. Products of a biracial marriage, the Brooks brothers did not discriminate as they conducted legitimate and illegitimate business, funneling drug money into property, a beauty supplies company, a hair salon, an electronics company, a sound production company, and a popular downtown Baltimore nightclub, Club Indigo.

Yet Brooks had even greater potential for the government. He held the key to taking down Del Real, known as "Ra-Ra" (pronounced "rah-rah"), whom federal court documents identify as a close associate of L.A. grocery king George Torres, best known as the former business partner of Horacio "Carlos" Vignali, whose drug dealer son Carlos Vignali Jr. was pardoned by President Clinton in 2000.

For two decades, authorities had a hard time swallowing the Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches story that went with Torres' Numero Uno supermarket chain that proliferated in the barrios of South and East L.A., to say nothing of his fleet of customized lowriders, gaudy suits, shaved eyebrows, and dozens of commercial, industrial, and residential properties from L.A. to Santa Barbara.

Vignali Sr. ostensibly was nothing more than a successful parking lot and billboard operator with similarly vast holdings who schmoozed with L.A. politicians--particularly after his son was convicted in the mid-1990s in the largest drug case in Minnesota history. Only after the Clinton pardon of Vignali Jr. did it become publicly known that Vignali Sr. had donated money to prominent local, state, and congressional representatives to write letters on his son's behalf, and also persuaded the U.S. Attorney, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, and Cardinal Roger Mahony of the L.A. Archdiocese to lobby the White House for clemency for his son. The resulting scandal, known as "Pardongate," got uglier when government documents later surfaced that alleged Torres and Vignali Sr. were major Southern California drug traffickers.

The government could never establish enough evidence to charge Torres or Vignali with drug trafficking, however. But when Torres associate Del Real came on the radar as a co-conspirator with Brooks in a drug-trafficking ring, Brooks' stock as a potential asset went up.

Now, Torres is in prison facing RICO charges in federal court in Los Angeles, and Del Real is identified in court documents as one of the key witnesses against him, in a trial scheduled to begin sometime this year. Brooks is serving a reduced 10-year sentence in federal prison.

"Establishing a Baltimore-L.A. connection through Del Real was a big part of the Torres investigation," a veteran Los Angeles law enforcer says. "Ra-Ra was a dope nexus--we knew we could put dope on him, but we also knew he was connected to Torres."

By attempting to satisfy Baltimore's insatiable thirst for drugs through contacts in L.A. with representatives of Tijuana's Arellano-Felix cartel, Brooks entered a world that had vexed investigators for years. These days Brooks sits in a cell advising his law-enforcement handlers on matters that he claims are "more complex than what the court records might show." In a recent letter to City Paper, Brooks writes, "Things are ongoing and quite frankly the government was taken off guard by the size and many tentacles of this investigation."

Brooks' cryptic comments leave much to the imagination. But his sworn testimony in 2005 (corroborated by his brother and other co-conspirators) makes clear that he once had a vast network of suppliers and customers--some of whom might still be wondering what happened to him. Brooks' story offers a rare glimpse of the methods of international drug traffickers, and underscores the value to the government of such individuals when they cooperate.

His lawyer, David Irwin, refuses to comment on Brooks' status as an informant but says, "My advice to him would be to keep a low profile, do his time, and hope to get out of prison alive."

Which is a chilling situation for a former undergrad whose journey took him from Remington to Roland Park to L.A. and abroad, whom friends describe as the last person they'd expect to become a drug dealer.

For his part, Brooks, who once aspired to be an actuary, now says he regrets the life he led, and the losses that occurred. He never considered the human toll until it was too late, he writes, mostly because he was too caught up in the grind. Though he describes his decision to cooperate with the government as "my only unselfish act in the last 20 years," it now appears that the government simply owns him.

"When millions of dollars is just a five-minute phone call away, I saw it as a means to the end of solving my family's poverty issues," Brooks writes of his drug-dealing career. "I am not some evil monster."

From the crest of a hill on Miles Street, north of North Avenue, a stone's throw from I-83 and just around the corner from where Fred and Kelly Brooks grew up on Huntington Avenue, you can see the city jail in the distance. Kids around here call it "college."

It wasn't always this way.

Often obscured by its more well-known neighbors of Hampden and Charles Village, Remington--bordered on the west by the Jones Falls Expressway and on the east by Howard Street--historically was a tight-knit, working-class community with tree-lined streets and rowhouses that often feature large porches and generous yards.

Whereas until recent years Hampden was a fiercely white, insular community, Remington was a community where whites and blacks co-existed relatively peacefully. Back in the 1980s, longtime residents say, if there were drug users in Remington, they had to go to nearby Reservoir Hill or Barclay to score.

But still, coming from Remington clearly set the Brooks brothers apart from some of their peers at City College, where Brooks offered his favorite quotation in the class of 1986 yearbook: "You lie like a rug."

John "Scottie" Bowden says Fred Brooks was a friend of his family in the 1980s, and he recalls the positive impression Brooks made on him, his twin brothers, and even his parents: "Fred was not much of a ladies man, not so much into sports, although he was on the wrestling team. He was just an all-around good guy. My folks used to say, `Why can't you be more like Fred?'"

According to Bowden, now an assistant principal at the Crossroads Center school in White Marsh, Brooks did not lack intelligence or family support either. "He did not want for the things that would have prevented the kinds of decisions he later made, Bowden says. "He was good people." Yet the socioeconomic gap made their friendship a one-way street, Bowden adds: "We grew up near Roland Park, and my parents didn't allow us to go over that way [to Remington]. We didn't go to Fred's house to hang--Fred came to ours."

The class of 1986 at City College was a close group, and Brooks was well-liked, says Cindy DuBerry-Keller, a member of the class reunion committee. "Unless you rode the bus together, no one paid a lot of attention to where you were from," she says. "We'd show up at school and just hang together. Fred and I hung in similar but not the same circles. He was nice, kind of funny. He certainly did not struggle with school. He had one of the highest SAT scores in our class."

Brooks was even closer with Scottie Bowden's brothers, Jeff and Paul, twins who saw a transformation in Brooks after he got to Hampton University, in 1986. "I don't know the Fred that's [in prison] now," says Paul Bowden, a sports administrator with George Mason University.

"His father was a stern man, from the Caribbean, I think," Paul Bowden continues. "His mother was white, and I never saw her that much. Fred was an A student who came to our house, played Nerf hoops, and ate dinner with us. He was extremely intelligent. We were good friends. We all had our social issues, and I can only imagine what it was like growing up biracial in Baltimore in the 1980s, but this kid was smart. I have no clue what happened to him from senior year in high school to freshman year of college.

"You don't just come home and decide to deal drugs. There's got to be more to that story." (The Brooks' parents are deceased. Efforts to reach their immediate family were unsuccessful.)

When Brooks and Paul Bowden got to Virginia's Hampton University together in 1986, it did not take long for them to go their separate ways, Bowden says, even though they lived in the same dorm. School officials confirm Brooks attending through the fall of 1988, when he dropped out and returned to Baltimore.

The Bowdens seem to think Brooks had trouble paying for school. "I recall being surprised at how smart he was, and hearing that his family wasn't going to be able to pay for school," Scottie Bowden says.

It was during this period that Brooks came home one summer from Hampton, he testified in federal court in 2005, and decided to deal drugs as a way to make some extra money.

"I think Fred had [a relative] who had something to do with his getting into the life," Paul Bowden adds. Once in, his friends say, Brooks quickly went from a well-spoken, Sebago-wearing undergrad to a streetwise player sporting jewelry and flashing cash. "You'd see him on the street later and you could tell he was making a lot of money," Paul Bowden says. "He got big from that connect in L.A., is what we later heard."

Remington residents who don't know much about the Brooks brothers describe a neighborhood decline that is concurrent with Fred Brooks' rise as a drug dealer.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, longtime residents say, Remington took on all the common characteristics of inner-city decay due to drugs and drug dealing: shootouts, addiction, squalor. And though today's more promising mix of yuppies, bohemians, working class, and questionable characters still leaves room for crime, the neighborhood has come a long way back from where it had sunk during the time when Brooks was "da capo di tutti capi," according to a longtime resident who asks to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

In the 1990s, residents say, turf wars sprung up in Remington and shootings became more common than before, as dealers fought over the burgeoning drug market. Though Brooks, in his communications with City Paper, maintains he did bigger business in other parts of the city, he concedes that his activities had a negative effect on the neighborhood. With crosstown traffic on 28th and 29th streets and close proximity to the Jones Falls Expressway, drug users from all over could be in and out of Remington in minutes, making the streets of the once humble blue-collar neighborhood resemble an open-air drug market.

Yet even after he became a drug dealer, Brooks seemingly had not totally abandoned plans for higher education or even public service. He testified that from 1986 to 1990 he served in the National Guard, and that even after he left Hampton in 1988 he continued to take business classes at local colleges.

Still, court records and law-enforcement documents obtained by City Paper show that Brooks, though not formally charged with a crime until 1992, was arrested as early as 1988 for assault, and again in 1990 for carrying a gun and assault with intent to murder. In 1991, he was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply wholesale cocaine, common battery with the use of a bottle, and destruction of property. He was arrested again in 1992 for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and was charged with disobeying a police officer, though the charges were dropped. Brooks contends in a letter to City Paper that he was already one of the largest heroin traffickers in the city by 1992.

One aspect of Brooks' operation was the recruitment of troubled youth from Remington and nearby Hampden, according to neighborhood sources. One such recruit was a particularly violent youth named Timothy McDermott, who managed to get arrested at least a dozen times in a three-year period for a range of assaults and violent felonies that never seemed to stick. "Fred was not a particularly violent person," says a neighborhood observer who is familiar with both Brooks and McDermott. "But if someone crossed him, he found use for Timothy's skills and rage." (McDermott is currently serving out the remainder of a five-year drug-trafficking sentence, imposed in 2005, and could not be reached for comment.)

In October 1992, Brooks was finally arrested on a charge that stuck: possession of heroin with intent to distribute, on the 1600 block of West North Avenue, for which he was sentenced to eight years in jail--all but 18 months of it suspended.

This bump in the road barely slowed Brooks down. Rather, it allowed him to hone his skills of deception.

Convicted in March 1993, Brooks was paroled in November that year, after serving a portion of his 18 months at Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp, court records show. Parole supervision began in May 1994, when he told his parole officer he was gainfully employed at Brooks Beauty Supply Inc. Federal court records show that the beauty supply company was a legitimate family business--started with drug-trafficking proceeds.

By the end of 1994, Brooks also was the owner of Club Indigo. The nightclub was a downtown hot spot located at 204 N. Greene St., incorporated by John Anderson Jr., who was later convicted in a federal conspiracy case for money laundering and selling manufactured substances used to cut drugs. (The club forfeited its license more than a decade ago for failure to file necessary paperwork, according to Samuel Daniels, executive secretary of the city liquor board.)

While Brooks was hiding drug money in various businesses, he was dealing increasing amounts of cocaine and heroin along the eastern seaboard. Just seven months after his parole supervision began, Brooks, who went by "Dougie," was arrested in New York for conspiracy to purchase four kilos of heroin, in November 1994, along with McDermott. The federal conviction, in 1995, resulted in a 57-month sentence at Fort Dix federal prison in New Jersey--a potential opportunity for rehabilitation.

North Avenue evangelist James E. Roberts Sr. is having memory trouble. "I'm trying to recall Fred Brooks," he says one day in October, when called by City Paper. After some prompting--a reminder that he wrote a reference letter one year ago, in which Roberts claimed to have known Brooks for 13 years--a spark of recognition occurs: "Oh, yeah, now I recall . . . well, if the Lord wants you to remember, you remember."

Roberts says he met Brooks through his daughter, and that all he really recalls is that Brooks would come around once in a while and chat with his wife, eat barbecue and cherry cheesecake, and have a nice time. Brooks simply got mixed up with the wrong crowd, Roberts says: "I'd try to tell him, but some people don't want to listen. They have to learn the hard way."

On a rainy day in November, Roberts answers the door of one of his three adjoining houses on the 1900 block of West North Avenue, which serve as homeless men's shelters. All nervous energy in jeans, a button-down shirt, and white sneakers, he has blue eyes and light brown skin, a little gray at the temples. He sees himself as a modern-day Jeremiah, "the weeping prophet," and complains that greed is killing churches.

Greed may have gotten the best of Fred Brooks, too, Roberts suggests. A stint in federal prison in New Jersey from 1995 to 2000 didn't provide a sufficient wake-up call, Roberts says, but now that Brooks is back in federal prison again, he's taking an 11-part Bible study class. Brooks even has other inmates interested in a more spiritual journey, Roberts says. "He didn't turn to the Lord until the second time."

Maybe that's true. But after coming out of Fort Dix in 2000, Brooks soon turned right back to the street, expanding the scope of his already enterprising career.

In many ways, Fort Dix was an ideal berth for aspiring drug dealers. With 80 nationalities among the inmates, it was "a virtual graduate school of international contacts and drug trafficking expertise," according to a brief by federal prosecutor James Warwick. So it was no surprise that within two years of his release Brooks "had become one of the largest narcotics distributors in the Baltimore area," Warwick wrote.

Brooks claims that he tried going straight after his release but that it didn't pencil out. He told a federal jury that after his release from Fort Dix, he went to work at Arbitron, the Columbia-based radio ratings service, while attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. (UMBC has no record of Brooks ever attending school there.) But by summer of that year, he testified, "My family was running low on money, so I called some Colombian friends of mine, and I started dealing heroin again."

On probation and required to report his employment, Brooks testified that he maintained straight jobs but did not perform them as often as he represented. One of the jobs he says he had was with Roberts Painting Co.--owned by James E. Roberts Sr. "Were you untruthful in reporting work activity to your probation officer?" Warwick asked Brooks at trial. "Yes," Brooks replied. Law enforcement sources familiar with Brooks say he would splatter paint on himself before going to see his probation officer, to make it look as if he was working as a painter. (Roberts says that Brooks never worked for him, but that his daughter, Tamera Roberts, has a painting company called Roberts II. Tamera Roberts did not return calls for comment.)

Brooks testified in federal court that he needed help to negotiate deals during this time, so he turned to his brother Kelly Brooks, who was "like a spokesman and a sales rep as far as my drug dealing." Kelly was an employee, Brooks stated, and was useful in that Brooks could not travel easily because he was on probation. "I basically had him on a need-to-know basis," Fred Brooks testified. (Kelly Brooks, like his brother, cooperated with the government and is serving a reduced five-year sentence in federal prison.)

In the summer of 2002, Brooks began shipping marijuana and cocaine from California through contacts he made in prison, one of them a member of the Bloods street gang, based in Los Angeles.

Brooks was receiving coke from one contact and up to 500 pounds of marijuana every seven to 10 days from another contact named "Bobo," a Bloods gang member. Bobo was buying the pot from a Mexican named Jose Mendoza, known as "Chato"--a business partner of Raul Del Real--with an artificial right leg and a habit of stashing money and drugs at his mother's house in South L.A., according to federal court documents.

"Chato and I both got dissatisfied with the way [Bobo] was doing business, and we decided to just deal directly with each other," Brooks stated in court testimony, "because [Chato] was a better businessman than the people I was dealing with in the Bloods."

One reason why Brooks liked doing business with Chato was that Chato did not force him to assume the financial risk of delivery of drugs from California, which he purchased on credit. So from the summer of 2002 through August 2003, Brooks was buying thousands of pounds of marijuana a month for $250 to $300 a pound, and selling them wholesale in Baltimore for between $550 and $600 a pound, or retail for between $800 and $1,000 a pound.

The shipping process was laborious. Brooks, on federal probation and supposedly working for Roberts Painting Co., tended to it himself by traveling under assumed names and deceiving his probation officer. He rented a place in Pomona, to the east of downtown Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley. "I was given the marijuana in L.A., and I would take it out to Pomona and re-package it in electrical cable reels and ship it out" to Baltimore and other points east, Brooks told a federal jury in 2005.

Sometimes the pot would come in blocks, "like giant ice cube blocks or big circular wheels," and Brooks testified that he would use an industrial saw to cut it into smaller sizes. "Then I would vacuum seal it, wrap it with dryer sheets, vacuum seal it again, and place it inside of a false tubing of cable reel," with a layer of industrial-sized cable on the outside to disguise it.

"At first I used UPS, or FedEx, but eventually I went to freight," he stated. He used Forward Air, in El Segundo, Calif. "They'd put it on an 18-wheeler to Baltimore or North Carolina or wherever I had a customer at."

With a distribution network in place in Baltimore, and elsewhere on the East Coast, Brooks would sell the drugs in a matter of days and ship the money back to Los Angeles the same way the pot arrived, hidden inside false cable reels, loaded onto a trailer.

"Was it a lot of work?" the prosecutor asked him.

"Yes," he replied.

"Then why go through it?"

"For the money."

In December 2002, Chato approached Brooks about selling cocaine. A shipment of 18 kilos of cocaine was waiting in Norfolk, Va., and the seller had abandoned it. If Brooks could distribute the kilos, or units, which the Mexicans were selling for $19,000 per kilo, then he could have it.

First Brooks had to meet Chato's boss, a man named Laurencio Gonzalez, known as "Lalo," who had but one question, Brooks recalled: "Would I be able to pay him." Within a matter of minutes, Brooks was on his cell phone with his brother Kelly, instructing him to get down to Norfolk to meet the man who was holding the coke for Lalo. "I finished packaging my marijuana, and headed back to Baltimore," Brooks stated. "Prior to leaving L.A. I made some calls, so I had the units like pre-sold before I got [home]."

Back in Baltimore the next day, Brooks met the man in charge of Lalo's couriers, a man named Jose Jesus Gutierrez, or "Chuy," who told Brooks that his job was to go to various cities across the country to oversee distribution of the Colombian cocaine that was owned by Mexicans who had brought it into the United States and taken it to Los Angeles. Chuy told Brooks that he and Lalo were affiliated with the Tijuana-based group that owned the cocaine.

"I understood that to mean this was an international organization," Brooks said of the Arellano-Felix Cartel that at the time controlled the area between Tijuana and San Diego. "They control . . . immigration and drug shipments" to the United States, Brooks testified.

With 15 years of drug trafficking and federal prison under his belt and a seemingly bottomless pit of customer demand, and with various schemes to avoid detection and a network of employees, Fred Brooks was now playing in a whole new league.

Next week: Fred Brooks moves cocaine for Mexicans from L.A.--and eventually brings them down.

Correction: After receiving an ominous call from Los Angeles-based drug-trafficking associate Raul Del Real in August 2003, Brooks himself called his employee Jason Getzes and told him to get out of L.A., rather than having an associate make the call, as we reported.

Correction 1/30/2008: We reported that evangelist James E. Roberts Sr. owns three adjoining houses on West. North Avenue that serve as homeless men's shelters. The houses at 1928, 1930 and 1932 W. North Ave. are actually owned by Mission Possible Ministries, which was founded by Roberts, who has brown eyes, not blue, as we reported.

The Wire: Gangster Related

By Bret McCabe | Posted 1/9/2008

This is what happens when you sleep on an idea in the 21st century media: Somebody beats you to it. Columbia University sociology professor Sudhir A. Venkatesh sits down and watches The Wire with actual gangsters. Calvert Street noticed, too. And WYPR's The Signal does the same thing Jan. 11 at noon.

Look Who's Stalking

By Bret McCabe | Posted 11/16/2007

Anatomy of a local entertainment blog post (or, reporting in the 21st century): a quotable Sex and the City line turns into a quasi relationship guide for women turns into a Hollywood movie starring Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Anniston, Jennifer Connelly, Ginnifer Goiodwin, Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, and Ben Affleck theoretically set in Baltimore (although shot primarily in Los Angeles) necessitates location shooting in Mount Vernon, prompting the Baltimore City Department of Transportation to send out a press release announcing the closing of Madison Street on Saturday, Nov. 17, from noon until midnight for that shooting, alerting local media to the presence of the aforementioned movie—and select members of its cast—in Baltimore, precipitating daily paper nightlife reporter to post request for help in local celebrity sightings. And lo and behold, it works.

"McNulty Is Drinking Again"

By Lee Gardner | Posted 11/9/2007

Little will be revealed here, but it's something.

(Link courtesy bigscreenlittlescreen.)

The Rebirth of Josh Brolin?

By Bret McCabe | Posted 11/8/2007

For moviegoers of a certain generation Josh Brolin will always be Brand Walsh, the older brother in the band of nerdy outsiders populating The Goonies. (Parts of that generation adore that movie because it first stoked a lifelong, still-burning torch for Martha Plimpton.) Brolin was Josh Hartnett-boyish in Richard Donner’s well-loved 1985 teenage adventure saga--as he was in ABC’s western series The Young Riders--but he soon grew into somebody who looked more and more like his father, James Brolin. Brolin pére is the Sterling Hayden of his generation, a man born to portray a series of military and law-enforcement officers, politicians, doctors, and other fatherly types requiring but a set of broad, stern shoulders and cleft chin. And although certainly built to follow in those footsteps, Josh Brolin’s career has tried to steer clear of such typecasting, often leaving Hollywood not really knowing what to do with him. Save a wonderful turn as half of a gay federal agent couple in David O. Russell’s 1996 Flirting With Disaster, Brolin’s modestly memorable roles have been fairly conventional bad guys (Into the Blue’s drug runner), boilerplate thirtysomethings (Hollow Man, Nightwatch), just grist for the genre mill (Mimic), or cast in immediately forgettable trifles (The Mod Squad, Slow Burn, Melinda and Melinda, Coastlines). Over this year alone, though, Brolin has finally found a few directors willing to indulge him in a little fun, letting him sink his teeth into more deliciously villainous or ambiguous roles. Robert Rodriguez let Brolin loose as a bad-father doctor in his Planet Terror half of the Grindhouse festivities. Ridley Scott’s American Gangster finally unchained Brolin’s corporeal menace and let him drip with full-on Lee Van Cleef sliminess in thuggy leather jacket and an effing sweet aftermarket Shelby Cobra GT500 (thank you, Joe MacLeod, for the correct ID of that). And in the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men Brolin sinks his acting choppers into a hard-working man who finds himself fighting for his life because of one bad decision he can’t take back, seamlessly morphing from a guy just out for an antelope hunt into a Vietnam vet who knows how dress his own wounds and modify a pump-action shotgun into a sawed-off beast with a pistol grip. No idea if these three movies are mere anomalies or harbingers of things to come for Brolin, but these Lee Marvin-esque parts are a very good look for him. Now, if somebody would only start giving Adam Baldwin more Warren Oates-y characters.

American Gangster's "Little Melvin" Williams and the Baltimore Hustle

By Bret McCabe | Posted 10/24/2007

BET's American Gangster series is one of the most fascinating documentary series currenly on television, applying a History Channel/PBS rigor to chronicling the lives of infamous African-American crime figures of the recent past, such as early Crips gang leader Stanley "Tookie" Williams and 1980s cocaine kingpin "Freeway Ricky" Ross. And like HBO's devastating 2005 documentary of Los Angeles gang history, Bastards of the Party, AG turns a sober eye to a sector of the American experience far too clumsily misunderstood, commercially glorified, and otherwise sensationalized. The Oct. 17 American Gangster turned its probing eye to Baltimore legend "Little Melvin" Williams, the West Baltimore crime figure reportedly responsible for turning heroin into a booming local business in the 1960s. His life story also anecdotally inspired several episodes and characters in The Wire; series co-creator Ed Burns was the Baltimore police officer who arrested Williams in 1984, and his series co-creator/writing partner David Simon was the reporter who covered the case for The Sun. (A West Baltimore drug dealer named Little Melvin also appears in Barry Levinson's 1999 Liberty Heights.) Both Burns and Simon are interviewed in Williams' Gangster episode--Burns blithely recalls that it was Williams who developed a telephone keypad code for his runners, which appears in the The Wire--as are former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, former state senator Clarence Mitchell III, and other local church leaders and community members who recall Melvin's storied rise. Today Williams is active in the Bethel A.M.E. church and plays the Deacon on The Wire, but back in the day he was a highly intelligent young man who plied his mind to the numbers game and pool hustling, slowly working his way into the good graces of a local crime boss who midwifed Williams' connection to New York drug supplies, becoming a local legend in the African-American community in the process. The episode recounts the still amazing anecdote about city leaders in 1968 asking Williams to go to Pennsylvania Avenue to try to quell rioters following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. BET luckily rebroadcasts these episodes throughout the season, and the series as a whole is required viewing.

Hey, Kids—Comics!: Invaders From MARS Infiltrate ComicMix

By Christopher Skokna | Posted 10/18/2007

There's nary a better online time-waster around right now than the two comics on the relatively new ComicMix web site from Baltimore-area cartoonists Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel, whom comics heads know as the team behind the 1980s series MARS (and as contributors to City Paper's recent comics jam). First off, check out writer Robert Tinnell and writer/illustrator Wheatley's EZ Street, a tale of some Pittsburgh kids who set out to make comics and movies, and the (mis)adventures they get into. In the early stages—three parts have been posted so far—EZ Street seems to have a bit of a Stand by Me feel, with a sense of danger and gloom lurking behind the sunny images of childhood. Even if that's not your thing, Wheatley's illustrations and colors are gorgeous and worth a look. Next, scroll over to the latest installment of writer John Ostrander's longtime Munden's Bar strip, illustrated by Hempel. This thing's great, a takeoff on The Kindly Ones (Hempel's contribution to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comic-book series), The Matrix, The Crow (we think), and more. This strip features tons of Hempel's hilarious drawings and plenty of decent jokes from Ostrander. Well worth a click. Though we like to stick up for the homeboys, perhaps even better at ComicMix is this Chicago-centric Munden's Bar strip—it's good to see it back, really—this one by Ostrander and underground comix legend Skip Williamson. In it the skull of Del Close offs some pigs. 'Nuff said.

In Ruins

City begins dismantling falling-down building at 1313 Valley St.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 9/12/2007

Carolyn Jones got what she wanted during the last week of August: a city-paid work crew began dismantling the house next door to hers at 1311 Valley St., just south of Green Mount Cemetery in East Baltimore, and they started taking down the house next to it as well. But she's not yet satisfied. "There's bricks all over the place," she says on Sept. 4. "You've got to see it."

For more than a year Jones has complained about the collapsing structure at 1313, owned by an out-of-state investor named Frank Schwalenberg. She saw that it was condemned, and she hired an engineer to determine that the rowhouse attached to her north wall was damaging her home. Jones says she received little acknowledgement from city officials and even saw her own home, which is in good shape, mistakenly condemned.

But after City Paper wrote about her situation ("Nightmare Neighbor," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 15), she received a letter from Jerome J. Dorich, director of construction and demolition for the city Department of Housing and Community Development. Dated Aug. 21, the letter promised demolition of the house next door and that her north party wall would be "treated in accordance with the building code." For good measure, Sam Snowden, a staff assistant to Mayor Sheila Dixon, arrived on Aug. 30 to assure Jones that the work would progress. "He said if I call housing and let them know that he was at my house, they'll get to it, 'cause they'll know that he's watching," Jones says.

But now Jones is concerned that the demolition is taking too long and may damage her home. She points to a ragged edge near her front roof. "I still don't know his name," she says of the contractor taking 1313 down. "Last Thursday he said it'd be all over Tuesday. I come home from work today [Tuesday], and look."

Bricks litter the front walk where two homes stood last week. In back the chain-link fence separating the properties is twisted and the concrete walkway is cracked amid brick debris. Jones says she still hears what's left of the house shifting at night as rubble crumbles. "And the rats! The rats will kill you."

Jones admits that if things are cleaned up in, say, two weeks, and if her north wall is left waterproof and structurally stable, she'll be satisfied. But for now she's still worried and angry about how long it took the city to listen to her concerns. And she says the city better not damage her wall.

Open Perjury

Maryland Board for Professional Engineers suspends license of Baltimore

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 9/12/2007

A professional engineer with a long criminal history and a hand in multiple Baltimore City building collapses has had his engineering license suspended for 120 days, although he could get a one-day reprieve in early December.

On Aug. 22, John D. Elder signed a consent order with the Maryland Board for Professional Engineers stipulating a $2,000 fine and a 120-day license suspension beginning Aug. 24. Since first applying for his engineering license in 1986, Elder has repeatedly perjured himself by failing to disclose his criminal convictions on license-renewal applications, the board found.

Elder's criminal record came to public attention in an Aug. 2, 2006, City Paper cover story, "Collapse." The story examined why dozens of buildings fall down in Baltimore every year and detailed four collapses in which Elder's name appeared as engineer. Elder said there were others, but denied he was responsible for any of them. A second case before the Board for Professional Engineers is examining that issue.

A Rosedale resident, Elder has been a city employee at least twice, in the 1980s and mid-to-late 1990s, when he oversaw the city's demolition team. His criminal history dates to 1968; in 1975 he was convicted and sent to federal prison for his part in a stolen sailboat case. Elder was subsequently convicted in Maryland courts of misdemeanor harassment and malicious destruction of property on several occasions, and in 2001 was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison under Maryland's "hate crime" law for harassing an interracial couple. Elder's most recent conviction is a 2004 drug bust, records show.

The 120-day license suspension would prevent Elder from stamping plans until Dec. 23, 2007, but because his current license expires on Dec. 3, the order includes a provision under which Elder could receive a one-day reprieve on or around Dec. 4. "[I]f the Respondent applies to renew his license with the Board less than two calendar weeks before Dec. 3, 2007, and if the Board determines he is eligible for such license, then the Respondent's license shall be renewed for one day, and . . . the remainder of the 120-day suspension shall begin the first day after that one-day period of licensure," the consent order reads.

Elder's lawyer, Peter A. Prevas, says the one-day license provision is not a loophole. "There were no tricks built into that," he says. "It was just a mechanism to continue his suspension."

Milena Y. Trust, the assistant attorney general who negotiated the order on behalf of the board, says the same--but acknowledges the possibility that Elder could be an engineer for a day. "While technically he will be able to practice that single day," she says in a voice-mail to City Paper, the order "is structured is so that we can continue with his suspension because you can't suspend a license that is lapsed." She says the board has sent letters to all state building officials informing them of Elder's suspension, adding, "I sincerely doubt that a practice on a single day in December is going to be an issue."

Death (Part1)

By Bret McCabe | Posted 8/23/2007

A recent doubling of the workload has kept the S/Hitlist way more sidelined than he prefers to be, and in that period the Grim Reaper has been working overtime. Renal cancer claimed country-pop superstar Lee Hazlewood Aug. 4. Pop music may remember him best for his work with Duane Eddy and Nancy Sinatra, but 1971’s Requiem for an Almost Lady is what never gets too far away from the turntable at S/Hitlist HQ. Swedish film giant Ingmar Bergman passed in his sleep July 30 at the age of 89. The Guardian set up an extensive memorial section, but The New York Times commendably solicited a nearly lifelong fan to offer a much more heartfelt, life-affirming, and funny remembrance of the director, whose entire oeuvre is perhaps unfairly equated with existential seriousness. Washington native, Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars alumnus, esteemed poet, and teacher Liam Rector took his own life Aug. 15 in his Greenwich Village apartment at the age of 57. Soon after the news of Rector’s suicide spread online, fans, literary bloggers, and the like started citing/forwarding Rector’s "The Remarkable Objectivity of Your Old Friends", which does nicely capture the poet’s casual sanguinity. We’d like to recall his mordant fearlessness and recall "The Worry of the Far Right" from Rector’s The Executive Director of the Fallen World: The Reverend Donald Wildmon, executive director Of the American Family Association in Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis Presley, he who Unleashed the libido of a generation, announced today That he, the Reverend, wanted again an America In which he could drive his convertible into town, Park it, leave his keys in the ignition, And worry only that it might rain, Rather than worry about Liam Rector. Jazz great Max Roach passed away Aug. 16 at the age of 83, and as many obituaries noted, not only was he a great drummer, but he also possessed a unrivaled ear for spotting emerging talent. Let’s also remember Roach’s unquestionable argument for jazz as the voice of disenfranchised African-Americans with 1960’s We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite. While jazz wouldn’t fully radicalized its politics and music for a few more years, that a musician as established and respected as Roach would unleash something as fiery and unapologetic as Charles Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus” sent a signal to contemporary musicians and critics that American jazz artists were, once again, leading to the charge to respond to their world in which they lived through their music. Jazz players took note—e.g., you can draw a direct line from Abbey Lincoln’s unforgettable vocals on We Insist!’s “Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace” to Archie Shepp’s ball-shredding “Blasé” off the same-titled 1969 Actuel LP. (Part 2 later today)

Slow News Days

By Bret McCabe | Posted 8/17/2007

Oh, what we’d give to be a fly on the wall at the editorial meeting that planned the front page of today's Examiner. Baltimore County public schools failing to meet progress standards? Dump it on page 5. Candidates for Baltimore’s city council president criticizing each other’s financial reports? That sounds like a page 11 story. Jose Padilla’s conviction for helping Islamic extremists? Dump an AP wire story in with the national news on page 15. Mayor Sheila Dixon paying her sister $20,000 to assist her campaign manager? Just link to the AP story on the web site. What’s that? You’ve got a 318-word piece about a rabid beaver attacking swimmers last weekend? Print it.

Nightmare Neighbor

No One Takes Responsibility For Collapsing And Neglected East Baltimore House

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/15/2007

Carolyn Jones doesn't want her house to fall down, but she's afraid it might.

Her floors are going soft--even though she replaced the supporting joists just a few years ago--and she points out the encroaching water damage on her north wall. "That's since March," she says of several ceiling stains.

Jones' problem is not lack of maintenance or gumption; she moved in seven years ago and has made the place nice for herself and her twin sons, even cementing a stunning river-rock veneer on the chimneys. But an adjoining house has been collapsing for more than a year, crashing debris onto her property and allowing water to seep in. She wants the city to knock down what remains of the house next door and shore up the party wall so that her own house will stop deteriorating. But her entreaties to city officials have resulted in only a partial demolition of the adjoining structure and a condemnation notice for her own property.

Last year City Paper reported numerous cases in which condemned houses were allowed to deteriorate for years until they collapsed, sometimes damaging neighboring properties ("Collapse," Feature, July 26, 2006). Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano protested that the newspaper was wrong and that housing officials actually had the problem of dilapidated buildings well in hand. "In fact, very few condemned properties ever become targets for demolition because they don't pose an immediate threat to public safety or adjoining properties," Graziano wrote in an Aug. 11, 2006, letter to the editor. In fact, Graziano wrote, "the city recently reviewed every one of the more than 4,500 properties on the condemnation list and determined that only 1,700 still qualify for condemnation. Each of those 1,700 properties is now re-inspected every 10 or 30 days, depending on their level of risk. Efforts like this will help us better protect residents and properties."

During the past year City Paper has received numerous new reports of collapsing buildings all over the city. In some cases the city's demolition contractor arrived soon after the collapse to clean up. In other cases the buildings continue to sag, their roofs caving in, their walls shifting and bowing. A few of the reports appeared to be unfounded. Jones' case may not be typical, but her situation illustrates the challenges city officials still face as they try to head off dozens of small disasters every year with limited resources.

Jones, a housekeeper at Johns Hopkins University for the past 11 years, says her problems began last July 4 when the rear addition of 1313 Valley St. crumpled, strewing debris over her fence and across her backyard. Police and city code-enforcement officers responded and placed a condemnation notice on the long-vacant house. Then they left the debris field on Jones' property for more than six months.

Jones called City Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young, whose 12th District includes this little stub of Valley Street just south of Greenmount Cemetery. She says Young got the city to take the collapse debris off her back fence in February.

"He told me, `Don't worry, they'll demolish that house,'" Jones says. "I assumed everything was fine."

Five months later, the house still stands, although the structure is shifting and popping, and Jones says she heard the roof collapse during a rainstorm in March. "All of a sudden my walls are blistering," she says. She called an engineer who she says told her the fire wall collapsed next door.

Jones wrote Young another letter but says he never got back to her. "When I called him last time, he acted like he didn't know what I was talking about," Jones says. "He said don't be surprised if the city says the damages is not on them, the damage is on me. There's some wickedness going on over here."

Young takes credit for the city's removal of the collapse debris from Jones' yard. "That's what she asked me to do," he says in late July. "I've done everything I could possibly do." Reminded that 1313 Valley is still collapsing and that Jones has asked him for additional help, Young remembers prodding Michael Braverman, the city housing department's deputy commissioner of code enforcement, about the case.

"I called Mr. Braverman," Young says, adding that he thinks the city is trying to work with the building's owner. "The city should be doing everything possible for Ms. Jones."

An unrelated mishap this spring cracked Jones' front stoop and destroyed her new hand railing. A metal pipe big enough to ride a motorcycle through rolled across the street like a steamroller and crashed into her house. The pipe is part of a sewer project, and the contractor fixed Jones' railing, but not the small crack in her stoop. Jones says the contractor promised to fix the stoop, and she thought a certified letter she received from the city in late June concerned that.

"So I signed for the certified letter, 'cause I thought, OK, it's about my steps," Jones says. "Then I opened it and it says your house is condemned!"

A city lawyer says the city issued Jones the condemnation notice in error. "Records appear to indicate it's been canceled," says Julie Day, director of the code-enforcement bureau's legal section. "It should have gone to 1313. She should be fine."

Day says Braverman would know the city's plans for 1313 Valley. But Braverman did not return multiple phone calls and detailed e-mails to his office over three weeks.

A new condemnation sign was stuck on 1313 Valley St. in July, more than a year after the initial sticker. Jones thinks the city is giving her the runaround. "Once you condemn a house, you can't re-condemn it," she insists. "Tell me why they switched the dates."

Land records indicate 1313 Valley St. is owned by Emerald Bay Development Group One Inc., which acquired it in October 2006 from a related company called Emerald Bay Development Group Inc. Emerald Bay Development Group had bought the building in August 2006 from Schwalenberg Real Estate Investments II LLC for $6,400, the same price Schwalenberg had paid in April 2006, when it bought the house from Otis Wilkins.

According to state tax records, Emerald Bay Development Group One Inc., was incorporated in January 2007--several months after it supposedly bought the house from Schwalenberg (there is no record of Emerald Bay Development Group Inc. in Maryland). Its incorporators are Frank and Thomas Schwalenberg, who list an East Meadow, N.Y., address on their corporate charter.

Jones says Frank Schwalenberg introduced himself to her months ago using another name. Last week he returned to the property and gave her his real name and phone number.

"She has really been hurt by this situation," Frank Schwalenberg acknowledges when reached at that number on Aug. 9. But he says "it wouldn't be economically feasible" for him to repair the damage to Jones' home--especially not while he's trying to pressure the city to turn over three more houses on that block to him.

"We're trying to--not coerce the city--but get the city to work with us to get three or four of those buildings," Schwalenberg says in a lilting voice. "We're not asking for money," he adds, though he says the city has fined him $3,000 to pay for the cleanup of Jones' property.

Schwalenberg says the three or four houses just north of 1313 Valley are in bad shape, and it would make no sense for him to fix 1313 when those other houses could easily fall down on his new rehab. Getting those other houses, he says, would be "good for the city and good for Carolyn."

But in the meantime, he claims, "we've been beaten up so much by Baltimore. . . . We just don't have the funds to do the right thing by her."

Land records indicate that the Schwalenbergs transferred at least seven properties to their own "Emerald Bay Development" company last year. Frank Schwalenberg says he first tried to sell the property to the other Emerald Bay, which was controlled by a California investor who he says never paid him. That investor, Crislynn Eichenberger, could not be reached for comment, and Tanya Zink, the owner of a Georgia address Eichenberger used, says she has "no idea what's going on" and claims that Eichenberger's Emerald Bay is a "fraudulent company."

Schwalenberg says he is a retired engineer and consultant for the city and state of New York. He says he and his brother have done two other Baltimore rehabs already and are keen to hire locals for an apprentice program. "You like to give something back," he says.

Robert Strupp, director of research and policy at the Baltimore-based nonprofit Community Law Center, says the Schwalenberg name rings a bell. "We've had other inquiries concerning properties in which the Schwalenbergs have had an ownership interest," he says.

Currently, 1313 Valley has a crumbling back wall and its roof has collapsed. Jones keeps hoping a city-paid crew will show up to take down the house and shore up her north wall. She's seen the crew at work. Across the rear alley, one block east, fresh hay is spread across the ground where the city recently demolished a house.

Near that is another house that looks very much like 1313 Valley St. The back wall there is gone, too, and the second floor toilet, pitched at an unlikely angle, hangs over the overgrown yard like a question mark.

Pay to Play for Political Donations Records

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 7/27/2007

Maryland’s open-records law took a secret hit recently when state election officials quietly ordered the addresses of political donors removed from an online database. Bryan Sears of the Baltimore Messenger noticed the missing data and asked about it. His July 18 report quotes Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator of the state elections board, performing verbal loop-de-loops about the state law, which requires that the addresses be made available to any member of the public. "We're not withholding the information; we're just not making it available to the public on the web site," Goldstein told Sears. The addresses were available for download through the Maryland State Board of Elections web site until at least last fall. But the web site--now maintained under contract by UMBC--no longer divulges donors’ addresses. To get the addresses now requires a $100 payment for a "password" that allows access to the full database. According to Sears’ account, Goldstein could not defend the price on legal grounds. The addresses are necessary for accurate reporting about political donations. Without them there’s no easy way to know which “Leonard Smith” gave money to 5th District City Councilwoman Rikki Spector and which gave to Mark Guns or Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. The new password regime also allows state officials to keep tabs on who is looking at the campaign data.

Baby and Lil Wayne on the cover of XXL magazine’s 10th anniversary issue

By Bret McCabe | Posted 7/20/2007

Now that’s gangsta. Burn Notice Total format schlock: guy has to make amends for the choices he’s made with the help of/while repairing relationships with the ex-girlfriend, Mom, and an old friend. The USA Network’s Burn Unit twists the shopworn setup by making the guy a former CIA spy whose cover has been blown--“burned,” according to the show’s setup lingo--and he has to stay put until he figures out who put the burn notice on him. What makes it work is Touching Evil’s Jeffery Donovan as the outed spy, his ex-girlfriend is Gabrielle Anwar doing a flimsy Irish brogue because she’s this kinda/sorta ex-IRA terrorist, the mom is a chain-smoking and pleasantly agoraphobic Sharon Gless from Cagney and Lacey, and the old friend is a past his prime Cold Warrior Bruce Campbell, who’ll do just about anything for a free drink. Set it all in CSI’s perpetually sunny, everybody’s beautiful world of Miami and then jack up the bonkers elements and it becomes a screwball comedy with con artists, spy games, drug lords, security conferences, FBI informants, and other such fodder of espionage yarns. Criterion Collection editions of Dusan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism and Sweet Movie Yes, the late-’60s Leftist bent does feel a bit dated today. Yes, the stories are as fractured and disorienting as Jean-Luc Godard. And, yes, occasionally you are going to come across pictures of Stalin and a gold-plated penis. But the 1960s and ’70s movies of Serbian director Dusan Makavejev (the majority of his movies produced and made in the former Yugoslavia) are some of the giddiest and wittiest movies of that heady era of European filmmaking--and the sort of madcap journeys that would have trouble getting made even in today’s anything-goes world of digital video and online distribution. W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) is part documentary about Austrian pro-orgasm psychoanalyst Wilhem Reich, part sexual liberation manifesto (starring Slavic beauty Milena Dravìc), part communism satire, and pure unadulterated, anarchic mirth--with daft appearances by Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis and Fug Tuli Kupferberg. (A still from this blithe work adorns the cover of Amos Vogel’s indispensable 1974 book Film as a Subversive Art, which was vitally reissued in 2005.) The even more ambitious Sweet Movie (1974) skewers capitalism, Marxism, and so-called civilized mores with a riotous, aggressively absurd descent into experiential, scatalogical parable. The winner of the Miss Virginity World beauty pageant (Carole Laure) is awarded marriage to a Texas tycoon, and her flight from that relationship serves as the movie’s barely there plot, which lands her in a commune whose members make the key players in Lars von Trier’s The Idiots look like characters in a Nora Ephron rom-com. Meanwhile, the great Pierre Clementi stars as a sailor named Potemkin who gets picked up by a female skipper (Anna Prucnal) who cruises Amsterdam’s canals with sweets in her hull. Neither film wins you over from the very first frame--but chances are you won’t see many things like them in this lifetime.

The Wire once again shut out of Emmy nominations

By Bret McCabe | Posted 7/20/2007

Despite one of the most critically lauded television seasons in recent memory, Season 4 of HBO’s The Wire failed to earn even one Emmy nomination while HBO programming racked up 86 noms in total. The Fate of Harry Potter
At 12:15 a.m. July 20, “harry potter and the deatly hallows” turns up 9,504 stories via Google News. “Iraq,” “war,” and “casualties” yields 7,398. Good to know we media content providers have our priorities straight. The Art of the Band T-shirt by Amber Easby and Henry Oliver (Simon Spotlight Entertainment) Not hating on the authors Amber Easby and Henry Olive--a band merchandiser and designer, respectively, who have every right to do what they see fit with their work experience, especially since a book like this was inevitable. And not hating on people well into their 30s rocking band tees--hey, sometimes you just want to break out that faded almost beyond recognition Jesus Lizard one with the mouse and the ax. But it’s just this kind of faux curatorial enterprise that quasi-justifies vintage concert and MC5 T-shirt made by Levi's on Friends and Hillary Duff sporting a Motörhead tee and Nick Carter in Sex Pistols--the very idea of a market for such shit in the first place. Yes, Aniston, Duff, Carter, et al. getting seen in retro band gear was 2004, and we all know that anything old can eventually be the fashionable new--or merely “pre-distressed” new--and it takes some time to midwife a book from idea to the shelves. But, you know, don’t fake hate on the trend out of some quasi-nostalgic moral grounds that doesn’t even kinda make sense. Hate because you’d rather support independent T-shirt designers and the like rather than sustain such grup microeconomies. American Idol alumnus Elliot Yamin cracks the Top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100 with “Wait for You” Look: Lou Reed and David Schwimmer had a baby.

John Irving’s review of Gunther Grass’ Peeling the Onion

By Bret McCabe | Posted 7/11/2007

in the New York Times Book Review, Sunday July 8, 2007 In an era when daily newspapers are downsizing book review sections--or gutting them altogether--it's more than heartening to see the Gray Lady let John Irving unwind for more than 4,400 words on Gunther Grass' memoir in its Sunday book review. I've never been even a passing fan of either--I read Grass' The Tin Drum more out of a sense of duty to try to be something resembling a literate person, not coming from a background that put any priority on such, and dove into a string of Irving in my late teens because college peers from better, private East Coast schools had read him, and, I feared, my missing allusions to such didn't endear me to the young women from better, private East Coast schools. Neither grabbed me as a reader, and I never thought once about revisiting either when there's Boris Vian to reread or Wyndham Lewis to retackle. But Irving's "A Soldier Once" guided tour through Grass' memoir--intimate, personal, exceptionally informed, and lovingly elucidated--makes me feel like I need to revisit both, especially Grass. What more can you ask for from an essay--and what better argument for the value of book review sections in newspapers. Mike Jones' "My 64" featuring Bun B and Snoop Dogg Houston humid gully beats meet California G-funk in this wiggly lead single from Mike Jones' upcoming The American Dream. And it's a sensible sonic and thematic match: Both Houston's Fifth Ward and Compton are perfect climes for this ode to classic convertible cars. Superbad, due out in August, and its trailer alone has almost caused a little pee to come out with laughter.

T.I. vs. T.I.P.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 7/11/2007

Not only is the music press basically fueling T.I. vs. T.I.P.’s maketing campaign by focusing exclusively on the so-called “split-personality” that Clifford Harris—aka T.I., the man behind 2006’s King, aka T.I.P., Harris’ other rap persona—explores on his new album, but Harris actually interviewed himself for AllHipHop.com. Enough already: We get it. T.I. is the business-minded major-label rap star, T.I.P. is the hungry hustler from the streets. But what we really want to know is whose name appears on the checks. Army Wives (Lifetime) Perchance the dirtiest secret of all in the personal TV-watching life right now. This Lifetime--yes, you read that right--series has found a way to be both knee-jerk patriotic and lowest-common-denominator exploitative in equal measure with this military base-set drama about home-front life during wartime starring JAG’s Catherine Bell, NYPD Blue’s Kim Delaney, and hard-working TV character actress Brigid Brannagh. You can tell it started out shooting for China Beach but settled for being the love child of the testosterone-heavy The Unit and recklessly silly Melrose Place. Army husbands--and one wife, Wives balancing its gender and race demographic in one swoop by making the stay-at-home husband an African-American civilian doctor--train for deployment and return scarred from the forward areas. Special-forces infantrymen train and hone skills never knowing just quite when they’re going to be called. Far too prescient reports of bombings and helicopters going down bring very unwanted news to the women (and man) at the base. Meanwhile, one wife spills wine on her dress and comes high-heel clicking out of a ladies’ room stall in her matching bra and thong to clean it off in the sink. A pregnant wife surrogates for another family to earn some extra cash since her husband’s special-forces pay doesn’t support their two kids--and has to deliver atop a pool table in a dive bar off base. And a PTSD-suffering soldier takes hostages in a hospital, exposes his vulnerable side when confessing to the atrocities he witnessed and perpetrated over there--and gets sniper-shot dropped by one of his own all within one hourlong episode. Awful barely comes close to describing this trash--and I haven’t missed an episode yet.

Kelly Rowland’s Single "Like This"

By Bret McCabe | Posted 7/3/2007

Always a sucker for the ladies-night party jam, Kelly Rowland’s lead single off her upcoming Ms. Kelly delivers the goods. Producer Polow da Don’s chilled, molasses-thick, bass-overstuffed, almost go-go swinging beat bubbles into a let-the-hair-down bounce as Rowland’s too-pretty pipes make her hotness hard: “The girl that they used to know done changed/ Now they sayin' ‘Ms.’ before they mention my name.” And once E-V-E shows up to head-nod the “few mad looks from the chicks you know” and blow off “them dudes who be jealous of a chick with dough,” it’s all over with: a perfectly pitched summer single. Flight of the Conchords (HBO) This half-hour comedy about an aspiring two-man band in New York sounded a little too much like the contrived sitcom Lucky Louis for Pitchfork readers. That was before remembering Flight of the Conchords is an actual New Zealand musical comedy duo and the personal inexplicable infatuation for all things kiwi kicked in. The show follows underemployed New Zealanders-in-NYC roommates/band mates Bret (Bret McKenzie) and Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) as they try to get gigs and, in general, flounce about doing very little and occasionally breaking into song. Their wit is drier than the Kalahari, sillier than grown men in lederhosen, and absolutely difficult to capture in mere words. To wit: In the second episode, Bret, while at his job holding up signs, develops a crush on a female co-worker and improvises a song in his head: “She’s so hot, she’s so fucking hot . . . she’s like a curry,” before yielding, “she’s so hot I think I need a 1983 Casio DG-20 electric guitar . . . set to electric mandolin,” and launching into the whitest Eddy Grant song you’ve ever heard. Simon Schama's Power of Art (PBS) Columbia University professor Simon Schama does something quite daft with this 2006 BBC series now in rotation on PBS: He makes art history compelling for both the art snob and general gadfly. Each episode in the series focuses on a specific work by a specific artist and, through historical re-enactment, Europe-traversing reportage, and creative montage, Schama offers a very informed insight into his chosen great works—thus far, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield With Crows,” Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” and Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio’s “David With the Head of Goliath”—without resorting to fusty academic terminology and shopworn anecdotes. Yes, it’s art history as melodramatic soap opera, and you won’t be more entertained while eating your cultural Brussels sprouts all summer. Chris Salewicz’ Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) British writer Chris Salewicz met the Clash while writing overwhelmingly enthusiastic pieces about the band for New Music Express in the late 1970s. But what makes for hyping journalism turns into engaging biography in this Joe Strummer book—particularly in dealing with Strummer’s creative limbo after the Clash and his efforts to move forward with his Mescaleros. Salewicz is neither a stylist nor a culture critic here and, thankfully, doesn’t try to reargue the merits of London Calling or Sandinista! Instead, he lets Strummer and a rotating cast of friends, familiars, and insiders talk about the man, foibles and all—though Salewicz obviously loves Strummer too much to be too critical. Luckily, Strummer is more than honest enough, and memories of his candor and humor from the folks who knew him remind that he never shied away from puncturing his own bubble any chance he got. Carla Yanni The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States (University of Minnesota Press) Rutgers University art history professor Carla Yanni cannily folds the spaces influence people ideas of Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization into the architectural overview with this fascinating and brisk look at 19th-century American insane asylums. Yanni is an eloquently persuasive writer, and establishes the constant oppositions of 19th-century insanity--socially ostracized people corralled in Gothic building outside of town vs. patients in need of medical care, which could include environmental components such as architecture--in her calibrating introduction and proceeds to move through the century with an insightful mind. It’s a refreshingly wonk-free bit of sociology of science.

The Video for Kelly Rowland’s "Like This"

By Bret McCabe | Posted 7/3/2007

Just who’s idea was it to set this song on the set of some guy’s dream idea of www.WeLiveTogether.com? A toweled Rowland walks into a bedroom, presumably from the shower, sees a podcast of herself on her computer sporting a digicam, and throws her towel over it. Then she gets all dolled up, doing some Flashdance seated in a chair dancing, and heads to what’s presumably her living room for a party, where Eve shows up for her verse. Throughout are short snippets of what looks like low-grade cam footage of a sofa where, presumably, lucky guys get to make out with girls? Did the video creators even listen to the song? John From Cincinnati (HBO) Admittedly, it took a few episodes of David Milch’s Deadwood before its riches started to manifest themselves, but that series drew you in enough to make you want to get into it. Milch’s new John From Cincinnati, thus far, feels like a big gob of quasi-spiritual hogwash clumsily grafted onto a multigenerational melodrama in a Southern California surfer family. Mitch (Bruce Greenwood) is the hotheaded father and surfing legend, Butchie (Brian Van Holt) is his surfing revolutionary son, now strung-out on smack, and Shaun (Greyson Fletcher) is Butchie’s teenaged son, who wants to enter competitive surfing while living under his more responsible grandparents’ care. And John (Austin Nichols) is the show’s titular wild card/red herring, who for three episodes has spouted Starman-fragmentary dialogue and, in general, acted like a combination soothsayer cum extraterrestrial cum grown-up “special kid.” And, really, now, any show that makes you want to switch away from Rebecca DeMornay playing not only a Southern California surfer MILF but also a grandmother (uh, GILF?)—and the only sane person in this entire family—needs to find its rudder. No idea where Milch is going with this one, but if John From Cincinnati doesn’t intimate some kind of story line soon, people are going to give up on it—if they haven’t already. Everett True's Nirvana: The Biography (Da Capo) Talk about wasted opportunities. The single most annoying thing in this 646-page band biography—which is a generous claim, since perpetually self-promoting former New Music Express/Melody Makerscribe True constantly reminds you that he was there, man; name-drops a celebrity blogger; lets everybody talk about how “goofy” and “shy” Kurt Cobain was, how “goofy” and “tall” Krist Novoselic was, and how “goofy” and “cute” Dave Grohl was; intersperses more recent interviews with early-'90s interviews and freely quotes from any source he wishes; leaps from first-person remembrances to quasi-reporting to interview recollections; and whose index entry is just as long as “Cobain, Kurt” and “Love, Courntey”-- is that there is a fabulous 300-page book somewhere inside of it. Only a foreigner would so acutely recognize the class lines separating Cobain’s Aberdeen, Wash., home from Olympia and Seattle and how that shaped his metal and punk worldviews, and only a guy who had been there would be able to garner the wide range of interviews True compiles here. Too bad nobody even tried to edit him. Shop Boyz "Party Like a Rockstar" One of those song you love instantly the first time you hear it and then, after a 20-minute car ride and you’ve heard the song another 900 times, the luster is entirely gone. Corporate radio playing a song to death is nothing new—speaking of Nirvana, there is a reason why some of us respond to the opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with spasmodic, Pavlovian muscle twitches—but when just about every portable electronic device plays music these days, songs are especially inescapable. “Party Like a Rockstar” is the No. 1 ringtone download according to the Billboard magazine chart for the July 7 issue, and you can bet the song is playing on some radio station within range right at this very moment—it’s the No. 1 song on the 92Q playlist as of July 1. And since outdoor summer party in the city season has started, this slice of brain rot may be pouring out of cars and pumped out of rowhouse windows for the next two months. The “New Republic” vs. 92Q On May 8 an e-mail with the subject line “Major Radio One Scandal **Read Immediately**” arrived in our in box—and the in boxes of some 37 other public figures and regional media outlets, if its cc: list is to be believed. It came from an e-mail account named “victorstarr92q@gmail.com”--an obvious alias. Starr is the current program director at 92Q, Baltimore’s No. 1 radio station, and it’s highly unlikely he mass e-mailed this missive that casts accusations of payola and dodgy protocols for getting local music played on the station. It was signed only “New Republic,” and since it was sent, we’ve heard nothing else from the eponymous authors. Now, the missive's claims are not all that new around here--City Paper contributor Al Shipley posted the e-mail to his Government Names blog May 6—but this time some people are taking an interest. On June 25 Shipley posted a follow-up, saying that Sun reporter Nick Madigan is researching the story and “would like to speak to the authors of the letter, as well as anyone with relevent [sic] firsthand experience with the station.” We wish Madigan the best of luck getting anybody to respond—my e-mails to the address remain unanswered—as well as ferreting out the story here, but it’s really lame that the e-mail's authors choose to remain anonymous. The so-called “New Republic” needs to show its face if it wants to lend any credence to its claims—if they’re already being shafted by the powers that be, saying so in their out-loud voice isn’t going to change anything. Besides, if you want to change the game, at some point you're going to have to step on the field. Only cowards throw hand grenades and let bystanders sort out the mess. Kelly Clarkson "Never Again" “Since You’ve Been Gone” was a pop pleasure I felt I had to closet; these days “Walk Away” still occasionally blasts from the office. Both tunes were ex-lover kiss-offs coming from an all-American girl from the Fort Worth, Texas, suburb Burleson, the sort of almost entirely lily-white Bible-belt small burg that even other suburbs ridicule: Burleson was a dry jurisdiction until 2006. As in, both “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “Walk Away” were don’t-need-a-man jams coming from a family values-proud small town woman in her breeding prime. Now comes “Never Again,” the lead single from her new My December, and it’s disappointingly generic scorned-woman power pop. Ms. Clarkson, please don’t become Pat Benatar just yet.

The Wire: Week 2 in the Media Scrum

By Bret McCabe | Posted 1/14/2007

Only two episodes into the season and already The Wire--and its vocal co-creator David Simon--are heating up the blogosphere. Slate deputy editor David Plotz and Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg continue their correspondence discussion of the show over at Slate.com, which currently is more about dissecting the journalism story line than anything else. Salon.com's staff weighs in with a more plot-oriented discussion of the second episode, while Tim Goodman offers a detailed breakdown over at his blog (and did the same for the first episode, too). Cinema Blend weighs in on the episode, too.

Our personal favorite moment of Episode 2 came from the thousand-yard sanity of Bunk, commenting on McNulty getting all riled up about something out of his control: “There you go--giving a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.” And, boy howdy, does McNulty let that giving-a-fuck take him too far.

Talking Head

"Talking Dan" And The Demise Of A Davis Street Nightclub

By Van Smith | Posted 1/3/2007

Daniel Gerard Joaquin McIntosh Sr. manages the Talking Head Club downtown on Davis Street, where he's better known as "Talking Dan." In the run-up to the club's announced Dec. 31 closing, though, McIntosh and the club's president and liquor license holder, Roman Kuebler, kept mum, declining to talk with City Paper music editor Jess Harvell. Working on a story about the closing, Harvell consulted City Paper's news side, searching for ways to hunt up the current owner of the building where the business is located. Ten minutes of internet searching later, and it began to look like Talking Dan--who has a lengthy record of criminal charges, including a 2005 pot conviction--might be part of the Talking Head's problem. Once McIntosh was informed of the findings on Dec. 28, he addressed such concerns at length over the phone.

"I sold some pot, I got into trouble for it," McIntosh, 31, says of his criminal record. "Apparently now everything I've done in my past is going to be an issue with the Talking Head."

McIntosh says that Kuebler was aware of McIntosh's troubled past with the law before bringing him in as a partner in the business a few years ago, and that Kuebler was understanding when McIntosh was convicted in 2005 in Baltimore County of possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

"He said, `I know you're a good person,'" McIntosh recalls Kuebler saying, "`I'm your friend, and I'm not going to hold this against you.'" Kuebler did not return phone calls for this article.

McIntosh asserts that his legal entanglements have nothing to do with the Talking Head closing, which instead is due to a recent financial coup de grace. "We were beating a horse for four years, to make it move," McIntosh says of the club's struggling operations, "and then stuff like that happens." The "stuff," McIntosh explains, revolves around preparations he and others had made recently to purchase the Talking Head building at 203 Davis St. Their efforts, which McIntosh says included paying for a $2,600 appraisal, came to naught when the club's vending machine provider, Michael J. DePasquale, Jr., got a contract to buy the place from under the Talking Head. Compounding this wrinkle, McIntosh adds, was the club's ongoing inability to make timely rent payments and the status of its lease under changing property owners.

What McIntosh didn't know was that DePasquale filed criminal harassment and telephone misuse charges against him on Nov. 12, 2006, and that a trial date in the case is scheduled for Jan. 4. "I had no idea about that," McIntosh responds when told. "Wow. That's very interesting. I'm on probation for my other shit. My next call will be to my attorney."

DePasquale's complaint states that McIntosh was "threatening me and my wife" because "he objects to me purchasing a property, that we are settling on 11-17-06--he is a tenant there." The complaint says DePasquale has saved recordings of threatening messages from McIntosh. "I have told him to stop," the complaint ends, but McIntosh "continues to threaten our lives and violence [sic]."

DePasquale, reached by phone on Dec. 28, declined to comment, saying the criminal complaint against McIntosh speaks for itself. As for McIntosh's claim that DePasquale sought to snatch the property up from under the Talking Head, DePasquale says, "you're a reporter, you know not to believe that." McIntosh says that DePasquale's contract to buy the building has since lapsed.

McIntosh, meanwhile, says he would prefer the Talking Head go out gracefully, with prospects for re-opening elsewhere. "I wanted to end it on a happy note," he says. "I tell you, I just like rocking and rolling, and I'm trying to end it on a nice, exciting note. We've discussed a few locations--in a neighborhood of some kind, maybe Hampden.

"I grew up in Hampden, and I'd be into bringing something back, to go back and offer something of pure substance," McIntosh continues. "I know the names of a lot of those junkies on those corners in Hampden, 'cause I'm a very rare case, one of the few who I came up with who did not wind up junkies or in jail."

Actually, McIntosh acknowledges, he's been both a junkie and in jail. In the late 1990s, he did time in York, Pa., on drug charges, and earlier in the 1990s "I was a straight-up fucking junkie--but I don't see what that has to do with the Talking Head," McIntosh says. Since then, his troubles have continued, though he says his "intent is pure" and that his more recent legal imbroglios amount to "a few questionable things in the eyes of some," as opposed to his earlier misdeeds, which were "questionable things in the eyes of everyone."

The 2005 Baltimore County pot conviction, McIntosh says, wasn't as big a deal as it appeared. "They had a tip that I was some kind of drug kingpin and came in looking for 100 pounds of weed," he recalls of the Nov. 3, 2004, raid on his Pikesville home. "And they walked away with an ounce and a half."

According to the court file, the raid also turned up lights for growing pot and $4,800 in cash. On the same day, police followed McIntosh to another location in Baltimore City, where they recovered 36 live pot plants, six pounds of pot, $41,742 in cash, and two guns.

"They followed me to his house and busted his house," McIntosh recalls, adding that "it was kind of my fault" the location was raided.

McIntosh was not convicted in connection with the Baltimore City haul, only with what was at his Pikesville home, and he pleaded guilty. The court noted his prior convictions--a 1993 assault and a 1997 drug possession with intent to distribute--and gave him a three-year suspended sentence, 80 hours of community service, and two years of supervised probation.

Just before midnight on Nov. 15, 2004--the day before he was indicted in Baltimore County as a result of the raid--McIntosh was pulled over on Calvert Street in Mount Vernon for having a headlight out. He was found to have a suspended license for outstanding child-support commitments; the arresting officer searched McIntosh and found six Valium pills in his pocket. For that, on Feb. 14, 2005--two days before his Baltimore County pot conviction--McIntosh earned a drug-possession conviction with a 90-day suspended sentence and one year of probation.

Since 2002, when the Talking Head first opened, McIntosh has been embroiled in a series of legal battles with the mothers of two of his three children. McIntosh's need for legal representation on these matters (not to mention the criminal cases), on top of the responsibilities of being a father providing for his children, translate into a need for income that the Talking Head hasn't met recently, he says.

The club, McIntosh says, "doesn't pay anybody anymore, and hasn't been for six months, and I essentially stopped working there." Instead, he says he "does a lot of construction work," and collects rent on properties that he's involved in. "I come from poor," he stresses, "so I just roll around and get it where I can--it's all just money in my pocket." Things are looking up, financially, he says, since he moved recently to Sparks in Baltimore County.

Since McIntosh's problems overlap with the Talking Head's problems--at least insofar as the pending charges filed by DePasquale are concerned--McIntosh seeks to distance himself from the club. "I'm not actually the owner of the company," McIntosh asserts. But the 2005 renewal application for the club's liquor license, which was filled out by Kuebler, the licensee, lists McIntosh as 25 percent owner, with the rest belonging to Kuebler. "That's roughly true," McIntosh says, "but that's just something that Roman said--there's nothing in the company's corporate charter about that." Kuebler did not respond to requests to clear up the questions about the club's ownership structure.

McIntosh, meanwhile, decries City Paper's interest in his problems. "This is not something the alternative press should be doing," he says, adding that "you're going after the wrong side here." His complaints about City Paper aren't new. In the 2005 Best of Baltimore issue, the club was designated "Best Rock Club," and, while praising its esoteric bookings of local and traveling bands, the write-up included an unsupported observation about Talking Head Club's "laissez-faire approach to underage drinking." The paper apologized in print for the misstep, but McIntosh was agitated by the insinuation.

In talking about his problems and the end of the Talking Head for this article, though, McIntosh speaks at length, in reasoned tones, with an it-is-what-it-is attitude.

"I just felt the need to call you and say a few things because it would be a shame for all who are involved with the club to be tarnished by me," he says. "I've looked at my [court] record before, and said, `That guy's a fucking killer,' so I can understand" why it's newsworthy. "But, as crazy as [the record] looks, every single one of those things is easily explained. It's all been blown out of proportion."

Collapse

Another Building Goes Down In Baltimore

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 12/20/2006

What: Total collapse or unpermitted demolition.

Who: Engineer John Elder, financier David Carey, contractor Mike Coster, owners of record David Danieki and Jodie A. Howell.

Where: 1016 S. Ellwood St. (two-story end-of-group rowhouse).

When: Within the past month.

Why: Anyone's guess.

This is 1016 S. Ellwood St., under "renovation," according to permits on file with the city. If everything were done according to plan, this house would have been gutted ("nonstructurally," of course), received a new outside wall with bay windows, a third-story addition with rooftop deck and spiral staircase, and an expanded basement. Instead, it was totally demolished (or collapsed) earlier this month, smashing holes in the neighbor's property. Says Mary Griffin, the 40-year resident of 1014 S. Ellwood: "I just assumed they would fix it."

The engineer here is John Elder, whose criminal history City Paper has detailed in previous stories. The names on "minor privilege" permits are Mike Coster (see "Missing Property," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 23) and David Carey, a financier responsible for hundreds of rehabs in Baltimore. A call to the owner of record, David Danieki, was not returned as of press time.

No Fault

Contractor John Elder Denies Responsibility for Building Collapses

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 11/22/2006

Engineer John D. Elder has told a state inquiry he is not responsible for any of the four Baltimore home collapses City Paper detailed in a story earlier this year ("Collapse," Aug. 2), and he was dropped from the lawsuit the story cited.

The Maryland Board for Professional Engineers began an investigation into Elder's engineering work after City Paper detailed Elder's criminal history, which he did not detail as required on his license-renewal application, and his involvement in four separate collapses in Baltimore City. On Oct. 7, Elder responded to the board's inquiry, explaining that in each collapse he was not responsible and could have done nothing to prevent it. Elder gave a copy of his response to City Paper.

At 106 E. Montgomery St., Elder wrote that owner Tom Bird was solely responsible, because he hired unlicensed contractors who overexcavated without Elder's knowledge. Bird has since been charged with housing violations in the matter, according to records and interviews, and that case is pending in Baltimore City District Court.

The collapse of 201 E. Gittings St. was similar, Elder wrote, except that it went down at a time when "Baltimore City was responsible for all construction inspections and site visits," so Elder was removed even further from responsibility. The owner there, Gregory Szczepaniak, sued Elder for his involvement in the 2003 collapse but dropped the engineer from the suit in August. In a conversation last summer, Szczepaniak's lawyer acknowledged that Elder--who does not own a home in his own name and says he does not carry liability insurance--is "judgment proof," meaning that he could avoid paying monetary damages even if the court ordered them. The case appears to have been settled in late October. Calls to Szczepaniak's lawyer were not returned.

At 3409 Harmony Court, Elder wrote, the owner hired someone to dig out the basement with a backhoe--without informing Elder. As evidence, Elder cited a letter from Mike Coster of b4 Design, with whom Elder has worked closely for years. The final case, 1600 Clarkson St., had collapsed before Elder was even hired, he wrote to the board. In that case, the city's permit office had granted a vague permit for "digging out basement."

The Maryland Board for Professional Engineers apparently did not ask Elder about his criminal history, even though the license application and renewal applications on which he failed to divulge his criminal convictions states that he certified its accuracy "under penalty of perjury."

Elder says he is waiting for a response from the board. "I don't know their process," he says. "I've never been in trouble before with the board."

An investigation by the city's Inspector General's office continues ("Walls Come Tumbling Down," Mobtown Beat, Nov. 8).

Falling Down

Investors Collapse Yet Another House

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 11/15/2006

A house collapse last week on South Collington Avenue left Kimberly Brown's home of five years uninhabitable and Brown searching for answers.

"I couldn't get any response from the city, and when I called the owner he was unresponsive," says Brown, who has lived at 313 S. Collington in Upper Fells Point for about five years.

In the weeks leading up to the collapse, the owners of 315 S. Collington had dismantled the home, removing all floor joists and both front and back walls, according to witnesses.

"They decided to demo[lish] the entire unit. Then dig footers," Brown says, "which compromised it and led to the collapse."

Houses all over Baltimore's waterfront neighborhoods are being demolished without demolition permits, sometimes collapsing in the process ("Collapse," July 26 and Aug. 2 ). Neighbors whose property is damaged say that city housing officials do little to halt the practice, despite laws and regulations that appear to protect the public.

Brown says she came home on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 8, to find that the second-floor wall that she shares with 315 S. Collington had fallen, exposing the studs and wiring in her wall. The sally port between the properties was also damaged, she says, and the home on the other side of the property, 317, was damaged as well. Brown says the investors who did this had taken down and rebuilt a house across the street previously. "And it worked," she says. "They did have some problems, but nothing like this."

State tax records say the owner of the collapsed structure, 315 S. Collington, is Sean Flynn, whose mailing address is in Miami. Flynn bought the building for $166,500 a few months ago, according to records. A message left at his Miami phone number was not returned before press time.

On Aug. 1, Charles Toulson represented the property in a hearing before the city Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, which granted a request for a three-story rear addition and roof deck. Calls to several listed phone numbers, including a classified advertisement for a home rental under Toulson's name, were not returned before press time.

Brown says Toulson gave her a card last summer saying he is chief resident at Johns Hopkins' Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. She says Toulson, Flynn, and another Miami investor own 315 S. Collington.

Brown says Toulson's workers caused a water-main leak in September, flooding her basement. "Dr. Toulson--apparently I woke him up the first time I called," she says. "He asked, `Which property is that?' He was just kind of real flip about it--like, it's just water. That made me realize he was not most likely someone I could deal with."

Brown says calls to the city eventually resulted in the water being shut off.

The city issued construction permits for "nonstructural" interior demolition to 315 S. Collington on June 30. On Sept. 27 another permit was issued for a three-story rear addition and rooftop deck, and on Nov. 6 the city issued another permit, for electrical work.

Despite the lack of structural-demolition permits, neighbor Christopher McNally says the home's interior floors were removed and the front wall came down about a week before the collapse. Then, he says, workers dug trenches along the home's foundation walls. The homes on both sides were undermined, he says.

A city inspector placed a stop-work order on 315 S. Collington on Nov. 8, McNally says.

City Paper could not determine the identity of the contractor as of press time.

An agent of the city Office of the Inspector General says he will investigate the collapse.

Brown says her insurance company has helped her. She has moved out of her home but says that it has not been condemned. She says city inspectors should do more to prevent collapses.

"The first person I called at the city, the lady was confused and she said, 'Well I understand it collapsed, but what do you want the city to do?'" Brown says. "I said, `Where do I start? I want the city to protect people. I mean, someone could have died in the collapse. I want you to restrict permits from these people.'"

Walls Come Tumbling

Investigation Of Improper Building Practices Plods On, As Inspector Waits For Housing To Comply With Info Requests

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 11/8/2006

Agents of the city Inspector General's office investigating allegations of corruption in the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development have been stonewalled by department officials, according to people familiar with their investigation. But the inspector general himself says it's not that bad.

"We've gotten some cooperation," says Andrew Clemmons, the inspector general. "We're still waiting on some of the documents we've requested. I'm sure we'll get them. We haven't gotten them yet."

Clemmons' agents asked for information from city housing officials after City Paper published stories detailing the criminal record of John Elder, a professional engineer and former city employee who has been involved in multiple building collapses ("Collapse," Aug. 2). But in the months since the requests were made, city housing officials have turned over only limited information to the investigators, including a chart of the department's organization and some phone numbers, people familiar with the investigation say. A request for cell-phone and e-mail records has gone unfilled. City Paper has requested similar records under the Maryland Public Information Act but was told that it would have to pay more than $3,600 for the records and wait for them for months. The Housing Department and city solicitor's office have not responded to the newspaper's modified request, and housing officials since August have refused to answer questions except through formal public information act requests.

Meanwhile, two ongoing construction projects--both involving Elder--have damaged neighbors' properties and drawn multiple complaints, but city building officials have declined to force a halt to construction and instead have approved the work.

"They should be protecting the owner of the adjoining property," says Christine Freund of upper Fells Point, "and not just the owner of the property that's doing the renovation."

Freund lives with her husband, John, and their infant daughter at 702 S. Montford Ave. The Freunds say a roofer they hired on Nov. 2 discovered a hole in their roof--with construction debris from next door sticking out of it. "They took one look and said, `You need a new roof.' I was shocked," Freund says.

The house under renovation next door, 700 S. Montford, was almost completely demolished, with only its front wall left standing, under permits specifying demolition of "only all interior nonstructural walls," records show. Among the "nonstructural" elements removed under that permit was a 30-foot steel column reinforcing the outside wall, according to the Freunds and other witnesses. The contractor, Bayside Properties, is responsible for more than 350 renovated homes in Fells Point, Canton, and Federal Hill. The nonstructural permits were obtained in April 2005. The Freunds say they did not complain until Bayside tore the roof off 700 S. Montford in September.

"We were trying to be good neighbors," John Freund says. But "you could see daylight through our storage area" at the top of the stairs.

Bayside temporarily patched the couple's roof after they complained on Sept. 20. But water has leaked into the Freunds' renovated rowhouse several times since, soaking a new wood floor and causing a musty smell and discoloration of their exposed brick walls. The couple has complained to city officials, but so far they say they have felt patronized by the building inspectors and their supervisors.

"They were acting like we were just causing trouble," John Freund says.

"She had a tiny bit of water," says Gregory Morris, a project manager for Bayside.

During a tour of the house Nov. 3, the couple point out recent water damage and older damage from when 704 S. Montford was renovated several years ago. City officials did not help them then either, they say.

In a series of e-mails to building officials, the Freunds have questioned how Bayside was allowed to take down almost an entire building without getting a full demolition permit. The couple cited the city's building code, which appears to require notification of neighbors, licensed and insured contractors, and a host of other safeguards to prevent or ameliorate damage to the neighboring property.

But deputy housing commissioner Michael Braverman determined that the 700 S. Montford Ave. project is in compliance with city code.

"For your information," Braverman wrote in an Oct. 12 e-mail to the Freunds, "removing a wall does not trigger the notification requirements . . . which are excavation related. It is [another section of the code] that covers notification for demolition of a structure, but those notification requirements do not apply to the removal of a wall. The insurance requirements you reference apply to licensed demolition contractors only. A licensed demolition contractor is not required to remove a wall."

"Under the demolition code, we would be protected from any damage," Christine Freund says. "But since it's their interpretation that there hasn't been any demolition," the Freunds are out of luck.

A key question for the Freunds is the identity of Bayside's engineer, who reportedly deemed the outside wall unfit to stand. Morris says he won't divulge that information to City Paper. But, he says, "we do not use John Elder." Elder signed the project plans, however.

The Freunds say that an agent of the city office of inspector general interviewed them and photographed the properties. Inspector General Clemmons says housing officials have been extra responsive to the Freunds because of his office's scrutiny. "They know we're looking at it now--they're moving on that," Clemmons says. "We're particularly interested in that one because it was fairly recent."

A few blocks from the Freunds, another homeowner says next-door contracting caused water damage in her home. Since late August, Denise Whitman has complained of unpermitted work, clouds of dust, and water inundation associated with the complete rebuild of a rowhouse at 2044 Fountain St.

Whitman, who lives at 2042 Fountain St., says the main trouble started Oct. 21, when she and her 14-year-old daughter had to punch holes in her ceiling to let water drain out. "They were blasting into the wall with a pressure hose," says Whitman, adding that the next-door contractor was taking water and electricity from another neighbor to do it. Whitman says she told the workers to stop--the first time in English, which didn't work, and the second time in Spanish, which did.

Her place had just about dried when, on Oct. 28, heavy rains sent more water into Whitman's home. The water apparently pooled up on the floors next door and washed through the porous side wall. At the time, 2044 Fountain had no roof.

"That was worse than the first time," says Whitman. "Water was flowing from every edge. Everything I had just dried was wet again."

William Malkin is the contractor at 2044 Fountain.

"I don't even know what to say," Malkin says on Nov. 1. "We have been through heck and high water with this lady. No one has given me any indication of any water damage."

Malkin says Whitman is a complainer who has tried to stop an addition planned by Milton Smith, 2044's owner. Smith, a Baltimore City police detective, declines to speak to City Paper, Malkin says.

Whitman, who works for the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, says she had resigned herself to the big rear-yard addition next door, but draws the line "when it comes to damaging my walls, and the essential structure of my house."

Whitman wonders why the house next door was effectively demolished--without structural-demolition permits--when it was a perfectly sound home before renovation began this summer. "It had heart pine floors," she says, adding that the previous owner "did a really nice, conservative job" with a previous renovation.

"I got concerned when I started seeing structural work," Whitman says. Her notes on the property begin on Aug. 28 when, she says, "they tore the roof off. I saw no permits."

Whitman e-mailed city officials, who, she says, sent an inspector who required Malkin to obtain permits for structural work. Malkin says everything he's done has been permitted and sounds frustrated by the fuss that's been made.

"I've done 15 rehabs in the city this year," Malkin says. "This is the only one that I had significant problems with."

Malkin says the city has stopped work on Fountain Street numerous times. "It's not really a problem when they shut you down," he says. "When they ask you a question and you give them an answer, and the answer is competent, then they let you start work again."

Malkin says he doesn't want a "negative" story to appear in the paper. "I'm a good guy, and I can be vouched for," he says. "Just print the facts."

Although Malkin says he has renovated 15 houses this year, Fountain Street is Malkin's first historic renovation.

Malkin says he ran a roofing company before going into whole rehabs, but his company, Malkin Enterprise, was originally a retail of "scooters, handbags, watches," according to a corporate filing. Malkin, who paid nearly $500,000 for a Baltimore County home in spring 2005, pleaded guilty in 2002 and received probation for manufacturing counterfeit items, according to court records.

"We ran the business legitimate," he says. "We paid all our taxes. Is it relevant that I sold some [fake] Gucci bags to feed my kids?"

Whitman's home, possibly built some time around 1803, was once owned by Thomas Kemp, the famous shipbuilder whose Chasseur became the "Pride of Baltimore" and is memorialized by a replica of that name. Whitman says she's worried that work done to her side wall may have weakened the structure--a possibility she finds galling because, according to land records and her own measurements, the wall between her house and 2044 Fountain is not a party wall, a wall shared between the owners of adjoining properties. She says she has spoken to a lawyer who told her to hire an engineer and a contractor to assess the damage.

Engineer John Elder says it's common to power wash a front wall since, if water goes through, "it's on your own property. It's not so common to do a party wall," he says. "I'd do it with a plain hose, and I'd do it judiciously." Elder says nobody asked his advice.

Elder's connection to 2044 Fountain St., appears tenuous. Elder says he had a draftsman add detail to the original plans for 2044 Fountain after a building inspector expressed concerns about the stability of the four-inch-thick wall on the east side of the property--opposite Whitman's house.

Elder says Malkin does good work and has had few problems on his other projects.

Clemmons, the inspector general, says his office is aware of the Fountain Street issue and "we're taking a look at that."

Clemmons says his office will submit a report to 1st District City Councilman James Kraft, who first requested the investigation. "As part of our report we will make recommendations as to how to improve the process," he says.

Asked if his investigators have discovered anything potentially criminal, Clemmons responds, "We're not that far yet."

Star Power

Frank M. Conaway Jr. Won an Election, Baggage and All

By Van Smith | Posted 10/25/2006

State delegate candidate Frank Melvin Conaway Jr., who with 5,889 votes was the top vote-getter in the 40th District Democratic primary in September, doesn't want this story published. His father, Baltimore City Clerk of the Circuit Court Frank M. Conaway Sr., doesn't either. In separate interviews, both used the same, emphatic words: "You don't have to write the story."

The story, though, may be of interest for 40th District voters, who on Nov. 7 will decide which three of the four candidates will go to Annapolis to represent approximately 110,000 city residents living from Pimlico and Rosemont to Woodberry and Mount Vernon. Simply put, Conaway Jr. isn't a delegate yet, but he likely will be soon--despite having a decidedly thin résumé and embarrassing problems: a drug convict chairs his campaign committee, and his wife swore in 2003 that Conaway Jr. is mentally ill and abusive, prompting Baltimore County courts to step in for her protection.

Conaway Jr.'s campaign-finance committee is chaired by Adonis Sanchez Johnson, 26, who in 2003 was convicted for possessing six quarter-sized chunks of crack cocaine with a street value of several hundred dollars. He received an 18-month suspended sentence and 18 months of supervised probation. At his sentencing, court records show, Johnson was an unemployed community-college student who previously worked construction.

Conaway Jr.'s longtime wife, Latesa Elaine Thomas, 44, has had a Baltimore County domestic-violence protective order against her husband for more than three years. The order, dated Aug. 25, 2003, states that Conaway Jr. "threatened to kill" Thomas, placing her "in fear of imminent serious bodily harm," and that "one year ago [he] pushed her face through back door window." Thomas also convinced the court that Conaway Jr., 43, was a threat to himself and others as a diagnosed sufferer of bipolar disorder who had stopped taking his prescribed medications, so the court ordered police escorts to deliver Conaway Jr. to two emergency hospital evaluations in the summer of 2003. Thomas is in the process of divorcing Conaway Jr.

"We knew this day would come," Conaway Jr. says. It's an unseasonably warm early-October afternoon, and he's standing at the foot of the Battle Monument, in the middle of Calvert Street between the two circuit courthouses. "Somebody's going to ask that question," he remarks, "and it's none of your business." At the time, City Paper did not know what had happened to prompt the protection order.

Conaway Jr. dismisses the drug conviction of his committee chairman by asking, "Can't a guy get a second chance?" He remarks that "in order to be one of the people, you have to help the people. I gave a person a chance."

Conaway Sr., when asked about Johnson's criminal record and committee chairmanship, says simply that "it is what it is." Attempts to reach Johnson were unsuccessful.

Bringing up Conaway Jr.'s own court record prompts the candidate to assume a don't-go-there attitude. "My children's mother is a decent woman," he says. "That's all you need to know. People understand that things happen between man and woman and the rearing of children."

Conaway Sr., interviewed later over the phone after his son's domestic violence record had been examined, says, "I don't know about [Conaway Jr.'s] diagnosed disorder." He adds that he doesn't "get into [his children's] marital affairs" and therefore was unaware of the domestic-violence issues. He cautions that his son once took his wife to court, too, so "you should take what she says with a grain of salt."

In addition to the injuries described in the protective order, Thomas, in her sworn statement in the case, mentioned a "tooth chip" and "bruises all over the body." She wrote that Conaway Jr. was "having a bi-polar accident. He has not taken his medicine for several months." She asked the court to help, writing that she and the three children she's had with Conaway Jr. are "living in fear" because "he is bi-polar and I can't deal or control his behavior," which she described as "unstable," "talking threats, keeping son in garage in fear. My entire family is afraid. He is in a manic state and is unreasonable."

Bipolar disorder, which is also known as manic-depressive illness, is described by the National Institute of Mental Health as "a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function" that "can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide." It estimates that 2.6 percent of the U.S. adult population suffers from the biochemical illness. In September, the Harvard Medical School published a NIMH-funded study that found that the economic impact of bipolar disorder is measurable: "each U.S. worker with bipolar disorder averaged 65.5 lost workdays in a year." But it is treatable with medication--as long as sufferers stay on their medication.

Keeping on the medication, Thomas swore to the court, was what Conaway Jr. failed to do. The result was abuse allegations severe enough for the court to order him to stay away from his wife, children, and in-laws, and their respective homes, schools, and workplaces, or be charged with a misdemeanor crime that could bring jail time.

In the ongoing divorce case, Thomas no longer alleges abuse by her husband, and asks for divorce on the grounds that they've been separated since July 2003. Conaway Jr., though, brought up the issue of violence himself, writing in his response to her divorce filing that Thomas "failed to list when she was charged with domestic violence." That occurred in 1993, when Conaway Jr. swore out a complaint against her for assault, but prosecutors dropped the charge.

Conaway Sr., when informed of his daughter-in-law's sworn statements, says quietly, "I don't believe these things. I don't think he would lay a hand on her. And I know him."

Thomas initially said she would meet with a reporter for this article but then stopped returning phone calls. "I'm just an ordinary woman looking out for my children," she said during a brief phone conversation.

Conaway Jr. is a mail clerk in the Baltimore City Municipal Post Office, a job he says he's had for about three years. For about six or seven years before that, he says he worked for his father's travel agency. Back in the 1980s for three or four years, he says he had an insurance broker's license while working for Conaway Sr.'s now-defunct insurance business. In the meantime, Conaway Jr. says he received an education--three years at Howard University, one year at Morgan State University, then three years at Sojourner-Douglass College, graduating in 1999 with a degree in business administration. He also wrote books, and started a replica kit-car business called "F" Dreams Inc. The business fell victim, he says, to the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994. His book Baptist Gnostic Christian Eubonic Kundalinion Spiritual Ki Do Hermeneutic Metaphysics, which combines biblical theology and martial arts, was published in 2001, and was followed by the '04 release of his The 20 Pennies a Day Diet Plan. Both are available online.

Conaway Jr.'s political committee, which was formed in May, raised and spent exactly nothing to get him elected in the primary. Yet at the polls he bettered all others--one well-liked, well-funded incumbent (freshman legislator Marshall Goodwin) and a number of other challengers with serious jobs and respectable campaign kitties. How? Conaway Jr. explains it this way.

"I have been in this community all my life," he asserts. "I was raised up to have respect for everyone, to greet people every day--police officers, teachers, businesspeople--so every day I say good morning to people. I speak to people in the supermarkets, gas stations, whatever. That's how I know people. That's how I pulled it off, because I'm one of the people.

"I covered the whole district," he continues, defensive at the suggestion that he was a no-show candidate, often missing at primary-season events. "I went door to door, I gave out toys, I gave out whistles, I gave out brooms, I spoke at forums. I tried to tell the truth. I tried to give a different answer than just rhetoric. I separated myself from the pack, because most of the people I was running against, they sound the same. You know, they sound good, but there are no answers [when they speak]. I spoke my mind."

Conaway Sr. fills in the rest. "Everybody that gets elected gets elected by name recognition--everybody," he proclaims, explaining that voters tend not to vote for people whose names they don't know. "If you don't have it, you have to buy it, and it just so happened that [Conaway Jr.] didn't have to buy name recognition because his name was well-known."

The Conaway name has graced Baltimore ballots since the 1970s, when Conaway Sr. was himself elected a state delegate. He rose to chair the Legislative Black Caucus before his star arched into a scandalous investigation of his insurance business. By 1982, he'd vacated his seat in Annapolis and declared bankruptcy. The same year, his wife, Mary Conaway, was elected the city's register of wills, a position she's held ever since--though she's made stabs for other offices, including for Congress and mayor. Since Conaway Sr. gained the clerkship of the city Circuit Court in 1998, he's run for mayor, too. Conaway Jr.'s sister Belinda Conaway is the 7th District's city councilwoman, and just ran and lost for state Senate in the 40th District. Conaway Jr. himself tried for a City Council seat in 1999. That's a lot of Conaways on a lot of ballots over a long period of time.

In order to keep the family legacy going, Conaway Sr. started Three Bears Slate, the campaign committee that raises and spends money on any and all of the family's races for public office--including Conaway Jr.'s primary victory. Formed in July 2005, it had raised nearly $60,000 and spent nearly $50,000 as of late August.

"All of those votes for four people with so little money," Conaway Sr. says, admiring the electoral efficiency of the family machine. "It's not for power," he insists--though he allows that another organization he formed this year with a bevy of local political and business leaders, Metro Political Organization, is "about power--what else would it be?" But when it comes to the family slate and public service, "I'm in it to help people," he says.

In this case, Conaway Sr.'s help came in the form of Conaway Jr. The son, since he hasn't followed former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Doug Duncan's recent example of withdrawing after confessing to a mental-health problem, is on the November ballot along with fellow Democrats Barbara Robinson and Shawn Tarrant. Green Party candidate Jan Danforth is on the list, too. While Danforth's vote-drawing potential is as yet untested, she has made a name for herself by fighting vocally in recent years against Loyola College's decision to develop forestland in Woodberry and serving on the boards of the Greater Homewood Community Development Corp. and Jones Falls Watershed Association. If Danforth, 56, comes in fourth, Conaway Jr. will be elected, making his father proud.

"He's not going to do anything bad," Conaway Sr. predicts of his son's likely future in the state legislature. "He's fine. He's going to be a star."

Missing Property

When City Approved Permits For House At 2418 Fleet There Was No House To Work On

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/23/2006

The three-story rowhouse at 2418 Fleet St. in Canton, listed for sale at $629,000, does not appear remarkable in an area marked by ferocious redevelopment. Indeed, just four doors west a similar-looking house is under expansive renovation, complete with the same Cyclops-like third-story front window.

But 2418 Fleet is unusual because, under the city's building, planning, and zoning laws, it shouldn't be there at all.

And the people responsible for its construction are an unusual group as well, combining an apparently typical real-estate investor with Mayor Martin O'Malley's longtime campaign treasurer and a klatsch of contractors and professionals who have been convicted of at least five felonies, with more charges pending.

Critics of the city's building and zoning administration say huge homes are wedged in next to modest houses all over Canton, Fells Point, and Federal Hill, despite myriad regulations that appear to forbid it. The story of how 2418 Fleet St. came into being, then, is also the story of Baltimore's real-estate boom--both its power to transform city neighborhoods and its curious ability to mix the politically connected with criminals who break rules and make money, over the protests of stunned neighbors and under the nose of city officials.

The laws broken to build this house govern construction contracting, city building codes, and zoning. But this brand-new, still-unfinished home's hulking presence boils down to a seemingly simple question: How can the city approve an addition to a building that doesn't exist?

"Hah," laughs David Tanner, executive director of the city Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals. "I don't see how you could do that. If the building no longer exists, how can you put an addition on it?" He ponders the question for a second, perhaps not remembering that, one year ago, his board granted just such a request. "You could," he says, "get approval to replace it."

John B. Matheis, owner of 2418 Fleet, bought the dilapidated structure in early 2005 for $160,000. But Matheis did not ask for city approval to knock down the house and build it anew. Instead, he told the zoning administrator that he planned to add to the existing structure: a heavy, looming third story, plus a rooftop deck, plus a two-story addition in the rear, according to zoning documents.

Next-door neighbor Amanda Cavallo says Matheis "wasn't specific" about his plans when he dropped by last summer. "He said we're going to redo the house, bring it all the way to the back [of the lot]," she says. "It was a small house."

Cavallo was not opposed. The existing house "was very, very, very run-down," she says, with the "back of the house put together with tar and shingles."

Even so, there were problems with Matheis' proposed addition, the record indicates. City zoning ordinances don't allow for the expansion of any "non-conforming structure"--meaning any house that's less than 16 feet wide. This lot is only 13 feet, eight inches wide. The zoning code further restricts the size of additions, saying no home can cover more than 60 percent of a building lot. Matheis' proposal covers 87 percent. Zoning administrator Donald Small rejected the plans on those grounds. Calls to Small's office were referred to the city Department of Housing communications office, which cited its new policy of refusing to answer City Paper's queries except those submitted in writing under the Maryland Public Information Act. As of press time, a written request had not yielded a response from Housing.

In August 2005, Matheis appealed Small's rejection of his plan to the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA), a five-member mayoral-appointed body, administered by Tanner, that has final say on matters relating to rooftop decks, additions, conversions of houses into businesses, and the like. But instead of making his own case to the board, Matheis engaged Martin F. Cadogan, an attorney with Baltimore law firm Brown and Sheehan. (Cadogan's relationship to Matheis and the property is not clear; state tax records show Matheis as the owner, but a building permit signed by Matheis lists Cadogan as the owner.)

Cadogan does occasional zoning appeals--he represented Little Havana co-owner Tim Whisted's effort to move his restaurant into an industrial zone, for instance--but he is better known in political circles as O'Malley's campaign treasurer, having overseen more than $10 million in donations to the current gubernatorial hopeful since 1999. Repeated messages left at Cadogan's office were unreturned before deadline.

The BMZA hearing on the 2418 Fleet "addition" was held Aug. 23, 2005. By then the house had been demolished. Charm City Builders and Excavation LLC began dismantling it in early June 2005.

"In the process of ripping down the house, when they took down their chimney they left a hole in my house and took down my fence," says Cavallo, an accountant who bought her renovated rowhouse with the help of her parents in 2003. Charm City Builders' workers did not repair the hole in her siding for six months, she says. The fence and brickwork over the shared sally port between the houses remain broken. "That pisses me off," she says.

Charm City Builders is not licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. One of its principals, Wyatt Heinlein, signed two permit applications for the project with different bogus license numbers, in apparent violation of state law.

Heinlein has been convicted twice for drunk driving and once for disorderly conduct. In 1999 he was charged criminally for being a spectator at a dogfight. The case was postponed indefinitely. The phone numbers Heinlein used on the construction permits have been disconnected, as were other previously listed numbers for him. A message left with his mother was not returned. James D. Cavasina, Heinlein's business partner, also could not be reached for comment.

By late July 2005, Heinlein had destroyed all but the Formstone-faced front of 2418 Fleet St. There were no floors, no roof, and no sides or back. A photo taken then shows that the facade had no windows and no door.

A neighbor and Deborah Tempera, a building and zoning activist, told the BMZA that the building was gone, but the board still granted Cadogan's request for an addition to the nonexistent house. The board claimed it made its decision "after . . . inspecting the premises," and found that 2418 Fleet is "unique due to its small lot size and the additions will provide much-needed living area for this small home."

The board did not inspect the premises. "That's a boilerplate statement," says Geoffrey Veale, a zoning appeals adviser who has helped citizens through the BMZA since the mid-1990s. He says the board looks at the paperwork--especially the site plans--and listens to the testimony to make its decisions.

He scoffs at the notion that the BMZA would give special consideration to a request from the mayor's campaign treasurer. "Two words," Veale says of Cadogan's status. "So what?"

Yet 2418 Fleet does appear to have gotten special consideration. In this case the board appears to have ignored both the law and evidence that Cadogan's application included false site plans. Drawings of the "addition" at 2418 Fleet by B4 Design and Consulting show a house with a first floor set about two feet higher than the original--five steps instead of the original one step. That means that the plans, dated June 8, 2005, depict an "existing" building that would not exist until more than six months later, after the original had already been cleared away.

Questions put in writing to B4 Design were not answered at press time. In a short phone conversation B4 co-owner Michael Coster berated a reporter for a previous story revealing engineer John Elder's extensive criminal record, which includes at least two felony convictions. "There's a lot of good in John Elder," he says. Elder is a former city engineer who was involved with multiple building collapses ("Collapse," Aug. 2).

Elder also engineered the 2418 Fleet project. A drawing, stamped with Elder's seal and dated Nov. 25, 2005, depicts an "existing 2 story house" that had been completely razed months before.

Elder says he never surveyed the site but relied on drawings from B4, which surveyed the property "in late May or early June" of 2005. As engineer, Elder says, his job was merely to make sure the plans conformed to building code and "structural accuracy."

"In defense of B4, I don't believe they would have gone back after the initial visit, unless someone told them it had changed," Elder says, although he acknowledges that B4's principals reside across the street and one block east of the house in question. Elder says he agrees that the owners should have told the BMZA that the "scope of work had changed." Had they done so, Elder says, "they probably would have had a positive appeal."

Matheis declined to to say why he did not do that. When introduced to a City Paper reporter touring his house with a real estate agent last week, Matheis became agitated. "This is very misleading," he said repeatedly. "I'm asking you to get off my property."

Matheis agreed to answer questions later, but at the appointed time canceled the interview, saying he was too busy with his full-time job in the insurance business.

The man whose company built 2418 Fleet St. says he has done a lot of work for Matheis. "I've worked for him plenty of times," says Jose Morales. "He's a big developer down there." Morales says he "never heard of" Cadogan.

Morales, whose A.B.R. Construction LLC is currently on the job at 234 S. Chester St. ("Building a Case," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 16), framed 2418 Fleet beginning in January under the name Masons Unlimited, which saw its state business charter revoked last October. Like A.B.R., Masons Unlimited (and Morales himself) is unlicensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. Morales also faces criminal charges of contracting without a license, although that case, awaiting a jury trial since 2003, is arguably the least of his legal concerns.

Since 1993, police have booked Jose Joaquin Morales, born Sept. 24, 1975, on more than 50 criminal charges. The first arrest was for battery, three weeks after his 18th birthday and not prosecuted. Over the subsequent 12 years Morales racked up arrests on charges relating to theft, assault, discharging a firearm, drug dealing, vehicle theft, and arson. He has at least three felony convictions--the most recent a 2000 drug charge--and currently faces 10 counts relating to identity theft and fraud in Anne Arundel County. His trial date is Sept. 21.

Morales says his company worked on 2418 Fleet for about 45 days, bricking the front, building the frame and stairways. He confirms that the job was no addition. "When I got there," he says, "there was a hole in the ground."

Morales says that his company is licensed and that he has "never been arrested." He says he was born in 1971, but when asked to identify the man with the same name as his, born in 1975, whose criminal records check back to his Glen Burnie business address, Morales says that the house belongs to his father. "Could be my father, could be my son," he says of the mystery criminal.

In January, a Jose Morales donated $250 to O'Malley's campaign. Morales acknowledges the contribution but says he doesn't remember the occasion or the reason for it, adding he donates "a lot" to various politicians.

A check of campaign records finds no other political donations to Maryland state candidates by any Jose Morales.

Building a Case

Councilman Requests Investigation Of Complaints About Uneven Enforcement Of Building Code

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/16/2006

In 2001 Alan Dittmar started rebuilding his two-story rowhouse at 246 S. Chester St. from the inside out. The brick side walls were both leaning south by more than one degree--or about eight inches at the top of their 30-foot heights. Dittmar says he, his wife, and one of his sons dismantled the house room-by-room from the inside and rebuilt the structure so that the floors are now supported by two-by-six studs. He also removed his home's front wall and rebuilt it brick-by-brick, plumb and solid. During this time, he says, the hardest part of the process was dealing with city inspectors.

"There was lots of harassment," says Dittmar, a wiry, flinty-eyed retiree with a workman's tan. "They tried to say the house is unstable. I had to get an engineer to say it was OK."

Even then, Dittmar says the city inspector taunted him. "When I was bricking the front," he says, the inspector "was parked here with a condemned sign in his hand."

Dittmar's experience contrasts with the treatment given to others on the block, he and other neighbors say. Within sight of Dittmar's home are half a dozen vinyl-clad additions, all of them larger than would be permitted under zoning regulations, he says, and all of them done without permits and despite neighbors' complaints to city officials.

Currently, workers at 234 S. Chester are doubling the size of an already large three-story rowhouse, despite lack of permits and two "stop work" orders posted by a city inspector. The house--which shows a permit pulled for "non-structural demolition" in mid July--has been completely gutted, its back wall removed. In the rear yard is a hole some nine feet deep, as wide as the house and more than 30 feet long. Dittmar and other neighbors say they lodged numerous complaints more than two weeks before a city inspector posted a "stop work" order. Workers tore off the sign the next day and continued working. More complaints led to a kind of compromise, according to an e-mail exchange obtained by City Paper between another neighbor and Michael Braverman, the deputy commissioner for housing: a city inspector "excepted" the new foundation and basement walls from the "stop work" order, Braverman wrote, because of an unspecified "safety issue."

In the wake of City Paper's stories about collapsing buildings ("Collapse," July 26 and Aug. 2), residents across the city contacted the paper with stories about what they regard as unfair or inconsistent treatment by building-code inspectors. Several, including Dittmar, opined that for building and code inspections to be as inconsistent as they are city officials must be taking bribes.

City Councilman Jim Kraft (D-1st District) asked the city's Inspector General to investigate "allegations and inferences" found in the City Paper stories and in documents a city activist has brought to their attention for years.

City housing officials, however, have not responded to requests for new information from City Paper. "If you have specific questions about this or any housing issues in the future please submit your request in writing and I will happily respond within the guidelines of the Maryland Public Information Act," Baltimore Housing spokesman David Tillman wrote in an e-mailed response to a request for an update on the story. The Maryland Public Information Act mandates access to government documents "without unnecessary cost or delay" but gives officials 30 days to respond to requests for documents.

City Paper contacted city and state officials to find out what they're doing about John Elder, a licensed engineer with multiple felony convictions and at least five building collapses under his belt. Over the past several years Elder has worked on dozens--possibly hundreds--of residential and commercial construction projects in Baltimore, many of which drew complaints from neighbors for unpermitted work and then more complaints that city inspectors and other officials allowed violations to continue. Baltimore Housing officials (other than Tillman) did not respond to City Paper's queries; the Maryland Board for Professional Engineers, which oversees professional engineering licenses, does not by law comment on pending cases.

During months of reporting for the original stories, city and state officials said that they knew nothing of Elder's criminal history, and little or nothing about any complaints or problems with his engineering work. John Cole, the city's superintendent of building inspections, signed every underpinning permit, attended every building collapse, arranged conferences with property owners, contractors, and Elder himself, and gave depositions in court cases involving Elder, but he would not say Elder's name to a reporter. "I'm removed from the names," Cole claimed in June, when asked if he had noticed any patterns involving those responsible of collapses. He did not return follow-up calls seeking clarification.

But City Paper's investigation was not the first time Cole and other city housing officials had heard complaints about Elder, or about selective enforcement of the zoning and building codes. Deborah Tempera, a Canton and Fells Point property owner and one of the city's most tenacious zoning activists, complained about Elder in writing not just to city housing officials and Kraft's office but also to the state Board for Professional Engineers more than two years ago.

"I got nowhere with them," Tempera says.

Her letter to the board, dated Feb. 12, 2004, is handwritten on legal paper. It describes problems with a home Elder drew plans for but lacks specific complaints. Instead it poses a question: "Does a structural engineer have any responsibilities when he stamps plans that are then submitted to obtain a permit in Balto. City?"

Tempera has complained to city building and zoning officials for more than two years about a cast of characters, including Elder, who she says have routinely built or demolished properties without proper permits. For her troubles, she says, she has been harassed by code-enforcement officers and ignored as a crank.

After fielding numerous complaints from Tempera, Councilman Kraft, whose district includes Canton and Fells Point, sent her a letter this spring telling her that he and his staff would no longer "expend any more resources attending to concerns of yours that the Permits and Code Enforcement and Zoning Enforcement officers have already looked into."

Tempera likened the situation to the fox guarding the henhouse.

Kraft says his staff is not set up to investigate matters much beyond asking the department heads to respond. "We have a tremendous demand for constituency service--there is only so much we can do," he says. "Ultimately, I guess the buck stops in the mayor's office."

Kraft says he has introduced four new city ordinances aimed at the problem. One would impose criminal penalties on those who violate stop-work orders or work without permits. Another would bar anyone who has been convicted of a criminal violation of the labor, environmental, building, or zoning laws from receiving city contracts. The other two would improve notification of meetings of the city planning board and the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA). All await City Council action.

Kraft and Councilman Edward Reisinger (D-10th) have long complained about unpermitted work in their waterfront districts, Kraft says. Last fall they held an "investigative hearing" to explore ways to improve building and zoning enforcement. Kraft says understaffing at code enforcement is part of the problem, but a reluctance by the city's Department of Housing to use its most powerful tool has rankled as well.

"I tell them, make them tear them down," Kraft says. "You only have to do it a couple of times, and the word will get out: If you build without a permit, you have to tear it down. And they won't do it."

Kraft says he doesn't know why housing officials won't order demolition of unpermitted work. "Anything I say would be speculative," he says. "It's an extreme remedy."

Kraft acknowledges the frustration people feel when they see others getting away without following the rules, and he says Baltimore Housing and BMZA's habit of fining builders a few hundred dollars is ineffective. "When you're selling a house for half a million, and you fine someone $500, it's less then a nickel," Kraft says.

But Kraft does not buy into the theory that corruption is the best explanation. "There is a gut-level reaction from people who say, `They're on the take,'" he acknowledges. "And I'm not saying they're not on the take. But every time an inspection doesn't go the way I think it should, that does not mean a person is taking money from somebody."

Meanwhile, in Dittmar's neighborhood, the concrete block walls are finished (although visibly not plumb or level) at 234 S. Chester St., and the workers returned on Aug. 9 and continued building, neighbors say.

A man calling himself Rob is working on the property on Aug. 14; he will not give his last name to a reporter over the phone. Rob claims he has been a mason for 15 years but is not licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. "What do I need a license for?" he asks. "I just work for my boss."

His boss' name is Jose, Rob says, but he doesn't know Jose's last name, and he refuses to divulge the name of Jose's company.

A man who gives his name as John Ett then takes the phone and says his company's name is Big Dog Communications, though he adds "we go by several names." Asked why his neighbors say his workers tore down stop-work orders, Ett says "the neighbors only see what's going on on the job, they don't see what's going on downtown." He says his company pulled all the proper permits after paying $2,000 in fines to the city. Asked for a description of the job from the permits, Ett says he has to get back to work and hangs up the phone.

"I'm not going to let them get away without having a permit," says Dittmar, standing on his stifling hot front stoop on a recent evening. He claims he was harassed "because I don't know anyone downtown and I won't grease anyone's palms."

Dittmar admits he has no evidence of payoffs, but the situation, he says, "speaks for itself."

Collapse

Who Inspects The Work That Makes Buildings Fall Down? The Engineers Do. But Who Inspects Engineers Like John Elder?

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/2/2006

The engineer's letter to Dr. John W. Hawkins predicted catastrophe. The building next door to Hawkins' was about to fall down, Mike Dominelli wrote last Sept. 26. And when that happened, it could fall on the dentist's own Federal Hill rowhouse.

Three days later, 106 E. Montgomery St. caved in.

Hawkins got off easy, with only minor damage. The home on the other side, 108 E. Montgomery, was left uninhabitable, according to its owner, Donald Eickhoff.

"So he buckles my areaway" between the houses, Eickhoff says of Tom Bird, the owner of 106. "He gives me a call and says, `Don't worry, I'll take care of everything.' Month and a half goes by, nothing happens. I'm tied to him on the second and third floor, and he's twisting my building. There's big cracks appearing."

When the back and side walls on 106 finally fell, bricks rained on Eickhoff's house. "It shifted the wall in living room and the room in back of the kitchen," he says, but Bird "still had people in there digging."

The debacle angered other neighbors as well. Living in one of the city's priciest neighborhoods, their block looked like a war zone. In the months following, city officials prodded Bird to make repairs and shore up his neighbors' buildings, while neighbors hired their own experts to assess the damages.

These days, "it seems much better," Hawkins says. Bird "finally got a good contractor," and the chances of Hawkins' house falling down have diminished. Eickhoff says the city threatened to condemn his house; although 108 was never condemned, Eickhoff says he's stuck with a $2,500-per-month mortgage on a place he can't renovate.

Dozens of buildings fall each year in Baltimore, most of them in neglected neighborhoods where low-income people live--often long-abandoned, nearly a fifth of them city-owned, these buildings are just one more hazard for the city's poor.

But the poor are not the only Baltimoreans threatened by building collapse. The real estate boom on Baltimore's waterfront has brought the same hazard to people who live in rowhouses worth half a million dollars or more. In the past three years, more than a dozen buildings have collapsed in Federal Hill, Fells Point, and Canton. Most of them crumbled to the ground after their owners tried to dig out the basement to make more living space.

The process is called underpinning. But in those cases, it was actually undermining.

In Federal Hill, where sandy soil, very small, old rowhouses, and sky-high real estate values combine to make basement expansions irresistible to developers and homeowners, houses topple often enough that local novelist Laura Lippman opened a recent short story with a shrugging reference to the phenomenon.

Seen by many as a normal part of Baltimore life, building collapses seldom make the news. But other, similar cities see far fewer collapses than Baltimore.

To find out why that is, City Paper reviewed three years of city-directed emergency demolitions and carefully examined permitting and demolition records of more than 20 recent collapses. Two patterns emerged: First, the city has neglected its own decrepit buildings and fallen far behind in its demolition list, leaving thousands of Baltimoreans vulnerable to injury and property damage from sudden building collapses nearby ("Collapse," July 26). Second, the city's building permitting process is overburdened, and loose, allowing a small group of insiders to routinely oversee multiple building collapses in well-off neighborhoods, endangering thousands more properties.

Although neighborhood activists, residents, and professionals working in the city's waterfront areas mentioned several engineers, contractors, and developers as being responsible for shoddy work, unpermitted demolitions, oversized additions, and other apparent violations of building codes, one name seems to overlap and overshadow the others: John Decamp Elder.

 

At some point during almost any given weekday, John Elder can be found at the city permit office on the ground floor of 417 E. Fayette St. downtown. He arrives most often with an armload of rolled-up plans, and moves easily among the clerks and cashiers there, explaining this or that detail to them and his clients. On a Wednesday afternoon in mid-July he sits at station four, chiding his client for having only one broken fax machine. "I have three fax machines," Elder says. "I like to do things right."

Elder is a large man with a pocked face, but his voice is gently modulated; on this day, he wears chinos and a navy crew shirt monogrammed in gold: JOHN D. ELDER AND ASSOCIATES ENGINEERING. He lives in the Rosedale section of Baltimore County, northeast of the city, and says he has been an engineer for more than 20 years.

"I've probably done more basements than most people," he says, estimating that he's done the engineering drawings and obtained the permits for 50 to 100 underpinnings. Asked about the number of collapses among the houses he's worked on, he says about "four or five."

Although a fixture in the permitting office and on a first-name basis with many who work there, Elder's work reputation is poor among some professionals.

"I've seen his drawings--they are intentionally vague," says Julie Tice, an architect who works around Federal Hill. "On roof decks, it seems he has one set of drawings with a rectangular shape and he fills the dimensions."

Tice says she believes that Elder seldom does site visits either before or after producing plans, whether for decks or basements. "I'd be surprised if there wasn't a class-action suit headed his way," she says.

When asked generally about Baltimore collapses, longtime Fallston-based contractor George J. Waldhauser offers Elder's name without prompting. "John Elder is a little bit heavy, a little bit lazy," Waldhauser says. "He's what they call a rubber-stamp engineer."

"Rubber-stamp engineer," "stamp for hire," and "plan stamper" are terms given for engineers who do not do the engineering work--visiting the job site ahead of time and customizing the plans to the site, inspecting the work as it goes--but merely stamp plans so that building officials will issue permits. Being a stamp for hire is a violation of the engineering code of professional ethics and of state regulations, but it is hard to prove. The Maryland State Board for Professional Engineers has never disciplined any engineer for being a rubber stamp, according to Pam Edwards, the board's assistant executive director. According to the board's web site, John Elder is an engineer in good standing, and has not been sanctioned.

Waldhauser says engineers like Elder are especially dangerous in Baltimore City because, in contrast to other jurisdictions (including Baltimore County), the city's Office of Permits and Building Inspections does not inspect structural work that is overseen by licensed engineers. Waldhauser says he knows this because he had built a rooftop deck job engineered by Elder that Elder refused to inspect.

Waldhauser says that he was attaching the deck's frame to the existing masonry, and that required drilling a hole of a specified depth and setting a metal bracket in the hole with epoxy. Elder, as the engineer, was supposed to certify that Waldhauser drilled the hole deep enough and in the right place. "I called him and made sure he came out," Waldhauser recalls. "He gets there and yells up, `Is the hole drilled? Fine, then, it's fine.' He wouldn't come up the ladder." (Elder confirms Waldhauser's story but says ladders like that are too dangerous for his 57-year-old body. He says he checked the work later, after the stairs were installed.)

An oversight like that-although arguably a violation of an engineer's professional code of ethics-is probably not dangerous when the contractor is, like Waldhauser, experienced, licensed, bonded, and a stickler for the rule book. But when the contractor is none of those, bad things can happen.

A review of selected building permit records found Elder's name and drawings on 11 projects on the city's waterfront that drew complaints from neighbors for unpermitted work, shoddy work, or work that spilled over the property line-but little enforcement by building officials. Four of those 11 cases were underpinning projects that resulted in collapses.

The typical Federal Hill rowhouse sits not on a cast concrete foundation like a modern house, or even on a slab of cement, but on sand that was tamped by hand 150 or more years ago. The basement walls typically extend only two feet or so below ground, "so already it's not right," says John Cole, from the perspective of modern building codes.

Cole, Baltimore City's superintendent of building inspections, peels off a yellow sticky note and draws a thin pyramid with a flattened crown, with two lines extending up from the crown. "The lines of force go this way," he explains.

He is drawing a cross section of a typical Federal Hill foundation wall. The thin pyramid is a column of sand; the lines are two courses of bricks, eight inches thick, that divide and support the rowhouses. Within that sand pyramid are the lines of force from the weight of the brick wall, pressing down on the earth.

As long as the ground is undisturbed, the weight of all those bricks--and even the rooftop decks now installed above them--will disperse along those narrow force lines and the house will stand. But if someone scoops out the crawlspace under the house and cuts into the line of force (and here Cole draws a curve into one side of his pyramid), "then the wall kicks out," he says, now drawing a jagged sideways V through his curve. He crumples up the sticky note.

Excavating such a basement properly, then, means going slow, disturbing as little soil as possible. The typical underpinning plan looks something like a checkerboard, with four-foot-square sections of crawlspace mapped out, a number inside each box to indicate the order of operations, Cole explains. A work crew must dig by hand and remove no more than two squares at a time--on opposite sides of the house. After those first two coffee table-sized holes are dug, concrete is poured in them and the new sections of foundation wall are built up to the now-dangling bricks that make up the original walls. After that concrete sets for a few days and can support the weight above it, the workers dig the next section. A variation on the plan calls for the excavation to stop more than a foot from the original wall, a concrete "curb retainer" then cast in place to contain the dirt upon which the wall rests. Either way, underpinning is a dicey operation requiring strict oversight of the work crew to prevent them from going too far.

George Waldhauser says he's done several basement underpinnings this way. "We did one on Lombard, we had no problem," he says. "We had to bring the dirt out through a coal chute." Waldhauser says the job took two months to finish, and that a lot of developers, contractors, and homeowners are not so patient. "Now," he says, "what if you can do an $18,000 to $24,000 job . . . in a weekend?"

Instead of slowly and carefully following a checkerboard pattern, some contractors rip the back wall off the house and move in with a backhoe or a front loader, according to Waldhauser, Cole, and others. The machines cannot dig in small sections, so as they near the foundation the pyramid is breached, and sometimes the whole building drops six or eight inches. Mortar joints crack, floor joists buckle, windows pop out--and John Cole gets a phone call.

Cole is a calm, mild-mannered sort who uses a Vietnam-era M-79 grenade as a paperweight and has decorated his office door with a sign that says COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT PLEASE PRESS BUTTON FOR SERVICE--with a mousetrap serving as the button. Professionals in the building trades and a former co-worker say he is hard-working, fair, and incorruptible.

He also appears to be overwhelmed.

A 27-year city veteran who has been in his current job since 1999, Cole oversees a team of 14 inspectors handling general building code, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical inspections. Cole's platoon of inspectors also enforces the strictures laid down by the city Planning Commission, the city Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation, and even the Maryland Critical Area Act, which denotes how much pavement can cover the ground in the Chesapeake Bay's watershed.

In 1999, when Cole took over the building inspections office, Baltimore issued about 21,000 building permits. This year it will issue 38,000. "Our staff pretty much remains the same," he says.

Besides those inspecting the work done under the permits, Cole's office has two other inspectors who do nothing but chase complaints about unpermitted work, most of it called in through the city's 311 system. Cole reckons that maybe a third of Baltimore's construction jobs are unpermitted. "If I was given another 311 inspector," he says, "I could keep him busy, too."

Cole says each inspector averages 12 inspections per day during six hours in the field. Minus driving time and perhaps a short break for lunch, the inspectors do "maybe one [inspection] per 22 minutes," he says. "Some of them are windows. And some of them are high-rises."

None of them, however, are basement underpinnings.

"We now require engineers to make the inspections," Cole says. "We make [the engineer who drew the plans] sign a certificate and do a final inspection." That reform of the previously looser and more chaotic system began in February 2004 and resulted from a huge increase in basement digs--from maybe two in the first 20 years of his career to, now, hundreds every year. "We didn't know underpinning was going to be such a popular sport," Cole says. "There were very few basement digs until about 2002-'03."

According to Cole, requiring engineers to inspect their own work makes sense in two ways. First, because of the complexity and time required to excavate a basement in small sections, "we might have to go out there seven or eight times," he says--something his inspectors don't have time for. Second, the inspectors are not engineers, nor is Cole himself, so it wouldn't make sense to have the inspectors second-guessing the engineer's work anyway.

Engineers can be trusted because of their professional code of ethics, Cole says. "You're going to jeopardize that for $500?" he says, referring to the cost of a drawing.

Although Cole signs every underpinning permit and attends every house collapse, he says he has not noticed any pattern of collapses associated with any particular contractor, owner, or engineer. "I'm removed from the names," he says.

But it turns out, Elder's reputation for collapses was noticed by city housing officials, according to Michael Braverman, the deputy commissioner for code enforcement. "His name has come up. We did have some concern," Braverman says in an interview on July 20. In February 2006, officials blocked Elder's ability to pull building permits, and summoned him to a meeting in which city code officials told him to be more careful--and got his signature on a promise to do so.

In a letter to Dorreya R. Elmenshawy, who is Cole's boss and the director of Permits and Code Enforcement, Construction and Building Inspection, Elder pledged to advise every underpinning client about the dangers of the work, make sure their contractors call him for inspections, inspect weekly even if no one calls, and withdraw from the project if he finds "any form of non-compliance." Elder's withdrawal as engineer would cancel the permit.

Braverman says he knows of no other engineer forced into a similar agreement with the city. But he also says he had no knowledge of Elder's criminal record.

 

Gregory Szczepaniak knows the name John Elder very well. The engineer stamped and sealed a drawing dated Nov. 26, 2003, for a project officially labeled "Underpinning at 201 East Gittings St." The drawing was part of a contract that Szczepaniak (his lawyer pronounces it "ses-PEN-i-ak") had with contractor William E. Connolly.

Szczepaniak had the small house appraised in April of 2003 at $245,000. Connolly estimated a complete renovation, including a gut rehab, adding a rooftop deck, and digging and finishing a new basement and foundation, at $88,920. In his estimate, Connolly reassured his client that he was in professional hands: "Contractor will also consult with John Elder, known as `Engineer', on all maters [sic] involving permits, building code, etc."

Elder's excavation plan in hand, Connolly hired a subcontractor, Sheckells and Sons Construction Company Inc. of Baltimore, to dig out the basement. On Dec. 4, 2003 the company started digging, according to a lawsuit filed by Szczepaniak. Four days later, the house dropped into the hole, levering up the sidewalks around it and ripping the back wall off a neighboring structure.

On Dec. 9, Cole pronounced the sagging house a danger to public safety. He called in HABCo, the Housing Authority's in-house demolition crew, to take the building down. They billed Szczepaniak $6,426 for demolition of his house.

Szczepaniak's lawyer, David F. Luby, declines to answer questions about the case or to make Szczepaniak available for an interview. Lawyers for two other defendants in the suit, Connolly and Sheckells and Sons, also decline to comment.

In his suit, originally filed in March of 2005, Szczepaniak claimed that Connolly was "negligent in failing to apprise Sheckells of the appropriate method of excavating the basement (as directed by the engineer, Elder), in hiring an excavator without sufficient training or experience, in failing to supervise the excavation and otherwise negligent." Szczepaniak also claimed Sheckells neglected to follow Elder's professional plan and tried to dig out too much too fast. His suit demanded $300,000 from each of the contractors and $200,000 from State Farm, his insurance company. He retained Elder as an expert witness to press his case against the defendants.

But then something unusual happened. Sheckells and Sons found its own expert engineer, willing to testify that Elder's plans "may have been inadequate and/or led to the condemnation or damage to the subject property," according to the company's answer to the lawsuit.

In his answer to the complaint Connolly claimed that "all necessary parties have not been named in this lawsuit." Lawyers for the other parties agreed and sued Elder in amended complaint. Nearly a year after filing his suit, Szczepaniak was suing his own engineer and expert witness.

"In drafting plans which were internally inconsistent and inapplicable to the plaintiff's property, and in authorizing the excavation that actually proceeded, Elder failed to adhere to the accepted standard of care applicable to licensed professional engineers and caused or contributed to the collapse of the building," according to the complaint, which was served Dec. 14, 2005.

Sheckells, State Farm, and Connolly then sued Elder, too, blaming the engineer for the collapse.

Elder answered the complaint himself, without a lawyer, on Jan. 24. He claimed that the statute of limitations barred suit against him, as he had not been served until two years and 10 days after the event. And he claimed that Szczepaniak was solely negligent, noting that Connolly was, in fact, unlicensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. Elder said neither Connolly nor Sheckells ever contacted him for advice about the excavation and that, had his plans been followed, "the work would have been successfully completed, without the alleged `imminent harm or threat of severe personal injury or death,' so as to render this defendant liable to the plaintiff."

In an interview at the city's permit office on July 12, Elder elaborates, saying that Connolly had underbid the job. Sheckells "does neat work," Elder says, "but he just overexcavated" because he was pressed for time. Elder insists that he was not at fault. "I had no obligation to do any inspections," he says. "At that time, the engineer would do the plans and the city would do the inspection."

 

Tom Bird says John Elder never inspected his basement excavation, as required by the city's new permitting procedure. "This gentleman gave me the permits for the place and never came out to inspect at all," says Bird, whose house at 106 E. Montgomery St. collapsed last fall, damaging houses on both sides of it. "He just takes the check, and that's it."

Bird's project at 106 E. Montgomery was much like Szczepaniak's house on East Gittings. Elder handled the plans and permit, and Bird hired an unlicensed contractor (who he says he cannot locate now). The excavation was rushed.

On the day the house fell, Elder "was scared . . . he knew he was in trouble," Bird recounts. "He kept saying, `It's not my fault, not my fault.'"

Bird says a city inspector told him that Elder had been the engineer on other collapses as well on Hanover Street. Elder acknowledges he had one on Fait Avenue as well.

Elder was also hired by the owners of 3409 Harmony Court, which collapsed in February, and 1600 Clarkson St., which collapsed late last November, resulting in the condemnation of not only that house but also the house next door, 1602, forcing the owner of the latter house, Karen Nasuta, to find other quarters. The city has charged the owner of 1600 Clarkson, Mark Koch, with criminal violations of the city housing code and summoned him for trial July 20. Nasuta declined to comment, saying she was considering her legal options.

Bird says Elder surprised him in civil court in early July, testifying as an expert witness on behalf of the contractor who Bird originally hired for his basement excavation. Bird had refused to pay the contractor because of nonperformance, he says. But Elder told the judge that the contractor had done a third of the work when Bird fired him. Elder's status as a licensed engineer held great weight with the court, Bird says, and his testimony led to an $8,000 judgment against Bird.

Bird, who says he is appealing that case, didn't know that in 2001 Elder was sentenced to prison for racially harassing his Baltimore County neighbors, or that, shortly before he drew up the plans for Bird's underpinning, Elder had been convicted of drug possession. But, Bird says, "That wouldn't surprise me. I think he's a dirt bag."

 

Elder says he first worked for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City for about 10 years beginning in the late 1970s or early 1980s, mostly as a demolition specialist. If that is so, then the Housing Authority hired Elder very soon after his release from federal prison after his conviction on charges relating to an interstate sailboat theft.

According to court records, on New Year's Eve 1974 Elder was arrested in Baltimore and was later convicted on three counts: "Receiving and Concealing Interstate Stolen Property (Sailboat); Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property; and Aiding and Abetting." On Oct. 10, 1975, Elder was sentenced to five years on each count, to be served concurrently.

"I can't talk about this stuff," Elder said when asked about it at the city permits office. "You're going to cause me endless problems."

Nonetheless, Elder went on to say that the boat in question was a 35-footer that he bought knowing it was stolen. He says "lots of people" got busted over that, and that the "DEA got some of them" on drug charges, but "I'm no wise guy."

But even before his federal prison stint, Elder had amassed a substantial criminal record, according to court documents.

Elder's first drug bust came two months shy of his 20th birthday, on Aug. 4, 1968, in Burlington County, N.J. He was arrested three more times over the next five years in Maryland--twice he was charged with petty larceny and once with forgery of checks. One of the larceny charges earned him a sentence of six months unsupervised probation.

In June 1979, Elder was arrested for contempt of court, and in 1988 he drew a 60-day suspended sentence plus a year's probation for slashing someone's tires. By then Elder was working for the city Housing Department, assessing derelict rowhouses for demolition to be paid for with federal money. The program was called Building Blocks, Elder says. He had also moved to his current home in Rosedale, a townhouse on King Arthur Circle, which is owned by his longtime companion, Michaeleen Malone. Malone's young adopted son, Timothy, joined them about that time, and Malone founded the Timothy Co., a construction firm.

The Timothy Co. kept Elder in contact with city officials, and in the spring of 1996 the Housing Authority of Baltimore City hired Elder as a $40,000-per-year project manager, charged with the task of culling the city's overstock of dangerous, crumbling abandoned buildings. His criminal record was overlooked.

 

Elder was a key liaison to the demolition contractors in Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III's demolition and revitalization initiative, a $400 million effort to replace dangerous, outdated public housing with better, less-concentrated projects. In fact, Elder oversaw the implosion in 1996 of the mighty Lexington Terrace high rises as Mayor Kurt Schmoke and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros applauded.

But while Elder managed legal demolitions for the city, court records revealed he destroyed the property of his neighbors in the Kings Court subdivision.

"My husband is African-American and I am white--that was what most of the problem was about," says Joyce Washington, who at the time lived two doors down from the Elder-Malone family.

The dispute began after Washington's son and Malone's son left a skateboard under one of the Elder family's cars. The toy damaged the car, and Elder demanded $1,700 for the damage, Washington says. "When I wouldn't pay the whole thing, he just started torturing me," she says. "He would pop my tires--I drove a Camaro Z-28, so every time he did that it would cost me $228." Elder--and a boy he enlisted to help--soon moved on to Washington's boyfriend's Geo Storm. They threw a chemical on both cars that ruined the paint, and when the couple started parking their cars elsewhere and walking home Elder would telephone them, Washington contends, and chant, "Hide hide hide, seek seek seek, destroy destroy destroy!"

Elder's job was a source of menace to Washington, she says. "I was told by police that he had a weapon and that he was an implosion specialist," Washington says. "I was afraid of being blown up."

At Christmas, when Washington set a Nativity scene in her front yard, Elder "painted Joseph's face black, so they would be an interracial couple," she says.

Reginald Washington, the boyfriend Washington eventually married, was arrested for assault after he verbally confronted Elder's accomplice in the harassment campaign. "My husband had applied for police academy at the time," Joyce Washington says, and the pending charges cost him his chance to become a police officer for two years, she says, although he is a police officer now.

After many court delays Elder, who blames the boy who was convicted as his accomplice for the whole ordeal, was convicted on three counts of malicious destruction and three counts of racially motivated harassment, and sentenced to nine months in the county jail. He appealed, and Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. doubled Elder's sentence to 18 months in state prison. He was sentenced May 1, 2001.

Shortly after his release from prison in February 2002, Elder enrolled in alcohol treatment. According to court documents, a counselor rated Elder an "excellent" prognosis for recovery, claiming that he stuck with his AA meetings long after he was required to and that he "has no drug history other than alcohol."

But the Elder household was far from drug-free, according to police. After making 75 calls for service on the premises between July 2002 and July 2003, Baltimore County police searched the house on July 24, 2003, seizing drug paraphernalia, Oxycontin, and, according to the charging documents, $41,000 in cash from Elder's basement bedroom. Elder, longtime girlfriend Michaeleen Malone, and her adopted son Timothy Malone were all arrested. On July 29, 2004, Elder was convicted on a single count of drug possession and fined $500, plus $250 in court costs.

Elder insists that his criminal history "has nothing to do" with his life as an engineer and pleads with a reporter to omit it from this story. And, indeed, clients, colleagues, and even opposing lawyers apparently knew nothing of Elder's criminal record.

State law requires engineers and those applying for an engineer's license or a renewal to divulge and explain any felony or misdemeanor convictions "directly related to the fitness and qualifications of an applicant or licensee to practice engineering." The application specifically requires a recounting of drug convictions, including probation before judgment, since 1991.

Elder says he doesn't recall if he informed the board about his convictions.

Bob Mead, executive director of the Maryland Society of Professional Engineers, says a conviction of any serious crime is generally a death knell for an engineer's license. State licensure "boards will usually take a strict view of it and make you sue to get it back," Mead says. "But they have to know about it, and if they haven't been told about it--and that usually means a formal complaint--then they don't."

Pam Edwards of the State Board for Professional Engineers says there is no provision for an automatic license revocation in Maryland, and no immediate penalty for an engineer who does not report his criminal convictions to the board. "Sometimes we get building officials sending in complaints," she says, but those are usually for expired seals. Edwards stresses the "due process" that the board must afford any engineer facing "alleged" criminal convictions.

Elder's current license expires Dec. 3, 2007, according to the online listing.

 

Donald Eickhoff, whose rowhouse at 108 E. Montgomery St. remains damaged and untouchable due to the debacle next door at 106, thinks "the city has a liability. They're supposed to be looking at this job. They're supposed to be inspecting all the footers. I looked at [city inspector William] Conkling, I said, `You guys are overwhelmed. You need to maybe go in and have the engineers pull a bond out--so if they do something like this, it's a $10,000 fine that they have to pay to the city.' I'm sure if the engineer takes enough hits . . . then they won't have the ability to work."

John Cole, the city building inspections superintendent, says he's lately been spending several days in court each year testifying about collapses. But he does not blame the engineers. Not even John Elder. In most cases, "the engineer drew it a certain way and the contractor did it a different way in the field," Cole says. Unofficially, he blames the homeowners, most of whom were trying to get work done on the cheap.

Cole says the recent spate of collapses has moved him to ask for new regulations to take homeowners out of the underpinning game. "Right now you can get an underpinning permit as [a home]owner," Cole says. "We want there to be a requirement for a licensed contractor and a bond." The new rules are pending with the city's legal office and may require a bill in the state legislature, he adds.

Michael Braverman says the city is actually planning two bills. The first, drafted May 31, will require city inspectors to inspect every underpinning job, as well as for interior demolitions. "It's clear that, for underpinning, it makes sense to shift to an affirmative model," Braverman says. The new law would allow the city to revoke all the permits of a "design professional" like Elder if there is a violation on one of the permits. It also would allow the building official to ban the design professional for up to five years.

Speaking on July 20, Braverman says he is sure that Cole's crew can handle the extra work, and he says it is not remarkable that Cole himself did not know that this was in the works a month ago. Braverman says underpinnings and collapses have been at the top of his agenda since he took the job last year.

As for the bond requirement, "that's going to be a second path," Braverman says. That bill has not yet been drafted, but he says he hopes to implement stricter inspection by the time this story is published. He also hopes to hire two more buildings inspectors during the next few months.

Perhaps coincidentally, Elder thinks reform of the system begins with the contractors--just like Cole does. "I think the city ought to require certificates of insurance," he says, "so that the contractor knows he's on the line, and so there's no incentive to cut corners."

Elder himself, however, says he has no insurance. "I never even thought to get it," he says. "I'm pretty conservative. If a two-by-eight works I try to use a two-by-ten."

Collapse

Buildings Are Falling All Over the City. Why Isn't The City Doing More About It?

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 7/26/2006

The First Of a Two-Part Series

The ground-shaking thud that woke Pat Stewart up at 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 15 "sounded at first like a loud thunder," she says. "It was an unusual sound, I would say." Thinking maybe it was a car crash on Franklin Street, Stewart peered through the window that overlooked the street but saw nothing. Then she looked out her back window.

"There were bricks everywhere," Stewart says.

A house had crashed. The two-story side wall of 2016 W. Franklin St. had buried the alley and four small backyards on the 500 block of North Pulaski Street under an avalanche of bricks and rotten timber.

Stewart says she grabbed a flashlight and rushed outside in the cold wind to warn off traffic. "I wanted to let people know coming down the Franklin Street side," she says. "One woman I told said, `Thanks, you saved my life because I was speeding.'"

Police and fire officials arrived within minutes, but Stewart, whose home had lost power, stood by. "It was almost like a whole day of chaos," she says. "It was like World War II, because bricks were tumbled in four yards." The avalanche buried chain-link fences, concrete patios, flower pots, and a steel awning on the back of one house, Stewart says. "They were really blessed," she says of her neighbors, "really blessed that nobody was out that early in the morning."

A few days later, Stewart spotted a city inspector in the alley, looking for code violations in the occupied homes while a city contractor cleaned up the rubble left from the house that had collapsed, which was owned by the city of Baltimore.

"I said, `We've been calling in on this house for years--it's got no roof, no windows, and a strong wind will knock it down,'" Stewart recalls. "[The inspector] said--and her supervisor was with her--she says, `It's on the list.'"

Indeed, it was.

The house at 2016 Franklin had been on the city's list of buildings condemned and recommended for demolition for six years, 11 months, and 14 days. And it had lots of company.

In fact, 2016 W. Franklin was one of eight buildings that collapsed in high winds that weekend in Baltimore--six of which had been condemned by city building code inspectors as unsafe and put on a list of buildings to be razed years before. Three of these long-condemned buildings were owned by the city. The unplanned toppling of eight buildings on Jan. 14 and 15, 2006 was an apparent record for most collapses over a weekend.

"This is a rare occurrence," says Jerome Dorich, director of construction and demolition for the city Department of Housing and Community Development. "Needless to say, it was an expensive weekend."

Dorich, who has been handling city demolitions since 1993, says he was with his daughter, browsing a museum on Saturday afternoon, when he took the initial call about one of the early collapses. Then the calls kept coming. "Every 10 minutes," he says, "it seemed like I was getting a phone call about a collapse."

Dozens of buildings fall each year in the city, most of them in neglected neighborhoods where low-income people live. Those buildings--often long-abandoned, nearly a fifth of them city-owned--are just one more mortal danger endured by Baltimore's poor.

But the poor are not the only Baltimoreans threatened by building collapse. The real estate boom on the waterfront has brought the same hazard to people who live in rowhouses worth half a million dollars or more. In the past three years, more than a dozen buildings have collapsed in Federal Hill, Fells Point, and Canton. Each one crumbled to the ground after its owner tried to dig out the basement to make more living space.

Although Baltimore's building collapses seldom make the news (beyond a gawker report on TV), a review of the past three years of city-directed emergency demolitions and a close examination of records of more than 20 recent collapses reveals two patterns: First, the city has neglected its own decrepit buildings and fallen far behind in its demolition list, leaving thousands of Baltimoreans like Pat Stewart vulnerable to injury and property damage from sudden building collapses nearby. Second, the city's building permitting process is loose and clubby, allowing a small group of insiders--including a former city Housing Authority project manager with a felony record--to get away with shoddy work and multiple building collapses in well-off neighborhoods, endangering hundreds more.

Next week's story will focus on the permitting office and building collapses in some of Baltimore's more expensive neighborhoods. This week we take a closer look at the collapses in the city's more run-down areas and the contractors that demolish the remains.

 

In the northwest neighborhood of Central Park Heights, a building collapses and city inspectors don't hear about it for months--until another nearby building goes up in flames. On the east side, the city takes the chimney off a building in December, and returns a month later to demolish the rest of the structure. After a building collapses in Union Square, the city demolishes the remains and then rebuilds the shell and boards the windows.

Baltimore City's condemnation demolition policy appears poorly managed--if not entirely random--and it has been that way for decades.

Take the two-story, 13-foot-wide rowhouse at 1634 N. Port St., one of the eight buildings that collapsed over the weekend of Jan. 14-15. According to records in the city's housing demolition file, a city housing inspector first recommended it be torn down on Aug. 29, 1990, saying it was a candidate for collapse and a danger to public safety. Nearly nine years later, the city served its owner, Betty Lawrence, another condemnation notice and warned that the city would knock her unsafe building down if she did not seal it from junkies and repair it. Another letter went out in February of 2003. "This is to advise you that the above mentioned property, owned by you, is to be razed," the official letter read. "A bill covering services performed by the city will be forwarded to you shortly."

Still, nothing happened.

In the fall of 2005, according to property records, Lawrence sold the building to Manuella King of Aspen Hill, Mass., for $287. The transaction was not arms-length.

Last Dec. 14, citing a danger to the public, the city razed the chimney, at a cost of $2,764. The building collapsed a month later. Neither Lawrence nor King could be reached for comment.

