3 Nigerians brought back to Maryland to face charges on drugs, violence

August 24, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

Three Nigerians were extradited to Maryland yesterday to face numerous charges linked to drug dealing and violence in Baltimore, federal authorities said.

Authorities identified two of the suspects as Henry and Roseline Solomon, a husband and wife. The couple was linked by these authorities to a drug gang responsible for the slayings of a city bail bondsman and his 3-year-old son.

The third suspect, Emenka John Okpala, 42, is the reputed head of the Okpala Organization, a group that allegedly laundered money and smuggled raw Southeast Asian heroin to Baltimore, the authorities said.

The three Nigerian nationals arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday afternoon aboard a commercial airliner and were awaiting a hearing before a U.S. magistrate.

"They felt very safe and secure in their home country, Nigeria," said Special Agent Craig N. Chretien, the assistant agent in charge of Baltimore's Drug Enforcement Administration office.

"This was the last thing they expected -- to be brought back to the U.S. to stand trial," he said.

The DEA alleges that Mr. Okpala ran an organization involving at least nine people in the hierarchy, including several Nigerians who are either fugitives or who have been expelled from their country.

The Okpala organization is alleged to have imported at least 40 pounds of heroin to Baltimore, but authorities suspect that figure is much higher -- hundreds of pounds, perhaps.

Mr. Okpala has been charged with being a fugitive from justice, conspiracy to distribute heroin and conspiracy to import heroin.

A warrant for Mr. Okpala's arrest was issued three years ago. He was apprehended by Lagos police on June 16 after an hourlong gunbattle that left six people wounded, including several officers, DEA officials said.

Mr. Solomon, 48, and Mrs. Solomon, 46, were charged with conspiracy in a warrant issued two years ago.

The two were arrested in Lagos in June as they were trying to obtain forged passports and visas to reenter the United States, DEA officials said yesterday.

At a news conference yesterday, federal officials linked last year's shooting deaths of bail bondsman Angelo Garrison Sr. and his 3-year-old son to the organization allegedly run by Henry and Roseline Solomon.

Mr. Garrison, 23, and his son were ambushed April 18, 1993, outside Mr. Garrison's bail bond business in the 200 block of Park Ave. As Mr. Garrison lay mortally wounded on the ground, another bullet went through the rear passenger window of his car and struck the boy in the head.

Levon Stokes, 21, was found guilty of first-degree murder and guilty of manslaughter in the boy's death. Stokes was sentenced in December to life without parole for Mr. Garrison's murder, but authorities continued to look into whether Baltimore drug figures were involved in the slayings.

The Solomons' organization allegedly supplied drugs to a gang run by Barry Henderson, now serving a 31-year federal prison term.

Henderson was convicted of trafficking 10 to 30 kilograms of heroin out of the Underground nightclub, which was once run by convicted drug kingpin Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams. The club was seized by federal authorities two years ago.

Calling the investigation "complex and long term," Agent Chretien said it involved several federal and local law enforcement agencies who traced the drug organizations back several years and it included wiretaps on businesses.

During yesterday's news conference, federal law enforcement officials outlined both drug operations and said some members had been linked to another drug gang called the Jamaican Black Mafia.

Agent Chretien said both groups smuggled a "significant amount of pure heroin" into Baltimore. "The organizations have a strong hierarchy and have a violent way of doing business," he said.

Agent Chretien said Mr. Garrison was "assassinated" because he was scheduled to testify against Barry Henderson, one of three nephews of Mr. Williams, the drug kingpin who was convicted last year.

PTC Agent Chretien said the Solomons operated out of Rhode Island and allegedly smuggled heroin into Maryland from Thailand and Myanmar through Kennedy International Airport in New York. It was driven into Baltimore by couriers, who hid the drugs in balloons that they swallowed, the agent said.

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