Dozens of suspected gang members and drug dealers were arrested Thursday morning after local and federal authorities raided nearly 50 locations across Baltimore - including jail cells - and two sites in California, looking for cash, criminals, guns, heroin and cocaine.
The arrests culminated a sweeping, 17-month investigation into Maryland gang activity, intensified by the June abduction and murder of alleged PDL Bloods leader Kenneth Cooper "Cash" Jones, which set off a wave of retaliatory killings last summer.
Thursday's coast-to-coast raids targeted the new "head and shoulders" of the local Pasadena Denver Lanes Bloods set, identified as 31-year-old Emiliano "Blikk" Aguas, who is accused of multiple killings and beatings, allegedly ordering two thrashings of his own associates over a cable box taken without his permission. In a recorded telephone conversation, Aguas said simply, "People got to die, that's what it is," according to court papers. He was also overheard ordering others to send cash to incarcerated gang members and to make sure their contraband cell phones were fully stocked with minutes, authorities say.
Aguas was charged, along with 22 other alleged PDL members, under federal racketeering laws prohibiting illegal gang enterprises and with drug trafficking conspiracy. According to the indictment, the defendants robbed liquor stores, stole from bystanders, beat one another, dealt drugs and murdered to protect their makeshift "family."
"We killers, we kill for each other," defendant Demetrice "Murder" Grimes was recorded saying to another individual, court records say.
Another 11 defendants on that indictment, filed Tuesday and unsealed Thursday, were charged only with conspiracy to distribute drugs, which carries a maximum life sentence.
A second, related federal indictment charges nine people, including one from the first indictment, with conspiracy to distribute heroin, which has a maximum sentence upon conviction of 40 years. Seven other individuals will be prosecuted at the state level.
All but six of the 49 defendants were in custody as of Thursday afternoon.
The takedown, dubbed Operation Tourniquet, "shut off the flow of the Bloods and brought them to justice," said Mark Chait, acting assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. His was the lead agency in the operation, which included significant involvement from Baltimore police and prosecutors as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office.
During a news conference Thursday afternoon, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said she planned to introduce legislation next year that would broaden the state's ability to prosecute gang members. As it stands now, there must be federal intervention to charge gang members en masse with racketeering.
"We do not have the laws on the [state] books," she said. "We need more tools, we need better tools, and we intend to get them."
The raids began in the early morning darkness, with hundreds of law officers assembling at M&T Bank Stadium to go over the game plan, which involved two separate sets of Baltimore raids, the first beginning just before 6 a.m. and the second under way before 9 a.m. Across the country, California officials arrested two other Bloods members while the East Coast raids took place.
Law enforcement sources said the investigation ramped up in the summer of 2008 after Jones, the local PDL leader, was abducted at gunpoint outside a club on The Block and then murdered, allegedly by members of the rival Spyda Bloods gang. The hit was in retaliation for Jones' efforts to expand his PDL rank-and-file by recruiting Spydas, according to the law enforcement source.
Baltimore prosecutors have charged two men in the killing and set trial dates for June.
All-out war was launched the day after Jones' death, when Sirlilar Jewelle Stokes, then 19, went on a shooting spree, targeting alleged Spydas to avenge Jones' death, authorities say. After confessing, she pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted first-degree murder in Baltimore Circuit Court and received a 50-year prison sentence earlier this month, according to court records.
An online funeral home memorial describes Jones as a jokester, community college graduate and follower of Jesus Christ. He dreamed of being a professional basketball player. He earned a sports scholarship to a private Connecticut prep school in the 11th grade and later attended colleges outside of Maryland. He ultimately returned to Baltimore because "being so far away from his mother, siblings, other family and friends was more than he could bear," the site says. His sisters posted comments saying how much they miss him.
Jones' mother said in an interview Thursday that she learned of her son's gang involvement after his death from city prosecutors and detectives.
"All of this stuff was new to me, and not the Kenny that I knew," Myra Jones said. The last time she saw her son, he was with Stokes, whom she didn't know well.