Actress co-owns house in probe

Pinkett Smith not a suspect in U.S. drug investigation

February 12, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

A vacant East Baltimore storefront property co-owned by movie star Jada Pinkett Smith has been targeted for seizure by federal authorities as part of major drug-trafficking indictment unsealed last week.

Sources familiar with the investigation led by the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore said yesterday that Pinkett Smith is not a suspect in the probe of a violent Northwest Baltimore drug gang.

The 33-year-old Baltimore native and wife of actor Will Smith was not among the 13 suspects charged in connection with a large racketeering operation known as the "Rice Organization." For almost 10 years, gang members bought and sold more than 1,500 kilograms of cocaine and heroin, according to federal prosecutors.

"I think it's very important to note that we've been assured that she is not a target of the investigation," Ken Hertz, Pinkett Smith's attorney in Beverly Hills, said yesterday.

But the 20-count indictment also seeks forfeiture of $27 million in criminal proceeds by identifying the "substitute assets" of the defendants, including properties in Baltimore and surrounding counties.

Listed among the properties is 1538 N. Caroline Street, a storefront rowhouse owned by Pinkett Smith and one of the defendants, Chet Pajardo, 36, of Owings Mills.

Pinkett Smith and Pajardo bought the building in the city's Oliver neighborhood in 1994. Deed records list her by her maiden name, Jada K. Pinkett.

Several businesses claimed the address as their own during the last decade, but in 2000, a confidential informant told the FBI that the Caroline Street storefront was used by tenants as a front for selling drug paraphernalia, according to state court records.

One former tenant, Joseph Milan Jr., is serving an 18-year state prison sentence for drug conspiracy.

Pinkett Smith's attorney said his client never knew about the day-to-day operations at the property.

"You have to have understand that was [a] relatively small investment," Hertz said.

`Silent partner'

Pinkett Smith was living in California and had recently completed a film -- Menace II Society -- when she chose in 1994 to become a "silent partner," according to Hertz, in the three-story building at North Caroline and East Federal streets.

Since then, Pinkett Smith, who appeared in the Oscar-nominated movie Collateral, released last year, has had her business manager pay her portion of the mortgage, never checking on the building's tenants or upkeep, according to her attorney.

"The funniest thing is that she didn't even remember that she made the investment," Hertz added, saying Pinkett Smith expressed concern about the allegations made by federal prosecutors.

Pajardo and Pinkett Smith bought the property for $22,000 in 1994, according to deed records. The state assessed the property's value at $3,000 this year.

"A decade ago, she was trying to help out a friend at the time," said Warren A. Brown, a well-known Baltimore criminal defense attorney who is Pinkett Smith's former stepfather. Brown worked the sale of the Caroline Street building to Pajardo and Pinkett Smith.

Growing up in Baltimore, Pinkett Smith knew Pajardo and one of his co-defendants, Anthony Leonard, according to Brown.

Pinkett Smith and Leonard graduated from the Baltimore School for the Arts in the late 1980s.

Leonard later owned and operated Downtown Southern Blues, a now-defunct soul food restaurant and bar on North Howard Street. An offshoot -- the Southern Blues carryout on Offutt Road in Randallstown --continues to operate and also is a target for forfeiture by federal prosecutors.

An attorney for Pajardo, whose Owings Mills home also has been identified for seizure, did not return a call for comment last night.

Today, the Caroline Street building is boarded up. But records show that in the late 1990s, the property was used by several organizations.

One of those businesses, Milan & Milan Varieties, was operated by Joseph Milan Sr. and Joseph Milan Jr., according to court and business records.

In 2000, a confidential informant told the FBI that one of the Milans was known as "Iceberg" and used the Caroline Street storefront business as a front for selling drug paraphernalia.

Both Milans were charged later with using a separate mobile pager store to sell drug-related supplies. Those drug charges were dropped by prosecutors after problems with a search warrant, according to court papers.

In 2004, the younger Milan, who is now 36, pleaded guilty to distributing cocaine and gun possession and received a 18-year prison sentence for his role in the organization led by convicted drug kingpin Howard Peppers Jr.

Hertz said Pinkett Smith received no rent from the property in the more than 10 years she has co-owned it. She believed that Pajardo, who had been working for United Parcel Service, planned to run a T-shirt business out of the building, he said.

Records show that a shirt screening business called Peaceful Image Inc., was operated by Pajardo starting in 1995 at the Caroline Street address.

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