Prosecutors: Alleged drug dealer laundered money via Md. lottery

April 27, 2011|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

Federal prosecutors have accused a man they say is one of Baltimore's most notorious drug dealers of laundering the profits of his heroin-selling operation through the Maryland State Lottery, Las Vegas casinos and a local used-car dealership.

The allegations against Steven Blackwell, laid out in a revised indictment Wednesday, are the most detailed glimpse yet into Blackwell's dealings, which police believe led to a spate of deadly violence in the city throughout 2008 and 2009.

Blackwell is accused of conspiring with Joy Edison, an Elkton woman, to purchase winning Maryland State Lottery tickets from the actual winners and collecting the winnings from the lottery agency. In a five-week period in 2008, the indictment claims, Edison received three checks from the Maryland State Lottery totaling $15,000.

It was unclear from the indictment how Blackwell and Edison found the lottery winners and purchased their tickets. When asked about the case, officials at the Maryland State Lottery would say only that the agency "complies with all laws and requests from federal and state authorities."

In addition, the pair conspired to hide "income in the millions of dollars from the illegal sale of heroin in Baltimore City" from the Internal Revenue Service, "thus preventing the IRS from properly assessing taxes due and owing the United States," the indictment states.

Blackwell and Edison were indicted on drug charges in August last year, along with a third conspirator, Tahirah Carter, though the financial conspiracies were not laid out in the previous indictment. A re-arraignment proceeding for Carter was held in federal court in December, but it was closed to the public, and her defense attorney and the prosecutor declined to comment on Carter's case at the time.

Documents filed in U.S. District Court place Blackwell at the center of a widening circle of violence in East Baltimore throughout 2008 and 2009 that includes a shooting at a backyard cookout in which 12 people were injured, including Blackwell, a toddler and a pregnant woman.

Though Baltimore police for years suspected Blackwell of being one of the city's biggest drug dealers, he stayed largely above the fray and out of reach of police and prosecutors until his arrest and indictment in August. Federal authorities are also now trying to seize more than $10 million from Blackwell.

In addition to the lottery ticket allegations, Blackwell is accused of purchasing more than $80,000 in playing chips from The Venetian, a Las Vegas resort and casino, throughout 2007 and 2008.

Ron Reese, a spokesman for the hotel, declined to comment specifically on the Blackwell case, but said "Certainly, if federal authorities asked for information it would be provided."

Blackwell and Edison are also accused of laundering some of their income through the Carz Unlimited car dealership, formerly located on Reisterstown Road, in return for checks from the dealership. In 2006, the indictment states, Edison purchased a 2006 Mercedes-Benz from Valley Motors in Cockeysville, and paid for the car with a $66,000 check from Carz Unlimited.

Allan Shapiro, the chief financial officer for Valley Motors, said the practice of other car dealerships purchasing vehicles from them is "unusual," but likely would not have drawn suspicion at the time.

"To our eyes, it just looks like another transaction," said Shapiro, who said he recently provided information on the 2006 sale to federal prosecutors looking into Edison's activities. "I looked at the deal file and, frankly, everything kind of looked innocent to me."

If the dealership had known that the money used to pay for the car was possibly earned from drug activity, "that would have been money-laundering," Shapiro said. "We couldn't have even accepted the money."

Edison also received checks from Carz Unlimited throughout 2008 totaling $15,000, the indictment states.

jtorbati@baltsun.com

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