The last time Baltimore was headlining national news articles the Ravens had just completed their unlikely and dramatic run to a Superbowl championship. It's been a few months, but our great city is back in the national headlines, only this time there is no celebration to be had. On the contrary, the past two weeks have been extremely embarrassing for all those involved with the City's corrections department, as well as for city and state politicians and government officials. Over the past year law enforcement agencies from the federal and state governments have been investigating allegations of organized gang activity within the walls of the Baltimore City Detention Center. Last week, the United States Attorney unsealed the bombshell indictment that charged various inmates and prison guards with running a large-scale racket within the jail's walls. The indictment alleged that gang members sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of drugs and other contraband that was smuggled into the jail with the help of 13 corrections officers. Other allegations include bribery, extortion, assault, robbery, witness retaliation, and even murder. All those charged in the federal indictment face lengthy prison sentences for racketeering in addition to the individual criminal acts.
Recently in Federal Crimes Category
The FBI and the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland recently announced that a 36 year-old Baltimore Police officer has pleaded guilty to multiple drug and gun felonies. The investigation began in early 2012 when the feds received information from an anonymous source that the crooked cop was trafficking in stolen property. As a result of the tip and other corroborating information, feds secured a warrant to wiretap the officer's cellphone. Through the wiretap law enforcement learned that the officer was selling stolen iPhones, iPads, and other electronics, some of which were confiscated during arrests and never submitted into evidence. Federal investigators also became aware of a new development, that the officer was involved in a more sophisticated and organized criminal scheme with a street level drug dealer.
The drug dealer was actually a registered confidential informant with the Baltimore Police Department. A confidential informant is basically a civilian who has agreed to provide information to law enforcement and to participate in undercover investigations in exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution him or herself. On the street confidential informants have infamously been known as snitches, and this nickname has even appeared in television shows and movies. This particular confidential informant was a known drug dealer in the Northwest Baltimore area where the officer patrolled, and at some point the two entered into a business agreement. The officer would provide the drug dealer with information on a daily basis when and where it was safe to sell drugs without police interference. The officer was also accused of doctoring police reports by redacting the drug dealer's name and eliminating his involvement in crimes. In exchange for this protection, the drug dealer would provide the officer with information about other criminal activity, which the officer used to make arrests.
Federal law enforcement recently announced that a major drug ring in suburban Maryland has been busted up, and numerous arrests have been made. In total, 18 people were arrested in the bust, and as many as 15 have already been charged with conspiracy to distribute more than two thousand pounds of marijuana and various other drugs. The federal grand jury indictment included information, which led federal officers to believe that the Anne Arundel County drug ring distributed cocaine, prescription pills, steroids, as well as large amounts of pot. As many as 250 federal agents participated in multiple raids that reportedly resulted in the seizure of 30 cars, 60 pounds of marijuana, upwards of 300 thousand dollars cash, and multiple guns. The seizures are not even close to complete as the U.S. Justice Department is seeking the court's approval to confiscate over 10 million dollars in cash, multiple real estate properties, bank accounts, cars, and business assets.
The yearlong investigation that led to the recent bust began rather fortuitously for law enforcement. Last year around this time, a Glen Burnie man was involved in a serious car accident, and upon arriving on the scene police found over a pound of marijuana and a money counting machine. Cops also found papers detailing the operation, which ultimately spear headed the investigation. Over the next 12 months federal authorities learned about a highly complex interstate organization that was complete with stash houses to store the drugs, and shell corporations to launder the profits. Cops also learned that the drugs were shipped, driven, and even flown to Baltimore from California and New Jersey. Authorities reported that the alleged traffickers were bold enough to fly the drugs into BWI airport during the operation.
The Maryland Legislature is scheduled to begin its 2013 legislative session next month, and marijuana is one issue that is sure to be hotly debated. Medical marijuana supporters and personal use advocates alike hope that this year's session makes more progress in the fight for decriminalization. Toward the end of last year's legislative session, the head of the state's department of health went on record saying that he would not support decriminalization as long as federal law continued to define pot as an illegal controlled substance. The department head cited concerns that his state employees could be subject to federal prosecution under the controlled substances act and there would be nothing the state could do to protect them. The head of any state agency has a duty to protect his or her employees, but the broader issue is also that state lawmakers want to protect their constituents as well. It would certainly not look good for Annapolis if Maryland citizens were being prosecuted federally for following a law that their own delegates supported and eventually passed. But supporters of marijuana decriminalization have hope that this year will be different based on two influential votes on this past Election Day.
