Agents asked drug dealer to aid probe, lawyer says

Racketeering-trial figure sought as witness against Mitchells, attorney claims

January 17, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A convicted heroin dealer now facing racketeering charges was approached in early 2000 by federal investigators who wanted him to work as a cooperating witness in an investigation of Baltimore's prominent Mitchell family, the man's attorney said yesterday.

Records show that James E. Gross Sr., on trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, was allowed to remain out of jail in 2000 as a government witness, even though authorities believed they had evidence that he and his crime partner, Louis W. Colvin, had returned to the drug business within a year of their release from federal prison.

Authorities have not said what assistance, if any, the two Abingdon men offered federal agents. But Gross' attorney said in court yesterday that investigators wanted Gross to help them build a case against the Mitchells.

"They were asked specifically to do something against the Mitchell family," said defense attorney Richard C. Bittner. The only elaboration Bittner offered was that agents specifically wanted to discuss activities in Texas and Miami.

"Mr. Gross said, `I can't help you,' and things began to break down at that point," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Harding declined to comment on Bittner's account.

Former state Sen. Michael B. Mitchell has been mentioned repeatedly in the racketeering trial against Gross and four other area men. Mitchell is not charged with any crime, but one government witness testified this week that Gross and Colvin relied on the connections of the former city councilman to help keep their legitimate business fronts running smoothly.

Mitchell's attorney could not be reached yesterday to comment. The lawyer, Arthur M. Frank, said this week that his client was being unfairly used to take attention from the defendants in the federal case.

Court records show that eight months after Gross agreed to work with government agents, he 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 alleged crime ring.

Prosecutors have said their cooperation agreement with Gross was terminated after his arrest.

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