Plan to kill officials alleged

Suspects in drug case said to plot deaths of judge, prosecutor

March 29, 2000|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Three men awaiting trial on charges of running a ruthless Northwest Baltimore drug organization used coded language from prison to plot the assassinations of a U.S. judge and a federal prosecutor involved in the case, federal court documents allege.

The defendants, jailed in Maryland's Supermax prison, contacted a hit man and told him to "arrange to have two houses painted" -- disguised language for killing the judge and the prosecutor, court papers said.

"They have not followed through with the hit man but they have continued to indicate hope that something would happen in March that would allow them to `come home,' " according to documents filed yesterday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie M. Bennett, the prosecutor targeted in the alleged plot.

Also allegedly targeted was Benson E. Legg, a judge in U.S. District Court in Baltimore who was to have presided over the drug and murder trial scheduled to begin April 10. Legg recused himself Friday from hearing the case, mentioning the revelations about an alleged hit man and charges that the defendants "took steps to learn where Ms. Bennett and I lived."

The prisoners, part of an alleged drug ring in the Park Heights area called the Woodland organization, also planned retaliation against witnesses in the case, court papers said.

Prosecutors filed a motion yesterday seeking to keep the names of soon-to-be-picked jury members secret, saying that the defendants "have earned their reputation for ruthlessness."

Legg said in a written order that federal prosecutors expect to seek indictments tomorrow before a grand jury, charging Stover "Big Ox" Stockton, Levi "Vi" Johnson and Antonio Hayes with conspiring to kill Legg and Bennett.

The men hoped that the killings would have delayed their trial so long that it would have forced prosecutors to drop the charges on speedy trial grounds, court papers said.

Assistant U.S. Public Defender Gary W. Christopher, Stockton's attorney, called the government's claims "very serious" and said he is investigating. But he declined further comment.

Attorneys for Hayes and Johnson couldn't be reached or declined to comment.

`Armed and violent'

Stockton, 28, Johnson, 22, and Hayes, 25, are three of six defendants named in a federal indictment filed last year. Court papers say the organization had a violent stronghold on the Woodland Avenue area of Park Heights, killing two people and selling about 2 pounds of raw heroin each month from 1994 to 1999.

"The organization was always armed and violent, and was marked by the use of violence against workers who did not conform to the organization's code of conduct," Bennett wrote in court papers filed yesterday. "There will be extensive evidence at trial about assaults on drug workers with weapons ranging from guns to baseball bats."

Bennett referred in court papers to the June 23, 1998, killing of Quentin Matthew, 31, who was shot in the head on Woodland Avenue because he was "interfering with the organization's business by robbing workers and selling fake product to customers."

The three men, with the suspected head of the organization, Elijah "Jake" Jacobs, 20, were arrested in August as part of Operation Safe Neighborhoods, a city, state and federal campaign to reduce Baltimore's murder rate. Each faced life in prison without parole under federal law.

Because the men were considered so dangerous, they were jailed awaiting trial in the Supermax, Maryland's most secure prison housing the state's worst criminals. Investigators recently learned about the alleged assassination plot and have evidence of it in tape recordings and papers seized from the men, prosecutors said.

According to court papers, a fellow inmate gave the prisoners the name of the alleged hit man, who has not been identified by prosecutors.

"The hit man was contacted by Antonio Hayes' girlfriend and told that she wanted to arrange to have `two houses painted,' " court papers said. "According to cooperating witnesses, the code words that the defendants had agreed to use with the hit man were that they wanted `houses painted.' "

Legg, Bennett meet

Legg, in his order recusing himself from the case, said he learned of the "assassination plot" at a meeting Friday with Bennett. During that meeting, Bennett told him about the alleged hit man and also of efforts made to determine her habits. "Ms. Bennett stated that someone followed a female prosecutor home from work, mistaking her for Ms. Bennett," Legg wrote.

Bennett, a veteran federal prosecutor in Baltimore who has gone after some of the city's most violent drug gangs, did not return a phone call yesterday. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning declined to comment.

In 1998, Bennett was one of two lead prosecutors who helped convict Baltimore drug lord Anthony Ayeni Jones, whose gang killed more than a dozen people and sold more than $30,000 in crack and heroin daily. In that case, Bennett cracked Jones' "fergy-dergy" prison code, which the drug lord had used on prison telephones to covertly order the murders of federal witnesses. Jones received four life sentences without parole and is in prison in Colorado.

Bennett said in recent court papers that she fears for the safety of jurors in the Woodland case, who would be selected soon after a new judge is assigned to the case.

Asking to keep their names secret, she wrote, "There is reason to think that jurors will feel very insecure if their names are known to the defendants. Frankly, such concern is completely justified."

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