Father, 2 sons charged in drug ring Cocaine smuggled from Fla., U.S. says

February 11, 1997|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Federal prosecutors unsealed indictments yesterday against an Anne Arundel County man and his two sons, charging them with smuggling nearly 110 pounds of cocaine from southern Florida to Maryland as part of a busy drug ring they allegedly ran out of the family's Severna Park barbershop.

The indictments came as prosecutors announced that three ring members had decided to plead guilty to their roles in running cocaine and marijuana up the East Coast to Anne Arundel and distributing the drugs to lower-level dealers in the county.

The families of two of those who pleaded guilty -- John Steven Luke and his brother-in-law, Joseph Cerniglia Jr. -- were spirited from their Anne Arundel homes last week and placed under federal protection to prevent possible reprisals. Prosecutors said yesterday that the pair had pleaded guilty and were cooperating with the investigation.

The indictments unsealed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday charge John Vincent Baumgarten Sr., 53, of the 700 block of Rolling View Drive, John Baumgarten Jr., 33, and Anthony Quinn Baumgarten, 31, both of the 900 block of Dogwood Tree Drive, with conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

The Cape St. Claire men could face life behind bars if they are convicted, because of the amounts of cocaine allegedly involved in the case. Prosecutors and drug agents say the three smuggled 110 pounds of cocaine from southern Florida from 1990 to 1996 and used the family business, T.J.'s Barbershop, to facilitate many of the deals.

The Baumgarten family supplied cocaine to Luke and his organization, according to court records. John Baumgarten Jr. and Anthony Baumgarten were held without bail after a brief hearing yesterday.

Their father, who was convicted of federal cocaine conspiracy charges in Baltimore in 1987, is being held in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., pending a court hearing.

For prosecutors and investigators, the plea deal with Luke, 31, of the 300 block of Rover Road in Arnold is an important break in the case. He was considered a leader of an Anne Arundel drug ring, which allegedly consisted of Cerniglia, 19, of the 1200 block of Plateau Place in Cape St. Claire, Richard Terrence McArdle, 30, of the 1100 block of Ramblewood Drive in Cape St. Claire and Jesus Ibarra Rodriguez, 38, of the 900 block of Brookwood Road in Brooklyn Park.

McArdle pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges yesterday, but he will not be cooperating in the drug investigation, according to court testimony. Rodriquez also planned to plead guilty yesterday, court testimony disclosed, but changed his mind and is now scheduled to go on trial Feb. 18.

Prosecutors say that with Luke under federal protection and cooperating with investigators, they have cultivated a key witness in their case against the men who they claim supplied Luke and his associates with cocaine to distribute in Anne Arundel County.

From 1991 to 1996, Luke or one of his couriers traveled to southern Florida 23 times, picking up at least 33 pounds to bring back to Maryland, according to court papers filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith.

Prosecutors and drug agents say Luke traveled to a Fort Lauderdale condominium owned by John Baumgarten Sr., ordered the cocaine and then met at an apartment complex in Hialeah to pick up the drugs. Luke and his couriers sealed the cocaine in plastic bags, smeared them with petroleum jelly, wrapped the bags in duct tape and tucked them under the dashboards of cars for the drives back to Maryland, the prosecutors said.

Once back in Maryland, Luke cut the cocaine, reducing its potency and extending his profit margins, according to court records, then used a steel press and an automotive jack to compress the adulterated cocaine into crystallized rocks, making the drugs appear purer than they were.

The drugs were then parceled out by Luke to his lieutenants, stash holders and other street-level traffickers.

Investigators assigned to a Drug Enforcement Administration task force started to tap the phones of the ring members in 1995 and follow them around Anne Arundel County. They found that Luke rarely conducted deals from his Arnold home, choosing instead to leave drugs in mailboxes and parked cars and picking up his money later, according to court records.

When agents caught up with Luke last year and arrested him, he seemed defiant. "I wouldn't do the crime," he told detectives, "if I couldn't do the time."

Facing a possible life sentence, Luke has changed his mind.

After Luke quietly entered a guilty plea and agreed to cooperate Friday, drug agents bundled him up along with his wife, his three children -- ages 8, 5, and 2 -- his brother-in-law, Cerniglia, and his fiance and whisked them away to a safe house.

They are applying for protection under the Federal Witness Security Program.

Pub Date: 2/11/97

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