Police probe 4 killers as bondsmen How did they get into bail business?

May 07, 1993|By Roger Twigg and Michael James | Roger Twigg and Michael James,Staff Writers

Four paroled killers charged with running a drug ring that they allegedly started in prison are now the subject of a city police investigation into how they were able to run an unlicensed bail bond company suspected of laundering drug money.

Swift Bail Bonds in the 5400 block of Reisterstown Road is operated by Robert Lee Wilson, a paroled cop killer who helped three of his friends gain parole on murder charges by listing them as bondsmen, bodyguards and bounty hunters in his business, police said.

Police said they also seized paperwork from the four parolees that showed they had contacted other prison inmates about working for the business -- a proposition the parolees said would help the inmates earn quicker parole.

State licensing officials said Wilson did not have a license to operate a bail bond business, but they were unable to provide other details about the case yesterday.

"I don't like what I see here because I don't see any regulation," said Capt. Michael Andrew, head of the Baltimore police narcotics unit.

On at least one occasion, the parolees used the bail company to post bail for one of their own -- convicted murderer Frederick "Moe" Goodman, who had been arrested in October on cocaine- and heroin-trafficking charges.

"It's unbelievable," Captain Andrew said. "You've got murderers writing bail for other murderers."

Wilson and the other three paroled killers were arrested Tuesday and charged with running a million-dollar-a-month ring that brought heroin and cocaine into Baltimore via New York on Amtrak trains.

A dozen weapons were seized from the ring, dubbed the "murderers' row" by detectives. City crime lab technicians are conducting tests to see if the weapons have been used in any area shootings.

Wilson was convicted of killing Officer Lorenzo A. Gray during a motel holdup in 1972. The three others are James A. Bryant, convicted of fatally shooting a man during a street robbery in 1974; Robert Smallwood, who was convicted of killing an 83-year-old grocer during a holdup in 1978; and Goodman, who stabbed a man to death in a robbery in 1970.

Although all four face felony drug charges and parole violations, only Wilson is being held without bail. Smallwood was ordered held on $1 million bail, Bryant on $150,000 bail, and Goodman on $100,000.

The fact that three of the men were eligible to be released on bail prompted Captain Andrew to call state Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Bishop L. Robinson. At Captain Andrew's request, Mr. Robinson authorized the state Parole Commission to sign warrants that enable correctional officials to keep the suspects jailed on the grounds that they violated their ++ parole.

"Don't you think if [they're] convicted, they will go back to serving their life sentences?" Captain Andrew said. "You can't give them more incentive to flee."

Police officials said they were concerned that the parolees would have easily been able to make their stipulated bail amounts because they worked for a bail bond business.

In October, Goodman, who had just been arrested on four drug-related charges, was jailed in lieu of $50,000 bail. But he was bailed out by a Swift bondsman, police said.

"This stinks to high hell," said Detective Sgt. Tony Cannavale of the narcotics unit. "I think we're just on the tip of [the investigation]."

City police said their investigation will focus on how tightly the state regulates bail bond companies and how convicted felons could be allowed to work for the firms.

"We're devoting a lot of manpower to people who shouldn't be out to begin with," Sergeant Cannavale said.

According to state requirements, bail bond companies and their employees must be licensed and insured. In the preliminary stage of the police investigation, detectives have already learned that some licensed bail bondsmen are employing unlicensed people to open new locations.

Wilson gained his start in the business through a contracted bail bond agent, said John Griffin, owner of John's Bail Bonding Service on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. Griffin said he is affiliated with the agent who helped Wilson. Mr. Griffin also said that one of his agents is now running Swift Bail Bonds. "We can't just close it up. They've got half a million dollars in bails on the street."

Mr. Griffin said the four convicted killers should have never been allowed to enter the bail business.

"This is such a lucrative business. I'm worried there's going to be turf wars, like in the old Mafia days," Mr. Griffin said. "Everybody, even cons, are going to be carrying briefcases saying they're bail bondsmen."

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