As readers of this blog and those who have been following national drug laws are aware, Colorado and Washington State voted to decriminalize personal marijuana use. Both states, and close to 20 others including Washington D.C. already had medical marijuana laws on the books, but this past election took the movement to new heights. Local advocates back here in Maryland are now optimistic that the legislature will consider the Colorado and Washington laws in crafting their own legislation. Obviously we cannot expect that Annapolis will jump on board with personal use decriminalization, but medical marijuana laws in this year's session are a distinct possibility. There is no official word from the Governor's office to date that would indicate which way O'Malley is leaning, and his future political aspirations could play into his decision to support a medical use law. A politician with greater aspirations is likely to be more conservative in his or her final years. For now though, lobbyists, grass roots advocates, and users have some reason for optimism.
Various states have recently been modifying and in some cases eradicating criminal penalties for marijuana possession and manufacturing. As a result law enforcement has seen an uptick in shipping the drug from a state where it is legal to a state that has yet to join the legalization party. Despite recent modifications in the controlled dangerous substance laws, marijuana continues to be illegal under state law, and thus local and federal law enforcement have focused a great deal of attention on intercepting packaged drugs headed toward Maryland. Recently a large number of federal search warrants were unsealed in Baltimore, allowing the public to take a look inside the process and procedure of apprehending suspects that take delivery of packaged drugs.
Mailing drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy from state to state is not a new method of drug distribution. Drug traffickers and even personal users have been utilizing the mail for decades as a seemingly safer alternative to transporting drugs via car or plane. But now that some states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and even for non-medical personal use, shipping pot by mail has taken off. The mail trend likely gained popularity when California legalized marijuana cultivation for medical use over ten years ago. This immediately caused the price of pot to drop 3 or 4 times below its traditional street value, and the current street value in many East Coast states such as Maryland. Nowadays you can purchase a pound of high quality pot for as little as $1,000 in California, whereas throughout the Midwest and along the East Coast a pound still goes for over $3,000. Personal users and dealers alike can do the simple math and figure out the benefits of getting their supply from the West Coast. And with ramped up airport security as well as K9 patrols along the interstate highways, not to mention the price of gas, it simply pays for some people to take the risk of mailing their stash.
More campaign and lobbyist money was spent in 2012 than in any other election year in American history. Whether it was the estimated 3 billion dollars spent on the presidential race, or the 90 million dollars spend on expanding Maryland's gambling laws, this Election Day will not soon be forgotten. And for those who have been fighting the decades long battle to legalize marijuana, this Election Day may go down in history as the vote that started it all. Two states, Colorado and Washington have passed laws that will effectively legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The Colorado law makes it legal for adults over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of pot, and authorizes homeowners to have up to 6 plants for the purposes of cultivating the drug. The Washington law also authorizes carrying up to an ounce, but requires that users buy their stash from state licensed distributors rather than growing it at home. Both states make still maintain that it is illegal to drive while under the influence of the drug, with Washington establishing a blood THC limit. Smoking marijuana in public will still be illegal and violators are subject to citation and fines similar to a public consumption of alcohol violation. Supporters of the propositions, which will turn into law within the next few months, were out in force celebrating the victory. Meanwhile, the opposition was left questioning the law's supposed benefits as well as the complications that will accompany implication of the state laws.
Federal probation and parole in Maryland got a whole lot easier for some defendants from 2009 to 2010. Well, at least it was for the dozens of defendants who had been convicted of federal crimes, or recently released from federal custody and completed their mandatory drug testing requirements at the Maryland treatment centers of Clean and Sober or Drug and Alcohol Recovery. And it were the drug counselors and drug testers that were allegedly on the take of this large scale pay for pass scheme. According to indictment proceedings that were just released to the public, two former federal contractors from Rockville, Maryland were involved in a long standing bribery operation where drug testing results were falsified in exchange for monetary compensation. Both former drug testers had been under investigation for federal criminal charges including bribery, making false statements, and witness tampering, and both face considerable prison time. According to court documents, one drug tester pleaded guilty to bribery, and is awaiting sentencing while the other was recently indicted. The drug tester who did not plead guilty was arrested soon after the results of the grand jury investigation were released.
