A co-founder of the Dead Man Incorporated prison gang pleaded guilty Wednesday to his role in the group's murder-for-hire and drug-dealing conspiracy — ensuring that the former Baltimorean serves a life sentence even as he promised followers in missives from behind bars that he would continue to defy the government.
The plea agreement will spare James Sweeney, 35, a possible death sentence in a separate case in which he is charged with killing a fellow inmate. The former Locust Point resident, who is being held in federal prison in Texas, admitted under the agreement that he was a leader of Dead Man Inc. and that he ordered "hits for hire in order to raise money and also to enable white prisoners to retaliate against black gangs" in Maryland, court records show.
Sweeney appeared in U.S. District Court in Beaumont, Texas, to formally enter his guilty plea in the Maryland case. He had pledged to followers in a letter earlier this month that he would rescind his plea agreement, claiming he had been misled by his Maryland attorney. He sent a copy of the letter to The Baltimore Sun and said it would be posted on Facebook pages and Internet sites.
"They consider me a threat to what they 'believe' to be their ultimate power, their authority. But … the true authority, the ultimate power, belongs to you, the people, not the establishment," he wrote in the letter.
The letter offers a glimpse into how Sweeney amassed a following that investigators say is thousands strong, with a presence in several states. Making frequent reference to "our people" and condemning authority, Sweeney said investigators didn't have evidence linking him to the group's alleged crimes and said they were trying to stop him from providing leadership to his followers.
Sweeney's Texas-based attorney, Katherine Scardino, declined to answer questions about Sweeney's apparent change of heart. But she noted that in exchange for his plea, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the Texas murder charge against Sweeney. Authorities allege that he and Harry Lee Napper, another Maryland man being held in Texas, killed another inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary in Beaumont in February 2008.
Prosecutors say the inmate was beaten and choked, and his body was then placed into bed and covered with a blanket. Paper covered the dead inmate's cell window, and later on someone accepted the victim's dinner meal to give the impression he was still alive.
In the Maryland case, Sweeney will receive a life sentence, the maximum possible sentence.
Sweeney, who was a Maryland state inmate but was sent to a federal facility in Texas years ago to break up the gang's activities, had been indicted along with 20 others in a conspiracy case against members of DMI, a prison gang started in Maryland prisons for white inmates that was able to direct criminal activities on the streets using contraband cell phones. The indictment alleges that the gang was behind several killings or attempted murders in the Baltimore region.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher T. Tortorice confirmed the authenticity of the letter sent by Sweeney, which he said prosecutors had seen and shown to the judge overseeing the case. Tortorice said that during the hearing Sweeney didn't "backtrack" on his plea agreement.
As Sweeney pleaded guilty, Perry Roark, who prosecutors say is known as DMI's "supreme commander," was set to appear Wednesday in a federal courtroom in Maryland after pleading guilty earlier this year. But his sentencing hearing was canceled without explanation. It's been re-set for Jan. 7.
Sweeney's letter presents conflicting positions. On one hand, he said he pleaded guilty to help the defense teams of loyal followers by saying they had no choice but to follow his direction. He refers to "Rock" in the letter; that's a nickname for Roark, according to federal prosecutors.
"By stating that those under me, encluding Rock, are not responsible for their actions because they had no other choice in the matter, they either obeyed my orders or else … they are now in a better position to escape the death penalty," Sweeney wrote. "I decided to help those worthy of such a sacrifice."
Sweeney also said he pleaded guilty with the hope that prison officials would then take him out of solitary confinement, where he said he had been held since January 2008.
Nevertheless, he said wanted to take it back, having determined that he was innocent and that the government was being dishonest about its evidence against him: "At no time throughout their three year investigation have they obtained any evidence, facts, that says I have been directly involved in such crimes."
DMI was formed as a white complement to the Black Guerrilla Family gang, but investigators have said Sweeney tried to lead it toward white extremism, causing a fissure among leadership. A 2010 National Gang Center bulletin listed Dead Man Inc. along with the East Coast Bloods and the Triniatrios gang as "presenting enormous threats to public safety in the Northeast region."
Sweeney wrote that the government was pursuing him because they determined his role as a leader presented a threat.
"I have the overall abilities to lead and unite our people, because my only agenda is the greater good of our people, our children, families and communities. And to allow one man to have such an impact and influence does not sit well with them, to allow men with such influence and burning desire to continue to encourage our people to strive for the greater good is a threat to the establishment — so they claim and believe."
He continued: "We have the power and control to change it all. We are one, we are united in one common goal and purpose: the furtherance and preservation of our people, our children, our families, and communities. We are no longer thousands of individuals with individual heart beats, we are a community united as one, with one heart beat!
"As the leader of DMI, it is my duty and responsibility to sacrifice for the greater good of our people," he wrote.
Kwame Manley, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said that Sweeney's admission that he holds a leadership role in DMI was evidence itself that he was part of the racketeering conspiracy.
"To be convicted of conspiracy, the government does not have to prove that the leader himself did those overt acts, but they do have to prove that the leader has some connection, knowing about those overt acts, and somehow participating in the furtherance," of gang activities, Manley said.
Much of the proceedings in the DMI case has been kept under seal, including the entire case, which was inaccessible to the public for a period.
At least five other defendants have pleaded guilty. Kevin Bales of Hampden admitted that he served as commander of a merged Hampden/Brooklyn unit of DMI and said that Roark told him by telephone to give a gun to someone to be used in a killing. Bales also said he told another member to kill a recruit who killed the wrong person by accident.
Michael Forame, the commander of the Carroll County unit of the gang, also pleaded guilty to his role, which included taking part in the assault and murder of James Flanary in Brooklyn in February 2009. The next month, the Sykesville resident traveled with three others to Westminster to shoot up a home of a drug trafficker involved in a dispute with DMI members, according to his plea agreement.
Forame also admitted that he stabbed Charles Ravenscroft in the neck, telling him it was "from Rock" and that Ravenscroft was no longer a DMI member. Ravenscroft had pulled a gun on another DMI member named Bonnie Rice of Baltimore, according to his plea agreement. Rice is also charged in the conspiracy and also has pleaded guilty.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun