Stepfather of two in drug scheme enters guilty plea

Brothers have accused prosecutors of misleading them in federal case


The stepfather of two brothers accused of running a large-scale illegal drug operation in Baltimore for a decade admitted in federal court yesterday afternoon that he allowed the group's heroin stash to be stored in his home.

Robert Lee Baker, 59, of Baltimore pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to conspiring to distribute at least one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of heroin. His attorney did not return a call for comment yesterday.

Baker's role in the case drew recent attention when stepsons and co-defendants Howard and Raeshio Rice argued that prosecutors in the case had acted improperly.

The Rices accused the prosecutors -- Jason M. Weinstein and Steven H. Levin -- of hoodwinking them. According to the Rices, Weinstein and Levin persuaded them to plead guilty because, they said, prosecutors had all but promised the plea would shield them from additional charges.

Prosecutors also said they were virtually certain they would not charge Baker, the Rices' stepfather, according to court documents.

In 2004, each Rice brother pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to distribute heroin. They received substantial prison sentences -- about 11 years for Howard and 12 years for Raeshio. At the sentencing, prosecutors misled Chief Judge Benson E. Legg when they failed to disclose that there was a continuing investigation into other allegations, according to court papers.

But less than a week after Raeshio's sentencing, federal prosecutors stunned the Rice brothers in January 2005 by charging them and 11 others with new crimes from the original investigation. They also charged Baker as a member of the conspiracy.

Defense lawyers now believe the Rices' earlier guilty pleas could make them eligible for the death penalty if convicted of the new crimes, including charges that they were involved in two killings.

The actions of Weinstein, who is the chief of the Maryland U.S. attorney's office violent crime section, and Levin, who is Weinstein's deputy, "amounted to prosecutorial misconduct," the Rices' attorneys, Harry J. Trainor and William B. Purpura, wrote in a motion filed in late January.

Prosecutors have yet to file their response in court papers, but U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said last week that his prosecutors did nothing wrong.

Baker faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison when he sentenced by U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr., scheduled for May 25.

Three other co-defendants have pleaded guilty in state court and in turn, had their federal charges dropped, prosecutors said.

Howard Rice, 39 and Raeshio Rice, 33, both of Baltimore, and their remaining co-defendants have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial on Oct. 10.

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