A federal indictment unsealed Friday accuses four people — including a mother and her son — of directing a drug-dealing operation in Baltimore's strip-club district through violence and intimidation, including the 2010 killing of a dancer they suspected of giving information to police.
Police had arrested one of the defendants named in this week's indictment, Tyrone Johniken, last January in the killing of 25-year-old Cherrie Gammon, who was fatally shot in Leakin Park on Dec. 12, 2010. But city prosecutors dropped the charges a short time later, without explanation.
For more than a year, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were working with Baltimore detectives to develop a case against Johniken and three others accused of helping him direct a drug organization: Donte Baker, 21, Gary Cromartie, 23, and Monica McCants, 41.
McCants is Baker's mother, prosecutors say, and court records show they shared a rowhouse in West Baltimore's Franklin Square neighborhood.
All of the defendants could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on charges of racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute drugs, in addition to other charges.
"Law enforcement agencies must be unrelenting in our commitment to combat gangs that foment violence," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. "Each case leads to new investigations, as federal agencies work with state and local law enforcement to combat violent crime and gangs in Maryland."
It's the second time in recent months that major crimes have been alleged on The Block, a hub of strip clubs in the shadow of City Hall and police headquarters. Authorities charged a group of people in November with forcing women to dance at the clubs and to work as prostitutes.
The Baltimore Sun reported in January 2010 on Johniken's arrest in Gammon's death, under his alias of Hassan Muhammed. Baker also was arrested on handgun charges by the homicide detectives investigating the case, but those charges also were dropped, in August.
Gammon, a mother of two, had battled drug abuse for about two years, and she took a job dancing at Club Pussycat on The Block, according to family and friends.
A friend, Brandi Bianconi-Guthrie, said in an interview in 2009 that Gammon enjoyed dancing at first but was worried about how her children would perceive it and sought to get out of the business. But interviews for regular jobs were unsuccessful.
According to last year's charges against Johniken, witnesses told police that Gammon was selling heroin and crack cocaine for Baker, Johniken and Cromartie. The witnesses said the men took her from her home in the early morning of Dec. 12 and drove her to the Leon Day Park area of Leakin Park, where she was shot and killed, court records show.
The indictment says McCants instructed Baker to assault Gammon to make sure she provided them with the expected amount of drug proceeds. After Gammon's death, Baker disconnected his phone and activated a new one, the records show. Authorities say that on Dec. 30, Baker and McCants discussed their belief that Gammon had spoken to police about a drug debt to Baker.
McCants is not implicated in Gammon's death.
The indictment alleges that McCants and Baker were leaders of a gang that supplied heroin and crack cocaine in "packs" of 10, 20 or 60 pills or vials to lower-tier members, including Johniken and Cromartie, who in turn sold the drugs to "runners" and drug users on The Block.
The profits from these sales were allegedly given to McCants and Baker, who paid the lower-tier members for making the sales.
The indictment accuses the defendants of using "violence, threats of violence, intimidation, robbery, narcotics trafficking, retaliation against witnesses, and obstruction of justice."
Cromartie has been charged more than a dozen times in the past; the charges included drug possession and assault, though most have been dropped, and the steepest sentence was a month in jail. Baker got an 18-month suspended sentence for resisting arrest in 2009.
Johniken has faced robbery charges in the city that were dropped in 2009, and got 172 days in jail for a burglary in Anne Arundel County in 2009.
McCants received a 10-year sentence this month for a drug conviction, but nine years, nine months and 18 days of that sentence were suspended. She's scheduled to be in drug court next month. In 2008, she received two years in prison for a drug conviction.
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