20-year record frustrates drug prosecutors

May 29, 1991|By David Simon

Walter Louis Ingram, 39, is either Baltimore's luckiest narcotics figure or the most persecuted resident of the city. It depends on whom you ask.

To speak with Mr. Ingram and his attorneys is to learn of a man prosecuted time and again for crimes he simply didn't commit -- three drug-related murders, two major drug conspiracy cases, two armed robberies, two attempted murders, two assaults on police.

To speak with police and prosecutors, however, is to learn of a man who is regarded as one of the most violent men in Baltimore's organizeddrug trade yet has served remarkably little time in prison. He has beaten virtually every major charge against him in trial courts and in post-conviction appeals.

This month, to the amazement of federal prosecutors and FBI agents in Baltimore, Mr. Ingram did it once again. On May 8, he walked out of a Manhattan courtroom a free man after a jury acquitted him in the 1984 slaying of a New York cocaine dealer.

That acquittal followed a six-week trial that included the eyewitness testimony of an FBI informant who was present when Felix Gonzalez, a New York cocaine wholesaler, was shot 11 times and dumped in the January snow of Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan.

An investigation by Baltimore-based FBI agents ultimately led to Mr. Ingram being charged in the murder, along with Kenneth A. "Kenny Bird" Jackson, another longtime Baltimore narcotics figure with whom Ingram has for years allegedly been allied.

Yet those charges did not withstand three days of deliberation by a New York State Supreme Court jury, which acquitted both Mr. Ingram and Mr. Jackson of all charges, apparently accepting their alibi defense that they were in Baltimore on the date of the murder.

"A jury has the right to apply the facts to the law," said James Warwick, the assistant U.S. attorney from Baltimore who prosecuted the case. "It's in their hands."

Mr. Warwick declined to comment on the possibility of any further investigations of Mr. Ingram and Mr. Jackson, but other federal sources have acknowledged that the two men are returning to Baltimoreas targets of a possible federal racketeering and tax investigation.

At the time of their arrest for the New York murder case two years ago, federal agents raided homes and businesses linked to Mr. Jackson, Mr. Ingram and others as part of a larger drug and racketeering probe by FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents.

For Mr. Ingram, his acquittal in the New York slaying is another victory over the various law enforcement authorities who have spent 20 years trying to put him in prison.


* A 20-year state sentence for a 1987 drug distribution conviction in Baltimore was overturned on appeal because of a technicality relating to the defendant's right to a speedy trial.

* A 40-year prison term for 1975 convictions for armed robbery and manslaughter stemming from a 1972 drug slaying, was also overturned for prosecutorial delays.

* Weapons and drug charges against Mr. Ingram stemming from a 1981 police raid -- undertaken to thwart an ongoing drug war in the Lafayette Court housing project -- were dropped when a city circuit judge ruled that an informant's testimony was insufficient evidence.

* A 1986 case in which Ingram was charged with stabbing two people in a dispute over a small amount of cocaine resulted in a jury acquittal.

* A 1981 murder charge, stemming from another drug slaying, was dropped by prosecutors.

Mr. Ingram's reputation in Baltimore's organized drug trade is that of an enforcer -- "muscle" for Kenny Jackson, 43, who has long been regarded as one of the city's predominant drug figures.

Mr. Jackson's history is also extensive, including a murder acquittal in 1974 and charges that he initiated the 1981 drug war for control of the Lafayette Court project.

Mr. Jackson's rival was Maurice D. "Peanut" King, whose multimillion-dollar organization was among the city's largest in the early 1980s.

More recently, Mr. Jackson was arrested in 1988 on the northbound New Jersey turnpike with more than $700,000 in his car, just as he was similarly stopped by New Jersey troopers in September 1986 with $91,000 and a large amount of lidocaine -- a cocaine dilutant -- in his vehicle.

In 1985, Mr. Jackson was identified in federal court affidavits as a lieutenant in the Baltimore drug ring headed by Melvin D. "Little Melvin" Williams. But when Williams went to prison for 34 years in prosecutors elected not to pursue a conspiracy case against his subordinates, and Mr. Jackson eluded indictment.

In the New York case, prosecutors alleged that Mr. Gonzalez, the murdered drug dealer, was killed after he took a $60,000 advance payment from Mr. Jackson, then failed either to deliver about 2 kilograms of cocaine or to return the cash.

The dealer was allegedly held inside a van and driven around New York before being shot with both .32- and .38-caliber handguns. New York homicide detectives were unable to make much progress on the slaying until Baltimore FBI agents developed an informant who was present during the abduction and murder.

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