Federal gang indictment details death angels, Jimmy Choo bag

Authorities allege gang infiltrated nonprofit

April 13, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

When we last left the Black Guerrilla Family in April 2009, the feds had recorded gang members orchestrating hits from their prison cells while feasting on salmon and settling for crab imperial when lobster wasn't available.

New leaders stepped up to fill the void, prompting a new federal investigation and a new round of indictments unveiled this week that show how authorities say this violent gang set up killings and organized drug deals using a nonprofit center that received city money to help stop the violence.

But even beyond that startling revelation, the 164-page court document is a page-turner, detailing the gang's exploits based on months of work by informants and undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents who infiltrated the group and intercepted hours of private telephone conversations.

It's written in narrative form, broken into chapters with profanity-laced dialogue featuring characters such as "Uncle Benji," "Tank Top," "Cutty" and "Johnny Five," and details formal meetings, "Death Angel" hit squads, "trials" of members accused of stealing money and an attempt to unload a Jimmy Choo handbag.

The revelation that gang members worked at West Baltimore's Communities Organized to Improve Life Inc., a nonprofit, prompted city officials to suspend $1 million in city funds funneled into anti-violence programs. The nonprofit oversaw one division of Operation Safe Streets, in which ex-gang members work the streets to mediate disputes to stop violence before it started.

Federal authorities now say that two workers, including one who assumed the title of "citywide commander" of the gang, used the nonprofit as a cover. Members, the feds said in documents supporting the indictment, "have attempted to legitimize the BGF by publicly calling for an end to inner-city violence."

The feds allege they were adding to the city's bleeding while pretending to stop it.

Gangs are, by definition, organized, and BGF's alleged use of the nonprofit to conceal their drug-dealing exploits demonstrates just how organized they are. Gangs also have initiation ceremonies and expect recruits and members to recite as well as obey the rules.

Turns out they also have written exams. Authorities say they uncovered "graded tests" on whether gang members knew proper gang signs and rules. The tests were found in prison cells and one of the houses raided in this week's raids.

And if they have tests, why not hold meetings?

An informant described how members gathered in a circle in a living room at a house on Homewood Avenue and accused two men of "misappropriation of BGF funds" and operating a "renegade wolf pack by refusing to follow BGF protocol." The breach included ordering an unsanctioned hit on a man known as "Gutter."

After the "trial," four gang members retreated to the kitchen to deliberate in secret. Both of the accused were "found guilty." One was beaten for two minutes; the other for 20 seconds, and they were suspended from the gang for six months.

The meeting continued with other business, which included discussing plans to kill "Johnny Five" to retaliate for an earlier killing of a gang member, according to the indictment. The meeting concluded with pleas for the group to "obtain additional guns to keep in stock."

The court documents might read like a novel, but the feds say it's all true — though they'll have to prove it in court — and the recorded conversations are too vulgar to quote here. If they weren't talking about killing people, BGF would appear to be like any other organization with mundane meetings and obligations.

And authorities allege that drugs weren't all that was being sold. They say members robbed stores and amassed a pile of jewelry and clothing. The jewelry turned out to be fake — "the only [thing] that was real was the bag," one member tells another on a secretly recorded phone call.

"Bag, the bag, what, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, the Jimmy Choo bag," came the reply. A female gang member returned the stolen bag to a Nordstrom's for a few hundred dollars' profit, the indictment says.

From imported heroin to designer handbags, all, according to the federal charges, sold and resold using a nonprofit that received $383,000 in federal grant money distributed by the city. And if the accused go to prison, they'll be in the federal slammer instead of the state pen.

Presumably, salmon and lobster won't be available.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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