Gang members plead guilty
The final three members of the Black Guerrilla Gang have pleaded guilty in federal court, wrapping up cases against 21 members what authorities described as a violent group responsible for money laundering, drug dealing and attacks inside Maryland prisons.
Police said they used pre-paid debit card accounts to deal drugs beyond prison walls.
“This case reflects an unprecedented commitment by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to combat crime and corruption in state correctional facilities," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. "An intensive investigation that included wiretaps on contraband prison cell phones resulted in evidence that BGF leaders ran the gang while incarcerated in state prisons.
"The crimes included extorting protection money from other inmates and using contraband cell phones to arrange drug deals, approve robberies and arrange attacks on cooperating witnesses," Rosenstein said. "In addition, gang members persuaded corrupt correctional officers to participate in the gang’s criminal activities by smuggling drugs, tobacco, cell phones and weapons into prisons.”
The arrests exposed corruption in prsion -- a guard was charged with helping deal drugs -- and revaled a handbook endorsed by an educator as promoting empowerment but described by authorities as a guide, or a "constitution," for gang life. The gang also had ties to an outreach group devoted to getting troubled youths off the streets.
Here is a previous story by The Sun's Justin Fenton exposing alleged activities of a corrections officers:
Items hauled out of a corrections officer's apartment before she was indicted in a gang racketeering conspiracy appear to connect her to a who's who of Baltimore criminals.
Authorities say Alicia Simmons, an employee at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, is associated with the Black Guerrilla Family, the gang accused of directing a criminal enterprise from inside prison with the help of corrections staff. In a June 22 raid on her Pikesville apartment, agents seized the BGF "constitution," gang codes written in Swahili and paperwork related to its top leadership.Simmons, 34, also was in possession of letters, inmate ID cards, debit cards and other correspondence linked to some of the city's most notorious criminals. There's a letter from Kevin Gary, the Tree Top Bloods member known for his tinted red contact lenses, and another from Isaac Smith, convicted in the firebombing of a North Baltimore community activist's home.
She also had inmate identification cards in the names of Johnny "J.R." Butler and Calvin "Turkey" Wright, recently convicted for running a violent east-side drug ring connected to at least two killings; and Ronnie Thomas, better known as "Skinny Suge," the producer of the infamous "Stop Snitching" videos.
The search warrant and accompanying affidavit peel back another layer of the complex world of prison corruption that the Drug Enforcement Administration has been investigating for years, leading to a racketeering indictment this week.
Simmons is accused in the affidavit of helping smuggle heroin and cell phones through the prison's laundry system, allowing gang members to fight one another, and attempting to sniff out informants, including spying on federal agents as they met with a high-ranking gang member. The items in her apartment suggest her criminal ties go beyond the BGF.
Special Agent Edward Marcinko, a DEA spokesman, said her potential connections to other criminal enterprises were being investigated.
The Black Guerrilla Family is described by the DEA as the largest and most powerful prison gang in the state, with a presence in every facility and a top-down paramilitary structure that encouraged extortion and violence to further its goals. Already, the case has revealed how leaders used a handbook called the "Black Book" to spread its message while placing members to work with city school children and violence intervention programs as a front for recruiting.
Few details about Simmons' role in the BGF were revealed in the indictment unsealed this week. But the search warrant affidavit for her vehicle and Pikesville apartment, in the first block of Stockmill Road, adds additional perspective while raising questions about employee discipline within the prison system.
Federal agents appear to have focused on Simmons earlier this year, when a source told agents that they had personally observed her smuggle marijuana, crack cocaine and heroin into the protective custody unit of the Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup in 2007, according to documents compiled by DEA Task Force member William Nickoles, a city police officer.
A second source said he had received a pound of marijuana from Simmons, and knew of a BGF commander who received 20 grams of heroin from her and other officers every two to three days. That source said that in December 2009 Simmons allowed BGF members into an area where they assaulted another inmate, and that she did not report the assault until the gang members were finished. She was removed from her shift as a result of the incident and suspended five days.
Agents also learned that Simmons was being disciplined by the Division of Correction for fraternizing with a former inmate over Facebook. She received a midlevel punishment that did not result in a suspension.
Prison officials have pointed to their cooperation with the DEA in bringing the indictments and said they should put the agency's "few bad apples" on notice that they will be caught. But Simmons' activities were well-known in the prison for years, according to informants who spoke to the DEA, and she continued to work as a guard despite the infractions.
Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the agency has improved its screening processes and has been working with law enforcement agencies. He said he could not comment on Simmons' personnel records.
When agents searched the cells of three BGF leaders in 2009, the inmates were removed "under the ruse that they were summoned to the warden's office." After the searches, two of the members - Eric Brown and Ray Olivis - were removed from the general population and indicted. But the third man, Jonathan Braverman, was not.
Suspecting he was a cooperating informant, BGF members ordered a "hit on sight" on Braverman. Law enforcement officials visited Braverman - under the guise that they were attorneys - in June 2009 to advise him of the threat, and noticed Simmons "in close proximity to the interview area." By the next day, an informant was relaying to federal agents that Simmons had advised several inmates and BGF members that the DEA had visited Braverman and that he was an informant.
Agents served the search warrant on her home on June 25, and an inventory of seized items was unsealed this week. Included among the items were letters from inmates soliciting phone calls and favors, and newspaper articles about crime and the BGF case. They also found:
* An envelope from federal inmate Kevin Gary, a Tree Top Piru Bloods leader who last year received 30 years in prison after admitting to witness intimidation, ordering gang members to rob drug dealers and unsuccessfully arranging a murder. The envelope was addressed to Simmons' apartment, and contained a photograph of Gary and a letter.
* A copy of the BGF Constitution, a copy of BGF codes and Swahili words and their meanings.
* Federal inmate cards in the names of Calvin Wright, Johnny Butler, Dieon Scruggs, Lejuanna Walker, Darrick Frayling, and several others. Butler and Wright were sentenced recently to life and 35 years, respectively, in federal prison in connection with their heroin ring. They still face charges in the 2007 torture and killing of Sintia Mesa, who police say was killed over a drug debt.
Scruggs was charged in February with posing as a Federal Fugitive Task Force officer last fall; Walker was convicted in May and received 12 years in prison for his role in a Baltimore County drug ring.
* "Green Dot" prepaid debit cards, which authorities say are the currency of the prison system, in the names of various inmates including Fonda White and Jeffrey Fowlkes. White, a former prison guard, and Fowlkes, her incarcerated lover and BGF gang member, pleaded guilty to extorting thousands of dollars from prisoners and their relatives.