More crimes alleged against Arundel clan Prosecutors win detention of suspects pending their trials

February 13, 1997|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Prosecutors are widening a drug probe into an Anne Arundel family to include allegations that family members tried to arrange a $25,000 contract killing of a federal witness and firebombed the house of a former business associate.

Prosecutors told a federal judge in Baltimore yesterday that the patriarch of a Cape St. Claire family and his sons headed a "home-grown" organized crime ring. The clan allegedly ran drugs from Florida and Philadelphia to Maryland and resorted to violence and threats to silence their enemies, they said.

Defense attorneys called the allegations "nonsense," urging U.S. Magistrate Paul M. Rosenberg to free their clients from jail, where they are being held on charges that they smuggled more than 110 pounds of cocaine into Anne Arundel County.

The judge refused.

"These are very dangerous individuals, and they should not be members of our community," Rosenberg said after a 2 1/2 -hour hearing.

The ruling will keep John Baumgarten Jr., 33, and Anthony Quinn Baumgarten, 31, both of the 900 block of Dogwood Tree Drive, behind bars until they go to trial.

Their father, John Vincent Baumgarten Sr., 53, of the 700 block of Rolling View Drive, was also indicted in the case and is being held in Florida, where he is awaiting extradition.

The family members, who own T. J.'s Barbershop in Severna Park, were charged in the cocaine case Dec. 18 in an indictment that was unsealed Monday. To keep the defendants behind bars, prosecutors disclosed key elements of their case to the judge yesterday and said a grand jury is considering more criminal counts.

"These people are a public menace," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith told the judge.

Smith portrayed the Baumgarten family as a suburban clan of "wise guys" who presided over a brazen crew that started off selling drugs before branching into other areas. John Baumgarten Sr. was convicted a decade ago of cocaine charges. So was his brother, Joe Baumgarten.

John Baumgarten Sr. and his sons allegedly controlled a group of Anne Arundel County drug dealers headed by John Steven Luke, 31, of the 300 block of River Road in Arnold and his brother-in-law, Joseph Cerniglia Jr., 19, of the 1200 block of Plateau Place in Cape St. Claire.

Both men -- once close friends of the Baumgarten family -- and other members of the ring have been arrested and could face long prison terms.

Last week, Luke and Cerniglia pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the Baumgartens. They were placed under federal protection.

Federal witness

Smith said yesterday that Luke, John Baumgarten Jr. and Anthony Baumgarten allegedly hired a hit man last year for $25,000 to kill James Nawrocki, a federal witness who was planning to testify against them.

Last spring, the prosecutor said, John Baumgarten Jr. and the alleged contract killer drove to a garage on the Eastern Shore where Nawrocki was working. They asked him to go for a ride in their Ford Explorer, according to court testimony.

Nawrocki said he had to make a telephone call, and he fled and called a lead investigator in the case, Anne Arundel police Detective Bill Booth, Smith said. Nawrocki escaped and is expected to testify at the Baumgartens' trial.

Smith told the judge about another alleged episode involving a series of lawsuits that businessman Steve Mitchell of Millersville had filed against the Baumgartens and Luke. Mitchell had sold several rowhouses to the family and to Luke, and he claimed that they were defaulting on their payments.

In March, on the eve of the court case against Luke, the Baumgartens allegedly ordered Luke's brother-in-law, Cerniglia, to disable Mitchell's cars so he couldn't get to court.

Cerniglia allegedly filled a gallon container of cat-box litter with gasoline, stuck a rag in the spout, lighted it and tossed the container on a truck parked in Mitchell's driveway. The truck went up in flames, as did Mitchell's house, resulting in more than $150,000 in damage.

Smith told the judge that Baumgarten family members also allegedly stole a Circuit City truck filled with electronic equipment and sold most of its contents while keeping several big-screen television sets. She also said the family was suspected of being engaged in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Defense ridicules claims

Defense attorneys ridiculed the claims. Gary S. Bernstein grabbed the shoulder of his client, John Baumgarten Jr., and mockingly called him "John Gotti," a New York mobster.

"There is not a single, solitary piece of evidence that you can grip or feel or sink your teeth into," Bernstein said. "There's just nothing there."

Rosenberg disagreed.

"I'm convinced that the whole story, for the most part, is true," he said.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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