The feds take another whack at the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang in Baltimore
Nearly a year to the day after 25 alleged members of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang were arrested under two federal indictments ("Guerrilla Warfare," Mobtown Beat, Apr. 22, 2009), another 13 people were rounded up in Baltimore on April 12, accused of dealing drugs on the gang's behalf. As with last year's indictments ("Black-Booked," Feature, Aug. 5, 2009), the government's case includes accusations that BGF leaders in Maryland have attempted to cloak themselves in legitimacy as people who work to improve society, while actually conducting a criminal enterprise that includes selling drugs and stoking violence.
In the latest case ("Inside Out," Mobtown Beat, Apr. 14), two of the defendants--Todd Duncan and Ronald Scott--had jobs as anti-violence outreach workers for a West Baltimore nonprofit called Communities Organized to Improve Life (COIL). Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reacted promptly: She announced on the same day as the arrests that city funding for Safe Streets, the anti-gang efforts undertaken by two Baltimore nonprofits, would be suspended immediately, pending an investigation into the program.
Though COIL had received Safe Streets government funding in 2007, the grants were not renewed; it nonetheless continued its gang-intervention efforts on its own. The city's remaining Safe Streets programs are implemented by the Living Classrooms Foundation (in East Baltimore) and Family Health Centers of Baltimore (in South Baltimore).
Duncan, according to the 164-page search-warrant affidavit in the case, allegedly became "the overall commander for BGF operations throughout the entire Baltimore metropolitan area" last year. He ascended to the position, the affidavit says, "within months of the unsealing of the 2009 indictments," which forced a change in the prison gang's street-level structure in Baltimore.
By that time, Duncan already had two years under his belt as a COIL outreach worker, according to COIL Executive Director Stacy Smith's statements in a video interview conducted the day of the arrests by BMore News ("COIL's Director Reacts to Gang Indictment of Nonprofit's Employees," The News Hole, citypaper.com, April 22). The affidavit alleges that Duncan used his COIL cell phone to arrange heroin-dealing and other BGF-related activities, often while at his anti-gang job at COIL. Smith is referred to as "an active BGF member" in the affidavit, a contention she roundly denies in the video.
The Safe Streets program in East Baltimore has also been tarnished by the case, though no one connected to the organization has been charged. "Operation Safe Streets located in the McElderry Park and Madison East neighborhoods is controlled by the BGF, specifically Anthony Brown, aka 'Gerimo,'" the affidavit states, relying on information from a confidential source. "BGF members released from prison can obtain employment from Operation Safe Streets." Living Classrooms CEO/President James Piper Bond calls the inclusion of his group in the affidavit "disheartening" because "it's been pretty impressive what these guys do to reduce violence in East Baltimore.
"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," Bond says. He calls the assertion that ex-inmates can get Safe Streets jobs upon their release "ridiculous." He says his Safe Streets operation will be able to continue for "a few weeks" without city funding, and fears that the funding freeze is akin to "throwing out the baby with the bathwater." Bond says that word of Safe Streets' problems resulting from the indictment is traveling on the street, and that "it is not good" for the group's ongoing anti-violence efforts.
Also listed in the affidavit as an "active BGF member" is Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale, whose nephew, Dante Barksdale, works for Safe Streets. 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. "Hell, no!" says Barksdale, reached by phone at the number provided in the affidavit, when asked if 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."
The probe into BGF's criminal 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.
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 called The Black Book: Empowering Black Families and Communities--BGF has continued 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, including former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Tyrone Powers, 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," the affidavit states. "These individuals began assisting Eric Brown in teaching in prison the BGF and other prison gangs, the message of the Black Book."
The Black Book was put out by Dee Dat Publishing, a company founded by Brown and co-defendant Deitra Davenport, a woman with no prior criminal record who had long worked as a nonprofit professional. The book espoused and expounded on the radical political tenets of BGF founder George Jackson, a Black Power proponent who was killed in a California prison incident in the early 1970s. But prosecutors say The Black Book was a propaganda tool used for BGF recruitment and that proceeds were used to underwrite the BGF's criminal schemes. Brown and Davenport also founded a nonprofit, Harambee Jamaa, whose incorporation papers say it was formed to "liberate our people from poverty, crime, and prison."
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."
Nationally, this isn't the first time that nonprofit workers in anti-gang efforts have been implicated in gang-related crime. In Chicago in 2008, two anti-violence workers for CeaseFire, the model for Baltimore's Safe Streets program, were indicted for drug dealing; the two, Juan Johnson and Harold Martinez, have since pleaded guilty. While working for CeaseFire, prosecutors said, Johnson "promoted controlled violence among gang members in an effort to avoid subsequent and random retaliatory murders." In Los Angeles last year, Alex Sanchez, executive director of the gang-intervention group Homies Unidos, was indicted for murder in a gang RICO conspiracy; in court documents, prosecutors allege that Sanchez remained an active MS-13 gang leader, profiting from "the gang's narcotics trafficking and regular extortion rackets," even as he led Homies Unidos. In 2008 in Los Angeles, executive director of the anti-gang nonprofit No Guns, Hector Marroquin, pleaded guilty to gun-running, while Mario Corona, a gang interventionist with Communities in Schools, another nonprofit, pleaded no contest to drugs and firearms charges.
In Baltimore, the appearance of legitimacy among alleged BGF members doesn't end with Duncan and Scott working for COIL. Several of the defendants in last year's indictments had jobs: Four of them worked in the Maryland prison system. One, a recently released murder convict named Rainbow Williams, was a mentor for at-risk students at the Baltimore City Public Schools program run by Alston-Smith; another, Calvin Robinson, was a city Department of Public Works wastewater worker and the owner of a clothing store called the In and Out Boutique, located a block away from COIL near Baltimore's historic Hollins Market. Tomeka Harris owned Club 410, a bar on Belair Road. Tyrone Dow, an alleged supplier of BGF drugs, was co-owner of a car-detailing shop next to the Belvedere Hotel in Mount Vernon.
But among the defendants in this year's indictment, only Duncan, Scott, Sherice Foster, and Kimberly McIntosh appear to have been employed. Foster worked at the Safeway supermarket in Charles Village. McIntosh was a health-care worker at Total Health Care's Larry Young Health Center in West Baltimore.
At first glance, according to information that came to light at McIntosh's April 15 detention hearing ("Health-Care Worker Accused of Being at 'Epicenter' of Baltimore Crime as Shot-Caller for Black Guerrilla Family," Mobtown Beat, citypaper.com, April 16), she cuts a sympathetic profile as a 41-year-old working mom raising four children. She has no criminal record, and though she admits to some casual pot smoking, she does not do hard drugs. But in Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner's estimation, 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 BGF. He contends her home serves as a sort of BGF clubhouse, where large meetings are held and gang members mix up drugs for sale. He characterizes McIntosh as the gang's financial manager, violence coordinator, and overseer of its heroin-distribution activities.
When DEA SIG agents raided McIntosh's home on April 12, Wallner says they turned up "at least 18 gelatin capsules of heroin," as well as BGF paperwork and other records, a police scanner, and a copy of The Black Book. At McIntosh's desk at her Total Health Care job, they found more BGF documents and a set of "Second Chance body armor." Wallner recounts evidence of McIntosh's ties to incidents of violence, and of her being armed; he calls her an "undetectable bomb" should she be released pending trial, pointing out that DEA SIG's unnamed sources could easily be identified and harmed.
McIntosh's attorney, Marc Hall, does his best at the detention hearing to convey a law-abiding impression of his client, even while he calls the government's evidence "compelling" and "very damning"--though he cautions that he hasn't yet reviewed the wiretap recordings to look for frailties in the government's contentions. But U.S. District Court magistrate judge Susan Gauvey deems McIntosh unfit for release.
"Eventually, your lawyer may say this is all blowing smoke," Gauvey tells McIntosh, "but at this point it is impossible for us to be assured" that allowing McIntosh to await trail at home would not be dangerous.
The defendants in the current BGF indictment are awaiting arraignment. Their attorneys, as is usually the case, either didn't return phone calls or declined to comment other than to assert their clients' innocence.