Glenwood developer's drug trial to start Manglitz is charged with laundering money for Ayersman

June 02, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

For 10 years, trucks large and small trundled along western Howard County's country roads carrying thousands of pounds of Mexican marijuana to the region's green hills for distribution to central Maryland.

Unknown to neighbors and law-enforcement authorities, local contractor Randolph Ayersman ran a wholesale drug ring out of his Dayton and Woodbine houses for a decade -- importing in all more than 3 tons of marijuana.

Since the ring was discovered in 1994, Ayersman, his two brothers and five others in the cross-country ring have either pleaded guilty or been convicted of federal drug charges. Most, including Ayersman, have not been sentenced so far.

Tomorrow, the man federal prosecutors say helped launder more than $660,000 of the Ayersmans' illegal drug proceeds -- Glenwood developer Philip Manglitz -- goes to trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Manglitz faces a sentence of up to life in prison and a $4 million fine if convicted on charges of money-laundering and drug conspiracy and distribution.

His trial, expected to last a week, is the last chapter in an unusual drug case that took many western county residents by surprise.

Western Howard's pastoral landscapes exude serenity -- but also provided the perfect cover for the decade-long drug operation.

"Who in the world would think they were doing that out there underneath our noses?" said one neighbor on Bushy Park Road, who learned of the drug ring from news accounts. "I saw the house, the driveway, the silo. I said, 'What!' "

The area is so private that another of Ayersman's neighbors on Bushy Park Road -- where the marijuana was often stored -- joked about not hearing of the December 1994 drug arrests until a year afterward.

"We tend to leave each other alone," explained Republican County Councilman Charles Feaga, who lives in Ellicott City and represents western Howard.

By outward appearances, Ayersman and his drug-dealing colleagues fit into the fabric of western Howard County. A mechanic turned contractor, Ayersman built and sold several six-figure homes in the area and lived in a $400,000 house in upscale Dayton.

But court records say the native of Chula Vista, Calif. -- a a stone's throw from the Mexican border -- financed the creation of his defunct A&A Construction company by importing marijuana to Maryland, beginning in 1984.

Still, drug trafficking "was not his main source of income, by any stretch of the imagination," said Ayersman's attorney Gregg Bernstein. "He spent the majority of his time building these houses. That's really what he did."

Court records paint a different picture, saying Ayersman's group brought two loads of marijuana a year -- 300 to 400 pounds each -- across the country between 1984 and 1994.

According to court documents, testimony and information provided by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration from cases wrapped up so far, the drug ring worked this way:

The marijuana started its cross-country course in Chula Vista -- initially from the hands of Ayersman's former schoolmate, Arnold Aguirre, who lived a few blocks away from the Ayersman family home in Chula Vista.

Sometimes, the leafy cargo came in a flatbed car trailer with a secret compartment underneath -- a hiding place designed by Ayersman's brother Wilbur, who also drove the trucks cross-country.

Other times, another truck driver, Charles Maier, packed marijuana in the bottom of a horse trailer and covered it with manure. Once Maier placed it in a tour van for the popular rhythm-and-blues singer Luther Vandross -- hidden in a speaker-sized box.

The drugs also would arrive in moving vans for military personnel, with the boxes of drugs shielded by crates of dishes and dinette sets for much of their cross-country journey. Once, Virginia resident Bobby Jarrell -- who received $10,000 for driving a load -- accidentally left behind a box containing marijuana at a military base in Omaha, Neb.

But most of the drugs made it from the six-lane freeways to the winding country roads of western Howard County, generally arriving at a farm Ayersman had owned since 1989 on Bushy Park Road in Woodbine.

The picturesque 4-acre farm is set off the road by a long gravel driveway that cuts through an open field near several houses. Large trucks would sometimes park on the roadside and pickup trucks would ferry the marijuana from the truck to the farmhouse, drug agents said.

It was hidden in a freezer in a 12-by-25-foot crawl space beneath the dingy farmhouse where Harold Ayersman, Randy and Wilbur's brother, lived. Randy Ayersman owned the house and property, complete with a barn and a silo.

It was in the house, drug agents say, that marijuana was weighed and divvied up. The main distributors for the ring -- Silver Spring resident Dana Kleberg and Glenwood resident Kenneth Garufi -- would come to the house and pick up their supplies.

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