Man pleads guilty to role in crime ring

September 20, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

For more than a decade, Louis W. Colvin and James E. Gross Sr. have been linked by crime. They were arrested together in 1990, each carrying a loaded handgun as they climbed into a new, white Lincoln Continental where police found dozens of tiny bags of heroin stuffed into a Pepperidge Farm cookie bag.

They were convicted together on drug and gun charges. They served nearly identical prison terms. And when they got out, allege court records filed by U.S. prosecutors in the spring, Gross and Colvin soon were reunited, running a violent Baltimore crime ring that reached well beyond routine drug dealing into arson, insurance fraud, witness intimidation and attempted murder.

Yesterday, that long-standing partnership appeared to come to an end. Colvin, 43, of Abingdon, pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge, agreeing as part of his deal with prosecutors to provide information and testimony in the high-profile organized crime case that could help convict Gross and five other men, including Gross' son.

The deal is so sensitive that the prosecutor and defense attorney handling the case took the unusual step of asking U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz to seal the details of the plea agreement, a document usually made public in court records.

"We're concerned, because of the nature of this plea agreement, about the safety of Mr. Colvin," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert R. Harding said.

In court yesterday, Colvin wore a black T-shirt sporting the rapper Jay-Z's Rocawear logo and said little beyond acknowledging his decision to plead guilty. His attorney, Flynn Owens, declined to comment outside of court.

Gross, 43, also of Abingdon, along with his son, James E. Gross Jr., and four other men are fighting the charges and are expected to challenge the government's evidence against them at a suppression hearing today in federal court.

Colvin's gradual split from the group traces to at least a year ago. He and Gross have been battling over profits from their last joint venture, the now-closed downtown nightclub Emineo, in a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court. As part of the federal racketeering case, prosecutors have charged that the younger Gross and another defendant, James D. Wilkes, tried to kidnap and kill Colvin last September.

Until their falling out, authorities have said Gross and Colvin ran a feared and effective crime business from Baltimore-area bars and nightclubs, legitimate businesses that disguised the group's alleged criminal enterprises.

At the time of their 1990 arrest, the men operated a club called the Stardom Lounge in Baltimore County, and court records show that detectives suspected that the two men might be connected with the killing of Anthony Douglas, a young man found shot in the head earlier that year.

Gross and Colvin never were charged in Douglas' killing. Instead, authorities tagged them with drug and weapons charges after finding the handguns tucked in waistbands, the heroin in the Lincoln and drugs, cash and paraphernalia in an apartment in Baltimore County that the men said they rented for club employees to hang out.

Both men were convicted after a July 1990 jury trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. They served similar prison terms - 111 months for Gross; 123 months for Colvin.

Out of prison in the late 1990s, federal authorities allege that Colvin and Gross were soon back in business. They launched a club on Pulaski Highway in Rosedale, Strawberry's 5000, which investigators said became the base of operations for a wide range of criminal activity.

Colvin admitted yesterday his role in an arson fire in January of last year that destroyed Strawberry's as part of an insurance fraud scheme. A federal indictment charged that the group also was responsible for another arson fire set in December 2000 to thwart competition at the now-defunct Club Fahrenheit in Southeast Baltimore.

Court records show that with the insurance profits from Strawberry's, Gross and Colvin invested early last year in a new club in Baltimore, Emineo at 10 S. Calvert St. But, like other clubs linked to Gross and Colvin, Emineo quickly found its doors closed. In June, the liquor board suspended its license after finding violations.

Colvin is the only one of the seven defendants to plead guilty. He could receive more than 10 years for his plea to a single racketeering count, but under the plea deal he could get a break at sentencing.

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