Federal grand jury indicts 13 men accused of roles in city drug ring

1 is in `Stop Snitching'

1 co-owns restaurant

February 03, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

An owner of a popular city restaurant and a man who brandished a handgun in a DVD that threatened informers with death were among 13 people indicted yesterday for their alleged roles in a violent Northwest Baltimore drug gang.

A federal grand jury handed up the 20-count indictment. It charges that from 1995 to 2004, the gang, known as the Rice Organization, distributed 1,500 kilograms of cocaine and heroin. The indictment seeks forfeiture of $27 million in criminal proceeds in addition to houses and luxury vehicles.

One of the men indicted, George Butler, 30, of Owings Mills, appears in an underground DVD Stop Snitching, which was sold on the streets of Baltimore last fall. The video has been denounced by law enforcement officials as a blatant example of witness intimidation.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, an article in yesterday's editions gave the wrong address in Baltimore for Downtown Southern Blues, a restaurant linked to the indictments of 13 alleged members of a drug ring. The correct address for the restaurant, which is no longer operating, is in the 800 block of N. Howard St. The Sun regrets the error.

Butler, whose charges include conspiracy to possess and distribute heroin, appeared in federal court yesterday afternoon with five of his co-defendants. A U.S. magistrate judge ordered all six to stay in jail until their next court appearances, on Monday.

Authorities arrested six of the 13 defendants this week, according to Allen F. Loucks, the U.S. attorney for Maryland. By yesterday, all but one of the 13 men indicted were in state or federal custody. Loucks did not identify the man not in custody.

The racketeering organization was led by two brothers from Baltimore, Howard Rice, 38, and his brother Raeshio Rice, 32, according to authorities.

Another defendant, Anthony Leonard, is the owner of the Downtown Southern Blues, a soul food restaurant and bar in the 800 block of N. Charles St., and the Southern Blues carryout on Offutt Road in Randallstown.

Downtown Southern Blues opened in 2002 and became a popular place for political fund-raisers and private parties. In October 2003, four men were shot and wounded and another stabbed after a disturbance began inside the restaurant and erupted into violence on street outside.

Six of the defendants - Leonard, 35, of Elkridge, the Rices, Steven Campbell, 39, Eric Clash, 26, and Eric Hall, 34, all of Baltimore - are charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering.

Those defendants and three others - Keenan Dorsey, 39, and Michael Felder, 39, both of Baltimore, and Chet Pajardo, 36 of Owings Mills - also were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin were Clash, Hall, Dorsey, Butler, James Jones, 30, Oreese Stevenson, 25, and Robert Baker, 57, all of Baltimore.

Baker is the Rices' father, according to prosecutors.

The Rice brothers and Hall, whom prosecutors called the organization's hit man, have also been charged in connection with two killings in Baltimore. The victims were Dante Green and Marvin Nutter, according to the indictments.

Green, 23, of the first block of Tremaine Court in Woodlawn, was shot several times about 10 p.m. Dec. 16, 1996, in the 5500 block of Gwynn Oak Ave. He was pronounced dead at the scene in Northwest Baltimore.

Nutter, 35, of the 2900 block of Taney Road, was identified as the man found shot to death in a 1997 Chevrolet Malibu about 5:30 p.m. June 22, 2003, at Gwynn Oak and Woodbine avenues, police said.

If convicted on the murder charges, the Rice brothers and Hall could face the death penalty.

The Rice Organization thrived for almost 10 years in the city's Park Heights section and had deep pockets, officials said.

The investigation started two years ago after an undercover city police officer's drug purchase led to a series of searches and seizures in addition to wiretaps, according to Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

Assistance from the U.S. attorney, the city office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service helped bring about yesterday's indictments, officials said.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday, acting city Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said he expects other drug dealers to try to fill the void left by the Rice Organization, but he cautioned them that they, too, face the threat of prosecution.

Federal prosecutors said they are also going after the Rice Organization's assets, including houses, luxury cars and boats and investments in two Baltimore restaurants, including the Downtown Southern Blues.

Baltimore police said yesterday that the case does not have a direct link to the Stop Snitching DVD.

But prosecutors in the city have long believed witness intimidation is commonplace among most of the city's homicide cases.

This year, Mayor Martin O'Malley called witness intimidation a major public safety issue.

In Annapolis, at least three witness-intimidation bills are under review.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. proposed one of the measures to permit some statements by intimidated witnesses to be used in court even if the witnesses are not present. The bill also would increase the maximum penalty for witness intimidation to 20 years in prison.

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