Smith, who also was accused of having sexual relations with prisoners, was recorded on a wiretap saying she was not concerned about losing her job. “I got the [corrections officers’] union behind me,” she boasted.
The following month, on May 11, 2009, former prison guard Fonda D. White pleaded guilty to extortion charges. White conspired with Jeffrey L. Fowlkes, a member of the BGF, to extort a 54-year-old woman out of more than $11,000.
In January 2007 the woman’s son was transferred to the MTC, where White had previously worked as a guard and where Fowlkes was incarcerated.
Fowlkes began calling the woman, telling her that her son had amassed a large debt from cigarettes, drinking and gambling, and was in danger of being hurt or killed. Fearing for her son’s life, the woman made a total of 27 payments to various addresses in Baltimore. Six of those payments, totaling $4,250, were sent directly to White’s residence.
In late April 2007 the woman notified the FBI, which set up wiretaps on both the victim’s phone and Fowlkes’ contra-band cell phone. White was recorded in several calls made to the victim.
The investigation revealed that White had been extorting prisoners for years. Between October 2005 and November 2007, she deposited a total of $16,652.25 into her bank account. The deposits included personal checks, cashier’s checks, and regular and postal money orders.
Fowlkes, who was also indicted, was sentenced on August 5, 2009 to 30 months in prison and three years supervised release. White was sentenced on August 18, 2009 and received six months in jail and two years supervised release. Both were ordered to pay $4,250 in restitution.
Burrus, Habeebullah, Smith and Robe were accused of participating in a more sophisticated extortion operation involving gang members. In some cases, prisoners not affiliated with the BGF were forced to pay protection by charging money to prepaid debit cards known as “Green Dot” cards. Those who refused to pay protection became targets for violence. Guards sometimes assisted gang members in the extortion scheme by holding the Green Dot cards for them.
BGF is a dominant gang in the Maryland prison system. It has remained mostly a prison gang because of its policy that gang leaders lose their rank once they are released. However, the BGF has increasingly amassed foot-soldiers on the street, some of whom have clean records and, at least for a time, take jobs as prison guards.
Investigators believe that is how incarcerated BGF gang leader Eric Brown was able to obtain cell phones to direct the gang’s activities on the outside. It also explains how Brown was able to enjoy salmon, shrimp, Grey Goose vodka and expensive cigars while incarcerated.
“I have worked in prison systems in three other states, and I have not [before] been faced with the challenges we have here,” said Gary Maynard, Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Burrus, Habeebullah, Smith and Robe, who were charged with supplying cell phones, heroin, other drugs and weapons to prisoners, all pleaded guilty. Burrus was sentenced to 18 months and three years supervised release on December 9, 2009. Smith received one year and one day in prison and three years supervised release in January 2010. Robe was sentenced to 24 months and two years supervised release on February 5, 2010. Habeebullah has not yet been sentenced.
A superseding indictment that named 15 BGF members or associates was issued on June 23, 2010, accusing them of “various criminal activities inside the Maryland Correctional System, including but not limited to, drug-trafficking, extortion, robbery, bribery, money laundering, retaliation against witnesses and obstruction of justice.” One of the defendants, Alicia Simmons, a prison guard, was accused of smuggling drugs and a cell phone to incarcerated BGF members in ex-change for cash and pre-paid debit cards. See: United States v. Brown, U.S.D.C. (D. MD), Case No. 1:09-cr-00183-WDQ.
Additional sources: Associated Press, www.baltimoresun.com, www.herald-mail.com, www.wbaltv.com, www.abc2news.com, www.wboc.com, www.americanchronicle.com
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Related legal case
United States v. Brown
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. MD), Case No. 1:09-cr-00183-WDQ|