The court records read like a scene out of Goodfellas: From their prison cells and with the help of corrections staff, authorities say, members of a violent gang were feasting on salmon and shrimp, sipping Grey Goose vodka and puffing fine cigars - all while directing drug deals, extorting protection money from other inmates and arranging attacks on witnesses and rival gang members.
A seven-month investigation that included wiretaps on contraband prison cell phones led to the indictment on drug and weapons charges of 24 people - including four state prison officers - who authorities believe are leaders or associates of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang, officials announced Thursday.A search warrant outlines how gang members were able to obtain heroin, direct hits on enemies through so-called "Death Angels" and conduct cell phone conference calls to arrange business with inmates around the state.
"It's not enough just to catch the bad guys and get them convicted and sent to prison," said Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. "We need to make sure that while they're in prison, they're isolated and not able to carry on and continue their gang activities."
The state prison system has long struggled to keep out contraband. Last month, a Baltimore man accused of using a contraband cell phone in jail to order the killing of a witness was again caught with an illegal phone behind bars. Court records allege a host of sordid activities carried out with the help of corrections staff members, including drug smuggling and prostitution.
But law enforcement officials said the investigation is proof that officials are working together to crack down on corruption. Authorities from the Drug Enforcement Administration say agents provided intelligence that helped Division of Corrections staff members interrupt illegal activities.
"I have worked in prison systems in three other states, and I have not [before] been faced with the challenges we have here," said Gary Maynard, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "But 99 percent of our people are honest and hardworking, and in the last 20 months we have made great strides in our efforts to stamp out illegal gang-related activities and to root out corrupt staff."
Court documents allege that the Black Guerrilla Family "is attempting to take over the illegal drug trade" in Baltimore and has been working to expand its influence from inside the prison to the street.
On Monday, police discovered more than 100 members of the gang meeting in Druid Hill Park. Unrelated to this week's indictment, Black Guerrilla Family members are on trial in Circuit Court in connection with two separate murder cases, and on Thursday a member was arrested, accused of threatening to kill a witness in the death of former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr.
Ava A. Cooper-Davis, the special agent in charge of the DEA's Washington division, said the Black Guerrilla Family case started with information from one person with gang ties.
The indictment spells out how the gang, established in California's San Quentin prison in the 1960s, operates in Maryland. Its leadership consists of inmates, who lose their ranking status after being released. Members tend to be older than other gangs - one of the key figures charged, "Uncle Ray" Olivis, is 56.
Gang associates established a publishing company and have been selling a handbook written by the gang's leader in Maryland, Eric Brown, 40, court documents allege. Titled "Empower Black Families," authorities say the handbook is designed to help new members learn about the gang. It costs $15 for inmates and $20 for noninmates.
Corrections Officers Asia Burrus, Musheerah Habeebullah, Takevia Smith and Terry Robe played a key role in facilitating the gang's illegal activities, documents say. New inmates who are not affiliated with the gang are required to pay money through prepaid credit cards referred to as "Green Dot" cards. The cards are often held by corrections officers assisting the gang or by members on the street. Those who refused to pay for the "protection" were targeted for violence.
At one point in the recorded conversations, according to the documents, Smith, who is alleged to have had sex with inmates for money, says she is not worried about losing her job. "I got the [corrections officers'] union behind me," she said.
Also among those charged was Tomeka Harris, 33, who operated a Northeast Baltimore nightspot that was recently padlocked by city police after several incidents of violence occurred outside. Harris testified at a hearing that Club 410 hosted holiday toy drives and events that promoted safe sex.
But the indictment alleges that the club was a Black Guerrilla Family hangout and that Harris was a close associate of Brown and a key Black Guerrilla Family member named Rainbow Williams, 30, helping to facilitate "Green Dot" transactions and relaying information among gang members.