A major scandal in the Baltimore city corrections system netted an indictment of 25 people — including 13 prison guards — on charges of drug conspiracy, money laundering and racketeering, all run through a prison gang operation in which inmates virtually controlled the jail in which they were incarcerated.
Federal law enforcement officials say the defendants conspired with or took bribes from members of the Black Guerilla Family to smuggle drugs, cellphones, and other contraband in and out of the Baltimore City Detention Center and several facilities connected to it. Four female corrections officers named in the indictment even allegedly became pregnant (one of them twice) by the gang’s accused ringleader, inmate Tavon White.
The scheme ran from 2009 through at least February, when it was discovered through a series of inspections by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
But before it was busted, the gang operated with near complete impunity.”In this case, the inmates literally took over the asylum and the detention centers became safe havens for the BGF,” said FBI Special Agent Stephen E. Vogt in a statement. “Law enforcement should not have to concern itself with criminal subjects who have already been arrested and relegated to detention centers.”
At the center of the allegations is White, 36, who was accused of a 2009 attempted murder and was being held at BCDC awaiting trial. In a transcript of an intercepted cellphone call included in the indictment, he appears to implicate himself as the leader of the gang by asserting that nothing happens within the jail without his approval:
This is my jail. You understand that? I’m dead serious….I make every final call in this jail…and nothing go past me, everything come to me….Any of my brothers that deal with anybody, it’s gonna come to me. You see what I am saying? Everything come to me. Everything. Before a mother-f—— hit a n—— in the mouth, guess what they do, they gotta run it through me. I tell them whether it’s a go ahead, and they can do it or whether they hold back. Before a mother-f—— stab somebody, they gotta run it through me….Anything that get done must go through me. ”
The Black Guerilla Family is one of many prison gangs that operate throughout the country. Its origins date back to the radical movements of the 1960s, and it operates within various prison systems and also on the streets; a member was convicted in the 1989 shooting death of Black Panther co-founder Huey P. Newton. The BGF has been the dominant gang at the Baltimore facility since 2006.
The indictment says inmates paid their co-conspirators through Green Dot Money Pak prepaid cards, and even purchased luxury items for guards who were working with the gang. For example, officials say White gave corrections officer Jennifer Owens a diamond ring and bought Mercedes Benz, BMW and Acura automobiles for Owens, Katera Stevenson, Chania Brooks and Tiffany Lender — all guards that he allegedly had sexual relationships with. These relationships, the indictment says, were used to influence the women who in turn helped the smuggling operation.
But these five were not the only ones involved, according to the indictment. Eight other prison officers performed duties ranging from smuggling contraband into the prison to tipping off BGF members about law enforcement “shakedowns” to standing lookout while the guards had sex with inmates. All of the 13 corrections officers accused in the indictment are female.
The scheme was busted when 30 Maryland corrections officers from outside BCDC, along with federal agents, carried out surprise searches of inmate cells, unearthing caches of drugs including oxycodone, benzodiazepines, hydrocodone and marijuana.
Each of the 25 accused are charged with racketeering, drug trafficking, extortion, bribery and money laundering. The defendants face a maximum 20 years imprisonment if convicted. One suspect, Ralph Timmons Jr., who was not an inmate, was included in the charges, but was killed in a robbery hours before the indictment came down.
Gary P. Maynard, head of the Maryland public safety department, which administers the BCDC acknowledged the gap that allowed the scheme to operate in the first place and vowed to make changes. “Everything that happens in this department is my responsibility,” Maynard told The Baltimore Sun. “It’s totally on me.”