The male drug tester pleaded guilty to accepting over 100 bribes from clients that were under federal supervision and required to undergo drug testing and treatment. According to the indictment documents these clients would pay cash to the drug testers, typically $50 per test in exchange for receiving a negative drug test. Many times, the testers would not even bother to conduct an actual drug test, and simply mark off that the patient had passed. The indicted drug testers were also paid upwards of $400 for drug treatment discharge papers when in fact the patient had not successfully completed the treatment. The male drug tester allegedly took more than $10,000 over the course of the 2 year scheme and faces up to 15 years in prison at his sentencing hearing in December.
The ongoing battle marijuana to legalize marijuana in America and in Maryland took another hit recently as Federal prosecutors have increased efforts to crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries. This latest crackdown effort came at the hands of Federal lawyers and court papers rather than with the search warrants and guns of the DEA and FBI. No arrests were made in any of the latest anti marijuana push, but a strong message has been sent across the country that the Feds are not ready to reverse their position on marijuana legalization.
On August 21 Federal prosecutors filed 3 lawsuits in Orange County Florida against property owners who rent their real estate to medical marijuana dispensaries. The property owners were told that they could risk forfeiture of their real estate if they continue to rent space to the marijuana dispensaries. Federal prosecuting lawyers also sent upwards of 60 letters to medical marijuana clinics in Orange County threatening criminal charges if the marijuana clinics continue to sell the drug. Orange County is not the only area being targeted by the Federal efforts to crackdown on medical marijuana as the Feds have been going after marijuana dispensaries throughout the Central District of California.
A Baltimore area marijuana dealer has been sentenced to over 20 years in prison after the jury found him guilty at trial. Defense lawyers were unable to overcome the strong evidence that federal prosecutors presented during two weeks of testimony in United States district court in Maryland. The convicted Baltimore drug dealer was arrested in 2010 and charged with distribution of marijuana and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Both the internal revenue service and the federal drug enforcement agency participated in the investigation, which ultimately let to a multi count indictment.
The Baltimore man had been charged with selling marijuana over a span of more than 5 years, with the first drug deals allegedly taking place in 2004. Government witnesses testified that the Baltimore dealer was the supervisor of a large scale organization responsible for transporting for sale hundreds of pounds of marijuana from the southwest United States to the east coast and Maryland. Testimony revealed that the Baltimore man had sold nearly 10,000 pounds of marijuana over the course of the drug conspiracy. State witnesses also testified that the drug dealing began with the purchase of about 100 pounds of marijuana from a source in Arizona. These 100 pound purchases grew substantially over time, and by the end of 2005 the Baltimore man was purchasing as much as 900 pounds of marijuana at a time for sale on the east coast.
Baltimore City police officers were recently found guilty of conspiracy under color of law, and extortion in Federal criminal court. A Federal jury found one officer guilty after trial, and the other accepted a negotiated guilty plea hours before the jury began deliberating. Federal sentencing guidelines provide a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison for conspiracy under color of law, and a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for extortion. A Federal judge will hand down the sentence for the officer, from Edgewood Maryland, convicted at trial at sentencing hearing in March.
These Baltimore City police officers were the last two officers to be found guilty in perhaps the largest police misconduct scandal in the Baltimore Police Department's history. A total of seventeen officers were charged and convicted of crimes of misconduct including extortion and conspiracy. The scandal began as a kickback scheme where Baltimore officers were paid by a body shop for car accident referrals. More than sixty officers were named as recipients of the kickback money, but only seventeen were charged in Federal court.
The investigation was initiated by the Baltimore Police Department's internal affairs division, but was later turned over to the FBI. The FBI did not take part in seizing the accused officer's badges, a job that Baltimore Police Commissioner Bealefeld III handled personally. The corrupt cops were a reportedly summoned to the police department's training academy under the guise of a routine weapons check. Upon arrival at the academy, the accused officers were no doubt surprised to learn that their kickback scheme had been exposed, and their careers as police officers came to an abrupt but well deserved end.