Seven assembly line workers at the General Motors plant in Baltimore were arrested yesterday as they put together minivans; they were charged with selling cocaine and marijuana to fellow workers, police said.
Two other GM employees are being sought.
The arrests inside the Broening Highway plant, where Chevrolet Astro vans are produced, was the culmination of an eight-month investigation begun by the company and carried out by a private security firm based in Dayton, Ohio.
After ASET Corp. sent undercover workers onto the production lines to buy drugs and gather evidence, local prosecutors took the case before a Baltimore grand jury last week. City police were called in yesterday to make the arrests.
Teams of 15 officers each went into the plant during two shifts -- one in the afternoon, the other in the evening -- to make the arrests. As the targeted employees were taken off the assembly line, company supervisors immediately replaced them with other workers so that production would not be disturbed.
"The workers were stunned," said Sgt. Chris Streett, of the Southeastern District. "As loud as that place can be, you could hear a pin drop."
General Motors officials in Pontiac, Mich., released a statement by the Baltimore plant manager, Robert R. Rieman, in which he said illegal drug distribution would not be tolerated and that the investigation was continuing.
"The sale and use of controlled substances is a clear danger to the health and welfare of each employee at this plant and at General Motors," the statement says. "We will continue to work to ensure that our employees can expect a safe workplace."
A GM spokesman, Jeff Kuhlman, said the company's product was not affected by the drug sales. He would not say how widespread the sales were inside the plant or comment on whether any employees were using drugs while on the job. There are 3,800 employees at the Broening Highway plant.
City police said they were first approached by company managers in May.
"They said they had employees on the assembly line dealing drugs," Sergeant Streett said. "In their opinion, the safety of the workplace and the quality of their product would potentially be affected."
Detectives said they could not justify sending undercover officers into the plant for an extended period of time, so GM hired ASET Corp., which Sergeant Streett said has extensive experience in such operations.
Undercover ASET investigators posing as assembly line workers bought cocaine and marijuana under close supervision of city police officers and prosecutors, said Sergeant Streett. It was the first time such a joint venture had been tried, he said.
A few days before Christmas, police turned the evidence over to the grand jury, which indicted nine employees Jan. 6.
All were charged with distribution of cocaine or marijuana and possession of drugs with intent to distribute. The seven who were arrested will be held in the Baltimore City Detention Center without bail until they can see a Circuit Court judge Tuesday.
Police identified the workers as Ronald Acors, 23, of the 2800 block of Salisbury Ave. in Baltimore; Edward Wolff, whose age and address were not available; Sulami Salaam, 44, address unavailable; Jack Wilcox, 40, address unavailable; John Fournier, of the first block of Pavia Court, Baltimore; Matthew Williams, 26, address unavailable; and Phillip Salisbury, 57, of the 900 block of Belgian Ave., Baltimore.
Police said they confiscated 25 vials of suspected drugs at the workstation of Mr. Salisbury, who has worked at GM for 30 years and was scheduled to retire in May.
Mr. Kuhlman said the arrested employees could be fired after they go through a disciplinary process that will include union representation.