A Jessup correctional officer was arrested Tuesday morning on federal drug charges, revealing a sweeping effort to wipe out one of Maryland's most notorious gangs through related racketeering indictments.
Alicia Simmons, 34, is accused of smuggling cell phones and heroin into prison for incarcerated members of the powerful Black Guerrilla Family, which court documents say has used such connections for years to live luxuriously behind bars and maintain mafioso-type control of its widespread criminal organization.
Simmons is the fifth Maryland prison guard implicated in the far-reaching scheme, which goes back to 2006 and includes a total of 37 defendants charged since last year.
But court papers unsealed Tuesday after Simmons' arrest show that 14 BGF members also face fresh racketeering charges from a new federal indictment returned June 23. That means each of the alleged gang members could be held responsible for their comrades' crimes if convicted.
"This is the most powerful tool we have in our federal toolbox to prosecute" criminal organizations, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said Tuesday during a news conference to announce the charges.
His office has already used racketeering laws to prosecute local members of the Bloods, Latin Kings and MS-13 gangs en masse, "And today," Rosenstein said, "we add Black Guerrilla Family to that list."
The case was first highlighted in April 2009, when a federal indictment and related court papers outlined a surprisingly good life being led by BGF members serving terms in Maryland prisons. With the help of corrupt officers, they feasted on fresh salmon and shrimp, swilled Grey Goose vodka and smoked pricey cigars, while using contraband cell phones to order assaults, arrange drug dealings and run day-to-day gang operations.
The 23-page indictment unsealed Tuesday supersedes last year's version and builds on it. It describes the BGF as a sophisticated paramilitary operation that kept a "treasury," made motivational T-shirts (slogan: "Revolution is the Only Solution"), held meetings in Druid Hill Park, developed a gang manual, conducted counter-surveillance on law-enforcement agents and paid off prison workers like Simmons with cash and debit cards.
The four Maryland prison guards charged in last year's indictment have all pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy. And all but one of them have been sentenced, receiving federal prison terms between 12 and 24 months.
Two other Maryland guards were sentenced within the past year for doing BGF's bidding in unrelated cases. Lynae Chapman received two years in state prison last month after pleading guilty to supplying drugs and a cell phone to her boyfriend, an alleged BGF member in the Baltimore City Detention Center. And officer Fonda White was sentenced to six months in federal prison for extorting "protection money" from prisoners and their relatives with the help of her locked-up lover, a BGF member.
Maryland Correction Commissioner J. Michael Stouffer acknowledged Tuesday that the BGF has been a "negative influence" within the state's prisons for a long time, adding that the recent investigation and indictments are part of a clamping-down on both inmates and crooked staff.
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has added cell-phone-sniffing dogs and body-orifice scanners to help keep contraband out, improved its gang intelligence efforts and adopted new regulations that subject potential employees to expanded background checks.
"Today's indictments show that developing our intelligence capabilities has become a top priority in the last three years," DPSCS Secretary Gary D. Maynard said in a statement. "They also serve notice to those employees who would break the law, that you will be caught. We're working more effectively with law enforcement on everything from gang issues to contraband interdiction on a daily basis."
Tuesday's indictment culminates nearly two years of collaboration by state and federal authorities who used wiretaps, surveillance and countless man-hours to target the BGF. Baltimore assistant state's attorneys and assistant U.S. attorneys worked together with city police, Drug Enforcement Administration agents and corrections officials to bring the case together.
"It has to be a comprehensive strategy when it comes to dealing with gangs in our community," Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said during the news conference.
Maryland beefed up its anti-gang statute during the past legislative session, but the state doesn't have a racketeering law and often relies on the federal statutes for these cases. And Rosenstein has made dismantling gangs a focus, hiring three prosecutors last year dedicated solely to prosecuting gang members.