Loot links Prothero killing to drug ring

DEA intercepted call offering stolen watches to suspected dealer

March 08, 2000|By Peter Hermann and Nancy A. Youssef | Peter Hermann and Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

A suspect in the killing of a Baltimore County police sergeant during a jewelry store robbery last month was arrested after federal agents investigating an unrelated case overheard him on a wiretap trying to sell stolen watches, according to law enforcement sources.

The secretly recorded telephone conversation not only led to the arrests of three other suspects, it helped police break up a suspected drug ring in raids on 49 houses, 23 arrests and the seizure of nearly 15 pounds of cocaine and heroin and $813,000.

Drug agents investigating the drug organization intercepted the call two hours after Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero was shot in the parking lot of J. Brown Jewelers in Pikesville, the sources said.

The recipient of the call had been under surveillance for several months by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force whose agents had tapped telephones and were looking for evidence.

The call was instrumental in leading police to a West Baltimore rowhouse a day after the Feb. 7 slaying, where they arrested their first suspect, Troy White, 23, federal and county police sources said. There, police reported finding a stash of stolen watches stuffed between cushions of a living room couch.

Details of how the first of the suspects in Prothero's killing was caught have been a closely guarded secret. The DEA issued a news release last week on the arrests of the suspected drug gang, but did not note any connection to the slain officer's case.

Court documents say only that the four men charged in the officer's slaying were named "based on information from a reliable source."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Pyne, who is prosecuting several of the drug defendants, would not comment on any connection with Prothero. Special Agent Bill Hacker, a spokesman for Baltimore's DEA office, said he knew nothing about a link.

Bill Toohey, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department, declined to comment yesterday.

It was unclear how members of the drug ring and the jewelry thieves knew each other, but police sources said the sergeant, a 12-year veteran who was moonlighting as a store guard, was caught up in a robbery designed to outfit drug dealers flush with cash and anxious to flaunt their wealth with fancy jewelry.

"These drug dealers created a market," one federal agent said. More than $438,000 worth of watches were taken from J. Brown's, including Rolexes, Cartiers and Omegas -- some worth up to $7,000 each.

Police described the robbery as violent and well-planned. The holdup men bought two wooden mallets days before the holdup. At least two armed men walked into the jewelry store, ordered customers to the floor and grabbed Prothero by the neck.

While holding him, they went around the store smashing glass jewelry cases. One gunshot rang out in the store. Sources say that some customers, prone on the floor, dialed 911 on their cell phones, and police were able to record the sounds of the robbery as it happened.

The robbers let go of Prothero and ran out of the store. He chased them, drew his weapon and was shot twice in the chest and head. The holdup men escaped in two cars, both of which have been recovered.

Phone call intercepted

Two hours later, law enforcement sources said, federal drug agents intercepted a detailed telephone call from someone trying to sell the stolen watches. White was arrested less than 24 hours later at a friend's rowhouse on North Ellamont Street in West Baltimore.

His arrest led police to quickly identify three other suspects in Prothero's shooting. All are in custody, charged with first-degree murder.

Within days of White's capture, police arrested Donald Antonio White Jr., 29, of Baltimore; the men are not related. Both were indicted Monday. It could not be learned yesterday whether either had an attorney; none was listed in court filings, and the Baltimore County public defender's office said it had not assigned anyone.

Two others -- Richard Antonio Moore, 29, and his brother, Wesley John Moore, 24 -- were arrested Feb. 19 in Philadelphia and are fighting extradition to Maryland. A hearing is scheduled March 20.

Authorities said they are trying to determine whether the Pikesville holdup was part of a larger pattern of area-wide smash-and-grab robberies of jewelry stores with the end customers being drug dealers.

Police said a man with possible ties to the suspects in the Prothero shooting was recently arrested on a West Baltimore street corner with a gun and two watches traced to a jewelry store robbery in Tysons Corner, Va.

The expensive tastes of the suspected dealers involved in this case can be seen in police seizures over the past several weeks: a $120,000 silver Mercedes-Benz, $490,000 from a Columbia home and cocaine seized by the pound.

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