Michael Mitchell subpoenaed to testify

Ex-senator said to have had ties to defendants

January 08, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Former state Sen. Michael B. Mitchell could play a key role in the high-profile racketeering trial of five area men accused of using bars and other businesses as fronts for a violent, well-organized drug ring, an attorney for one of the defendants said yesterday.

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Mitchell to testify in the trial, which opened yesterday with government lawyers dropping another prominent Baltimore name -- former heavyweight boxing champion Hasim S. Rahman, who prosecutors said was a partner with one of the alleged ringleaders in a downtown nightclub.

Neither Mitchell nor Rahman is charged with any crime, and it was unclear yesterday how they will figure in the unfolding federal trial. Rahman denied yesterday that he was an owner of the now-closed Emineo nightclub. Mitchell could not be reached for comment.

Defense attorney Richard C. Bittner, who represents lead defendant James E. Gross Sr., said jurors could hear about Mitchell's business dealings with the defendants and other witnesses.

"I think you'll find that Michael Mitchell's name is going to weave throughout this case," Bittner said.

That was true even before the trial's opening statements. During a morning hearing, Bittner sought assurances that prosecutors would not disclose to jurors a series of crimes possibly connected to the defendants, including what Bittner described as "the murder of Michael Mitchell's former partner in a bar in West Baltimore."

Martin "Chicken" Young, a potential government witness with business ties to Mitchell, has told investigators that Gross and co-defendant Louis William Colvin were involved in the 1998 killing of Stepney Jerome Jones. Jones was killed near his Woodlawn home after leaving the Short Stop Bar & Lounge, which Jones managed and records show that Mitchell operated.

Bittner said Gross denies any involvement in Jones' death. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Manuelian said the incident will not come up in the current case: "That, we have said, we're not getting into," she said.

Federal authorities have linked a long list of other crimes to the group they say was led by Gross and Colvin, two convicted heroin dealers who court records show were supposed to be working as government informants during 2000, when many of the crimes occurred.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert R. Harding told jurors in opening statements that the group was responsible for arsons that destroyed two nightclubs -- one as part of an insurance fraud scheme in 2001 at the group's former base of operations, Strawberry's 5000 in Baltimore County, and the other to thwart competition at Club Fahrenheit in Southeast Baltimore in 2000.

Harding described a crime ring that did not hesitate to tamper with witnesses or attempt murder and was built on a steady, lucrative cocaine and heroin business in West Baltimore run chiefly by James E. Gross Jr., who is known on the street as "Man" and is charged in the case along with his father.

One of the government's key witnesses is expected to be Colvin, who pleaded guilty in September to a racketeering count and agreed to cooperate.

Colvin, 43, has been closely linked to the elder Gross for years. But court records show that the Abingdon men's ties gradually dissolved into a bitter feud over profits from their last joint venture, the Emineo nightclub.

In opening statements, defense attorneys cast Colvin as the true criminal who cut a deal to save himself.

"You cannot believe a word Colvin says, unless it's corroborated to the utmost," said attorney Frank Policelli, who represents defendant James E. Feaster. "You just can't trust this guy as far as you can throw a bull elephant by the tail."

Colvin and the elder Gross had planned to open the Emineo under the name of Intellects in early 2001, records show. But after the elder Gross was jailed for raping a 12-year-old Baltimore girl, Colvin opened the club as the Emineo under what Harding described yesterday as a partnership with the boxer Rahman.

Rahman's managers last spring described the boxer as a part-owner of the club and planned to use the bar as the site for a news conference in April with promoter Don King.

But in June, after the Emineo's liquor license was suspended, Rahman said he had no ownership interest in the club, but had been paid for the use of his name to promote the bar. Rahman repeated that yesterday and declined to comment further.

City records identified Colvin's father, Julius Elvis Brockington, as the liquor licensee for Emineo. Brockington, a jazz and gospel musician who has at times performed at Mitchell's Short Stop Bar & Lounge, said in an interview last spring that he was the license holder in name only and had no role in the Emineo's day-to-day operations.

Sun staff writer Lem Satterfield contributed to this article.

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