In January 2006, P&J Contracting Co. Inc., working on behalf of the city, finished off 1634 N. Port, along with the house next door. The cost of the job at 1634 Port was $10,710.

The Port Street building was not the only one taken down piecemeal. The same thing happened at 3414 Dupont Ave. in Central Park Heights, which collapsed some time during 2004. A Dec. 1, 2004, memo from inspector Stanley Janczak to Dorich explains: "While at a fire scene today at 3418-3420 Dupont Avenue, the FD Chief pointed out a collapsed building at 3414 Dupont . . . The rear and side walls are almost completely down . . . it was in this condition before the fire."

The building was not unknown to city officials, however. In 2002, the city did an "emergency demolition" of the front porch and placed a $1,166 lien on the property to cover the cost. The inspector at the time had recommended that the whole building be demolished.

The inspectors are often overruled, says Dorich. "We do the minimum if we feel we can preserve the building longer by doing a partial demolition," he says. "But things happen. They can happen overnight."

On a late June afternoon Dorich seems overworked, his desk thickly tiled with manila folders, his phone ringing, and people visiting. Given that six of the eight buildings that keeled over on Jan. 14 and 15 had been condemned years earlier, he is asked why those dangerous conditions were allowed to continue until the buildings fell down.

Dorich pauses, blinking. He has been working steadily and has not yet been to lunch, though it's nearly 2 p.m. now and he's got a looming appointment. He answers the question with a non sequitur. "Basically," Dorich says, "they were condemned because they were unsafe, and we were condemning them aggressively." He thinks for a few more seconds. "We've recently reduced our condemnation database," he says, adding that Michael Braverman, his boss and the deputy commissioner for code enforcement, has been reassessing the city's condemnation list to see which buildings need to come down soonest and which can wait. Dorich says Braverman can answer the question authoritatively.

The triage system of partial, full, or no demolition is a budgetary constraint, Dorich suggests. "There's probably 2,000 buildings on the [demolition] list, and the cost to take them all down might be $15 million," he says. "A portion have to be reviewed by [the Department of] Asset Management because the city owns many of them."

According to a spreadsheet supplied under the state open records act, 17 percent of the buildings the city demolished between February 2003 and February 2006 were owned by the city itself.

"We're making operational changes every day," says Braverman, who took over his post about a year ago and says he immediately set about reducing the city's demolition list. "We literally went out and looked at 4,500 [buildings] a couple of months ago, and any one in imminent danger would have been referred for immediate demolition." While he is unsure how many buildings were taken down then, Braverman says those judged not to be in imminent danger of collapse were removed from the list and categorized as requiring reinspection either weekly or monthly. Today the list has been reduced by more than half, to about 2,000 buildings, he says. Most of the buildings had "no identifiable structural infirmity," he says, meaning that they are no longer candidates for demolition.

Braverman stresses over and over that the mere fact that an inspector condemned a building and referred it for demolition years ago does not mean it was thought to be ready to fall down. "If a building is referred for demolition," he says, "that's completely different from finding it in imminent danger of collapse." He says that in the 1990s buildings made the demolition list merely for being a blighting influence, or for other reasons. His new list differentiates, he says.

Braverman says that, "going forward," the city is managing the demolition list well and denies that budgetary constraints have played any role in the matter. Emergency demolitions, he says, are a bright spot in the department. "If an inspector finds a building in imminent danger of collapse tonight, that building will be taken down by tomorrow morning," he contends.

Asked why more than 30 buildings per year lately have fallen down before the city could demolish them, Braverman protests. "You are not an inspector, and you are not an engineer," he says. "What looks to your untrained eye like a building that is about to collapse may well not be."

Asked why eight buildings collapsed over one weekend in January, he blames the weather. "When there is extraordinary rain or extraordinary wind," Braverman says, "some of the extremely old buildings are going to come down."

Wind gusts of over 40 miles per hour were recorded during the storm on Jan. 14 and 15.

 

Baltimore's demolition policy seems to follow a wave pattern, with influxes of federal money and outbreaks of scandal. In the early 1970s, 48 people--including the director of the city Division of Construction and Building Maintenance--were convicted under federal RICO statutes in a demolition price-fixing scheme. In the early 1980s, federal money funded a program to cull unsalvageable houses from the city's stock. When the money dried up toward the end of the decade, the supply of buildings needing to be torn down increased dramatically. In the mid-1990s, city housing leaders embarked on another demolition spree, backed by $300 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The need was great, says Shawn Karimian, who coordinated the city's demolition program in the mid to late 1990s. "The way I remember it, almost every other night either myself or my assistant was looking at a collapse," Karimian says. He estimates that maybe 100 buildings collapsed during 1995, his first year on the job; by the time he left his job in 2000, only about "one every other month" fell down.

Along with a huge list of buildings to be demolished, Karimian and his 20 Department of Housing inspectors assembled what he calls the city's first database of condemned buildings, the forerunner of the one the city uses today.

But the $300 million demolition and rebuilding program was also a magnet for scandal: A federal HUD inspector general's report in September 2003 found that the city's then-housing director, Daniel Henson III, steered $221,764 in work to his sister. Henson also steered the Lexington Terrace housing project redevelopment to his former employer, Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse, to which he was in debt. Henson was also involved in other business partnerships with several of the firm's principals, according to the inspector general's report.

Mismanagement and conflicts of interest wasted more than $28 million, the inspector general reported--and that was just for the two projects it examined.

An analysis published by The Sun in 1997, which criticized the high rate of demolitions at the time as "unfocused," found that P&J Contracting and another company, Phipps Construction, were getting more than 60 percent of the city's demolition work at that time. The average cost to demolish a rowhouse and repair adjacent walls in the 1994-'97 period was $15,000, The Sun found. P&J, owned by Pless Jones Sr., has made millions tearing down buildings in the city over the past two decades and has rewarded political candidates with contributions, even when the company was in bankruptcy in the early 1990s, The Sun found.

"It was costly," Karimian acknowledges of the period. "But if we didn't take [the buildings] down, they would have taken down the neighboring structures, or damaged them."

Henson left just before Martin O'Malley became mayor in 1999, but by then the city was already sharply ratcheting back its demolition program, going from more than 1,700 demolitions in 1998 to just a few hundred annually by 2000, according to Karimian.

The city currently demolishes about 360 buildings per year. In recent years, about 35 city demolitions each year have been done on an "emergency" basis after a fire or collapse. Emergency jobs begin with a built-in $2,500 "emergency fee," adding more than 10 percent to the cost. "That is actually a bargain," says Dorich.

But the cost for each demolition has risen sharply over the past two years--since the city stopped doing the work itself and contracted demolitions back to P&J.

 

Between 2003 and mid-'04, 56 emergency demolitions and associated repairs to adjacent properties cost the city an average of $19,309 each, according to figures supplied by city housing officials. At that time the demolitions were done by HABCo, the city's in-house demolition company, and the repairs to the walls of adjacent structures were contracted to P&J Contracting or Phipps Construction.

In 2004, the city disbanded HABCo and contracted its emergency demolitions to P&J, according to Dorich, because billing for each demolition by the in-house crew was creating a paperwork problem. To standardize the demolition costs and make billing easier, Dorich created a "uni-price contract based on the volume of the building, the thickness of the walls," he says.

Under the new plan, per-job emergency demolition costs suddenly increased by 23 percent--more than four times the rate of inflation. Since winning the contract in 2004, P&J has performed all of the city's emergency demolitions, subcontracting some of the work to Phipps. The 51 emergency demolitions done between July 2004 and February 2006 cost an average of $24,852--or $5,543 more than the average cost just 18 months before.

Phipps and its owner, Randy Phipps, has given at least $26,000 to state and local political campaigns since 1999, according to campaign finance records, including more than $3,500 to City Council President Sheila Dixon and $2,000 to Mayor Martin O'Malley.

P&J and its owner, Pless Jones Sr., have given more than $25,000 in political contributions in the same period, including more than $15,000 since the summer of 2003. P&J has given $1,500 to Dixon, $3,000 to state Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), $1,900 to City Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D-6th), $2,000 to City Comptroller Joan Pratt, and at least $3,000 to O'Malley.

Although the company has operated for decades and has also won contracts from the Virginia Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Defense, Baltimore-based P&J does not have a business charter in Maryland, a search of state Department of Assessment and Taxation records shows.

"I don't have it--I don't know what to tell you," says Paul Anderson, chief legal review officer for the charter division of Assessment and Taxation. He allows that it is possible that P&J, which bills the city, responds to Occupational Safety and Health Administration violation notices, and gives to politicians under the name P&J Contracting Co. Inc., may be trading under a different name. "It's a misdemeanor to call yourself a corporation when you're not a corporation," Anderson says. "Flat out, if you call yourself `inc.' and you ain't an `inc.,' it's a misdemeanor."

Pless Jones Sr. laughs when told that his corporate charter could not be found. "It should be there," he says. "P&J Contracting Inc.--we're down there. We just sent some tax money." (Although an official at the comptroller's office promised to check into the matter on July 3, subsequent inquiries by City Paper went unanswered as of press time.)

Jones says the demolition price increase since his company won the bidding is due to the cost of dumping the debris in landfills. "Well, the city usually don't pay no tipping fees through HABCo," he says. "Most of the cost is the tipping fee." He says the fee ranges from $42 to $62 per ton, depending on the landfill used.

Braverman says the same, although he hedges. "I'm a big picture guy," he says. "You will find, I suspect, that there was something in the range of a hundred percent increase in dumping fees."

Karimian, the former city demolition official, confirms that the tipping fee was a large part of the demolition cost in his day, and that the city's landfill recently stopped accepting demolition debris. He says he got tipping fees removed from the bill paid by his department, since at the time it was one city government agency paying another. But Karimian adds that he doubts that landfill fees caused the recent spike in demolition costs

"That 23 percent jump is directly related to going from a government-run program to a private-run program," Karimian says. He acknowledges that no one thought to check P&J's business license back when he was running the program, but, he says, P&J always had a valid demolition license from the city.

Other cities do things differently. Philadelphia, with a reported 26,000 abandoned houses, knocks down about 1,000 structures each year, according to Eileen Evans, a deputy commissioner in Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections. Although the city razes about 300 of these buildings on an emergency basis, the old buildings seldom fall down before city crews can get to them. "Fortunately, we have not had any structures partially collapse in recent years due to the structural integrity of the building," Evans says.

That's because, after a spate of collapses in 2000, Philadelphia officials jumped on the problem just as Baltimore had done years earlier, creating a database of buildings in need of quick demolition. "Additionally and shortly thereafter, the Mayor's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative was developed and implemented, which focused on cataloging and removing blighted properties that evidenced a potential of collapse," Evans says.

That program cost $275 million, including $117 million just for demolition. The pace of demolitions has slowed since the 2000-'04 period, when Philly was razing 1,500 buildings per year, Evans says.

John Cole, Baltimore's superintendent of building inspection, estimates that a serious demolition program to knock out Baltimore's backlog would cost $33 million--a figure Karimian says is probably closer to the mark than Dorich's $15 million estimate. Whether $15 million or twice that, Dorich says the money just isn't in his budget, and so Baltimore's demolition program remains piecemeal and reactive. All around the city, thousands of properties targeted for demolition, many of them years ago, still stand. Until they don't.

 

"On Franklin Street there are other [buildings] with no roofs," reports Rosie Traynham, whose home at 505 N. Pulaski St. lost a metal awning in the avalanche from the south wall of 2016 W. Franklin. "You can see sunlight coming through. They say, `We'll get to it, we can't get to it right now.'"

In a way, Traynham and her Pulaski Street neighbors are lucky. They still have places to live.

Tenants at 102 S. Dean St. had to move out for six weeks, after 100 S. Dean fell down in the Jan. 15 wind storm.

The city has an ombudsman's office that relocates people from buildings damaged by fire, flood, or the collapse of neighboring buildings. Reggie Scriber, the city's deputy commissioner of community services, says he doesn't keep track of the reasons for the relocations, but he says his office spends about $365,000 per year on relocation services for "hundreds" of Baltimore residents.

Traynham says she and her neighbors have been calling the city regularly since the last collapse. They've complained not just about the other derelict buildings but also about the repairs--or lack thereof--on their own houses, damaged by the collapse of city-owned properties.

On May 7, John T. Castle of 2014 W. Franklin St. sent a letter to city building officials. As a result of the collapse of the city-owned building next door, Castle wrote, his back fence was "totally crushed and bricks to the front of the home were damaged." Castle noted that a city-paid crew attempted some repairs in April, but the mortar doesn't match his house and the front of his home where the repairs were made "has already begun to sink," according to the letter. He says a worker promised to get a supervisor to speak to him, but no supervisor ever showed up. "Someone needs to get to 2016 W. Franklin and complete the job," he wrote.

Three other neighbors have filed claims with the city for damages to their property, so far without results.

Traynham says a government official--she can't recall exactly who--suggested to her that, because her house and the others damaged by the collapse are not very valuable, neither they nor the city ought to spend much to repair them.

"It's hard to hear from a government official [that] you didn't pay much for the house so it's not worth fixing," she says. "It's because you live in a certain area, you don't think that we should be treated like everybody else."

Not every area is treated exactly like Traynham's west-side neighborhood.

If the rule in Baltimore these days is that demolition funds are scarce, the case of 4 S. Gilmor St. would appear to be the exception. In late 2004, the city placed a lien on the Union Square property for $7,326, for demolition-related costs. The structure, according to city records, was razed on Aug. 26, 2003, after a partial collapse.

In most cases, that's how demolitions work. The city then spends an additional $10,000 or more to shore up the neighboring walls, charging that to the owner of the deceased house as well. Not so this time. Union Square is one of Baltimore's "up and coming" neighborhoods, attracting Washington commuters to its charming near-downtown park. Kathleen Kotarba, executive director of the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, dispatched furious e-mails to the city's demolition czars, explaining that the demolished house was a historic building and integral to the block. She suggested that the city rebuild the shell, claiming the feat could be accomplished for $30,000. Douglas Austin, then the Department of Housing's deputy commissioner of development, said no.

Kotarba persisted through the bureaucratic maze, refusing to take "no," "it's not our responsibility," "we have no budget," or any other variation of these for an answer. By December 2003, HABCo, the city's in-house demolition company, was rebuilding the home from the ground up. The house--really a boarded shell with a sound roof--was completed March 5, 2004.

By then the house already had a buyer. Rason Taru snapped it up in a tax sale for $7,702, according to tax records. Even before the city workers finished the shell, Taru hired neighborhood architects Manifold Design to help with the interior.

But before he could start on that, the city cited him for an improper arch over the front door, says David Lemmert, who, with wife Karen, ran Manifold Design from a building around the corner from the house until a recent move to Eutaw Street. The new facade did not match the others on the block because the front door was too low, Lemmert says. The city itself built it that way, but historic preservation officials wanted Taru to fix it. He tried to negotiate a solution, and city workers eventually returned and did the repair without informing the owner, Lemmert says.

Taru did much of the renovation work himself, says Lemmert. (Taru could not be reached for comment.)

The home is for sale now; the listing price is $410,000.

Next week: The story of a former city demolition engineer who specializes in basement dig-outs that collapse.

Fouled Nests

The Bust of a Local Poker Club Uncovers All Sorts of Messy Connections

By Van Smith | Posted 11/23/2005

When Baltimore City Police Sgt. Craig Gentile’s vice enforcement unit arrested 95 people for illegal gambling at the Owls Nest poker club in South Baltimore near M&T Bank Stadium on the evening of Nov. 2, it opened up a can of worms. Gentile, a veteran vice cop who routinely busts strip joints and nightspots, wouldn’t discuss the raid or the ongoing investigation of the Owls Nest for this article. But the public record, law-enforcement sources who spoke to City Paper on the condition of anonymity, and interviews with people close to the action at the Owls Nest and in the local poker world show that it is more than just a refurbished warehouse hosting charity gambling. At its core, the Owls Nest is an illegal poker den with political, criminal, and law-enforcement ties.

The situation at the Owls Nest revolves first and foremost around the relationship between its principals—Joseph Anthony Cary, 50, and Gerald Curtis Dickens, 65—and Frank Darby Moran Sr., 76, a man dubbed by some as “the king of Arbutus.” Cary and Dickens worked for Moran’s Arbutus-based charity gambling outfit, the Orioles Nest, before they split from him about a year ago and started the competing Owls Nest. Both private clubs are chapters of national fraternal organizations, similar to Elks or Moose lodges; the Owls have been around since 1904. Both the Owls and Orioles (nothing to do with the baseball team) have seen a renaissance in recent years. Chapters open their doors and people become members, often in order to gamble, ostensibly to raise money for charitable causes.

Despite Cary and Dickens’ split from Moran, ties remain. Cary’s Statewide Amusement vending company’s web site (www.statewideamusements.com) lists its address as 5404 East Drive in downtown Arbutus—a commercial property owned by Moran. It’s also the address of record for the Orioles Nest, which has operated at several locations since at least 2003.

Right around front, in the same strip of small businesses that houses the Orioles Nest, are the 12th Legislative District office of state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Del. Steven Deboy, and Del. James Malone, all Democrats. Deboy is a retired Baltimore County cop who now works as a warrant investigator for the Howard County Police Department, while Malone is a lieutenant in the Baltimore County Fire Department. Next door to the district office is Sport Cuts, a barbershop and clothing store owned by Andre Fozard, a federally convicted ecstasy dealer, former bail bondsman, and former strip-club co-owner on the Block in downtown Baltimore.

Delegates Malone and Deboy both say they do not know Fozard, but admit they were aware that the Orioles Nest was based out of the same small commercial building where their district office is located. Deboy denies being a member of the Orioles Nest. “This is actually bizarre,” he says of the contention, made by City Paper’s sources, that he belonged to the private club, and suggests that anyone who says that he was a member may be engaging in “politics of destruction.” Malone, however, says “to be very, very honest, I don’t know whether I’m a member or not,” adding that he’d been to one Orioles Nest event, years ago. “I’d be very surprised if I was a member,” he says, adding, “I don’t gamble, period.”

Baltimore County Councilman Sam Moxley (D-1st District) was also named by City Paper’s sources as being an Orioles Nest member. “No, not that I know of,” he responds. “I don’t think that I’ve ever been at any of their events, though I talked to [Frank] Moran about the situation [with the club]. He wanted to know about the gambling laws in the county.”

According to a law-enforcement source who has seen the Orioles Nest membership list, Fozard was a member of the organization. Several sources say Thomas Wayne Damron, a drug convict with a violent record, was too. So was Naylor Harrison, a convicted drug dealer who reportedly runs an asphalt paving business, according to Orioles Nest manager William Sachse and a law-enforcement source, though they say he was suspended for misbehaving in the club. Fozard, Damron, and Harrison, law-enforcement sources say, have also been frequent habitués of the Owls Nest, which hired retired and off-duty cops from local jurisdictions as security for its tournaments. According to the police report of the Owls Nest raid, Barry Lee Boone, a retired Howard County cop, was armed and working for the tournament’s organizers that night, taking money from players.

Attempts to contact Fozard and Damron for comment were unsuccessful, but Harrison was reached. He denied ever being a member of either the Orioles or Owls, adding, “I stopped going to those places a long time ago.”

 

Though Moran, Cary, and Dickens could not be reached to interview them for this article, Orioles Nest manager William Sachse could. In a telephone interview, he explains that Cary and Moran go way back, through Cary’s vending-machine business, Statewide Amusements, which other associates of Cary, including John Leroy Long Jr., confirm. “Joe Cary was pretty much raised and taken care of by Frank Moran,” Sachse says. “He taught Joe everything he needed to know in the vending business.”

The two also worked together running Moran’s club, the Orioles Nest, in a business park on Vero Road in Arbutus, a stone’s throw from the city line. Once inside the innocuous business-suite door, patrons paid a nominal fee—sometimes $20, sometimes $50, sometimes more, depending on the night’s event—to gamble, with the proceeds ostensibly going to various charities. But in late 2004, the club’s management experienced a falling o