An alleged cocaine ring used a Rita's Italian Ice store in Fells Point, rental properties and other businesses to launder money in a drug-trafficking operation that stretched from Baltimore to Houston, federal investigators said Wednesday.
Authorities said they also believe the drug operation is connected to a 2012 Baltimore homicide.
A federal grand jury indicted seven men and two women on drug-conspiracy charges. Federal officials said they are seeking forfeiture of $15 million in cash as part of the case.
The drug organization was a major supplier of cocaine in the Baltimore region, said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. In addition to the Baltimore-to-Houston connection, the operation had ties to Northern Virginia and Staten Island, N.Y.
"This case illustrates for us the connections among drug organizations," Rosenstein said.
Last week, more than 200 law enforcement officers in four states executed search warrants in connection with the case and seized 27 kilograms of cocaine valued at $3 million, jewelry valued at $2 million — including a 16-karat diamond ring — luxury vehicles and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
An affidavit filed in federal court describes how officials believe members of the alleged ring used aliases, front businesses and vehicles with hidden compartments to move cash and drugs and evade law enforcement. Court documents also detail how investigators used surveillance and cellphone data to build their case.
Prosecutors allege Kedrick Arnold Jenifer, 43, of Bowie, was leader of the ring. Jenifer is co-owner of Flavor Factory LLC, a company that investigators said owns the Rita's on Eastern Avenue in Fells Point. The shop was allegedly used to launder money from drug trafficking, according to the affidavit.
An attorney for Jenifer could not be reached Wednesday. Officials of Rita's Franchise Co. issued a statement saying they were aware of the case but "cannot comment during this federal investigation."
Members of the drug organization allegedly hid money and cocaine in secret compartments in vehicles traveling between Maryland and Texas, sometimes transported on car carriers. The affidavit alleged that money and cocaine were also stashed at the RCH Plaza, a brick warehouse on West Franklin Street, as well as in the homes of the defendants.
The affidavit also alleges that members of the ring used real estate transactions in the Baltimore area as part of its money-laundering operation.
Rosenstein said investigators believe the 2012 killing of John Moore, 60, who was shot in the head in Baltimore, is connected to the operation.
In September 2012, Moore and Brooke Lunn, a co-defendant in the case, were arrested near Houston with 30 kilograms of cocaine in a vehicle. The two returned to Baltimore after another person, Tracy Muse, posted bond for their release. Investigators say Muse was a girlfriend of Jenifer's, and she is named among co-defendants in the drug case.
Moore was shot that October in the city, and the affidavit alleges the killing is related to the seizure of cocaine in Houston.
Eight of the defendants were arrested Oct. 9; another turned himself in the following day, according to prosecutors.
Other defendants are: Tyrone Allen, 42, of Bel Air; Thomas Simmons, 37, of Hampton, Va.; Andre Brewer, 35, of Elkridge; Michael Williams, 40, of Baltimore; Kermit Clark, 44, of Baltimore; and William Hegie, 54, of Baltimore.
Many of the defendants do not yet have attorneys listed in court records. They all are in custody.
Baltimore attorney William R. Buie III, who represents Brewer, said it was too early to comment on specifics of the allegations, but added that the case was notable for the surveillance technology the government used in its investigation.
Jenifer is also owner of the World Fed Apparel clothing company in Baltimore. The company sells shirts and hats with slogans including "9 to 5 beats 10 to life."
In a biography posted on the company's website, Jenifer says he created the company to raise awareness about troubled youths who end up in prison. The site quotes him saying: "The reason why many of us enter street life again is because they exit prison without a plan."