Suspended city police sergeant acquitted in drug conspiracy

Prosecutors had linked him to large crime organization

July 27, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

A federal jury cleared a Baltimore police sergeant yesterday of all charges that he illegally provided the leader of one of the city's largest and more violent drug organizations with confidential information needed to evade capture.

Jurors broke through three days of deadlocked negotiations to acquit Sgt. Jeremiah Kelly of drug conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges.

The not-guilty verdict for Kelly is a blow for prosecutors, who had won 29 convictions against members and associates of a $50 million marijuana distribution operation run by Tyree Stewart. Defense attorney Gary A. Ticknor, who represented Kelly during the 12-day trial, expressed relief at the outcome.

"I really felt that he was motivated by good intentions and he had no intention of undermining the integrity of a federal investigation," Ticknor said.

Upon learning the verdict late yesterday afternoon in Courtroom 7D at U.S. District Court, Kelly, a 45-year-old divorced father of two from Baltimore, wept and collapsed into his attorney's arms, according to Ticknor.

The high-profile case started two years ago with a flurry of attention as then-Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas J. DiBiagio announced the indictment of more than 30 people in a marijuana-trafficking enterprise. The leader, he said, was Stewart, a longtime Baltimore drug dealer who had once been Kelly's confidential informant and later confessed in court to ordering the murders of three people.

As a result of the investigation, officials said, more than a dozen killings - including three contract murders ordered by Stewart's organization - were solved.

Despite yesterday's loss, Maryland's top federal prosecutors proclaimed victory.

"Dismantling violent drug organizations ... is a central part of our strategy for combating violent crime in Baltimore City," Rod J. Rosenstein, who became Maryland's U.S. attorney this summer, said in a statement.

Through a spokeswoman, Rosenstein declined to comment further on yesterday's acquittal.

The enterprise operated from the mid-1990s through 2003, connecting suppliers in New York to users of illegal drugs on Baltimore's streets, prosecutors said. Stewart and 31 others were indicted in 2003, charged with helping to distribute about 20,000 pounds of high-grade "Arizona" marijuana in West Baltimore over five years.

By last year, 35 defendants had been charged in the case. Of those, 30 were apprehended, including two former employees of Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Facility; five are fugitives.

Twenty-eight defendants entered guilty pleas to charges ranging from obstruction of justice and money laundering to narcotics conspiracy and continuing criminal enterprise. Among them was Stewart, 31, who had said he expects to benefit from his testimony against Kelly.

Other defendants have received sentences from five years to life in prison.

During the investigation, law enforcement agents recovered about $100,000 of the organization's drug proceeds, and seized weapons and a large quantity of marijuana. Six homes and several luxury cars were forfeited to the government.

At issue during the trial this month was how much knowledge Kelly had about Stewart's sprawling operation.

Kelly testified that Stewart had been a good confidential informant during the early 1990s. But after Kelly was fired by the department - a job he won back - he said he had hoped Stewart would become a source again.

But the police sergeant said he had no idea that Stewart was the leader of a violent drug gang. He thought the advice he provided about police tactics would only soothe Stewart's paranoia about law enforcement. Kelly was not accused of being an active member of Stewart's drug organization, though their conversations had been secretly recorded by federal agents using wiretaps.

After more than a dozen years in uniform, prosecutors argued, Kelly should have known that Stewart was still involved in the drug trade. Moreover, they said, Kelly's reckless musings to Stewart confirmed the identity of an undercover source used by federal agents. The agents, as a result, were forced to pull their source out of the operation because they feared Stewart would order his death, prosecutors said.

Kelly was not working for the Police Department during the period that authorities allege he helped Stewart's organization. He was fired from the city police force in February 2001 after he was accused of signing a false report. His termination was reversed on appeal, but he was suspended upon his indictment.

Police spokesman Matt Jablow said yesterday that the department would review Kelly's status after yesterday's verdict.

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