'Wire' actress arrested in drug sweep held without bail

Felicia 'Snoop' Pearson accused of helping fund drug ring

March 11, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge ordered Felicia "Snoop" Pearson held without bail Friday after a prosecutor alleged that she helped bankroll a large-scale heroin operation and that her career as an actress made her a flight risk.

The assistant state's attorney said Pearson — who played a ruthless hitman on the HBO series "The Wire" and was among 63 people arrested during a sweep Thursday by city police and federal drug agents — was caught talking about money on a wiretap.

"She provided a substantial amount of money to the organization," the prosecutor said.

Pearson, who appeared in court with her hands cuffed behind her back and wearing a gray jumpsuit with pink highlights on the sleeve, countered that she is broke and her house was foreclosed on.

"I have no money," she told Judge John Addison Howard. "Check my bank account. I have no money."

When the prosecutor argued that Pearson travels frequently for her job, the 30-year-old angrily shot back, "How can I go anywhere? Everybody knows my name."

Howard said that was the precise reason she should be held without bail."You are a good actress," he said. "Everybody knows your name. People change names. They also can …"

Pearson interrupted: "I can't change my face."

"Well, you can change your appearance," the judge responded. "I've seen the episodes of 'The Wire' in which you appear. You look very different than you do here today, and I'm not talking about the jumpsuit, I'm talking about your general appearance."

Lawyers are not required for initial bail hearings, and Pearson's attorney, Paul W. Gardner, did not make it to the courtroom for the 1 p.m. proceeding. He said in an interview later that he would appeal the judge's decision.

Gardner disputed the state's allegations that his client funded even part of a drug organization. "I find that not credible," he said. "I can tell you, that's not her composite makeup. That's not what she's about. Any money she would have goes right back into paying her bills and finding her next lead. That's what she's focused on."

Pearson is the highest-profile defendant arrested in what authorities dubbed "Operation Usual Suspects" that police said brought down a suspected drug organization with ties to New York and California.

More than 450 law enforcement officers raided 39 locations and arrested people on federal and state charges. On Friday, a steady stream of defendants marched through the two courthouses, many of whom were remanded to custody to await trial. Additional bail hearings are scheduled for next week.

The full scope of the alleged organization, which authorities say sold heroin in residential neighborhoods, has yet to be revealed. Nearly all the suspects were indicted by grand juries, which means there are no statements of probable cause that detail the charges.

At a news conference Thursday, authorities outlined a five-month investigation that concentrated on sales and distribution of heroin and marijuana at Latrobe Homes in East Baltimore. They said dealers were active from June 2008 — the year of Pearson's last appearance on "The Wire" — through March of this year, and that they used suppliers in New York and California.

All were charged either by state or federal grand juries with conspiracy to distribute heroin and marijuana, possession of heroin, and with aiding and abetting a drug organization. On March 3, a week before the drug raids were planned, police arrested two of the alleged conspirators.

Danielle Bagby of Middle River, and Antonio McNeely of Cockeysville, were charged by the Maryland U.S. attorney's office with conspiracy to distribute drugs in what is called a criminal complaint. In the complaint, authorities offered additional details of their case, though at the time of their arrests, it wasn't apparent that the charges were linked to a larger investigation.

In those cases, police said they pulled over a rented black Dodge minivan with Virginia license plates on West Lanvale Street and stopped a male passenger as he walked away from the car. The charging document said a confidential informant had told police that there were drugs in the car, and a police dog named Ozzie helped police locate 400 gel caps filled with heroin in the car.

The court documents say that police searched McNeely's apartment on Hogarth Circle in Cockeysville and found a quarter-kilogram of raw heroin, a gun and drug packaging materials, all hidden in a closet in the master bedroom. Federal prosecutors said Thursday that those arrests are connected to the suspected drug organization targeted this week.

At her bail hearing, Pearson shifted her feet as she stood in front of a table and addressed the judge, who told her, "I can honestly say I am sorry to see you here again under such circumstances."

Pearson shot several angry glances at the prosecutor when she mentioned her 1996 conviction for second-degree murder, and mumbled something that was inaudible on a videotape of the proceeding viewed by The Baltimore Sun.

The prosecutor mentioned that Pearson had told arresting officers that she had just returned from a trip to the Midwest and argued that her job as an actress requires frequent travel, and thus makes her a flight risk.

Howard agreed. A bailiff then came and stood between the judge and the table Pearson was standing behind. The bailiff calmly but deliberately escorted her back to her seat on the wooden bench, and the judge called the next case.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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