Suburban men allegedly part of drug gang in Baltimore

Criminal charges contrast with middle-class lifestyles

February 04, 2005|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Chet Pajardo talked sports with neighbors, grilled in the back yard and played basketball with children in the street, neighbors said. He drove a red minivan and puttered inside his red brick house at the end of an Owings Mills cul-de-sac.

"Typical everyday nice-guy neighbor," said John Parham, who lives next door to Pajardo on Kentbury Court.

Only the swarm of police cars that surrounded Pajardo's red-brick house this week gave his neighbors an inkling that the friendly father of three might have legal problems.

Prosecutors allege that Pajardo, 36, belonged to a violent Northwest Baltimore drug gang that distributed more than 1,500 kilograms of cocaine and heroin and included among its ranks a man who appeared in the underground DVD Stop Snitching. Three other alleged members of the gang have been charged in two killings in Baltimore.

A federal grand jury's 20-count indictment, which was unsealed Wednesday, seeks the forfeiture of $27 million in criminal proceeds and, possibly, the luxury vehicles, restaurants and houses owned by alleged members of what prosecutors call the Rice Organization.

The asset list details status symbols, from Mercedes Benzes to a Harford County address that is the site of a 5,000-square-foot house under construction in a development where homes sell for more than $800,000.

It also shows that the alleged gang members were business-minded. One owns a soul food restaurant in Randallstown and another in Baltimore that has closed. Another bought a Reisterstown house as an investment, fixed it up and sold it for a tidy profit, neighbors said.

None of the men named this week in the indictment has been convicted of the charges, or even entered pleas or spoken publicly. But experts who have studied crime nationwide say no one should be surprised by the mainstream lifestyles of drug defendants.

Suburban homes, middle-class possessions and investments among drug dealers suggest a little-noticed but not-surprising phenomenon, experts say. Like truck drivers, office workers and doctors, even gangsters want a piece of the American dream.

"They consider themselves businessmen, not drug dealers, so it would make sense," said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who studies drug trade and policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

"Just like you have middle-class flight from the city, it would make sense that drug dealers would join it, too," said Moskos, a professor of law and police science. "I imagine they do it for the standard reasons: safety, better schools."

Prosecutors in the Rice Organization case say they would seek to seize property and cars if they can't recover the defendants' $27 million in alleged criminal proceeds. The properties listed, in addition to the suburban real estate, include several houses in Baltimore City. Among them are a house that, records show, Pajardo bought on North Caroline Street for $22,000 in 1994.

A few suburban residents interviewed yesterday complained about their indicted neighbors. Residents along winding Roaches Lane in Reisterstown said although Raeshio Rice, 32, played with children outside his rancher, he kept to himself, and cars frequently came and went from his house.

The neighbors of other alleged gang members expressed surprise that the friendly father next door and handy man across the street were accused of being part of a drug ring.

"We waved once out the window when Santa Claus went by on a fire engine," said Donna Bogash, who lived across Education Way in Reisterstown from a house owned by Eric Clash, an alleged lieutenant in the gang.

Clash, 26, bought the two-story house - in a new subdivision full of families with young children - two years ago for $277,500, state property records show. Neighbors said Clash didn't live there, but added hardwood floors and other luxuries in preparation for sale.

William Gibson said he bought the house from Clash for $449,000 in December - a 62 percent profit - but never met him.

The indictment links Clash to an address on Windswept Court in Fallston, where a home is under construction on 2.3 acres. The Colonial house with bay windows sits off a meandering two-lane road with mailboxes at the ends of long driveways.

Anthony Leonard, 35, who was charged with racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, is the owner of Downtown Southern Blues, a soul food restaurant and bar that had operated in the 800 block of N. Howard Street, and the Southern Blues carryout on Offutt Road in Randallstown.

Leonard lives in a $390,000 brick home with a two-car garage in Elkridge, directly across the street from Rockburn Elementary School.

At dawn Wednesday, eight police vehicles and squads of officers, including several wearing DEA jackets, descended upon Leonard's house and the quiet surroundings, according to a resident, who refused to be identified.

The neighbor expressed outrage that the world of drugs might have invaded her suburban idyll. "I don't want drug activity in my neighborhood, but you can't pick your neighbors," she said.

Sun staff writers Laura Barnhardt, Larry Carson, Josh Mitchell and Matthew Dolan contributed to this article.

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