Court records link pastor to cocaine trafficking

December 31, 1994|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Jim Haner and Suzanne Loudermilk contributed to this article. RTC

The Middle River minister slain Christmas Eve was heavily involved in helping conduct cocaine transactions between Harford County and Philadelphia last year, according to court records.

The Rev. Samuel Booth Jr. is named throughout an affidavit supporting the execution of a search and seizure warrant on his home in Bel Air in June 1993. He is implicated with a small group of individuals who rented cars in Mr. Booth's name and purchased sizable amounts of cocaine that were resold in Bel Air, Aberdeen and other locations.

Baltimore County police have charged James Thomas Wood, 24, of Abingdon in Harford County, with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of the 55-year-old minister, who was pastor of the Christian Faith Tabernacle Church in the 900 block of Middle River Road.

Mr. Booth's body, with numerous stab wounds of the chest, was found in his trailer behind the church.

Mr. Wood, being held without bail at the county Detention Center, has confessed to authorities he killed the minister after robbing him of about $78 and $40 worth of crack cocaine. Later, police detectives found two crack cocaine pipes concealed in the victim's bathroom.

Mr. Booth was buried Thursday in a donated grave after a funeral at the church, said Marion Green, Mr. Booth's mother.

The affidavit on file at the Harford County Circuit Court details information from several police informers who told the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Bel Air Police Department that Mr. Booth supplied rental cars to traffic cocaine, displayed large amounts of money and said he was considering a cocaine business in Ocean City.

The affidavit said that Mr. Booth -- who then had been pastor of the Middle River church for at least 10 years -- allowed his home to be used as a cutting and packaging house for the cocaine once it was brought back from Philadelphia. When police and federal agents raided his house, they recovered scales, syringes and manufacturing materials, including empty bottles of the cutting agent Inisoltol.

At the time, Mr. Booth held mortgages on two properties in Bel Air. One, for 633 Old Orchard Road, was purchased for $139,000 and Mr. Booth's monthly mortgage payment was $1,350. The other mortgage was for 358 Catherine St., purchased for $73,500 with a monthly payment of $842.29.

Members of Mr. Booth's congregation said the minister rarely had cash and often gave what money he had to wayward teen-agers or drug addicts and allowed them to sleep in his trailer. The pastor's followers denied that he used crack cocaine.

Although Mr. Booth was charged with eight state narcotics counts after the raid on his house, those charges were dropped the month after the raid because DEA agents thought they could build a stronger federal narcotics conspiracy case using Mr. Booth to indict those higher up, according to two law enforcement sources.

However, that strategy unraveled, the sources said, and the local undercover officer who worked the case was reassigned.

"We felt it was good that Mr. Booth just agreed to leave the area," said Bel Air Police Chief Leo F. Matrangola. "And he did."

The affidavit said one of several informers told police "Mr. Booth is involved with the picking up of the cocaine in Philadelphia . . . Booth give his rental, a Lincoln Continental" to another man implicated in the cocaine ring to make pickups and deliveries.

The informer told police that "Booth is a cocaine user and has a lot of money and it is a possibility that Booth is financing the cocaine operation."

Another member of the organization being investigated for a "multi-ounce cocaine" distribution operation brought cocaine back from Philadelphia concealed in his infant son's diapers, the affidavit said.

A second informer said Mr. Booth had a small table in the bedroom of his residence on Old Orchard Road in which he kept "two small propane tanks, glass and metal smoking pipes, spoons, candles, baggies, razor blades, mirror and a broken piece of a coat hanger."

Mr. Booth also told the informer "he had a trailer in Ocean City, Md., and that he was going to take cocaine there to sell it," the affidavit said.

The affidavit stated "that Booth has rented cars" for two drug runners and that one of those runners "spends a lot of time at Booth's where they smoke cocaine together."

Mrs. Green, Mr. Booth's mother, said yesterday she seriously doubts her son was so heavily involved in trafficking and using crack cocaine. "He tried to please everybody," she said from her home in Bel Air. "I just have to pray and go on . . . I guess only God knows for sure what happened to my son."

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