Prosecutor deal opens a door to more crime

Bargain: After avoiding a return to prison, two parolees allegedly continued in drug dealing, arson and racketeering.

September 24, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Federal authorities had evidence in early 2000 that two convicted heroin dealers had returned to the drug business within a year of their release from prison, but the men were allowed to remain on the streets as "free agents" after a prosecutor said they had offered to work as cooperating witnesses, records show.

What assistance James E. Gross Sr. and Louis W. Colvin provided to authorities over the next two years is unclear. But state and federal court records allege that the men engaged in a string of criminal acts during that same period that went well beyond drug dealing to arson, witness tampering and attempted murder.

Eight months after he was allowed to stay out of jail, Gross was charged with raping a 12-year-old Baltimore girl at a county nightclub that authorities would later say served as a base of operations for Gross and Colvin's well-organized crime ring.

Gross and Colvin were named this spring as the lead defendants in a high-profile, organized-crime case in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Colvin pleaded guilty Thursday to a single count of racketeering and is expected now to provide prosecutors with information and testimony that could help send his former crime partner to prison.

Gross and Colvin's story shows some of the inherent problems of government deals with cooperating witnesses who have their own criminal troubles and the difficult tradeoffs that can enable crimes to accumulate as investigators spend months or years building a case.

"In order to get a narcotics conspiracy, you oftentimes have to have cooperators who themselves are exposed to criminal offenses," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia B. Evans, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor's office in Baltimore.

Evans said authorities moved swiftly after learning about Gross' arrest in the rape case.

"As soon as the U.S. attorney's office learned that Mr. Gross assaulted a minor, the cooperation agreement was terminated, and we moved immediately to revoke his release," Evans said.

Gross, 44, and Colvin, 43, both of Abingdon, had faced jail time for probation violations, including evidence of new drug activity, within a year of their release from federal prison in 1998. Each had served nearly nine years for convictions in 1990 on federal gun and drug violations.

Instead of landing back behind bars for the alleged probation violations, Gross and Colvin remained on the streets after a federal prosecutor told a judge in an April 2000 letter that the men "have requested the opportunity to provide substantial assistance to the government."

"It is the request of your writer that this court authorize this avenue of negotiation to proceed, and specifically authorize U.S. Probation to refrain from requesting any official action from this court at this time," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith said in the letter to U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson.

In the letter, Smith asked the judge to advise her immediately if there were no terms under which he would allow them to remain as "free agents" in the community.

The letter was marked "approved" and signed by Nickerson on the same day it was received.

Evans said federal prosecutors made the request on behalf of Baltimore prosecutors, who were working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on a complex narcotics investigation.

Authorities have declined to say what, if any, role the two men have played in city drug investigations.

Colvin remained out of jail until last spring, when a federal grand jury handed up the racketeering indictment against him, Gross and five other men.

Gross was free until late 2000, when Baltimore city and county police charged him with kidnapping a 12-year-old girl in downtown Baltimore and raping her at Strawberry's 5000, a now-closed club on Pulaski Highway in Rosedale that authorities allege was a base of operations for Gross and Colvin's criminal enterprise.

Court records in Baltimore County describe a brazen assault Nov. 22, 2000, with Gross approaching the girl from his sport utility vehicle as she walked along the 2100 block of E. Lombard St. about 9 a.m.

According to police reports, Gross drove around the block once, then pulled over, got out of the truck and grabbed the girl by the arm, forcing her into the vehicle and locking the doors to keep her from escaping. Police accounts say that Gross asked the girl how old she was and whether she was sexually active, and that her answer was no.

Police accounts say Gross then drove the girl to Strawberry's, led her to a back office and forced her to have intercourse.

Gross stopped at a McDonald's, where he bought the girl a hamburger, fries and Coke before dropping her off near Highlandtown Middle School, police reports say.

The girl identified Gross in a police line-up in December 2000. He was arrested and, in April of this year, pleaded guilty to second-degree rape in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

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