Police: Baltimore firefighter ran sex ring on the side

Defense attorney disputes charges that led to suspension

August 09, 2012|By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

Until last month, 29-year-old Jamar Simmons was living a double life, police say.

He fought fires for Baltimore out of a decades-old brick firehouse in Hampden, earning close to $60,000 annually.

He also managed a prostitution ring out of a renovated apartment in Carrollton Ridge in Southwest Baltimore, court documents say, pocketing a percentage of the cash earned by a group of women selling sex.

On July 9, police raided the apartment and arrested Simmons and his alleged partner in the operation. Soon after, Simmons was suspended from the Fire Department without pay, and the fact he was facing multiple prostitution-related charges for a second time sparked questions about city personnel policies.

The city recently revised its procedures for handling employees who are charged with crimes, after discovering that it had paid nearly $13,000 for sick leave to an employee in jail. But even under the new policy, an arrest or conviction does not always lead to termination.

Meanwhile, as Simmons maintains his innocence, the Fire Department plans to conduct its own investigation into his behavior. "We operate like a paramilitary organization," said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a city Fire Department spokesman. "The same conduct and behavior is expected of all of us, whether we are in uniform or out of uniform."

Simmons' attorney, Warren Brown, said the very public fallout from the case has unfairly left the firefighter distraught and uncertain of his future.

"I guess in a perfect world, public servants shouldn't have brushes with the law, but they do," Brown said. "So the question becomes, 'Is it a zero tolerance policy?' If you're hauled before a court, you're not worthy of employment? I don't think that should be the case."

City officials said many factors, including the extent to which an employee is deemed to have broken the public trust, are considered in disciplinary decisions. Supervisors also look closely at the evidence against employees who've been arrested, the officials say.

Inside the raided apartment, according to court records, city police found a stage with two floor-to-ceiling poles, a large bar with a DJ booth, two bedrooms and a kitchen with six lockers labeled with women's nicknames.

In one room, court records say, police found a chalkboard with written reminders to the women. Among them: do not mention sex for money on the phone, always search clients for police wires and tout the location of the third-story, loft-style apartment in the 200 block of S. Pulaski Street as being just 10 minutes from downtown.

"Ask about law enforcement!" the board warned, according to court records.

Police say the loft housed a prostitution ring that Simmons and 33-year-old Franklin Coit — a pair arrested in Baltimore County in 2010 on similar prostitution charges — had built with the help of some 25 women over the past couple of years.

The men managed the operation, advertised sexual services on websites associated with prostitution, and took a substantial cut of the money the women made having sex with clients in the apartment and elsewhere, the court records say.

Simmons faces 11 charges, including eight related to operating a prostitution business and two related to suspected marijuana and a pipe found in the apartment. Coit faces similar charges, plus two gun charges.

Brown said the loft was not a hub for prostitution, as depicted in court records. The claim that his client was acting as a "pimp" is unfounded, and the apartment was simply a "clubhouse" where Simmons and his friends gathered to "relax and entertain" late at night, he said.

"It's not unlike a lot of situations around the city," Brown said. "After hours, once the bars close down at 2 [a.m.], these people still got a lot of energy, and they're looking for things to do, places to go, eat, smoke, drink and be merry."

Brown said police have no evidence that Simmons accepted cash from women as part of a prostitution ring. And he suspects the police probe was spurred in part by the charges brought against his client in 2010.

Coit is in police custody and does not have an attorney listed in his case.

In the 2010 case, Simmons and Coit were arrested after dropping a woman off at a Red Roof Inn in Timonium for an arranged sexual encounter with an undercover police officer, according to court records.

After she'd entered the room and briefly chatted with the undercover officer, the woman, who was wearing earphones attached to her cell phone, reportedly said, "I'm in and OK," on a call to Simmons and Coit, who were waiting outside in a car, according to the records.

At the time of the arrest, the records state, Simmons told investigators that he was "down on his luck after being suspended from his job as a Baltimore City Firefighter, so he decided to recruit women from the Internet and transport them to and from their meetings with [prospective] clients."

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